“Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” ~ G. K. Chesterton
Tragic beginnings are part of many fairy tales that I can recall from childhood – a beloved father’s death, an abducted child, a violent eviction from one’s home. For me it was an incident that affected me far more deeply and for much longer than I would have ever expected. It was my first introduction to my personal dragon and a moment that would haunt me for decades.
The young inhabitants of our castle had acquired a fun new toy: a small motorized bicycle. It was a fun and delightful day and this little princess was eager to have a turn. She was inexperienced but her siblings made it look so easy, so simple, that she was sure it would be as natural as anything. When she was granted an attempt she mounted the gently humming vehicle without a care or concern.
She tried to mimic the actions of her older brothers and sisters, producing the same sounds they had, and as she felt the wind on her face she felt excited and breathless. Too breathless. She was holding her breath, unable to breathe. Her family saw a wild eyed broadly grinning child enjoying herself. But that was not the truth. She was so panic-stricken that she couldn’t even see the faces that blurred beside her as she rode. Their voices were drowned out by the sound of the motor and something else more loudly and high than that. She was screaming. They couldn’t hear it but she was screaming deep inside with her hands locked tight on the handles. She doesn’t remember how it happened but in an instant it was over.
“Did you see her?” “She went between the tire-changer and the garage!” “We had to grab the bike and yank her off…” The laughter, words, and comments echoed across the days and weeks, the months and the years. So many years that she couldn’t remember what had even happened. What happened? She could remember the beginning and the end. But, as hard as she tried, she had no recollection of what happened. Only an interminable memory of how she felt, and it was terrifying.
She had met her dragon. It was seductive and charming. Entertaining, in fact, and she truly believed that it wanted to be her friend. It disguised itself as free, confident and capable. But when she took hold of its scaly claw she soon realized how it would make her feel in her deepest self. It intimidated her as it mocked her for failing to be in control. She could hear its hissing accusations of her foolish attempt to try something she had never done. Fear, embarrassment, and shame enveloped her as the dragon’s fiery breath almost completely destroyed her hope of ever being able to succeed in the same way again.
She chose to keep these feelings and the fear to herself. When she tried to face the dragon it would point out more recent mistakes and remind her that she couldn’t do whatever it was she was attempting to accomplish. What was she thinking, anyway? She was too impulsive. How would she even manage to gain any experience? She was disorganized and didn’t manage time very well. Would she even know what to do if she was ever granted the privileges she desired? She was notoriously irresponsible.
Many good hearted people from all around the land came to her aid and tried to help her escape the dragon. They offered their time and experience. She was grateful and made several attempts to leave her fears behind. There were even others who fancied themselves to be the heroes and proudly displayed their expertise, which only caused her to feel weaker and less sure of herself. A few of her own family were willing to give her lessons and help her rebuild her confidence but their own lives still needed their attention so she was disappointed in herself, again. She took too long to learn, she needed too much help, and she should just give up.
Resigning herself to never learning was easy, especially since it kept her dragon quiet and asleep. When she met prince charming he spoke very little about her lack of ability to get around at first but very gently and over time would let her try if she felt safe enough to do so. This stirred the dragon a little but it never woke. Gradually the prince would talk about it and this definitely made the dragon uncomfortable so she would make him talk about other things. One day during a family trip they crashed and she caught sight of another dragon. So did the prince and, to her shock and surprise he fought it with all his might and with great skill and courage the dragon was quickly defeated. As she observed this she knew that he would soon help her defeat her own dragon.
More years passed and more chances were given to the princess to escape the dragon’s prison. She still doesn’t know how it happened but she does remember the prince asking her a question and somehow the question reached the sleeping dragon’s ears. It rose and roared at her to be silent but she felt the scream rise out of the center of her heart, the same scream that held her paralyzed as a child so long ago. She shook as tears washed over her face as she told the prince of her fear and losing confidence and failure. His strong arms held her safe from the dragon’s fiery breath and she saw the dragon weaken. She told the prince more and the dragon stopped roaring. When she had told all she remembered the dragon fell back to sleep, exhausted.
So it was that the princess and the prince worked together. He would patiently instruct and teach while she would humbly listen and learn. In time she would ask to go together where she could improve her skill and confidence. The dragon would stir but do nothing when it saw the couple resolved to defeat him, and it knew its end was near.
One day the prince brought the princess to the battlefield where she would finally meet the dragon alone. In her heart she was still afraid and unsure of herself. She tried to remember all she had been taught and all she had learned. As she fought she received a few cuts and scratches but the dragon was now old and weaker than ever before. Even if she hadn’t succeeded at destroying it now she was determined to defeat it nonetheless. When the battle was over and the victory clutched tightly in her grasp she held the prince close and, from deep in the center of her heart, she screamed. With relief, with joy, and with freedom. And the dragon couldn't hear.