Everyone knows what a dragon looks like, right? Or do they? This was the central question asked in a play that I took my son to on Saturday night. It was an interactive play full of “OOOH’s” and “AHHH’s.” Boo’s for the villains and cheers for the heroes. A perfect outdoor event for a date with my little man, complete with picnic and blanket and our own stuffed dragon that we couldn’t leave at home, of course. One of the themes that recurred throughout the play was that everyone viewed the dragon, in this case the hero of the story, as a version of themselves. Each person, when asked what a dragon looked like, described their own best attributes. Deep down, we all want to be heroes. Or more specifically, we see actual heroes as reflections of ourselves, whether or not we merit the description.
I am as guilty of this as the next person. Particularly in this specific case. I have always been intensely drawn to dragons. For as long as I can remember. From those that permeate ancient Chinese literature and art, symbolizing wisdom and beauty, to those enigmatically drawn by the imagination of Tolkien in “The Hobbit,” these creatures embody a mystery and grace that has drawn children and adults through the ages to admire and fear them. They are a series of contradictions that I think many of us, if we are honest, see in ourselves. They are both beautiful and hideous, heavily armored but vulnerable in their soft spots. Wise but full of riddles. They dwell in caves underground, but they can soar to the heavens. They can be both the villain and the hero, sometimes at different points of the same story. They are fully known to no one, yet known by everyone. They are mysterious, fiery, and beautiful and will, in my mind, always typify a deep and sacred part of myself.
This is why I got a dragon tattoo when I was in college. It is a visible mark of something within me that very few people will actually understand, many will judge me for, and some will admire. But none of that matters because it is a constant reminder to me of the deep mysteries of the soul – of the consistent dualities that we see in ourselves and others which we try, too often, to reconcile or explain away. My son has seen it and asked why I have that picture on my back. It have explained it to him several times, but last nights play was a wonderful opportunity to explain to him again what beautiful enigmas these creatures are and remind him that even if they don’t in every story, in this one, they saved the day!