July 12 – Making Waves – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
I would do anything for you. Would you be yourself?
In the Hans Christian Anderson classic, The Little Mermaid, Ariel gives up her beautiful voice in exchange for her legs. This is a seemingly innocent fable that captures our deal with the modern devil. For aren’t we taught that mobility is freedom, whether it be moving from state to state, or from marriage to marriage, or from adventure to adventure? Aren’t we convinced that upward mobility, moving from job to job, is the definition of success?
Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with change or variety or newness or with improving our condition. The catch is when we are asked to give up our voice in order to move freely, when we are asked to silence what makes us unique in order to be successful. When not making waves means giving up our chance to dive into the deep, then we are bartering our access to God for a better driveway.
As a story about relationship, the lesson of Ariel is crucial. On the surface, her desire for legs seems touching and sweetly motivated by love and the want to belong. Yet here too is another false bargain that plagues everyone who ever tries it. For no matter how badly we want to love or be loved, we cannot alter our basic nature and survive inside, where it counts.