I’ve been told many times, by many people, that I think too much. That I spend too long reflecting on words and mannerisms, on past actions and experiences. That I should spend my time in the moment, instead of unraveling past behaviors searching for meaning hidden between the breathes. That maybe life isn’t as deep as I tend to make it, or maybe I have created these problems I face upon myself.
While, I believe that some of this is true (I have a bad habit of adding falsified meaning to other’s actions, or overthinking myself out of a great situation), I think that the alternative of never thinking over one’s behaviors and actions is much more dangerous. Why do we do what we do? What lead to that fight, that break up, that issue that could have been avoided? Where did the pain come from? What are the potential repercussions of these actions? How can I behave in a manner not only to prevent present and future evil, but to allow present and future good to prosper? These are the questions that bounce around in my mind.
People hide their meaning within their words, within their actions, even if subconsciously. If you pay attention, if you look close enough, you can often catch and put out fires before they even light. For example, if your significant other is upset about something, you can study the way their eyebrows move, the way their eyes flutter, or the connotations and pauses of their words to understand their frustration before they even have to share it, because sometimes, in the worst of circumstances, once they share it, it is too late.
It is often too late because we as humans sit on our emotions, we swallow our words like the tide receding so that we never open our mouths and unleash waves. We banish our tongues from freedom, and nod silently as resentment builds up in our bellies, compiling and compiling until we unleash a tsunami of rage, destroying the foundation of a relationship. We allow what could be solved by little, uncomfortable conversations to hide in the shadows of our core, until we are screaming at the one we love over an issue that truly has nothing to do what why we feel so angry, so resentful (we feel so resentful over something else, something that feels real to us that we never let out, so we find an avenue to unleash either a full storm, or tiny, compounding waves against the shore. This is why couples may fight over pointless things. The fight is almost never about what it seems to be about).
I never knew this, I never studied the tiny movements of fingers across my hand. I never stared into the creases of faces to see when they would deepen. I never listened to words, like truly listen to catch the empty words, filled with signs. And because of this, everything caught me off guard. I saw the world as a dangerous, unpredictable place (which, mostly, it still is) where people flipped scripts like days and loyalty seemed to be a myth.
I repeatedly was broken by the world, in a manner that seemed cruel, and pointless. But if only I paid attention. If only I paid attention, I could have caught the resentment bellying up in relationships before they exploded, leaving shards to still be picked out. If only I paid attention, I could have at most prevented, at least prepared myself for the division that occured between my family, and between my soul. If only I paid attention, and if only I spoke words that healed, that fixed issues, instead of words that fluttered empty in the wind, while the real words sat like rocks in the bottom of my throat.
While, I am by no means proficient at this skill now, I stumbled across a story in a lecture earlier this year that I want to share (I actually bought this book, and I read it aloud to every group that I work with, whether in culture camps, staff trainings, youth groups, or most recently, an adult dinner party).
Here is the story:
There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon by Jack Kent
Billy Bixbee was rather surprised when he woke up one morning to find a dragon in his room.
It was a small dragon, about the size of a kitten.
The dragon wagged its tail happily when Billy patted its head.
Blly went downstairs to tell his mother.
“There’s no such thing as a dragon” said Billy’s mother and she said it like she meant it.
Billy went back to his room and begin to dress. The dragon came close to Billy and wagged its tail, but Billy didn’t pat it. If there's no such thing as something, it's silly to pat it on the head.
Billy washed his hands and went down to breakfast. The dragon went along. It was bigger now, almost the size of a dog.
Billy sat down at the table, the dragon sat down on the table. This sort of thing was not usually permitted, but there wasn’t much Billy’s mother could do about it. She already said there was no such thing as a dragon, and if there’s no such thing as something, you can’t tell it to get off the table.
Mother made some pancakes for Billy, but the dragon ate them all. Mother made some more, but the dragon ate them too. Mother kept making pancakes until she ran out of batter. Billy only got one of them, but he said that is all he really wanted anyway.
Billy went upstairs to brush his teeth. Mother started clearing the table. The dragon, who was quite as big as mother at this time, made himself comfortable on the hall rug and went to sleep. By the time Billy came downstairs, the dragon had grown so much that it filled the hall. BIlly had to go around by way of the living room to get to where his mother was.
“I didn’t know dragons grew so fast!” said Billy.
“There’s no such thing as a dragon!” said his mother, firmly.
Cleaning the downstairs took mother all morning, well with that dragon in the way and having to climb in and out of windows to get from room to room.
By noon the dragon filled the house. It’s head hug out the front door, it’s tail the back, and there wasn’t a room in the house that didn’t have some part of the dragon in it.
When the dragona woke from his nap, he was hungry. A bakery truck went by and the smell of fresh bread was more than he could resist, The dragon ran down the street after the bakery truck. The house went alone, of course, like the shell of a snail.
The mailman was just coming up the path with some mail for the Bixby’s when their house rushed passed him and headed down the street. He chased the Bixby’s house for a few blocks, but couldn’t catch it.
When Mr. Bixby came home from lunch, the first thing he noticed was that the house was gone. Luckily one of the neighbors was able to tell him which was it went.
Mr. Bixby got into his car and went looking for the house. He studied all of the houses and he drove along. Finally he saw one that looked familiar. Billy and Mrs. Bixby were waving from an upstairs window.
Mr. Bixby climbed over the dragon’s head, onto the porch roof, and into the upstairs window.
“How did this happen?!” Mr. Bixby asked.
“It was the dragon!” Said Billy.
“There’s no such thing as” Mother started to say.
“There is a dragon!” Billy insisted. “A very big dragon!” And billy patted the dragon on the head. The dragon wagged its tail happily. Then even faster than it had grown, the dragon began to get smaller. SOon, it was kitten sized again.
“I don’t mind dragons this sized. Why did it have to grow so big?” Said mother.
“I’m not sure. But I think it just wanted to be noticed.” Said Billy
As who know of artists, everything they do is for a reason. Therefore, everything they used in this story is purposeful. That makes my first question: Why dragons? Why did the author choose to use a dragon, instead of some other monster or creature? Why it is that dragons don’t exist (but, as it seems in the story, they do exist?).
To answer this question, it seems we have to go back to the mythology of dragons. In western culture, dragons and knights went hand in hand. A dragon was a huge creature, who dominated land and air, who could breathe fire and swallow men whole. Dragons destroyed villages and castles, captured princesses and hoarded gold. This leads to a whole new set of questions. Why did a child’s author choose to use a creature that represented the capacity for destruction and death? Also, why does such a dangerous creature hoard gold and capture princesses? And if they are so dangerous, why did knights fight them? Why not just let them be?
The dragon represents, it seems, something that can kill humans and destroy society in a second, without any hesitation. It is dangerous and wild, so why do humans fight it? Because, this creature also hoards gold and princesses. Therefore, as far as I can tell, humans fight the thing that can kill them in order to achieve the things that they need. The thing that can kill us, the thing that we fear, holds within it everything that we need in life. This is why knights fight dragons, because they had no choice, If they didn’t fight a dragon, not only would the gold and princess never be obtained, but the dragons would eventually come and destroy them, and everyone else. Humans fought dragons out of necessity,
Therefore, if we can take a step back and see dragons as something that has the capacity to destroy us, we realize that dragons by all means exist. Then, looking back at the story, Jack Kent used dragons to represent the thing that can destroy us if left alone. This is why the mother ignored the dragon. She convinced herself it didn’t exist because it was scary, it was harmful, and it was easier to pretend there was no dragon. But dragons do not go away. They grow and grow and grow until they run away with your home. They grow and grow until one day you come home from work to see that your house is gone (your wife left you, etc).
The knights who conquered dragons were rewarded with gold and princesses. The men and women who conquer dragons are rewarded with meaning. Meaningful relationships, meaningful work, meaningful actions within life. The dragons that appear in our homes are dangerous, and do have the capacity to destroy us (some knights died), but through them, through conquering them, we can achieve the things we always wanted. The funny thing is though, it isn’t a choice. Either you conquer the dragon while it is small and feasible, or you let it grow and grow until it takes over.
So how do we conquer dragons? We pay attention. We are precise in our speech. We use words that heal. We speak up when we feel issues arising, and we refuse to let resentment bubble. We share with our loved ones, even if, especially if the feelings we have are embarrassing or seemingly inconsequential. We use the truth as our sword, as we address dragons when they are small. If we can do this, if we can conquer the dragons that appear in our lives, then maybe we can get the things that we need.