I dreamed this morning that I had failed to complete an assigned reading in school about Theseus. The teacher–whom I recognized as Mrs. Tyre, my fifth-grade teacher who will figure in at least one future memoir piece–mentioned the name several times. My memory of the other students is hazy, but I think they were high-school people in a grade-school class.
I was late entering the room. When I finally did enter, I was panicking, knowing I had not read the assignment about Theseus. The class was arranged in a circle. Mrs. Tyre looked at me as if to say, “Well, it’s about time!” and it became clear that no one had read the assignment. She looked directly at me and said, “Tim, can you tell us about the story of Theseus?”
I woke up in a start because I knew I did not know the story either dreaming or awake. Why Theseus? I vaguely thought he might be a figure from Greek mythology, but I hadn’t studied Greek mythology in high school or college. However, lately I have been wondering if there is a mythological figure who represents a half-formed person–a person frozen between childhood and adulthood.
A quick Google search uncovered the story of Theseus that I did remember learning in grade school, or at least at that age. Theseus killed the Minotaur, a creature to whom Athenian children were sacrificed regularly to appease the Minotaur’s father, Minos. Interestingly, the Minotaur was half bull, half human–like the half-formed person I’d been thinking about. When Theseus left Athens to find the Minotaur, he raised a black sail on the ship. After he had completed the task, he was to change the sail to white and return, indicating that the threat was gone.
The Minotaur lived at the center of a maze. To kill him, Theseus unwound a ball of thread as he traveled throughout the maze. This allowed him to find his way out after he had killed the Minotaur. However, he forgot to change the sail from black to white, so that when his father saw the ship returning with the black sail up, he assumed Theseus had been killed and, in turn, killed himself.
Many people know that for more than two years we have been helping Kate deal with depression and related problems. I think child-devouring depression is the Minotaur. Theseus represents us in our quest to kill the depression and ease her suffering. The maze are the dozens of medications and combinations of medications we have tried that have failed.
This month we have embarked on a last-ditch effort involving a non-pharmaceutical intervention. The treatment is still under way, and though we are seeing changes, it will take time to know if we have finally succeeded in our quest to slay our Minotaur, and if we can begin to follow the thread back to a more “normal” life.
The question is: If we succeed, will we remember to change the sail from black to white, so that others see in us hope rather than despair, or will we continue to carry the scars of the past two years before us?