Thursday, March 19, 2009
I grew up a child of Disney. Not today’s Disney, the manufacturer of tween celebrities, but the animated Disney of the past -- Cinderella, Snow White, Bambi. Though these tales always began with a tragedy (typically the death of the mother) they invariably ended in happily ever after. All Disney tales follow the same simplistic formula; tragedy, foe, rescue of protagonist by a prince, knight or other likely hero and finally happily ever after.
These animated fables led me to believe I’d have one life challenge and once the challenge was met never-ending happiness would ensue. But my life hasn’t followed Disney’s allegorical blueprint. Sparrows do not tie my bonnets nor do dwarves swoon over my every move. I have not (yet) suffered a major personal tragedy. Rather life has been a series of obstacles; periods of hard work and sacrifice followed by brief moments of bliss. The bliss, however, is short-lived because the next hurdle unfailingly comes into sight. I know, I know ... life is not a fairy tale. Nonetheless it remains difficult to accept that happily isn’t ever after.
I continue to wait; to naively hope that infinite happiness lurks around the next corner. After this hurdle is cleared, after that problem is solved, then I’ll be truly and irrevocably happy. I want this to be true. And yet I know joy can not exist without sorrow. These seemingly contrary emotions will always wax and wane just like the ebb and flow of tides. Yet I’m unwilling to give up my guileless hope.
It’s quite possible I’m a slow learner. After all I still get excited about the daily mail though it brings nothing but bills and junk. Another misguided throw back from my childhood. Today when the mail truck comes I’ll grab my keys and run to the mail box. I’ll sort through the bills and the adverts and once again stifle my disappointment that no treasures arrived.
The irony of my hope is it has always been misguided. Most fairy tales, in their original inception, did not end happily. Charles Perrault killed off Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood. These hapless characters were not rescued by a heroic huntsman. The moral of the story? Don’t talk to strangers and don’t dilly dally or you will be eaten -- literally.
I can’t help but wonder if the original versions of these stories would be better suited versions for our children. Had I grown up assuming my life might end in the stomach of a wolf then perhaps I’d be grateful to be alive instead of longing for the ever after. Then again I'd rather not live my life in constant fear (as if the nightly news doesn't already serve this purpose).
I suspect a moderate tale, such as Grimm’s alternate Riding Hood might provide a happy medium. In Grimm’s second version Little Red Cap met a wolf on the way to Grandma’s house. This time, however, Red Cap heeded her mother’s advice and did not talk to the beastly creature. Instead she hurried to Grandma’s, warned her about the danger and together they outsmarted the beast. The evening was saved and the girls partook of tea and cake. Ms. Red Cap, however, remained diligent and on her toes as she traveled home. She was not bothered again because of her careful ways. No knight in shining armor or huntsman necessary. In other words, her life and subsequently her happiness was in her own hands.
It is time I took responsibility for my own happiness. It's unlikely a prince will come and scrub my floors which today would make me happy (it is however possible I'll find a frog). Instead of waiting for my prince to come I’m going to put on some music and pick up this mess. Then I’ll sit down and write a letter to mail to someone special -- me. And tomorrow I'll wait with bated breath for the mail arrive. After all it might contain something good.