I forced myself to read Bleak House (see review) in January as a part of my 2014 TBR Challenge . At the same time, I started listening to The Iliad. My bookclub will soon discuss The Song of Achilles (see review) at my suggestion, and since I had already read it, why not just revisit The Iliad? I'm absolutely in love with the audio of this edition right now, this translation by Stephen Mitchell, so much so that I also happily picked up the actual book at Book People in Austin. (There is some controversy with this translation, because it is based on a publication that cut some of the great epic, arguing that it was not a part of the original. Regardless, the audio version and the book are a real treat. I promise, if you haven't encountered a translation of The Iliad that leaves you breathless, you are missing out. I've tried Pope's version, which was Sam Houston's love, but it is beyond me at this modern moment. Maybe some archaic day.)
Still, I had to have something Non-Bleak Non-Greek to listen to, so I did what I usually do, and just listened to a bit of a few audio books I had in my queue, randomly sticking with the one the interested me the most at the moment. That ended up being Mom & Me & Mom, by Maya Angelou. I had just finished listening to this book about a mother and her daughter, when I went to see Paris Community Theatre's production of Butterflies Are Free.
Now, none of these things have anything to do with the other, do they?
Unless you are a mom with a son on that soccer team, who just happens to be a senior.
You see, the play's title, Butterflies Are Free, is from a famous quote from Dickens in Bleak House, and is actually discussed in the play and is a theme of the play. Here it is:
“I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not deny to Harold Skimpole what it concedes to the butterflies.”
Don Jones references this quote in the play. Don is a blind man trying to live on his own. Don has a protective mom.
Don is talking about the poem with Jill, a free spirit, who had basically misquoted it. The interesting thing about Harold Skimpole in Bleak House is that he is a character who likes to freely borrow money with no thought of paying it back, and he seems to get away with it.
Of course, no one can go through life completely and utterly free. Not if you are lucky enough to love someone. Nor should you entrap a human with your love. Great themes. Great truths.
When I was a brand new mother of my baby boy, one night when he was certainly not even a month old, I dropped him on his head. I did! I did. I committed the cardinal sin of changing his diaper without the new one in my hand, so I used my body to hold him up on the table, while I turned to grab the new diaper. I felt him start to role like a little boulder off of a cliff. The weight of his head pulled him down quicker than I could grab him. Watching him falling to the floor, without even the knowledge to throw his hands up for protection, was like having my guts torn out by vultures. (I'm sorry if you don't like my similes, but when in Greece, right?)
I was still hysterically wailing by the time he had quit crying. My husband was forever more deemed the calm parent, which is a wild turn of events. We still tease our son about how brilliant he would have been if I had not dropped him on his head. Luckily, it was peer and beam house, with a wood floor.
But that is when I learned the first lesson of the hardship of mothering, the life long quest of parenting. That lesson is this --
[besides the obvious]
The hardest part of parenting is trying to protect that baby, and realizing that you can only do the best that you can do. You can't protect him. You can't make sure she is always 100% safe. Sometimes, you have to swallow your tears and release the butterflies. And that is really, really hard. But that is your job, even when you want to swoop in and save the day.
That is what The Iliad is about, too. Almost every bit of The Iliad is about relationships. Except the awesome fighting parts and the beautiful similes. But otherwise, The Iliad is about life, and learning how to inspire persons to heroic, tragic, wonderful action. It is about loving someone enough to let them go and live or die, knowing that you can't protect them against the perversity of life.
So I'm loving watching this soccer team, these young gods, these warriors, and I'm hearing The Iliad playing in my head, and I'm looking at my graduating senior knowing that I'm about to have to let him go. I'm like Thetis, immediately rising in the grey mist to go to Achilles when he needs her, Thetis who lets him be. I'm about to be like Mrs. Jones, who does the right thing with her son, however hard. I'll be a John Jardyce, who has to let the wards grow up and go their way. Maybe someday when he is in trouble, I will pull through for him, the way Maya Angelou's mom, did (would someone PLEASE make a movie of this!!!).
Low and behold, at the same time I am processing all of this, our preacher, Rob Spencer, preached about when bad things happen in his series reflecting on how we Christians get it wrong. Because the truth is that we do get it wrong, I certainly have. The other truth is that of those four parents I mentioned above, at least half of their treasures suffer difficult or tragic outcomes. Life is like that. So what do you do if your outcome is horrible? What do you do if you know someone who is living through that horrible outcome? Do you say something innane? Do you tell that dear person that it is all in God's plan? I have a really hard time with that, whether it is true or not. Don't say that to a grieving person! If it is so, let them come to their own conclusion and declaration. What do you do instead? Here is what Rob told us in his sermon that he thinks (reprinted here with permission), and I agree with him:
[Rob was reflecting on how he felt when his son was about to start driving.]
I do not believe that prayer is magic. If I just pray hard enough and long enough that my son who is turning 16 in July will somehow have a protective shield around him when he drives! I don't believe that.
I do pray that God would help me be the best teacher, and help him be as prepared as possible for those teen driving years. But even if I am the very best teacher and if he is the best student, it in no way fully guarantees his safety!!! But it can help me appreciate every minute that I have with him. There are no guarantees that when he walks out our front door he will return the same way.
Sometimes we make good decisions and sometimes we don't. Sometimes the decisions of others impact us. And sometimes bad stuff just happens.
When tragic times come my way, I may turn my back on God. I may curse God. But I believe with all my heart that God will help me through those dark valleys of life.
And I believe that he will do it with people like you!
Amen, Rob. And may it be so. May I be one of those persons. May you be one of those persons. And may we have the strength to allow our warriors to grow up and go to the beach of their destiny. May we allow our butterflies to fly free.