Yes, this is, in fact, the ongoing story of an over-the-hill, white American male in his attempt to conquer the many fears he has harboured over the years by leaping out of his comfort zone into the infinite horizons of world travel. “So who’s this ‘Mother Bear’ figure?” you might ask. Well… I will tell you.
My friend and fellow environmental activist, Arthur Blackhawk, gifted me with a small, wooden figurine of a native American woman cradling a young black bear in her arms. This was in preparation for my upcoming 8-month excursion around the world, and she was initially meant to be my “Amelie” garden gnome traveller, a more fit model to pose in my stead before spectacular, photographic backdrops of the many locales I would explore. Yet, as I began to to take photos of this protective, nurturing woman, I began to imagine her as my guide, someone who might protect and nurture me along my chosen path. “I am that little black bear,” I decided. One thing I have learned in my growing experience is that, you should never attempt things alone, at least not the big endeavors. Why would you when the task could be made so much easier? I am travelling alone, but… am I? It is true that there will be no one to help me should something go wrong. When my flight to Hanoi changes yet again, creating conflicting time schedules, there will only be me to call the booking agent to set things right. However, it will be Mother Bear who will gently urge me to speak calmly with the agent, to focus on the solution and not the problem, and to not let my fear turn to unneeded anger, for which I have suffered so greatly in the past.
Moreover, I feel that in many of the great adventure stories, there is way too much emphasis placed on the hero rather than the hero’s master, teacher, benefactor, or in this case, spiritual guide. There would be no hero or heroine without the one who placed all her wisdom, courage, and perseverance into her pupil. Where would Thor be without Odin? Where would Charlie Brown be without Linus? How far would the smurfs have gotten without Papa Smurf? Without Uncle Ben, who would have motivated Spiderman to be a friendly, neighborhood Spiderman? Why shouldn’t Mother Bear have the title of this blog? Not that I’m any kind of hero. If I was, you had might as well skip this blog now and just read some Cervantes instead. That would be me… the old fool chasing the windmill.
No, I am not a hero… not yet at any rate, but in stepping way outside my comfort zone… maybe I could be. Joseph Campbell said that “… in popular novels, the main character is a hero or heroine who has found or done something beyond the normal range of achievement and experience. A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Campbell also had something to say about tackling something like this alone. “… we have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known…” (thank God for the internet) “… We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.”
So begins the journey of me and Mother Bear…