The reluctant hero
A young man sat on a fence. It was not a comfortable seat and he squirmed to make it more bearable for himself, sometimes straddling it till it felt like a razor cutting him in two, sometimes dangling his feet over one side or the other. But it was still painful. And besides, it was rather precarious. He could fall off. And he didn’t want to fall into anything.
He knew he had to get off this damn fence so he accepted that he had to make a choice. But which side would he choose to alight on? Either way he looked he saw danger.
No matter which choice he made, he knew it was not going to be a gentle trip. But somehow one side looked easier. It would be less difficult to let himself slide downhill into….What the hell was that down there? It looked damn dark. But at least it was a well travelled path. Still, that dark abyss at the bottom frightened….and beckoned to him.
Still squirming on his uncomfortable perch he turned to look once more at the mountain on the other side. He smiled as he watched the beauty of white gulls soaring in the sun above the craggy rocks. He felt his eyes dazzled by the bluest of skies. And then he looked again at the mountain. It looked damn steep and rocky to him. He could see a narrow winding path zig-zagging through thorns. But there were places where the path seemed to disappear. And he knew that if he chose this side he’d have to struggle damn hard on his own to find his way….and it sure was going to be all uphill.
As he raised his head again to glimpse the sunlit rocks at the top and the joyous freedom of the gulls, he felt himself slipping off the fence. He grabbed frantically to hold on and then thought, “Oh, what the hell….and he allowed himself to slide off his perch onto the narrow path that led up the mountain. “I always preferred to find my own way anyway, he told himself.
He had made his choice, and yet he kept glancing backward. And as he expected, this damn hill was hard to climb. The thorns scraped and scratched him. Branches lashed his face and voices seemed to taunt him, “It takes a man to climb this mountain. Are you sure you’re up to it?”
The challenge angered him. And he blindly groped his way further and further up the hillside until nightfall. Then he fell, exhausted but proud, into a well earned sleep.
In the morning things looked different. He stood face to face with the sheer wall of a cliff. It terrified him. He could think of no way to climb it without falling. He could be hurt…hell, he could be killed. “This is crazy,” he told himself as he stepped a little closer, hoping to find some foot- hold. But each time he tried, his hands and feet slid off the slippery surface until he began to feel quite bruised.
By midday he told himself, “No way. I’m getting to hell out of here.” He turned around and began to make his way down off the mountain, while the taunting voices called to him, “Told you….It takes a man to climb this mountain…
He felt humiliation then and he began to run. Faster and faster he sped–away from the sunlit rocks, through the brambles and thorns, over the fence onto the well-trodden path, gasping now, and his feet sliding down the hill toward the dark abyss below.
And suddenly he fell. He lay there, face down, for a moment, stunned. Then he raised himself to a sitting position and looked downward. He could see the blackness and emptiness below and it terrified him.
“I might as well be back on that damn fence,” he told himself. “I tried to be a hero. And it scared hell out of me. I tried running away. And I’m not much good at that either. Fell flat on my face.” He touched his jaw where he had cut himself slightly and he winced.
Then he looked down the hill toward the darkness. “I wonder what the hell is down there.. He thought he heard laughter for a moment as he \stood, fascinated, staring into the darkness. He heard it again as he took a few steps downhill. “I know it’s not good,” he thought, “I can feel it. But what is it?” One more step and he could see.
A pit. A vast, ugly pit writhing with snakes. And now he heard the wails and felt the pain of screaming humanity–of the many who had travelled the easy road into darkness.
Now he saw! Now he knew! And he backed away in horror!
“Are these my only choices?” he screamed.
And the answer came from the wind, “Yes. But you are luckier than most. You got to see both sides. You know what to expect now.
“But I don’t want either of them!”
“No, that’s not quite true,” the wind replied, “You want both of them. You want the easy road to lead to sunlight and freedom and pride.”
“Then you’ve made your choice.”
Puzzled, the young man looked around him. He glanced toward the snake pit at the end of the road and turned away in revulsion. His glance turned upward toward the sunlit mountain, the blue sky, and the white birds.
“Yes,” he sighed reluctantly. “I know where I want to go. I know what I have to choose.”
“Then accept your own choice. And get started,” answered the wind. “This road is slippery. You’re on it now and the hardest part of your journey today is to get back to the fence where you started. You could still slide into the pit.”
The reluctant young hero understood now. It was fear that had put him into this situation. But as he struggled upward on the slippery hill that was only meant for downhill travel, he felt as though no progress were possible. He cursed himself for being here. His greatest effort was only enough to move him forward by inches. Despair consumed him as he thought, “I’ll never make it.”
He glanced upward through sweat that streamed down from his forehead. He could see the sun on the mountain, but it seemed so far away.
“It would be so simple,” he thought, “Just to let go….to stop trying…. to just do nothing and let myself slide….” But then he remembered what waited for him at the bottom of that hill.
“No!” he screamed into the twilight. Again he strained upward. And again. Until, by nightfall, he had reached the fence. He struggled over it and collapsed, exhausted, at the foot of the mountain.
And as he slept, the wind came to whisper to him”
“You will need to be strong. Look for your strength and you will find it.”
“Your strength lies disguised inside your fears. Each fear conquered turns to pride. Conquer fear.”
“Your strength lies in struggle. Accept it. Grow in it.
“Your strength lies in wisdom. Learn. Listen to lessons of errors, of failures, and success.
“Your strength lies in the sight of your own virtues. Look at them often.
“You will find strength in accepting your pain. Learn that you can take it.
“You will find strength in each successful step upward. Count them often.
“You will find strength in your vision of the sunlight. Glance upward often.
“You will find strength in your fear of the pit. Remember it.
“You will find strength in your passion for beauty. Relish it.
“You will have one enemy. Despair. Despair will tell you that you are too weak, too helpless, too young, too stupid, too vulnerable. Defy him.
“You have one weapon. Your mind. Learn to use it. Grasp the true reasons for hope and pride. Then keep your mind clear.
“You have one friend. Your unfulfilled Dream. Whatever it might be, it will call to you. It will keep you climbing.
“Do not be tricked by those who seek less than you. They want you to lose.
“You are now at the foot of Hero’s Mountain.
Remember this: Your battle is never completely won. You must choose daily to remain on this path.
“Remember this too: It takes a hero to get here….because one can only arrive by choice and effort….and with full understanding of what the choices really are. Today you are a hero. Find strength in that and rest now. Tomorrow will bring a new challenge.”