Hero's Journey: Jane and the Final Battle

The gratitude and blessing I received by leaving my ordinary world behind to travel ultimately shaped my perspective. Ordinary Jane looked the same, but her edges had been sanded and rounded into new understanding. As the trip drew to a close, my husband and I now looked at the long trip home from Rome to Hawaii.

Outside of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy

Outside of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy

In Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien, Aragon, having vanquished Gondor, gathers the troops to go to the black gate and make a final stand against Sauron to support Frodo’s journey to destroy the ring. Meanwhile, Frodo faces Gollum for ultimate control over the ring but we know he is really facing the destruction of himself. In any hero’s journey, this final trial is the ultimate test that determines not only the hero’s worthiness, but also provides the opportunity to use her new found perspective. Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth” identified this as The Final Battle. Harry Potter does this in the final book, The Deathly Hallows, when he must face Voldemort with the Elder Wand. These final battles determine the outcome of good versus evil with our heroes at the center of the struggle. In all of the cases, each hero has her new found knowledge to support the conflict.

While The Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter are fantasy stories filled with magic and monsters, the everyday, ordinary hero might confront a conversation with a significant other, or a parent, maybe standing up for themselves at work, or reaching an achievement. The Final Battle may not be a grandiose conquering of an evil being, but just coming full circle changed.

My final battle:

The beginning of our flight from Italy to Frankfurt.  The journey home to Hawaii took us over twenty hours.

The beginning of our flight from Italy to Frankfurt.  The journey home to Hawaii took us over twenty hours.

My husband and I boarded our first flight. Easy Peasy. On the second flight from Frankfurt to Los Angeles, I sat next to a young man headed home to the United States. While a nice human, each time he stood up, I was gifted with the strongest stench of poo. I fortified my nose by burying it into the arm of my husband on the other side of me. Twelve hours later, barely making it through customs because my dark-skinned husband needed additional screening into the country, running at least a mile and a half to our gate and a narrowly missed flight home, we made it to our gate.

We settled into the seats for our final leg home. An elderly gentleman sitting next to me - struggling to communicate with the flight attendant due to a language barrier - pulls out a massive stalk of dried squid (ike) at least 12-16 inches long and begins to gnaw on it. The strong aroma of dried squid (if you aren’t sure, it’s probably easy to imagine) turned my stomach. As the man chewed that jerky like squid from one to the other without hands, I spend most of the next six hour flight with my nose against my husband’s other arm. Good stories and ones we love to laugh about now.

Kailua Beach

Kailua Beach

This final task, the twenty-plus hours of travel to make it from one side of the globe to another, When we landed in Hawaii, it had never felt better to return home.

Hero's Journey: Jane's Dark Night of the Soul

My husband and I stood on the lower deck of our ship Le Lyrial as other passengers boarded a tender to shore. It was our last day in Greece before crossing the Mediterranean sea to Italy. We had stopped to port in Fira where we’d visit Oia and Santorini. It wasn’t a calm day, the sea burgeoning and swelling so that the water lapped up onto the deck causing the tender to slam against the side of ship.

Our ship

Our ship

“Maybe I’ll just hang out on the ship and read,” I said ready to avoid getting into that tender any way that I could. The truth is, I’m terrified of getting sea sick and of people getting sick around me. The idea of climbing into a small sardine container that would take us to shore in those large waves was enough to test every bit of fortitude I had, and I wasn’t finding any.

The ship's tender (the sardine can)

The ship's tender (the sardine can)

My husband, a man of such eloquence and compassion said, “Naw. It’s all good.”

I could have used a compassionate embrace or a reassuring squeeze of his hand.  I didn’t receive either of these. Maybe a little symbolic in a way, because this was a moment I had to push through alone.

In every narrative, the protagonist must face a moment of truth.  It is the moment when she must decide to go backward, stay the same, or to change course.  This moment of truth is what Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth” describes as the Dark Night of the Soul, the Innermost Cave or the Belly of the Whale (yeah, like Jonah).  Remember that moment in The Empire Strike’s Back when Luke literally walked into a cave and had to face a vision of Darth Vader who just also happened to have Luke’s face? Yeah. That.

Standing on that deck watching the tender get whipped about by the waves and passengers getting handed to crew members from one vessel to another brought me to that turning point. I can imagine that it seems like such a small thing, but aren’t our lives moments of small things that invite us to act? I had a choice: stay on our ship and miss Santorini because I was afraid, or face my fear.  

I faced my fear and got onto the damn tender.

Hero's Journey: Jane Crosses the Threshold

Samwise Gamgee, the steady and dependable sidekick of Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein said, “Mr. Frodo, if I take one more step, it will be the farthest from home I have ever been.”  That’s how I felt looking at the threshold of the airplane I was boarding in Montreal, Quebec on a flight headed for Athens, Greece.

How many thousands of feet are we in this aluminum can? Don't think about it.

How many thousands of feet are we in this aluminum can? Don't think about it.

If I am the hero of my own little life’s journey, I’m not the most interesting of hero’s.  We’ve already established this fact. I’m pretty ordinary. Ordinary Jane. I love my home and while I dream about, write about, and read about adventure, I'm content to do so from the comfort of my couch.  I’m about as spontaneous as a pot of cold water set on the stove to boil, unless you consider Internet shopping spontaneous. The notion that I haven’t been further from home than the 73-degrees West longitude and this airplane I’m boarding is about to take off from that mark on the globe and take me to the 23-degrees East of Athens, is sobering. I’ll cross the Prime Meridian, for goodness sakes. The idea of this trip to Greece and Italy was definitely more romantically exciting in theory, but now that I’m on my way, I feel the fear bouncing around in my chest like billiard balls knocking against each other.

This is my life partner's happy face. No lie. That is his ecstatic face.

This is my life partner's happy face. No lie. That is his ecstatic face.

The moment I entered that airplane and took my seat, I Crossed the First Threshold, another step in Joseph Campbell’s “Monomyth.”  The first threshold represents the point in the hero’s journey in which she completely commits to the journey by crossing out of the ordinary world with which she is comfortable into the unknown.  By doing so, the hero enters into the fantastic mysterious world committing to a journey she can’t control; however, she understands that it is only through commitment to this journey that she will be able to return home to the ordinary world.

As the plane takes off, my mind wanders considering everything that could go wrong.  What if I lose my passport? What if my purse gets stolen? What if the luggage doesn’t get there? The “what-if” questions rage like a hungry wildfire in my mind.  Then I feel my husband’s hand in mine; a calm covers me when I let go of the fear and consider the romantic notions that have defined me up to this point. The wildfire of “what-ifs” are silenced and my imagination begins to piece together a beautiful story about all of the possibilities of how this trip will go right. I smile with my husband’s hand in mine and I settle into the seat on the airplane taking me far from home.  

We made it to Athens safely with no mishaps.

We made it to Athens safely with no mishaps.