Saturday, March 22, 2008


Wendy: Peter, don't go.
Peter: But I have to tell the others about Cinderella.
Wendy: I know lots of stories, stories I could tell the boys.
Peter: Come with me then!
Wendy: But I can't fly.
When you ask the Universe to lead you to the truth about your life, prepare for the actual, gulp, truth.

Yesterday, while browsing the stacks of used books at The Housing Works bookstore on Crosby Street in New York, I stumbled upon a little paperback called "The Peter Pan Syndrome".

You know the story: Peter Pan loses his shadow when he is drawn into a London townhome by a bedtime story. Stories are sorely lacking in Never Land; So are mothers. And one evening, looking for both, Peter hovers a little too close to the nursery window, loses his shadow--and his fairy (who gets herself shut into a drawer), and while stumbling around in the dark to find them, Peter awakens the sleeping Wendy.

Wendy sews Peter's shadow back on, though she warns, "This may hurt a bit." There is some confusion about the difference between a "kiss" and a "thimble"; and, even though Wendy seems to know what a kiss really is, as she demonstrates one for the clueless Pan, I doubt that she really knows what she's getting into.

Think archetypally here. Think about what it means to "lose one's shadow", to wander through a darkened nursery, to awaken a sleeping beauty, and to discover that she not only sees your shadow but has the magical ability to sew it back on. Think about what it means to find a lost boy in your room on the very night when your stiff-corseted aunt has proclaimed, "It's time for you to grow up!"

Think about a thimble, I mean, a kiss... lip to lip, heart to heart, needle to shadow.

Now think outside of the form of man/woman. Think about the "kiss" between the shadow and the sleeping self. Think about how, after the kiss is executed, the windows of the nursery swing closed, entrappring the freedom-loving lost boy and the girl, just as she was about to start her "adventures".

"What adventures?" her aunt Millicent asks.
"I've yet to have them," Wendy smiles. "But they will be perfectly thrilling."

And so they would have been... had Peter Pan not stumbled into the nursery.

For when the part of us that is Peter Pan falls in love with that part of another person that is Wendy (or vice versa), we trade our high-flying wildness for the security of a thimble, the thrill of a kiss.

This is why a Peter Pan can end up spending an entire lifetime blaming a Wendy for locking him into a house--clipping his wings and stealing his freedom with her bedtime stories--so that he cannot accomplish a thing. He can't make art, can't live his dreams, can't quite get his s*#t together. This how he projects the loss of his "boy" onto her, and makes his loss her fault.

And if she falls for this lie, sacrificing her "adventure"--her wildness and creativity--for the protective "thimble" of a little house where no harm will come to her, a great hole will form in the Wendy's soul, a hole that can only be filled by one shape: That of her own lost boy.

For even as Peter is teaching her to fly, leading her and her brothers to Never Land, the lost boys, mistaking her for a great white bird, shoot her from the sky. There is no place for a wild woman in Never Land. (And so, like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White before her, Wendy falls asleep on the eve of her adventure, losing her connection to the life she knew before--forfeiting her chance to play with the boys.)

Peter and the lost boys build a house around her as she dreams. When she wakes, though she tells them, "I have no real experience at being a mother," she gets the job; Wendy pulls out her sewing kit, her hand soap and broom and settles in.

Now here's what Wendy looks like, outside of Never Land; you know, in "real" life:

Say you've had a baby, or some surgery or calamity. The doorbell rings and there's Wendy, standing on your doorstep with a soothing smile, a casserole, and a calendar, to organize the other mothers. She's efficient and helpful, works the bake sale table (two shifts), after dropping off two bags of canned goods for the food drive. When it's time for the Spring Music Festival (or the Fall Fair) Wendy doesn't just drop off her plate of brownies--she runs the entire concession!

Later, after her own children are dry, diapered and fed, Wendy adopts yours, driving the carpool, teaching them car songs. Her's is the house all the kid love to visit. She talks with them, inviting them to open their hearts.

When that's done, Wendy picks up strewn socks, washes sinkloads of dishes, scours the floors and hangs up damp towels. As the laundry chugs along, she sips peppermint tea, reading House Beautiful or scanning a whole foods, organic cookbook for tomorrow's super-nutritious recipe.

But then, after all the shadows have been sewn on and the lost boys head off to college, Wendy falls apart.

She spends a year rescuing her father. She goes out and finds a house to removate. She gives up her secret hiding place--the one where she could keep her papers out on tabletops and let her thoughts unfurl one after the next after the next... And she finds that, for some reason, she can't quite pull the seams of her own work together.

She gets caught up in a play about masks and mirrors. She catches herself sincerely caring about Brittney Spears, whom she has never met.

Discovering this about herself kind of sucks.

In the real world, when a Wendy's usefulness has waned, she gets to feeling like she's melting. She asks, "What is the point of me?" She feels unneeded, umwanted and unloved. There's an emptiness in The Wendy, a hollow place that seems suited for one shape only: The Pan.

That's why, Wendy's like me go out looking for men--and lost boys--to rescue. But, as we get older, we find that, more often than not, they end up rescuing us.


I've been systematically unpeeling this onion for some time now. I've been waking up to a new kind of shadow in my room. It's a young boy, and he looks like me.
He flickers in and out running through the woods like sunlight, racing up a hill like spinning wind funnels, rolling to the ground where a bright orange salamander the size of his finger--looks him in the eye. He's my own lost boy, a piece of me that I carelessly stuffed in a pocket one day when I traded my wildness for a kiss.

He's returning to me now, as my son settles into college and my daughter begins her outward journey. He comes creeping in, as my blood stops flowing--and I pull it, and my life force, back, bit by bit, into myself.

Reaching into that long-forgotten pocket, (where he's been all along), my Wendy greets him. "I know you, Boy," she says dreamily. "Or I think I do... but why are you crying?"
And he, turning a tear-streaked face toward her, grins. "I missed you," he says. "But you're here now. Let's fly!"
"Yes!" she smiles, pulling him into the light.

I watch this. I learn from it. Then I whsiper, "Maybe he could teach us, also, to crow..."


Amy Oscar said...

Jeanne sent me this comment by email and asked me to post it here for her:

Very, very good! I'm clapping my hands to your Wendy story. I love it. I am Wendy. But you already knew that. And I love being Wendy. I'm glad that you are seeing the up side of being a Wendy.

However, my Wendy doesn't always do things for other people. My Wendy does things for other people, and in doing so becomes herself. One of my greatest discoveries about myself is the acceptance and joy over that aspect of my personality.

It changed everything about my life. It changed how I looked at other people. Where I used to feel used and abused about my lack of being able to say no, now I don't even think no, I just see another opportunity to help someone be the best that they can be, and in doing so become the best that I can be.

I continue to pour my soul and effort into people. That's what my soul loves best. I continue to forgive those who have hurt me. I will continue to try and bring even an instance of joy to anyone who comes my way, whether it be stranger or dear friend. I love it. It even gives my great joy to type about it!!

Will I be hurt by others? Of course! Will I be used by others? Of course! Will I be treated badly by others? Of course! But their behavior is their responsibility, not mine. What they do with my kindness and generosity is their business. I hope they will pass it forward, but if they choose to mock me, or hate me for it, it's their lessons to work through.

Mother Teresa has been quoted often in the poem she is known for. The last line is how I hope I live my life...."For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It never was between you and them anyway."

Your story about Wendy reminded me of what I view as the purpose of my life. Thanks. And for heavens sake, get those wings out and fly! hehehe Love, Jeanne

beth said...

Ohhhhhh...ths is so very beautiful, and so very clear. Wow. I know about this inner boy thing, too. Several years ago, I left an unhappy, damaged relationship, and spent the next year on an amazing journey of waking up to my life. During that crazy year I lived on (and off) a boat, I opened my heart to my next love, and helped my mother recover from a mastectomy and reconstruction surgery (learning the importance of opening my heart to her specifically, as well). I felt what I then called my "12 year old boy" emerge: he helped me to play with a bunch of new adventures and to see life more fully and joyfully, and he still does.