Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Little Mermaid


I’ve been thinking a lot about the little mermaid. Not the beautiful Disney version where everyone lives happily ever after and the crawling evil of the sea witch is destroyed in a gruesome fireworks display. No the one I’m thinking about is the original. Her story brushes my mind literally every step I take these days. It takes conscious effort to shove off the fairy tale and focus on the task at hand, walking, though typing is fast becoming the next task too painful to undertake.
See in the original fairy tale, the little mermaid is in fact smaller than her sisters and doesn’t really fit in. She tries to be fairly normal, trying to go about her fishy life, when a storm and ship wreck brings her to the surface and face to face with the man of her dreams. She is so smitten that she would give up her world and change, even lose her life for the chance to be with him. After mooning about for a day she goes to the sea witch, in this tale a benign sea sprite who weaves spells for a living. The story gives the impression she predates the mermaid populace. She listens to the girl’s plea and tells her that giving her legs is possible but that it comes with a heavy price. She warns her not only would she give up her voice but each step the girl takes would be as if she walked on knives.
“I don’t care. I have to try.” She says.
Of course we all know the rest of the story. The witch tells her the spell will last only three days and that if she cannot gain his love by then she will lose her life and become sea foam. The girl agrees and the deed is done. She is washed ashore to find that the prince already enamored of some girl who found him on the beach just as he was waking up. Though he finds the mermaid and she suffers three days walking on knives (and in some renditions bleeding profusely) she is unable to convince him of anything and throws herself into the ocean at the end of the third day and turns to sea foam.
I’m hoping our comparisons end with her walking on knives. Something has invaded my joints with a savage pain. I’m taking two Aleve in the morning hobbling like an eighty year old granny through the day and then downing six Advil at once in order to sleep 6 hours. It wears off at 4 am so I am forced to rise painfully from bed and hobble around finding things I can do with minimal moving until the Aleve decides it is going to work. Every step feels like I’m walking on broken bone. It is beginning in my fingers and soon typing will be a problem. If this is the same thing my maternal grandmother had I can well understand why she stayed drunk. I’ve determined not to EVER run out of pain killer again because after suffering through two days of no painkiller I downed a glass of rum with a brandy chaser. It didn’t kill the pain so much as made it so I no longer cared and sleepy enough to skim sleep until morning. I promptly eased to the store and bought large quantities of painkiller.
I’ve had time to examine the story of the little mermaid closer. Not the original text but the essence of the story. What possessed her to think she could convince him who she was without a way to communicate? How did she cope with the pain? The sea witch gave her every reason to quit, to go home, to find a nice merman to marry and get on with living life as what she was. Why pursue the path of greatest destruction? These questions are not unfamiliar. She believed she could find a way to win his heart no matter the obstacle. She knew the risks and would cope with anything in any way she had to in order to achieve her goal, the goal she believed with all her heart was right. Why would she settle for a life spent trying to live up to others expectations of her when she knew in her heart she was capable of so very much more? Why go back to a people who considered her a misfit when the possibility of the greatest love ever told hung before her? True she might come to ruin, she might even die but she couldn’t bring herself to go back, to settle for a life under others. She couldn’t when the chance of a lifetime was just beyond her fingertips.
I know this feeling. I know it all too well. It is not feeling you follow to get rich or be popular it is the feeling you follow because there is no other choice. In your heart you know there is no other option for you no matter what others tell you. The witch tells her all the limitations she will face just making the choice to go to land and as bad as it is even the wise sprite cannot imagine the extra challenges the mermaid will face once she is there. Yet the little mermaid holds her head up and walks and fights alone to the last. She refuses to give up until she is at last out of time, energy, and options. I imagine when she finally surrenders to the sea she is glad she doesn’t have to go home to the doubters, doesn’t have to feel like a failure, doesn’t have to fight anymore. I imagine her only regret is that she didn’t fight harder.
It is a practical story that applies to all sorts of troubles, battling illness, being picked on in school, reaching for a dream no one believes in but you. The witch could be parents, teachers, coworkers, friends, family or boss warning you of the dangers so you don’t go into battle unarmed and unprepared. The prince could be anything deeply desired. The pain of walking is the painful growth done the journey progresses. The loss of voice is the inability to tell others and for others to understand fully what it is you are going through. The other woman is the final and last hurtle you have to get over before achieving your goal. She is the challenge that will either make you or break you but you must face her none the less. You may win or you may lose but there is always a release at the end. Sometimes it’s hard to see it that way, sometimes you’d rather die than go back to the way things were. Sometimes you'd rather die than let things change. That is when you must remind yourself that things will never be the same as they were. In the end the mermaid becomes sea foam and most think it is a sad ending because they see this change as a death. I choose to see it as what it is.
In the end the little mermaid becomes a part of something far bigger than her pain. She becomes a part of the element that is so dear to her that even her love for the prince cannot overshadow. The ocean is something larger than her troubles and she floats away on the waves dissolving into that cosmic peace of being a part of something bigger than just you. Some choose faith, some choose charity, some choose outreach but it is always good to be a part of something bigger, stronger than you. Being a mother, part of a tiny life that is just beginning, gives me the drive to go and do though every step is like walking on knives and there is no way to explain the devastation that has gone on in my life to others. Being part of a service project through the school gives me the sense that somehow I make a difference.
I may rewrite the little mermaid someday in order to reflect what I see in her story, to tell her universal truths to those who need to hear it. But for today I will take it one painful step at a time.

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