But in books, as in real life, heroes are rarely perfect. Not to mention, if you surveyed the average Jane or Joe or Jane-Joe, you’d likely hear that they don’t think of themselves as a hero.
Collecting the stories of everyday heroes has become a side gig. You see, some senator or US representative removed from the swath of destruction in the Keweenaw wants people to tell him who the local heroes are. He’s right — many people stepped up to demonstrate the Finnish concept of sisu. Like other places hit by disaster before us, we know the word strong. I’m collecting some of those stories.
But we dance around the term hero. It’s ironic that we do because each one of us leads a hero’s journey. It’s life. Maybe we have one life to plow through, one cave that hangs us up, but we all resonate to the hero’s journey. We just don’t want to be called heroes.
When I first developed a veteran presentation to teach combat vets how to see the hero’s journey in their own lives, I had near meltdowns among a group of tough Vietnam vets. They emotionally and physically reacted to the word “hero.” They understood the journey, grasped the concept of the cave, and found the return home with an elixir hopeful.
Just not the hero label.
I’ve since renamed the presentation The Veteran’s Journey. Same cycle, same information based on the research of Joseph Campbell, same story, different term. I’m discovering that the local Copper Country Strong folks shirk the term, too. And the interesting observation is that people all act exactly the way Joseph Campbell tells us the hero does in the beginning — we all deny the call.
Let me explain why I’m so enamored of the hero’s journey as a story-telling format: it’s all about discovery. It’s taking real-life and exploring the mysteries within our own mind to be what we have the potential to be. To live with adventure and compassion. Wrap that up into an external story (plot) and show how the internal story transforms (character) and you will have a format we are all inclined to engage with, read and want to read more.
Joseph Campbell collected mythologies and pointed out that the most told story the world over is the hero’s journey. We get it deep inside. We long to live it. He says:
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
Phil Cousineau is a storyteller, documentary filmmaker, and teacher of creativity. He expands upon Campbell’s insights:
“The journey of the hero is about the courage to seek the depths; the image of creative rebirth; the eternal cycle of change within us; the uncanny discovery that the seeker is the mystery which the seeker seeks to know. The hero journey is a symbol that binds, in the original sense of the word, two distant ideas, the spiritual quest of the ancients with the modern search for identity, always the one, shape-shifting yet marvelously constant story that we find.”
This is what the cycle of the hero’s journey looks like:
The abyss is what I teach as “the cave.” It’s a basic story of refusing a call — accepting a circumstance, swearing off the love interest. We don’t want to be heroes. We want to walk the path laid out, which Campbell notes is not our path. Our path is the one we can’t see, and it’s dark, leading to a cave. No wonder we don’t want to go! We don’t want to pick up the phone when the unknown calls us.
Campbell also assures us that when we accept the challenge, forge the dark path, go our own way, we will have mentors who show up. A hero gains guides. Also, a hero attracts enemies. But forward on the hero marches. It gets crazy, but the hero has left home. Odysseus has sailed. Luke Skywalker left on the Millennium Falcon. Those who came to help the flood and landslide victims can’t turn the truck around mid-stream. Boots on the ground have to complete the mission.
There’s always a cave. Not literally, though it can be. It’s a dark moment when the hero can’t continue without becoming forever changed. No one wants to hang out in the cave forever, but some become afraid to leave its confines — think of depression, anxiety or PTSD in that way. Cave dwelling. It takes great courage to face internal forces and defy external ones. It takes boldness to get off the couch, out of the swamp, across the street.
Push through, and life alters, the hero transforms. The elixir the hero receives is not always the antidote to save the village or the blow that defeats the villain. The elixir can simply be the realization that life is ever-changing. That one’s self is continuing to evolve. The elixir is the power to go on and return home again, renewed.
If you think about it in personal terms, the hero’s journey is messy. Who wants all that trouble when security and clear paths afford a safer route. Ah, but then we miss the potential for who we were meant to be. So we go forth and be awkward. We make mistakes. We fall short of goals. We disappoint and are disappointed.
Without those uncomfortable moments, those difficult seasons, we’d have no idea how powerful a sunset is, or know the inner peace of observing a tadpole in a ray of sunlight on a shoreline. It’s like birth. Everyone tells expectant parents your life will change. It’s like death. We know after the loss it can never be the same. Yet, we gain some inner clarity, we feel more authentically ourselves.
No one wants to answer the call, including your characters. Before you begin your tale about that bold woman in the button necklace or the cool man dapper and tailored, think about who they were before. Or think about the journey yet to come. What if she learns what it is to doubt? What if he’s torn and no longer in control? Poke into the hero’s journey.
And button up for this week’s challenge!
July 5, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes buttons. You can use the word plural or singular in different expressions, or focus on how buttons relate to a story. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by July 10, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
In the Silent Places We Hide (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Danni didn’t want the buttons. They sat in a jar on her shelf by a faded photo. The night Michael accused her of hoarding artifacts, he didn’t mention old buttons. Today, he asked.
“Mom’s,” she answered, looking away, sitting on the floor.
Michael opened the jar and poured them into his hand. “Sacred.”
After he left, the house echoed ghosts – the mother she never knew, Ike’s booming voice, the dogs barking. She smashed that jar, buttons and glass scattering like those she had loved.
Picking up the pieces, button by button, she resolved to quit hiding in the house.