Wednesday, December 31, 2014

On Dreams, Failures, and A Beanstalk

This isn't the type of thing I typically post on here, but it seemed appropriate for the season, so here it is:

It’s year-end (OMG! Already?! Helloooooo, 2015!), so it’s time to evaluate and perhaps, to recalibrate. Sizing up how you’ve done this year can be daunting—I know it is for me. Often, New Years is met with eager anticipation and a tinge of anxiety. Whether you’re comparing yourself to another individual or to your own well-intended goals at the beginning of 2014, it’s time. You’re in the mindset of tallying your own intentions, actions, and results, and coming to a conclusion—a conclusion which will affect your self-esteem. Most likely, whether you end 2014 with a smile or a frown is more related to how optimistic you are on the 364 other days of the year, regardless of the looming December 31 on the calendar, but that’s a different essay for a different day. 

So I digress, to Jack and the beanstalk. Sure you know this story, and sure, you could summarize it pretty easily (as most Americans could). But when was the last time you really thought about Jack? Probably many years ago unless you’ve just seen Into the Woods, and then maybe you’ve recently given him a little more thought. In classic literature, the fairy tale version of Jack is a little less heroic than one might remember. Jack has a slew of failures throughout his story beginning with the sale of his beloved cow, Milky White. Milky White was Jack’s family’s source of food, and by some estimates, Jack’s best friend. Now a boy who would sell his best friend for 5 “magic” beans with no empirical evidence to prove their magic-ism is, by my estimate, not the smartest. His mother seemed to feel the same way, scolding him for his poor decision making, sending poor Jack to bed without supper, and throwing the useless beans into the family’s garden. Meanwhile, the beanstalk begins to grow overnight. The next day, Jack explores the new world that’s developed outside his window, and continues to make mistake after mistake. He steals from the giants, returns home, ascends the beanstalk again to steal again, finally kills the giant (not in the David-and-Goliath beautiful and courageous sense) and time after time proves that he isn’t the hero we’ve all been waiting for. Jack is a thief, yet he remains the protagonist to the story.

Whether or not Jack is a worthy protagonist could be argued, but it would be futile. At the end of the day, are any of us worthy protagonists? If I read a book about a character like myself, I would do a lot of eye-rolling and scoffing. But the part that makes me pause in Jack’s story comes before the beanstalk. It’s when Jack is in bed, alone and crying. For Jack, that moment stood still, feeling like an eternity, while the audience knows the beanstalk is growing just outside the window.

As Jack is crying, feeling hopeless, regretting his decisions (on an empty stomach, no less), that is when the magic happens. Jack’s poverty is dwarfed, quite literally, by a whole new world gleaming of gold. In the night, Jack had absolutely no idea what treasures would come with the new day. He thought his moment of despair was an eternity of despair, yet he was so wrong. 

So now, as I’m ending 2014 and beginning to begin again, I’m thinking of Jack. I think of Jack when I feel a loss. When I feel alone, when I feel like I’ve failed, when I’ve given up my best and gotten nothing in return, even when I’ve made the wrong choices. When you’re feeling down, remember to look up. Because in that moment, you’ll never guess what beanstalk might be growing.

Thanks for sticking with me through 2014, friends! I'm looking forward to next year and the beanstalks we can climb together. :)

P.S. If you're into this type of thing, I've written some more like it on Medium.