Monday, March 9, 2015

The Albatross & All Other Manner of Beasts of Burden

"Ah! Well a-day! What evil looks 
Had I from old and young! 
Instead of the cross, the albatross 
About my neck was hung."
~ The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1798

In all of the philosophizing about the burden of guilt and regret symbolized by the Albatross hung around the Ancient Mariner's neck, one very important fact is routinely omitted. An albatross is one big ass bird.

Weighing up to twenty-four pounds with a wingspan sometimes over eleven feet, the dead-weight of an albatross secured with heavy naval grade rope around your neck would not merely symbolize an emotional burden, but be a tangible physical burden as well.

With this unique view, the Ancient Mariner's Albatross is a fairly complete metaphor for surviving.

There is, of course, the physical burden of illness, trauma, and crisis, as well as the burden caused by many of the types of treatments needed to treat these circumstances:
Headaches, muscle aches, nausea, fevers, chills, spasms, cramping, chest pain, nerve damage, dizziness, bruising, and fatigue, just to name a few. 

The pain associated with illness can be excruciating and the treatments debilitating. Unfortunately, these burdens can actually increase over time due to your body being in such a weakened and vulnerable state for so long. You begin to lose the ability to recover and bounce back with any kind of lasting resilience. Your body ravaged by the beasts of trauma.

Then there is the emotional burden: 
Isolation, guilt, loneliness, grief, shame, panic, rage, regret, despair, depression, confusion, frustration, sadness, anger, and paralyzing fear become commonplace. 

Psychological damage that can be even more devastating and harder to survive then the trauma itself. The affects of this emotional havoc can also increase, when remaining in such a raw and fragile state for so extended a period of time. Fighting to survive and struggling to heal can make a survivor an emotional wreak. Spirit and soul torn to shreds.

(Adding financial ruin and poverty to the mix is both an emotional and physical burden as well, which can have very powerful, long-term affects on a survivor's quality of life and ongoing treatment options.)

Follow all of this with the collateral burdens on the people who love and care about you. Racked with their own overwhelming emotions about what is happening to you, compounded by the impotent feelings of being powerless to help. Witnessing the struggle and pain of someone you love is a truly horrible view to have. It has actual weight and can pull people into a very deep abyss.

All of these burdens combined make for a weight far greater then that of a single albatross dangling from your neck. Surviving is like being crushed by all manner of beasts. Feeling literally and figuratively attacked on all sides by all creatures great and small. A survivor's zoological society of beasts of burden.

In Coleridge's poem, the fate of the Mariner and the ship's crew is decided by a game of dice for their souls. The Skeleton, Death, plays the Pale Woman, Life-in-Death, to determine who lives and who dies. Like the sailors, Survivors and those surviving with them are faced with a fate often beyond their control. Feeling helpless in controlling the outcome of the illness and trauma. Forced to wait and endure in the hopes the dice roll in their favor.

As fate plays out, the Mariner alone survives, surrounded by the corpses of the crew. A man cursed with the weight of the guilt and regret for what he has wrought. But, cursing the heavens and crumbling beneath his inescapable burden, he comes to find simple beauty and grace in "the slimy things". In finding this peace, the albatross falls from his neck and the spirits of the sailors guide the Mariner home.

Survivor Jewelry strives to be similar to the survivor at the end of the poem (hopefully with less shame, guilt and regret). Wandering the Earth, sharing our stories, and teaching a lesson to those we meet.

"He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."

May we all wake tomorrow as "wiser men". May we breathe brave without the burden of guilt and regret. May we survive without sadness, shame, or more pain. May we all endure. And may we find peace in remembering that the albatross, despite being a heavy, clumsy bird, flies higher, longer, and more gracefully then almost any other creature.

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