February 2, 2012

four letter word

     Ever heard of Pandora's Box?  I'm guessing so.  It's the ancient Greek mythological story about Pandora.  In case, you're fuzzy on it, here it is in a nutshell.  Prometheus steals fire from the gods and gives it to Man (and that alone is a whole separate story).  Zeus, the supreme diety, is not pleased.  Fire is the work of gods, not mortals.  So Zeus collaborates with several other gods to create Woman.  They give her beauty, grace, charm.  The whole nine yards.  'Pandora' in Greek means 'all gifted' and that is what she is.  Prometheus isn't stupid, though, and Zeus knows it.  So he gives Pandora to the brother of Prometheus, Epimetheus who is apparently a bit slower on the uptake.  Despite his brother's warning, Epimetheus is struck by her beauty and gifts.  He accepts her.  Unfortunately, though, Pandora also comes with another gift from Zeus - the infamous box (though in the greek it's actually a jar but that's not important).  It is alleged to contain many gifts but she is instructed by Zeus himself to NEVER open it.  Well, of course curiousity gets the better of her and she opens it.  And then the malice and revenge of Zeus is inflicted upon Man (and Woman).  Out of the box flies demons of all nasty sorts - toil, illness, vice, etc.  But down in the very bottom is one final one - Hope. 
     The wonderful thing about the Greek mythologies is they touch a very elemental part of what it means to be human.  These stories appeal to our very core that spans time and distance and culture.  The danger is to oversimplify these stories into simple truths or axioms about what one should or should not do.  Basically, "and the moral of the story is...."  If they were simple truths, they wouldn't need elaborate and rich stories to illustrate them.  The stories are complicated because life is messy and complicated.  This one often gets oversimplified into "curiosity killed the cat."  Misses the mark for me, at least at this moment in time as I wrestle with my own demons.  The scent from the lemon tree is just starting to imbue the air and I'm watching the sun set while sipping a Shiner.  Such a pleasant scene juxtaposed against the thoughts in my mind.  I'm pondering my dad's stem cell transplant, how it overlaps directly with my licensing exam, and that I'm always shadowed by the grief of my brother.  What will keep me going?  Hope?  That's a four letter word in my family.  Besides, it presumes that things will go well.  They didn't go so well for my brother.  So what then if it goes the same for my dad?  No, I don't believe in hope.  But there it remains.
     And then that's when the myth of Pandora hits me.  Perhaps I've been misunderstanding that word.  Maybe it's become too loaded with connotations of rosy outcomes.  Because when the rosy outcome is death, what hope is there?  That definition and meaning fails.  Pandora had it right.  To know hope, and I mean to truly understand what hope means at the most primal level, means battling all those other demons that came out of Pandora's jar.  It's something that somehow drives the click of the next gear turning.  It's what drags me out of bed every gloomy morning.  Something does and it's certainly not an expectation that things will work out.  That's just wishful thinking because many times things don't work out for the best.  It's more akin to a grim determination.  It's a spark of life that ignites because of the demons.  Hope cannot exist without the suffering.  They are two sides of the same coin and as such, essential to the human condition.

1 comment:

Steve Parker, M.D. said...

For some reason, your Pandora story got me thinking about Adam and Eve and their eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

I miss Shiner Boch from my days in Austin, TX. I can still get it sometimes out in Arizona. Great stuff!