At the risk of sending an annoying email, I'm choosing to risk and to say it right out: I believe we are all heroes in our self made narrative.
No, I’m not ego-obsessed but do recognize the power of crafting my own narrative in time (others can craft my narrative when I leave the room or pass on.) I also believe in hero-stewardship, where we care for the earth, animals, and people who need it. Just because one is awesome, s/he doesn't get permission to be an asshole.
This summer, I learned some aspects of the hero’s journey in my flesh and spirit. Ingratiate me, readers, as I briefly explain Joseph Campbell’s model.
Hero is in a comfortable home. Hero has to or chooses to leave comfortable home. Hero enters an unknown world and even though s/he wants to, can’t return to before since s/he has crossed a threshold. Hero has many trials and tasks and has will tested. Hero meets the dark side and resists it. Hero succeeds in task (throwing ring into Mordor, defeating Darth Vader, killing Voldemort) and recieves some boon (wisdom, a title, a soul mate, freedom.) Hero returns home and is the Master of Two Worlds.
I ran a marathon this summer.
My hair started falling out, I lost a toenail, I wept at the crossroads of Forest Park after getting really lost on the tenth mile, and I felt fury at how expensive marathon-me was to feed.
The difficulty of the dream is what makes a hero. All the forces of nature conspiring to make her turn back--even though once begun, the hero never can fully return.
This summer also included two powerful teaching experiences: “Writing Through Loss” at the Arts Center and a weeklong class through Creative Arts Community in the Gorge called “Writing Across the Threshold,” where we discussed, guess what, the Hero’s Journey and how a writer might enact this journey through language.
My students all exceeded expectations, opened themselves up to big & nutty ideas, and even watched Star Wars with me. During my time teaching there, I was allowed a thirty-minute presentation. I spoke about my beliefs on shame--how if I feel shame about a certain part of my life, it is probably shared by someone else in the room, and if I can get over that shame and speak, perhaps the shame will dissipate for the others, too.
Easy enough preamble for, but then I read “Warning Label”--an essay to be published in the Los Angeles Review next spring (!!)--which is about grief, acne, jilted love, self-hatred, self-forgiveness, and leprosy. I was quaking. I could hardly look anyone in the eye after. While I was reading, my inner dialogue flew: “You shouldn’t say these things aloud, Judith, don’t say these things, they aren’t polite and you’ll be rejected.”
It felt like getting lost in the woods and weeping. But I knew that lostness (Joseph Campbell calls it the road of trials) and I knew that it was only temporary. So I kept reading aloud.
And two weeks ago I traded a feeling of relative control for a backpacking pack and travelled to Seattle, Whidbey Island, and the Hoh Rainforest to meet a gentleman I met recently. No hiding, just presence. I rode my first ferry and felt so very small among all the beauty.
As the ferry landed and I was met by my friend in a new place, without my books or laptop or familiar context, I realized a new kind of courage was required.
"Scary, scary, scary," I thought as I walked off the boat onto the island. Everything that is bound in love takes courage. And if we're really, really living, everything is bound up in love. So we walk off the ramp and meet the adventure that awaits us.
The hardest part of the hero's journey is the return (think Frodo, think Odysseus). I'm slowly gathering myself for fall season, upcoming classes, creative projects, administrative work, and preparation for the High Holy Days, the time where my community and I attempt to get really small before the divine, which includes all my friends, all of you, and anyone I work with or meet at whole foods in order to come back into balance and remember what it is to be human and to be a hero, to be both/and.
Wishing you the best in your journeys,