Dragons

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!

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A Fear of Change

I have had more than one conversation lately in which I voiced some version of this statement: “I do not look forward to the future because I so much enjoy the present.” I can’t decide if this is a virtue or a vice. Perhaps it is both. Certainly contentment with the present is to be admired and sought after, but fearing the future because I see it as a goodbye to the to the things I love now – this is probably weakness and immaturity. The truth is, I have never experienced such significant growth and blessing, stability and strength as I now possess. My life has been an ever-changing sea of faces and places, in which dreams change and lives change and goodbyes are an inevitable part of that change. It still makes me sad to think about what was lost. But perhaps it is that very loss, those very goodbyes that produce the stability and strength I now hold so dear. Without them I would not be the person I have become. Why would I assume that the future holds anything other than further growth, development, and strengthening of my loves?

When I first learned that I would be moving back to the South, I was terrified that I would be isolated and bored and uncomfortable. Now, after voluntarily spending a decade here, it is hard to imagine another place I would call home. When my heart was broken in college, I feared it would never be whole again. But severing it from such an unhealthy attachment, made it wholly ready to embrace my husband and a better man I cannot imagine. Before Aiden was born, I worried that my relationship with my extraordinary husband might not be the same, might suffer even, after he entered the picture. On the contrary, he has added such depth and wonder to our lives it is impossible to imagine life without him. Why, in the face of these and countless other examples of the richness of the unexpected and unimaginable, do I still fear the future? Should I not excitedly embrace it as the conduit of my dreams – both known and unaware? And yet, as I find myself on the brink of a vast new change, bringing another human being into the world and into our lives, I find myself afraid. But I have a choice. I can embrace the change and assume, as life has constantly taught me, that it will bring good, or I can give in to the fear and rob myself of the present which I so enjoy by worrying away its beauty. I chose to embrace . . . the change when it comes, my husband and son now, my friends when I am able, and life in all of its varied, complex forms.

Overcoming Fear

Lately I have been contemplating fear. Not as an entity in and of itself, but rather as an opportunity to overcome. There is no bravery without first encountering fear. If there is nothing to overcome, than we have not conquered, we have merely attained. And the level of satisfaction gained from conquering an obstacle against all odds and overcoming our fear of failure is far greater than living with a”better safe than sorry” mentality that lets our fear get the better of us and, in the face of failure or foe, backs down and waits for something more easily attainable to present itself. This choice is ever-present in our daily lives, from the smallest difficulties to the biggest decisions.

My son faces this decision to conquer or retreat multiple times a day as he attempts to overcome his fear of the dark. Sometimes fear gets the better of him . . . sometimes he of it. And his reaction, in the end, is remarkably more exuberant when he succeeds. If he discovers there is something he really wants in his room, but he has to go down the dark hallway to get it, he can either overcome his fear and at least make it to the light switch or he can beg me to come with him all the way down the hall. If he manages to do it himself, get the prize he was after, and make it back to me in one piece, he will inevitably squeal, “Mommy, I did it all myself!” and the object he went to get will hold his attention far longer than if I had gone with him to get it. It’s value was increased by the method in which it was attained. What a simple little picture of the decisions we as adults face on a regular basis.

In discussing with my husband whether or not we should try to have another child, we found many reasons to be afraid. What if we can’t afford it? What if something goes wrong and the baby is not healthy? We have been so lucky with Aiden and our experiences with him have been a remarkable journey of parenting. What if the next one is not the same? What if we can’t love him/her as much? What if our life is too unsettled? We are, after all, trying to sell the house and the car, and are constantly considering career paths . . . and so on. But no time is ever perfect. Life is never settled or ideal. And the benefits can be so wonderful. For Aiden, for us as a family and as parents. Do we let fear make that decision for us or do we overcome our fear of the unknown for the growth and betterment of our family? We chose to overcome, come what may.

We were also faced with a choice this week of whether or not to make an offer on a new house, contingent on the sale of ours. The whole scenario will only work well if we dramatically reduce the price of our house to one that is more comparable with those of our neighborhood so that we can sell it quickly before the house we want sells out from under us. However, if we reduce the price of ours, we can’t reasonable raise it again. So we will be stuck in that price range, and only able to afford houses that are somewhat less than our ideal should this offer fall through. It is a gamble. But do we fold before the flop, and pass on this house that is a great opportunity at a great price because we are afraid we might lose it? Or do we try our best and let the chips fall where they may? We stayed in the game.

If we can approach life mindful of our fears, but not ruled by them, constantly seeking ways to overcome and grow stronger, then we will live a life with few regrets, knowing we tried and that is the best we can do.