The archetype is clear.
Society needs someone to do the dirty work, handling challenges far beyond the comfort of the normative.
Those who end up being selected to do that work are valued, put on a pedestal.
They are not, though, allowed back into polite society. They are tainted, corrupted by their service. They carry the stench of the unpalatable. They may even carry the seeds of the disquieting challenges they faced, allowing those challenges to be reborn, or at least to be glimpsed in their scars.
The chosen have proven their ability to go beyond the conventional, the nice. Because they know how, their very presence threatens the status quo, offers the possibility of upsetting the nice structures by which the rich keep power over the masses.
By admiring the fighters we rationalize our keeping our distance from them, isolating them as outside the bounds of real, good, pure humanity. They have fallen into the abyss, been changed, and who knows what might now exist in their transformed soul?
Of course, this is the most challenging part of the heroes journey, the return. We leave, enter the underworld, face the dark monsters and come back forever changed, both what we were before, nice and normal, and something new, our spirit annealed and hardened by the flames we had to traverse.
If society wanted what we bring back from our journey they would already have it, integrating it into the routines of belief. No, what now lies within us is too challenging, too intense, too transformative, too terrifying to be easily accepted by those who never had to take the trip beyond comfort and through the terrain known as the terrors.
Even those few people who value me gaze into my soul and understand why others find me too overwhelming, too burning to look upon. They may see the beauty and power in some of my words, but they know that even what they find useful is wrapped in a kind of emotional flame, a torrid intensity that is beyond what should be shared in a comfortable world.
“We don’t talk about death,” they tell me, even as they know that death and rebirth surge through my experience like a searing seam of lava which tears apart the wishful to reveal the authentic.
Finding the need to compartmentalize me off so that they can focus on matters at hand, they cannot understand why I too cannot wall off my own vision and come back to exist in a pleasant, conventional place.
Instead, I just keep recounting my experience out loud, as well as I can, until I hear it back from the world.
Sadly, though, I never have heard myself deeply mirrored. I most probably never will, because I am one of the untouchables, infested with lessons from far beyond the normative, tales from the underworld that can only be glimpsed on this side as fables & archetypes, watered down and made only symbolic, their vitality neutered and their rawness purged.
When mythic tales are bowdlerized we can take the blood from them and replace it with fantasy, twisting them to remove the terror and leaving them just scary enough to tell at bedtime. Cleaned up and commercialized, they become just sensational enough to support a business, offering a taste of the exotic to flavour the comforting and banal.
Why can’t I just dial it back, leaving just a touch of the flavour from my voyage rather than being too much, too intense, too intellectual, too queer, too scary, too demanding and too almost everything else you can name? Why can’t I understand the simple rules of nice people, the ones everyone else plays by?
My personal journey started very early. I don’t have a time when I was in the bosom of home and family; the mother who knew how to love me was always my mother in the sky. I had to face something other than the conventional and embracing, for many reasons.
No matter how much people told me not to go there, I had to go there, for my own protection, my own safety and as much of my own health as I could salvage.
Having been there, though, I have entered the quarantine zone left for those whose exposures leave open wounds, so deep that they reveal what most work desperately to keep hidden. My scars mark me out as transformed, the lessons of my torture and survival written on my skin, resonant in the words I so desperately try to share.
I am one of the returned, of those who has seen the deep structures, lived in the jangled wires and understands what lies beyond the dark portal to the underworld.
How can anyone like me, whose flesh has been burned away to reveal what lies beneath, still be seen as human, as tender, as sweet, as darling?
The wounded healer is nothing but human, even as her scars reveal that the essence of being human is not on the surface, not in the shallowness of desire, habit and reflex but rather in the depth of our hearts, in the human nature, the continuous common humanity that connects us all. What looks like hideous disfigurement is merely the mark of revelation, gifts that others only choose to value when they don’t have the urge to turn away from what they fear for themselves.
The returned may learn how to pass through the world, cloaked in mufti, being of service to those we love, but in the moments when we take off that face we are mostly alone, solitary and lonely. Having been pared to essentials, we see through things others take as real, the mechanisms exposed, the clouded thoughts swirling clusters that others cannot differentiate.
Finding a place to remove that shroud, to stand naked and be seen with compassion & understanding, though, is very hard. We are the returned, the ones who went there and did the dirty work, becoming molten as the slag burned away, the tiny buttons that let others pressure us into easy, controlling fear melting in the exposure.
We have done the work asked, then returned, transformed, changelings bearing hard won gifts.
And we are greeted with fear, isolation and disgust.