How to survive when the dream dies
So you had The Dream once. And you didn’t just dream it: you lived it. Or tried your very best.
You gave it everything you had. Giving up wasn’t an option. Failure wasn’t an option. You kept going, even when it almost killed you. Even when you thought you had nothing left. You managed to find a little more, because it would all be worth it in the end.
And now you’ve got no choice but to admit it: After all that, it didn’t work out.
There’s no hope. No way to salvage that particular dream. It’s dead.
That’s what happens to Brianna, the protagonist of my emerging novel The Reluctant Flame-Keeper (formerly The Nineteen Songs of Reunion). She’s travelled with her husband Daman, a treasure-trader, all the way from Ireland to Glastonbury – a long sea voyage, followed by a nineteen-day pilgrimage across the entire country of Cymru (Wales) – to bring a lantern lit from St Brigid’s Sacred Flame to a convent in a place called Beckery. They’re supposed to receive a rapturous welcome from the nuns, and and earn the patronage of the King of Wessex.
The plan goes more disastrously wrong than Brianna could have imagined. They arrive in Beckery, only to discover there were never any nuns there in the first place. She loses both Daman and the Sacred Flame, on the same day. Then the man who shows up in the guise of a guardian angel turns out to be a violent abuser.
Brianna’s completely alone in the world. She’s in pain, bleeding, and utterly exhausted. It would be so easy to just lie there on the floor and wait for it all to end. But then she hears the voice of her pilgrimage guide, Aelfric, in a dream…
You came here as a pilgrim, with a job to do, a sacred task. It doesn’t matter whether you chose it, or it chose you: you can’t just keep hiding from it.
You have to go back to Beckery.
Brianna protests, as anyone would in her situation:
But I have no lanterns left, the Sacred Flame has been put out and Daman is gone, and even the Warrior Maiden [St Brigid] has abandoned me. I can’t do this on my own.
To that, Aelfric responds:
You have to find the Warrior Maiden in yourself. She’s there, you know. She’s always been there. You’ve just forgotten how to listen to her.
If you’ve lost all your lanterns, you’ll have to become the Sacred Flame; and if you’ve no-one there to care for you, you’ll have to become your own Flame-Keeper.
You can do this, you know you can. You’re more than strong enough. You can start taking small steps towards your own dreams, all by yourself, as soon as you make the choice.
For the sake of God and Goddess and all goodness, get up from that floor and go to Beckery!
My own first step was to get up off the sofa and quit watching soaps and reading right-wing newspapers (I know, I know… I wasn’t the one buying them, but I used to read them if they were lying around, because it was easier than actually letting myself feel anything) and find the disillusioned courage to e-mail a spiritual counsellor and ask for an appointment.
And that changed everything, as I’ll explain in my next post…