Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Being an Overcomer

Being human is one of the most delightful, pleasurable, exquisitely painful entities one can be. Not that I speak from experience, having never lived as sprite or elf or angel or vampire or mermaid or any other ethereal or spiritual being. But I am human, so I can speak to the vast myriad of experiences open to us, the breadth of emotional tones that stretch across those experiences, as well as the depth of sensory reactions we can have to each one. In short, I love being human. And I love being alive.

In fact, if we are not living, if we are not growing, reaching, realizing our dreams, then we are in the process of dying. We atrophy. We wilt. We fade away.

I believe that with all of my heart.

[Note to Reader: I also hate martyrs (not the ancient Christian sort but those "woe is me" kind that unfortunately pepper our lives, attempting to drag everyone down to their level of depressed existence). I am not speaking of martyrdom in the following paragraphs.]

Sometimes, however, we each face a moment in our lives -- in our writing, our dreams, our goals -- when we feel defeated and morose and unable to lift our heads. A time when we've hit that "all is lost" moment in our own heroic story, and we're unable to see past the stormy seas or the voracious monsters or the duct tape binding our wrists.

There's a poem I love -- and have loved for many years (and have had students memorize it for the last 4-5, actually) that speaks to this moment and the appropriate human reaction to such events. You may recognize it, since it's gained recent press in a movie by the same name. The author, having already had one leg amputated, was facing a second amputation. This was in 1875, a time when modern medicine wasn't at its kindest or gentlest. But instead of despairing, he wrote a poem about being "unconquered." I hope it speaks to you, just as it rests easy in my heart.

And even if you, as author, do not experience things that cause heartache and despair...make sure your protagonist does. It's what makes her human.

William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

1 comment:

  1. My MC is currently learning less about being uncoquerable than about the message of the last two lines. Of course, to set that up, I have to play a careful game with the sort of issues raised by the last post.


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