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Collie's Musings

I had a bit of a small life crisis a short while ago. It was chatting with an acquaintance that helped me more clearly form my goal. Here's what I thought...

Copyright © 2000 B. "Collie" Collier


I last took higher math courses in high school -- longer ago than I care to admit to. :-) Needless to say I was rather scared of taking math again, especially calculus -- was I smart enough still to do this? Was I even capable of learning this stuff, let alone doing it at all well? Was I capable of getting a C? I stressed a lot about it, and tried taking the pre-calculus class more than once, but ended up dropping it repeatedly due to nerves, indecision, and constantly falling behind.

At a recent convention I went to I was having dinner with a very nice lady, and during the conversation I mentioned her charm bracelet -- it was
thick with little charms of lions. Was she especially enamored of lions, I asked? Sort of, she replied... and she explained her lions to me as follows:

When you're a child, you aren't expected to take care of yourself. Others take care of you, and provide for you, and make sure you're safe, and so on... but at some point you become an adult. Well, how did you show that, long ago? How did you demonstrate that not only did you not need to be cared for, but that you were now responsible enough to provide for others as well?

You went out and killed a lion. It was a rite of passage, dangerous and frightening -- and if you succeeded you demonstrated, clearly and unequivocally, that you were now an adult, that you could provide for others.

Times have changed. Now, not only are most of our difficult rites of passage of a more cerebral type, but we're also rather short on lions. And yet, we still feel that terribly important need, that inner sense of completion that a public ritual or a personal symbol represents to us -- to see before us a physical representation of our triumph, to know that we are adults, that we are not paralyzed by fear like a child, that we can both care for ourselves and be responsible for others if need be.

That was what her lions were -- her triumphs, momentous rites of passage in her life. Sometimes they initially loomed very large, she said, but repetition made them less fearsome, and she showed me a few specific charms. Those were for a column she'd written -- initially it had been a triumph for her to get the column in on time once a week, and she'd been terrified of failure... but eventually she'd gotten good at it, and it had ceased to be a source of concern. Sometimes they were entirely unexpected, and terrifying in retrospect, but she'd been able to hold everything together in crisis -- and she showed me a large charm she'd gotten after her house burned down, her family lost everything -- but she'd gotten her family out safely, and no one was hurt.

I was tremendously moved by her stories -- it seemed to me that each lion represented a small personal act of courage. Any clumsiness in my relating her words should be blamed on me, because I found her soft-spoken stories eloquent and inspiring to listen to. I say inspiring, because I realized the pre-calculus class I was enrolled in was my lion to slay -- and surely I could show the same courage, even if it was 'only' a personal lion I had to slay?

I promised myself a lion -- a personal charm to denote my victory, if I could only get a passing grade in the class. I found it oddly focusing, to know that my lion charm was waiting for me, and I buckled down to succeed as best I could.

I'm proud to report that I did indeed slay my lion, far more successfully than I'd ever envisaged. My final exam grade was a 103 out of 105, and my final pre-calculus class grade was a 98.6! I'll probably never get so good a grade again -- but it's due to my friend that I was able to conquer my personal worries and succeed, even if she never realizes it... thank you.

I'm working on a new lion now -- I'm starting the second of four calculus classes this fall quarter. Wish me luck! My lion's waiting for me, when I finish my last calculus class... :-)

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Last Updated: Tues Jan 25 2000

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