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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wee Gillis; Letting Go the Past & Following Your Dreams

One of my all time favorite Children's books is "Wee Gillis" by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. The same duo is responsible for "The Story of Ferdinand", another favorite of mine. They are real classics. "Wee Gillis" was first published in 1938.

I used to use "Wee Gillis" when I taught conflict resolution to adults. I considered it an example of the collaboration technique. Wee Gillis is split between relatives in the highlands of Scotland and relatives in the low lands. He spends half of the year with one set, the other half with other. In the book he is coming of age and the relatives have met have way in between to fight over where Wee Gillis will settle. Both sides want him. He has learned good and very different skills in both places. It shows collaboration (or so I thought) because in the end Wee Gillis comes up with an entirely different solution. Rather than go with either one of the relatives he chooses to sit on a rock half way in between and play a set of bagpipes all day. He built a house there and lives "happily ever after".

Today I am re-reading that book with a very different take on it. I realize perhaps it isn't correct to say that was collaborative conflict resolution. Because there was no collaboration. Wee Gillis didn't ask anyone else for an opinion. There was no group huddle, discussion, or weighing of the pros and cons. This was not a group decision. Wee Gillis struck out on his own despite a lot of pressure and build up from the past.

While the others are arguing, Wee Gillis sits on a rock and starts playing these bagpipes that no one else can inflate. Seems like he's the first "rock musician"- and in 1938- way ahead of his time!

The part of the story that doesn't get described is how Wee Gillis got the courage to do this. It seems very spur of the moment. He wasn't building up to a great "break away from his roots". He grew up in Scotland, yet before the incident on the rock, he has never even been taught how to play the pipes. We are never led to believe Wee Gillis is even dissatisfied with his life or his fate. Up to this point he seems quite content to go with the flow and follow direction.

However, when he finds his passion, there is no question but he will follow it. He simply doesn't allow for outside influence to affect him. It seems everyone else realizes his gift as well and the transformation occurs.

Seems to me that Wee Gillis must have had a very balanced Crown Chakra. It doesn't seem as though he felt the need to acquire material wealth as much as he wanted to follow what felt good- allowing the rest to come. I mean, look at all that land he stood to inherit in both the lowlands and the highlands and he just walked away. There isn't a lot of money in bagpipe playing to my knowledge, and I grew up surrounded by the things. Yet, they are an icon and they do have a place. Every celebration of life, death and in between when I was growing up featured a bagpiper. Unlike the pictures most people have in their heads, it wasn't likely to be a pipe band. More commonly, it was a lone piper playing in the distance. (Personally, I think that's really the best way to hear bagpipes- well in the distance!) They weren't paid a lot of money but I guess you could survive that way. A lot of my friends made some pretty good money playing the pipes at tourist spots in the summer. There is a story in my family of gaining free passage to come over from Europe on the ship Hector in exchange for being the ships' piper. Certainly that was a survival opportunity.

Wee Gillis didn't seem worried about all those details that stops many of us from pursuing our dreams and passions. He didn't even know how to play the bagpipes, and yet he trusted that the original owner would teach him- and he did. In fact, come to think of it- Wee Gillis didn't even own the pipes! Yet they were given to him. No one lived at this half-way point, there was no house there, and yet somehow, it got built. He maintained good relationships with his past. The story clearly points out that he visited and was welcomed with both sets of relatives. I'm thinking perhaps they fed him a lot! But he didn't end up burdened by having to be something he didn't want to be for either one of them. At no point does he ask the relatives if his idea is "okay" or "feasible". He just does it. Wee Gillis didn't seem to worry about the logical and material obstacles in his way and therefore they didn't obstruct him.

It was 1938 and maybe life was different. Children's stories do have a habit of turning out okay without the details. But there isn't some egocentric twist in thier either. Wee Gillis doesn't become "the best piper in all the land". As far as we know the rock is not hiding a pot of gold. That's not the point. Wee Gillis is content, peacful and happy. That's the point.

I think Wee Gillis has a lesson for us all. Perhaps it's not about collaboration styles of conflict resolution. I think it's about having the courage to trust and listen to yourself. To really listen, without cramming your mind with the details and material concerns that obstruct the flow. Follow your passion and live your dream. Most of all, choose your own path in life. Trust that the details will get worked out. And if you find yourself sitting all alone on a rock with people screaming all around you- look for the opportunity that might be staring you right in the face!


  1. I am enjoying your writing, Heather.
    Wee Gillis was a favourite story from my childhood as well.
    Be blest!