Saturday, June 30, 2012

How to Slay Monsters

Since I’m a horror writer, at least a member of the association, you might think I have something to say about monsters. But these monsters, the ones I want to talk about, are metaphoric. 

Plenty of monsters have walked through my life. The cancer which took my father, the self-doubt which played havoc with my twenty-something brain when my first fiancée left me stranded in Lawrence with only a handful of acquaintances and an apartment with no water… Aimee’s illness and death. 

I’ve always thought it took bravery and courage to slay monsters. I’ve heard those words a lot since the article was published. Brave and courageous are not adjectives I’d ever use for myself—I’m just slaying the monsters the only way I know how. 

Here’s the first trick: you have to look at the monster. You can’t turn away, or run, or hide. It may seem like I’m speaking of courage, but really—really—the monster weakens with your gaze on it. The courage only needs to come one time, the first time, and each subsequent time a monster rears its shaggy head, it’s not as big as the first. It’s not as scary. Just look at it. Acknowledge it. Accept it for what it is: cancer… mental illness... death.

I’m not a grief counselor or an expert, but I’m an expert on me. What I know, what I know as well as my own name, is Aimee’s illness—all of the ups and downs over the last eight years—was a monster. It was a monster full of teeth with black eyes full of malice. Opening up in the article, sharing our story, helped drive a big ol’ metaphoric sword into that monster’s gullet. 

I cut my monster-slaying teeth as a boy, watching my father slowly deteriorate while cancer and radiation treatment nibbled away. It was a hard lesson for an elementary school kid, but I’ve become the man I am because I stared it down and learned how weak it really was. The monster didn’t own me.

Here’s the other trick, the one which makes looking at the monster the first time easier: you have to have hope. Understand this special kind of hope, a kind of hope born of love and patience. I knew my father wasn’t going to “get better.” But hope—hope for my life, and the lesson I learned about mortality—shaped me as a boy. 

Life is short. Live it. Realize that the monsters don’t own us.

The day I asked Aimee to marry me, I thought I heard my father’s voice. “Just do it, boy.” I’ve never shared that with anyone. “Just do it, boy.” I don’t know why it came out as a Nike ad, but…

That’s how you slay the monsters. Just do it.

Life is short. Live it.

Every heroic tale takes a trip through the underworld (at least metaphorically). There, the hero gains what he/she needs to slay the monsters/accomplish his/her task. My weapon of choice? Hope.

Life is short. Live it with hope and love and patience. Just do it.


Sara said...

Beautifully put Aaron. Thanks for sharing your Father's words, what a special moment. I like your your weapon of choice, it's better than Thor's hammer and Hawkeye's bow, if more people had it what a difference that would make. Love you and keep using your secret weapon.

Anonymous said...

Yours sons are very fortunate to have a father with your attitude. Hope will get you all through this life and live it because life is Good!

Lyn said...

For me, I'm still trying to remember that other people aren't living my life. Only I am living my life and therefore what I do as I 'just do it' isn't for anyone else. Not trying to sound selfish, but it's freeing to remember that other people's perceptions of what I'm doing and why is none of my dang business. :)