I’m currently reading a story that illustrates the difficulty in hearing and following one’s own inner voice.
My older brother introduced me to the Gregory Maguire books—titles like Wicked (the novel upon which the musical was based) and the more recent A Lion Among Men.
Right now I’m in the middle of Son of a Witch. It follows young Liir after the death of the Wicked Witch of the West, detailing his journey of self discovery as he struggles to find his own path in the wake of his infamous mother’s untimely demise.
The Struggle to Find One’s Own Path
Liir leaves the witch’s home in search of Nor, a cousin he spent time with when he was a child but who was lost in a military conflict. After a harrowing journey in which he barely escapes an underground prison, he joins Oz’s version of the military and settles in to life as soldier.
The night before he’s about to embark with his mates upon a new secret mission, he observes the others packing their things and realizes he has “no private books, no mezzotints of family grandees, no clutches of letters from admonitory father or teary mother or whispery girl back home. He was bereft of the more traditional impedimenta, and determined to be proud of it.”
Despite his determination, all this nostalgia before departure gets him thinking about his own uncertain heritage, and how very little he learned from whom he thinks is his emotionally distant mother (the Wicked Witch) and his absent father.
The father, of course, left him no helpful advice because he wasn’t around. The mother “hadn’t talked to him much,” but he does remember that “one lunchtime she’d seethed, more to herself than to him; ‘It isn’t whether you do it well, or do it ill, it’s that you do it all,’…”
Unfortunately, after this bit of wisdom she dumps her attempt at poached eggs on the floor. “That was her legacy and it didn’t add up to much,” Liir decides.
This young man has come to a decision point in his life, and he’s floundering.
Hoping Others Will Tell Us What to Do
Some of his mates in the service have expressed concern over the upcoming mission. Many think it’s one from which they’ll never return.
Liir’s not sure he should remain with the company, or break away and resume his search for Nor. Without either of his parents to consult, and no other family from which to seek advice, he has only himself to turn to.
Like most of us, he finds this situation most unsatisfactory. Instead of doing the hard work of finding his own solution, he uses his lack of parental guidance to take the easy way out.
“So perhaps he should consider the absence of good advice a kind of direction from the universe; Follow where you are led, and take it from there….It was easier to be passive, easier on his brain anyway. His cohorts gathered for departure while he congratulated himself for sorting this out.”
Liir’s “sorting out” amounts to nothing more than doing nothing. Without someone else to tell him what to do, he decides simply to let “fate” handle it.
Pursuing Our Passions is Difficult
This part of the story illustrates how difficult we all find the process of coming to ourselves for advice. How much easier to go to someone else, whether that be a parent, a friend, an advisor, a colleague, a counselor, or even the mailman, so that we can avoid the hard work of determining what it is we really want.
Liir’s experience is also a great example of how our true callings can go unanswered for years. Because we find the pursuit of our own passions to be difficult—and the option of just following where we are led “easier on the brain,” as Liir said—we often take the passive route and go meekly along on our current path, no matter how dissatisfactory.
Easier today, perhaps. But what about when we’re 80 years old, looking back on the life we’ve lived?
Doing Nothing is a Decision
As to whether or not Liir ever discovers his own voice, I don’t know—I haven’t finished the book. Strangely true to life, however, this fantasy character only gets himself into further trouble by his lack of courage.
His choice to just “follow where he was led” leads to some very difficult consequences, including his involvement in the death of innocent people. The situation forces him to finally make a choice, and he does—he leaves the service and resumes his search for Nor.
It can be the same for us. Making the choice to do nothing toward our dreams often relegates us to unpleasant consequences. We may not be responsible for the death of another person. But we may kill something else—that fire inside us that makes life worth living.
Now that Liir has found the courage to make a choice, I suspect he’s finally on his way to his own best future. I’ll know in another 100 pages or so.
How about you?