Epic stories are super-food for the human heart. Heroes and Heroines and dragons and beasts and overwhelming odds to overcome, with life or love hanging in the balance, are the things stirring in the chest seeking expression and opportunity. Deep within us there is a desire for a quest, a journey unequalled against the hidden forces of darkness. We want to make a difference, one that will be epic!
Most of us, however, must become so fixated on the fantasy epic that we miss an epic of a different sort, the kind that requires we overcome some inner voice that tells us to accept our mediocrity, our average-ness, our membership with the unspectacular masses. We are not made for averageness, but far too many of us have given into the weight of our days and the burden of maintaining our dreams to rise.
Our hearts yearn for adventure, while our minds talk us out of it because of the dangers and risks involved as well as an acceptance that we’re not hero or heroine material. As a pale substitute we live other’s adventures—some true, many are made up and over the top. They’re exciting, but far from real—even the true stories of soldiers and others are spiced up to keep us engaged. The movies and the books are written for our weak and short attention span. We can’t handle all the dull details of life that even go along with adventures. There are tens of thousands of steps taken during adventurers that never make it onto the pages of a book or screen for a movie. There are camps to be made, wood to be gathered, fires to be kindled, shelters to be raised, meals to be cooked, utensils to be cleaned, weapons to be polished and sharpened and cleaned, sentries who must watch through the long, dull night. And with the morning dawn, all of it comes down and another long, eventless march through thickets or swamps or over mountains and across rivers. A great deal of the time there’s not much to occupy one’s mind and so it wanders ahead to the trial that one knows will come. The unleashed mind is powerfully creative and imaginative, especially when fear is it’s fuel.
In the absence of epic adventures we accept goals to lose weight or go back to school or redesign a bathroom or prepare for a race or make a lot of money—some sort of personal or professional improvement or activity that presents a challenge of sorts, something to occupy our hearts hungry for adventure. These may not be bad, but they should not be substitutes for what our hearts truly yearn to achieve.
Though most people acquiesce to living ordinary, adventure-less lives, there are still dragons to slay and shadowy, deceptive evil to defeat—think of all the children in homes of neglect or families facing eviction or youths who have been adopted into gangs. Think of the prejudice and bigotry that is blatant and bold as well as subtle and yet systemically insidious. Think of the hatred that rises in fear or from hurt, but then become dangerous ideologies that take form in terrorism. Think of the corruption that grinds up the lives of so many people in the money-making machinery of business. Think of the people who must accept hunger as a daily reality or putrid puddles and polluted streams as the only source of water to drink. Think of the horrific damage done to ecosystems that are fragile—including the sphere we call earth.
There are dragons and evil systems that claim and recruit hearts and minds of people so that we become the mindless legion defending the destruction that is our own ruin. These may not look sinister or strike fear in the heart when seen, but the persuasive power to seduce us to be apathetic or hypnotized by our own comforts is not to be ignored.
Why are these societal problems any less of an adventure? Why are these challenges any less defining of heroes and heroines?
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote his epic stories (The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings Trilogy) in the midst of World War 2. His imagination transformed the bloody war into a remarkable story that has captured millions of people because it illustrates something we all know is real. Hitler may be considered the central figure the allied forces sought to defeat, and Hitler certainly was consumed by the evil, but the evil that consumed him continues to capture hearts and minds today. The epic challenges still exist today. The wonder of Tolkien’s story is that it wasn’t a superhero or super-heroine who won the day—it was a small, unassuming, hardly-noteworthy Hobbit who faced his fears. But he wasn’t alone. His friends and a company of others were an incredible support system. They, along with the masses of those who fought in their own ways against the darkness, are part of the epic story. It takes everyone living purposefully for the liberating truth to overcome—indeed that may be a central goal in the conquest: to work together purposefully for a cause far greater than any one of us can achieve on our own. The singled-out hero or heroine is able to accomplish great things only because everyone else is doing their part. We all are necessary and we are all drafted into the epic story that require us to daily make the choices that will lead toward victory.
We have been created to be passionate about something important, something meaningful, something that powerfully shapes our identity as we pursue making a difference. We are not created to settle for well-insured and professionally designed pseudo-adventures—at least not as a substitute for the real adventures of being conquerors. Claim your destiny!
© Stephen Carl