A dear friend asked me once what I wanted from life, and I didn’t have a clear answer to give her. After all, it’s an open ended question, bound to have different answers at different times of one’s life. But I know I need to give her a response, and so I think about it for a moment.
What do I want from life?
And the answer comes like waves crashing into the shore: I want to be bold.
Well, that may not make a lot of sense initially, but think about it for a second…what does being bold really mean? Taking a brave step? Going out on a limb? Or just facing up to a nasty neighbor who insists on using his leaf blower to redecorate your lawn? Boldness is a way of life, unlike bravery and courage, which are typically attributes that we can all call upon ourselves to have from time to time. Boldness is living fiercely, taking risks, and making sure that the adventure of our life is never, ever typical.
I was introduced recently to the ancient myth of Ariadne and Theseus, famous lovers from Ancient Greek mythology, and their story is one of boldness…mainly Ariadne’s boldness, and Theseus’ lack of it. I’m trying to decide if it’s a sad or happy tale, and like many Greek myths, it appears in a variety of forms, with different endings. But after doing a little research, I found the one most common telling of the tale goes as follows: Ariadne was a special young woman who possessed an ability to defeat the Minotaur, who lived at the center of a labyrinth. Her secret was a ball of yarn, red yarn, a special fiber used to find one’s way out of a labyrinth that no one had ever escaped alive. But the labyrinth belonged to her family, the minotaur was her half brother. She never thought to use her gift, until she saw Theseus.
He’d come to slay the Minotaur, and when the duskily beautiful Ariadne first cast her black eyes onto the handsome, fair-headed warrior, she was in love. She knew that even if Theseus defeated the Minotaur, he would never find his way out of the ever-changing labyrinth, and thus, she changed history by being bold enough to take the chance of helping the handsome Athenian. She knew if she were discovered assisting him, she’d be cast out of her family, never to be allowed to return to her homeland, possibly even killed. She knew the risks, but Ariadne also knew what it meant to love another person completely. And so she shared with Theseus the magic of the red fiber, and he defeated the Minotaur and found his way out of the labyrinth.
Theseus pledged love to Ariadne and took her away with him when he sailed from Crete back to his home in Athens. But it was a long journey, and Theseus began to have second thoughts along the way. He began to fear the reaction of his fellow Athenians if he pulled ashore with this dark foreigner. He was a prince, after all. It could create trouble in his kingdom to have a Creten bride. Despite his affection for Ariande, he began to believe that his life would be simpler without her in it. And so Theseus took the easy, albeit cruel, way out. He pulled his ship ashore on the island of Dia, telling the lovely Ariadne to take a nap on the shore while he checked on the ship. And while she was sleeping, Theseus set sail for Athens. He never returned.
There are differerent versions of what happened next…but the one I use here tells that Ariadne woke up, realized Theseus was gone, and was devastated. She couldn’t believe that this man, whom she had loved and risked so much for, would abandon her so coldly without an explanation. She spent days, weeks, and then months watching the shore, waiting to see the sail of her beloved’s ship. But of course, it never came. She was sad for a long, long time, but then one day, she summoned the same boldness that had given her courage to love and save Theseus and applied that to her own life. She made a new home on the island of Dia, learned the native language and customs as easily as she would have in Athens, and began to be a happy, productive member of Dian society. She still watched the sea, however, and one day she saw a ship’s mast looming on the horizon. Her heart soared…but it wasn’t Theseus who pulled into shore. It was the dashing and truly bold Dionysis, who took one look at her and saw all the wonderful attributes Theseus had seen but not been bold enough to claim. And Ariadne saw in Dinoysis a true adventurer of spirit, someone whose boldness matched her own, a man who wasn’t intimidated by a woman’s strength, but instead, reveled in it.
And what became of Theseus? Oh, he had a pretty good life, I suppose. He returned home and fell into typical patterns for a young prince of his day. He would become king through his birth, not by his own doing. He wasn’t as lucky in love as Ariadne, for he would never again find someone who loved him the way that she had. He’d marry twice and be betrayed by each wife. Ariadne would become immortal through her marriage to Dionysis, who was actually a God. When she was slain, he was bold enough to brave the underworld to bring her back, and further bold enough to take her then to live on Mount Olympus, home of the Gods.
Well, it’s a nice tale to mull over, isn’t it? What Ariadne did for Theseus showed a far greater courage and strength than he possessed, and most likely, he knew this. It can be very intimidating for a man who considers himself strong to realize his woman's courage far exceeds his own. Whether or not this was true with these two lovers, Ariadne would survive Theseus' betrayal using the same strength that had enabled her to love him enough to risk everything. She could have let the hurt of his betrayal destroy her, just as we can all choose to let pain destroy us, but she didn’t. She rose above what he had done, and in his absence she began to see him for what he really was: A fair and handsome man full of sweet words and bravado, but lacking in the end the one characteristic most important to her in a partner: Boldness. It would be months before she would meet the wildly charismatic Dionysis on the very shores where Theseus had dumped her, but when she did meet him, she’d finally be face to face with a man whose strength and courage matched her own.
But even if she hadn’t met Dionysis, Ariadne would have been okay. She’d have still had a fulfilling life because she was a survivor. She did not take the easy way out. She took risks. She sometimes lost. But she rose up to face the challenges life cast upon her, because she was a bold and courageous woman. Left alone to cry on an island, she didn’t let that experience keep her from eventually finding her feet on Mount Olympus.
There are a million versions of these ancient myths to be found, you might easily find this tale told in a variety of ways, but I use this version here to illustrate the fact that we never know what life is going to throw our way, who is going to abandon us, and who is going to find us after that. But there is one thing to be sure of…there are those who preserve towards a dream, and those who simply talk themselves out of dreaming and settle for whatever comes their way, because that is, of course, easier. And so there are those who are bold, and those who are not, and who waver somewhere in-between.
What do I want the most out of life? I take a deep breath, and I turn to my friend.
“I want to be bold, always,” I respond. Even when I’m watching for sails on the horizon.