I’ve often been seduced by the hero’s journey, an archetypal storyline where a reluctant hero is called to an epic adventure. This quest is at heart a transcendental and transformative journey, where an ordinary person from the ordinary world goes through a series of test, ordeals, encounters, and finally returns to the ordinary world, no longer an ordinary person but extraordinary — a hero — who has the ability to transform the world into something extraordinary, too. You know this story — you’ve heard it, seen it, read it hundreds of times in the guise of tales such as The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings.
I used this same story for my novel Daughter Am I, my contemporary novel of a young woman — Mary Stuart — who goes on a dangerous journey to learn about her recently murdered grandparents. Her mentors and allies on her quest are six old rogues — gangsters and con men in their eighties — and one used-to-be nightclub dancer. By journey’s end, all their lives have been transformed.
I always wanted a taste of an epic adventure of my own, something that would change me — and perhaps my world — into something extraordinary. In a way, grief was such a journey. Grief is not so much a series of stages, at least not the ones we are familiar with. Instead, there are The Mythic Stages of Grief, a process of transformation, taking us from our ordinary shared life into a new life, one we couldn’t even imagine before that tragic “call.”
I thought my cross-country trip would be such a transformative adventure, and as wonderful as it was, I returned after five months and 12,500 miles, essentially the same as when I left.
For many years, I dreamed of an epic hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, thinking that such a journey — a real journey, not just a journey of the spirit — would be the quest I craved. It didn’t work out, and the death of that dream still haunts me.
Well, now here I am involved in a real-life epic adventure — a world-wide ordeal that is calling all of us to be heroic — and what is my duty? What is my quest? To stay home. That’s it. Stay home. Isolate myself. Where are the mentors and allies to help me along the way? Where are the great tests of courage? Without these essential elements of the story, it seems such a tepid — and sad — adventure, though there are enemies galore, whether it is The Bob itself, the conflicting tales we are being told, the fears that are beckoning us.
In the end, though, facing these enemies is no extraordinary challenge. Just ordinary life — or as ordinary as we can make it in our extraordinary isolation.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.
May 3, 2020 at 10:20 am
So true. We all have our own adventures, like it or don’t.
May 3, 2020 at 12:03 pm
It seems to me the hero journey stories are actually allegory for ordinary life, emphasized by the extraordinary in the tale. Our trials may be less dramatic, but no less real. I’m quite certain I’m not the same person I was even 20 years ago, let alone at the beginning of the “journey” some 60 years ago..
As for changing the world, a true story (sorry if it gets a bit long)…
Back in the day (early 90s) the internet was either “walled gardens” (eg. AOL) or mainly university based. I owned a couple of what used to be called record stores, and was teaching myself an obscure relational database programming language in which I planned to write inventory control and accounting software for the stores. At the time, there was a store-and-forward system of UseNet news groups. For example, I followed an alternate history group (“what if Hitler died in WW!” sort of thing”), and a group for the database language, among others. While reading a book on the language, I wasn’t quite understanding something, and posted a question to the newsgroup. Two hours later, I was shocked to see the author of the book had posted a reply to clarify the issue.
It was an “Aha” moment for me. This internet thing was enabling a really low friction way for people to interact at the intersection of a specific interest irrespective of geography, social status, etc., and I wanted to be a part of that. The local university I was accessing the internet through was considering closing off new non-student access, so Instead of finishing the inventory software, I started an ISP (and wrote the tracking/billing software with the database). The business was growing quickly by the late 90s. The record stores were also doing well, but from the ISP business I could see where online music was likely going. The record companies weren’t interested in meeting the challenges I tried to warn them off, so I sold the business. As we know, record stores have gone the way of betamax. Had I not been in the ISP business, I may not have sold when I did, and been part of the carnage of the shift to downloading.
The point is that one UseNet group interaction set a series of actions and events in motion that the author couldn’t possibly know. We all change the world in ways big and small, and may never even know it.
May 3, 2020 at 3:56 pm
Wow. Interesting! It is fascinating to see — at least a little — how things and people connect. In my more prosaic moments, I do understand that each of us is important, each a part of the whole, each of us connecting with others, sometimes at many degrees of separation, in a never-ending spiral of interactions. And I do know that I have had a small impact on a lot of lives because of my grief posts, even though I only get a hint of that impact when the views on those posts spike. But none of that stills the small part of me that yearns to be . . . more.