Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Hero's Journey

Hello, friends!  I'm at the tail end of a nasty
cold virus and happily getting back into
the swing of things.

Despite trying to forge ahead with my daily
obligations during the first week I was sick, I
found that I had to adjust to my (temporarily)
weakened state, instead of fighting it and
potentially prolonging my infirmity.

One particularly miserable day, I thought of 
others whose physical health would never
be as vigorous as it used to be, and who had
no choice but to acknowledge and accept
their permanent loss of strength.  I was
reminded of a quote I'd saved a few years ago:

Gus very much wants to cling to this feeling of
power over his illness, but he can't.  The circle
of what you can do with your life inevitably
begins to close, whether at 16 or 116. That's
why to me the hero's journey is the journey
from strength to weakness.

~ Author John Green, about the character of 16 year-old Gus, in his 
young adult novel, The Fault in Our Stars.

When I first read John Green's words, they 
stopped me in my tracks.  Previously, I'd held
the typical idea of what a hero's journey is:

The harassed child who finally triumphs over
the bully.

The super-hero who takes down the crooks.

The against-the-odds athlete who trains hard
and beats the reigning champion.

The chemo patient who beats back 
her illness and becomes strong, again.

Weakness to strength....

not the other way

In Green's novel, Gus is a spirited teenager
whose terminal cancer begins to set physical
limitations on the things that he is able to do.
He displays immense grace and courage as
he grows weaker and weaker.

As I considered this, I thought of my own 
sweet pal's fatal cancer journey.

I also thought of a couple who is very dear to
my family, now both losing their eyesight.

I thought of my friend's nephew, whose 
accident at 22 left him a quadriplegic. 

I thought of so many wonderful souls
in the grips of Alzheimer's disease.

All heroes, in my mind, whose journey won't
take them to a place of acquired strength
or achievement, but will include acceptance
and a gentle letting go as they move towards
 greater weakness.

If we are lucky enough to grow up into old age,
each of us will embark on this hero's journey,
as our bodies begin to set boundaries on what 
we can do with our lives. 

{As Bette Davis famously declared, 
Old age ain't no place for sissies.}

Green's vision of the hero's journey has 
broadened my own.
I now see heroes in wheel chairs and in
  hospital beds. Some walk in darkness down
crowded sidewalks swishing a long cane from
side to side; some are stooped over from
osteoporosis, but determinedly push a grocery
cart down the aisle; some face the world 
with chemo-racked bodies; some drive with
great trepidation due to slower reaction times;
and others wake up unsure of who they are

You know them, too, I'm certain. 

Not Olympians or super-heroes, but people
living valiantly, as their journeys take them
from strength to weakness.  Individuals to
applaud with our compassion.

The hero's journey is a universal one, but
until we reach that road, let's live with
gratitude for good health and bodies
that serve us well.

So well.

For a weak person, every little hill is a giant
mountain;  for a strong person, every giant
mountain is a little hill!
~ Mehmet Murat Ildan


(all photos my own)