Facing our lions

When the call came, I didn’t hesitate to jump in the car and drive down Interstate I-5, from Seattle, Washington, to Napa, California. My brother was in hospital once again. Something in his voice told me he needed me to be there.

I’ve lived in snow country most of my life, from Idaho to Upstate New York to British Columbia. I have never made peace with winter driving.

But the call of blood is strong.

Red Lion cover art

Cover art from Diane Wolkstein's book, The Red Lion

The drive over snow-bound passes was easy on the trip south. There’d been no recent storms. Roads were dry. I stayed in Napa long enough to assure myself my brother was going to live through yet one more hospitalization, long enough for a visit with my mother and my brother’s family.

The night before I started home I made the mistake of watching the weather report. Winter storms had hit the Siskyou Mountains. The highway through northern California was closed.

I knew it would be open by morning. I also knew I could expect icy patches. And another storm was predicted.

I had work commitments back home. Delaying travel wasn’t an option. I went to bed prepared to lie awake worrying about the drive.

Then I remembered The Red Lion, Diane Wolkstein’s retelling of a Persian story, likely a Sufi tale. In the story a young prince runs away the night before he is to be crowned the new ruler of his country. He runs because he is afraid of the Red Lion he will have to face to test his courage, to see if he is worthy to be king.

Each time the young man thinks he has found safety, he is confronted with yet another lion. Only when he returns to his kingdom and faces the Red Lion can he be free of his fears and take on his rightful role.

On the day of his ordeal, he stands firm as the Red Lion leaps toward him, roaring. Instead of attacking him, the Red Lion rolls on his back and then licks the young man’s hand.

As Wolkstein writes, “The Red Lion was tame. Every lion who had ever fought a Prince of Persia had been tame. Only fear would make him ferocious.”

As I lay in bed remembering the story, I realized the snowy pass was a Red Lion. By morning, road crews would have cleared it. With the image of the tame lion in my mind, I slept soundly. Next day, I drove home on bare roads.

But the incident, minor as it was, was a powerful turning point. Remembering the story, I knew I had honed the art of worrying until it had become my Red Lion. I had become overly cautious and, in doing so, was letting the tame lions of reality turn into the ferocious, dangerous beasts of my imagination.

Moral of Red Lion

Never run from your Red Lion, image from Diane Wolkstein's book

I vowed to remember the story whenever fear or worry loomed.

I’d like to say I have stood comfortably in the arena every since, calmly facing every Red Lion that has come my way. Truth is, sometimes I still run for cover.

What I can say is that the story of the Red Lion is another of my talismans, something I carry in my heart, something that gives me courage.

Cathryn Wellner, 2010

NB. Diane Wolkstein’s splendid book, The Red Lion, is out of print, but used copies can still be found on the Web.

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4 comments for “Facing our lions

  1. Fae Shaw
    February 25, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Hi Catherine
    I enjoyed this, thanks for forwarding it .It might help this cowardly lioness.

  2. February 25, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    There are Red Lions everywhere. When I remember the story, I find them much easier to face.

  3. February 26, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    I was reminded of an expression I sometimes use as a mantra:

    ” I’m an old man and I’ve had many problems- but most of them never happened.”

  4. February 26, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Ah, yes – and my ex used to say, “75/25” – by which he meant that 75% of the things I worried about never happened.

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