Another Odyssey, but not so Mythic, and not with Odysseus
I have been talking about the journey that I am taking, one that is both a physical as well as a psychological journey. The physical journey is as important as the psychological journey. And like all journeys, it isn’t about the distance being travelled in terms of kilometres or miles, it is about the distance travelled in terms of how we physically move from one way of being present in this world to a fuller presence.
My Journey for this latest adventure began in Canada last June as I went to visit my mother for what I presumed at that time would be the last visit before her death. I wanted things to be taken care of before I went back to China to teach. The proper forms were put into place as my brother and I worked at making sure that all the answers to all the questions would be taken care of if she died while I was away. My brother did most of the work and I was the one who convinced our mother to go along with our efforts. I was the one she trusted and listened to, the golden boy as my brothers and sisters would often complain. Yes, I was her golden child, but little did they know exactly what that meant – little did I know what that meant at that time. With the process in place, I flew back to China and began a new teaching year.
There was a plan to take a holiday for a week at the beginning of October, to Tibet but because of visa requirements which take time, and the unavailability of travel tickets when we began preparing for our week off classes, a decision was made to take a different holiday in November to the Philippines. There was ample time to prepare for this holiday including the necessary rescheduling of classes so that no student would lose precious classroom time. After the plans were made and the tickets bought, my mother’s health took a turn for the worse and it became a matter of time. Just days before the plane was to fly to Manila, my mother decided that she was going to stop treatments. And it was only two days into our stay in the Philippines when she died. I didn’t fly back for a funeral or memorial service for there wasn’t one based on my mother’s request. Rather, I set up a memorial site on Facebook in order to honour our mother for my siblings and invited all who knew her to add their messages and photos to that special memorial page. I was her first child and I thought it was my duty to get this all in place for all of us.
Upon returning to China after the holiday, I began to fall apart, a little bit at a time. I assumed, as did my wife, that it was a natural sadness and mourning. I began to have bad dreams and finally decided that I had better start writing again in order to deal with them and with my feelings. In early January it was time for our semester break and we flew to Thailand as we had arranged previously. It was only a matter of hours after landing that the darkness began to envelop me as memories began to emerge from my childhood, memories of physical, emotional, relational and sexual abuse. I had no idea of most of this and was writing furiously trying to contain it, to place it in a form that I could cope with. It wasn’t long before I realised that this was something I couldn’t do alone, I needed a guide. And that became my next task, to return to the guide who waits for me in Canada.
The pieces are falling into place and as you can see, it is all quite ordinary. There is nothing mythic at work here, at least not from the observable point of view. But in spite of the lack of storms and shipwrecks and monsters and magical beings, it is very much an odyssey, one that is made for ordinary and mortal humans. This is my journey but it could easily be anyone’s journey. And that is the value of learning the old myths though they are cloaked in magic, mystery and supernatural beings both human and god-like. The myths show ordinary men and women how their individual, prosaic lives are mirrored in those myths. And in being mirrored, they provide an understanding of what is happening to our psyche, to our soul and spirit as we struggle with the darkness that haunts us. These myths help us to see a way forward as if the myths are road maps that show us where we are going and how we will get to the other side, safely and sane.
Armed with the knowledge that others have gone on this journey before me and have won back their mental and physical health, I packed my bags and headed for the airport to dare the journey that waits for every single one of us.