Stories we tell ourselves. I keep coming back to this idea. Perhaps it’s because I still find myself feeling unmoored these days. How do I write a narrative about myself and who I am when there is such a big black mark on the page? It’s got me thinking about mythologies, stories we tell to make sense of the world, instruct our lives and inform our beliefs.
When we first took Norah to the hospital, the doctors thought she had a virus and would recover quickly. As she started taking a turn for the worse, she kept telling the nurses that she had to get better quickly because mom and dad were taking a trip to New York City that weekend. We had been planning a long overdue getaway and Norah knew we were excited to see the musical Hadestown. We have been longtime fans of Anais Mitchell and her folk opera exploring the timeless, yet somehow strangely timely, epic about Orpheus and the underworld.
We never got to see Hadestown, but I’m still mulling over these ideas of mythology. I’m interested in how we perpetuate and even write new myths. They hold such power. Martin Luther King Jr is a mythological figure. His courage and character continue to be sources of inspiration for so many. Politicians, church leaders, celebrities of all stripes seek to elevate their status and lift themselves to mythological figures, at times to disastrous results. The point is, right or wrong, we are constantly in the process of writing our own myths.
In seeking to write my own narrative, I have found myself thinking about some of the prototypes that exist. Such as the Hollywood action hero who loses everything he holds dear and, with nothing left to lose, goes inward to (cue training montage) emerge stronger, as a piece of steel emerges from the forge hardened to take on any task. Then with white hot righteous anger our hero proceeds to kill everyone who took his life from him. This is of course stupid and super unhelpful. If we’ve learned anything it’s that when tragedy strikes you need people to lift you up. There are other modern myths. Like the troubadour who travels the country playing music because that’s what he was born to do. I hope that myth is helpful or inspiring to someone out there.
The hard work before us is to build something positive in midst of the wreckage of a tragedy. No romantic “one person against the world” story here. Just humans trying not to give up on what they once thought was important.
We made it through the holidays. That time where we commodify tradition, and sell hope and family togetherness. Tell each other myths about babies in mangers, a man in a red suit, and peace and love. These are beautiful and useful myths. Peggy and I decided that, in the interest of giving ourselves something new to look forward to, we would travel over the holidays. After gathering with our extended families, the three of us took a few days to travel and visit western Massachusetts. We then spent 48 hours in Manhattan (a minute more would mean paying for another day of parking). Taking a trip to New York City was something that we had promised to do with Norah. She was taken with the idea of visiting the city and said that she was going to live there when she grew up. But just for one year. So visiting NYC was hard, but also felt like a way to connect to that part of her. The highlight of our trip was seeing a Broadway musical. It was L’s Christmas present. After reading the Percy Jackson books and seeing a movie or two, she had discovered/fallen in love with/learned every word to the musical, The Lightening Thief. It’s a modern day story about the Greek gods starring Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon. It writes new stories and new ideals onto some old myths, and my favorite part to hear L sing along with goes, “Mom, if you’re weird, you’re weak.” “That’s where you’re wrong, the things that make you different are the things that make you strong!” Perhaps not coincidentally, the theater where The Lightening Thief played is directly across the street from the Hadestown theater. So as we stepped out of our theater after sharing a new and exciting experience, we were face to face with a 3 story brick and mortar reminder of our own twist of fate.
Yes, holidays are hard. But so are Tuesday mornings. So are lazy Sunday afternoons. There are still moments of breathless terror when the grief crashes into us out of nowhere and leaves us numb. We’re still trying to plan things that we can look forward to. And we’re still trying to write our own story in a way that honors what we had in the past but tries to embrace what will come.