It’s funny how the stories stick with you.
How they’re buried deep down inside and you don’t think about them for years until the moment life rips you open and through the jagged tear you see light streaming out and when you lean in close you can see the story glowing.
How they fill your mind with adventure and excitement and laughter, all of which fade quickly, leaving only the truth echoing around in your heart, ready to catch your ear when you least expect it.
When I was a kid, one of my favorite series to read all my own was, unsurprisingly, The Chronicles of Narnia. I probably read each one of those books at least eight times. What might be somewhat surprising is that my clear favorite of all of those books was The Horse and His Boy. That one never gets the attention it deserves.
I loved it for the simplest of reasons. It was a great story. All the classic elements. Boy is mistreated, finds out his horrible father is not really his father, runs away from home, takes up with talking horses, meets a princess, saves the day, falls in love, finds out he’s really a king. What’s not to love? Also, it’s funny. At least, to a nine-year-old. So I read it over and over, thrilled at the adventures, felt satisfied at the ending where everyone gets what he or she deserves.
It wasn’t until much later that it came back to haunt me.
I was thirty. It had probably been ten years, at least, since the last time I’d read that book. I lived in a slum in Argentina, and everything was going wrong. People I’d been trying to help were being lost on every side. Some were lost to terrible decisions, some to anger, and then some were actually killed, tragically, unepectedly. On we worked, trying to hold things together, to save what could be saved, to keep everything from falling apart, and just when I felt I’d performed some heroic feat of self-sacrifice, something new would be needed. I remember the day someone showed up on my doorstep with a new horrible story (the tragic drowning of a small child), a new desperate request (an all-night wake with a hopeless family). I remember saying to my husband, “It’s too much. I don’t have anything left.” He could only say that he felt the same.
But there was this echo. It sounds a little silly, but it wouldn’t stop tumbling around in my head. This:
Shasta had just run, as far and as fast as he could to save himself and his friends and bring warning to the King. He thought he had made it to the end of his journey. But then it wasn’t. He had to run more. No one else had to do it. It was completely unfair.
“But all he said out loud was, ‘Where is the king?'”
Just that. Okay. What do I have to do? And then he ran.
If you do one good deed, your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.
Echo, echo, echo.
I carried on. One step at a time. Inspired and challenged by a silly story I read when I was a child.
Because I had read the end of the story. I had seen him run past endurance, get lost in the fog, nearly fall off a cliff, find himself landed in a battle that was beyond his skills. I had seen him do the next thing and the next thing until it all came out the way it was supposed to in the end.
And I recognized with my grown-up mind what I had decided in my little girl heart all those years ago.
I wanted to be a hero like Shasta, and heroes run on.
I ran on.
With the echoes in my head, I ran.