Facing down the dragon

It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.
– Gandalf the Grey, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Dragons are always just around the corner, in our neighborhoods, on our street, sometimes even in our houses. A dragon is the perfect metaphor for fear. Fear lives so close to us sometimes we can touch it and breathe it in. As we move through our lives we need to take into account any dragons—fear—close by. Fear stops us from doing what we need to do to get on with our lives. The best way to stop a fear—or a dragon—is to face it down; or at least I’m told that. The more you run away from it, the more it will chase after you and find you and torment you until you are so cowed under that you give up or you take a stand and fight back.


When I was in college I had a dreadful fear of public speaking. Anytime I spoke in front of more than 2 or 3 people I would freeze up, feel faint, want to vomit and run away. In school as a kid I was mortified to get up in front of my classmates. I hated it! Then, when I found out that public speaking was required as a part of the college curriculum for freshmen I wanted to quit right then and there. But by then I was a mid-twenty-something and knew I needed to stretch myself and grow.


When the class met for the first time I realized this was not going to be an ordinary class – our professor was the drama teacher and he held his classes in the auditorium. We had to give our speeches under the hot lights and project (without microphone) all the way to the last row of seats where he was sitting. Fellow students were spread out throughout the seats so we were forced to look around.


Professor W-J was the worst and the best teacher I had ever had. He would critique his students from the back and god-forbid if you mispronounced a word he would berate you until you wanted to die. I did make an ‘A’ but it was the hardest ‘A’ I ever earned. The lessons he taught me 20 years ago were so impactful that I carry them with me today. He taught me to stand up, speak up and be heard. Almost every time I say the word “environment” I think of him because he was adamant in teaching his students how to say it. Most everyone said “enviroment” and it would drive him to distraction. Professor W-J was a dragon of a peculiar sort: flamboyant, exacting, a perfectionist, dictionist (my word for lover of diction) and a hard ass. But he was an excellent teacher. He helped me face down my fear and even though I still hate public speaking, because of him I know I can do it and survive.


Aren’t all dragons teachers in a way? Every time you face down a fear you learn something. And, every time you run away from one you learn something about yourself, too. Maybe the next time I am afraid of doing the thing I think I cannot do (thank you Eleanor Roosevelt for putting it so succinctly) I will remember Professor W-J and face that dragon down.

 

facing down the dragon (from sketchyouas.com)
facing down the dragon (from sketchyouas.com)

 

Wherever you go, there you are…

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
– T. S. Eliot

Another quote along these same lines is “Wherever you go, there you are.” This is the lesson Dorothy learned in the Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum. Even though we may search and explore the world we almost always end up where we started and after seeing the world we have gained new experiences and see our home with a fresh, new perspective as if seeing it for the first time. The key here is exploration. To be a well-rounded human being it is important to go other places, see new people and have new adventures if we are to know who we truly are and what we have.


Everyone at some point in their lives needs to take a leap like this. I waited until I was in my forties before I took the leap but I’m glad I did. After I graduated high school I went straight to work and other than traveling on vacations I had never lived any place else. There was an aborted attempt in my twenties when I worked for the Navy – I applied and won a promotion to Guantanemo Bay, Cuba (Gitmo). Yes, the same Guantanemo that is a prison for suspected terrorists. At that time it was just another naval base and civilian workers could live and work on base just like the military did. But as fate (?) would have it, I didn’t get to go. The required physical exam turned up a very slight allergy to dust and because coral dust is prevalent at Gitmo I failed my physical. I was sorely disappointed and resentful for a long time.


Eventually I got over it and moved on. So one day about 6 years ago when my then boss suggested there might be a place for me in another city I jumped at the chance (as long as I didn’t go any further north than where I was. Heat I don’t mind; the cold is just way too cold). So I ended up moving 800 miles away from my family. I was excited to have a new life, do new things, make new friends. I loved it – for all of two seconds. After I settled in and mom went home my old friend Depression moved in and took over my life. All I did was work – at 60-75 hours a week it left me no time to explore my new city and embark on the new creative life I had hoped for. So I depressed at home, went to work, and came home to depress. This went on for almost three years before I finally gave up and came home to Virginia.


Now that I’ve been home for almost three years it seems like I never left. I came back with a new perspective not only on my home and my city but on my family. The folks I thought I wanted to be away from are the very people I so desperately missed. The ones that used to drive me crazy — I now see how much I love them and need them. And it isn’t so much that I need to see them every day, I don’t; it is just so much more comforting knowing that they are nearby. So with Dorothy I say, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

 

i wandered and wandered until i came home to me
i wandered and wandered until i came home to me

In the middle??

You can only go halfway into the darkest forest; then you are coming out the other side.
-Chinese proverb

 

Positive thinking dictates that ‘every end is a beginning’, ‘for every closed door there’s an open window’, and the oldie but goodie, ‘the glass is half full not half empty’. To be honest it is very hard having a positive outlook all the time, at least for me. My basic personality is one of melancholy or depressive or negativity. I fight hard every day to be positive, to believe all things will be well and to trust in God. He doesn’t make it easy, this God who loves and instructs. But it is the fight He has given me and some days I’m up to the challenge, many other days I’m not. Those are the days I stay in bed or in front of the television or computer zoned out.


Maybe I am afraid of what the day will bring. Maybe I fear the answer to my prayer will be ‘no’ or, worse, ‘yes’. When I’m in the middle of the darkest forest I don’t even think about coming out on the other side. I don’t even know what ‘middle’ is. Is the ‘middle’ today? Was it yesterday and I’m already finding my way out? Or is it next week, next year or next never? That’s the trouble with these societal adages. Yes, the door may be closed and somewhere there’s an open window. But how the blazes do I find it? Okay, so the glass is half full, but what happened to the rest of my drink? Who took it? Is it all I have and there is no more left to finish filling the glass? And what about the ‘end is a new beginning’? What if I don’t want what is ending to end? What if I don’t want a new beginning?


Have you met someone who is positive all the time? I have and sometimes I am her. I tend to wear a mask of positivity for the sake of others to spare them the depths of my dire fears. Maybe that overly positive person is like me, way down inside they are deeply afraid of not being acceptable to the rest of the group and they reflect positivity as a way of winning fans.


As much as I hate being part of the ‘group’ – a member of society surrounded by those ever annoying fellow human beings, I don’t want to be a total recluse. Look what happened to Howard Hughes. Did you see the movie Aviator? Leonardo DiCaprio’s depiction of Mr. Hughes in his recluse state was just plain yechh! (Not Mr. DiCaprio, but Mr. Hughes.) He was a tortured individual if there ever was one. I guess he focused way too much on the negative and his mental illness took hold and refused to let go.


When I consider Mr. Hughes and other recluses of his type, I breathe a silent prayer that God will guide me through this dark forest and lead me through to the other side. Maybe I don’t need to know where the middle is. Maybe I don’t need to know what happened to the rest of my drink. Maybe I shouldn’t worry about finding that open window or new beginning. Maybe all I need to do is live in the present moment and try to trust God everyday for my well being. Maybe that’s enough for now.

 

who is that tapping on my window? i think it may be God saying 'you're not done growing yet'. can i ignore Him for a little while, please?  (illustration by edmund dulac)
who is that tapping on my window? i think it may be God saying ‘you’re not done growing yet’. can i ignore Him for a little while, please? (illustration by edmund dulac)