My usual reading does not include Greek mythology but words from Louise Plummer’s book, Thoughts of a Grasshopper got me thinking.
Her question in the passage “Fear, I Embrace You,” is this:
“What keeps us from making our mark?”
I absolutely know the answer for me. It is the “f” word; FEAR.
The myth goes like this: It is about the boy Icarus. “He and his father, Daedalus, were held prisoners inside a labyrinth on the island of Crete by King Minos. To escape Daedalus created a pair of wings for himself and his son.” His binding agent to stick the wings to their shoulders was wax. “Both triumphantly escaped through the air and closer and closer they came to the mainland. But Icarus, flushed with excitement and exhilaration, soured even higher towards the sun–despite the warnings of his father. At last, he flew so high that the heat of the sun melted the wax, and off gripped the wings. The lad plunged downward into the sea and was drowned.” (Myths and Their Meaning [Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1953], 56).
Sad story, right?
But then there is a twist included by a poem of the same story by Anne Sexton:
Consider Icarus, pasting those sticky wings on, testing that strange little tug at his shoulder blade, and think of that flawless moment over the lawn of the labyrinth. Think of the difference it made! There below the trees, as awkward as camels; and here are the shocked starlings pumping past and think of innocent Icarus who is doing quite well; larger than a sail, over the fog and the blast of the plushy ocean, he goes. Admire his wings! Feel the fire at his neck and see how causally he glances up and is caught, wonderously tunneling the hot eye. Who cares that he fell back to the sea? See him acclaiming the sun and come plunging down while his sensible Daddy goes straight into town. (The Complete Poems [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981], 53).
What keeps us from making our mark?
Sexton is not applauding the safe “sensible daddy” but the thrill of Icarus’ flight.
Plummer explains “there is always the danger …in taking flight, that like Icarus, we could fall from the sky and die.”
“…becoming the self we dream of being, the self who can make a joyful mark on the world, means taking a risk that only feels life threatening, it only feels as if we’re falling out of the sky. The risk is not death but disapproval from family and friends. The risk is being the butt of the joke. Failure and humiliation are the real risks, and humiliation feels as scary as drowning.”
But she goes on to explain:
“…to limit [ourselves] out of fear–is more like drowning in the sea than confronting the fear.”
If we never take the risk to be our true selves, or open up our dreams, we may pretend we are content and live safely but will we really be living?
“Fear does not kill; it only gives you diarrhea.”
Plummer, Louise. (1987). Thoughts of a Grasshopper. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book.