Perhaps because they played it the night we recently camped our at the zoo, or perhaps because, throughout our childhoods, my sister had the entire soundtrack memorized and so its lyrics are engrained somewhere deep inside me… Whatever the reason, the song, “Circle of Life,” from “The Lion King” has been on repeat in my mind all day today. Not the whole song, just the title, really. This morning was rough as I sat in the doctor’s office, thinking about fears and mortality and children. Entire atriums of scared butterflies flew chaotically in the cramped, small space of my stomach, some escaping to lodge in my throat while my hands trembled and grasped for something to hold, landing only on the iPad. Alone, my eyes darted between the other patrons waiting. I tried to people watch, tried to imagine what they were sitting in this specialist’s office for. How many people have to visit an endocrinologist for these kind of tests every day? How many doctors have been forced to see fear as a symptom rather than an emotion? How many have forgotten what it is like to sit in the chairs, staring at blue, unadorned, sterile walls while precious minutes of their lives skip on by? My environment was overwhelming me so, slowly, I closed my eyes before they created new oceans.

Isaiah 41:13 came to mind first : “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand, saying, ‘Do not fear, I will help.” This verse shepherded me out of a very, very dark childhood. Sometimes, I’d hear breathing above me, as a young child… Even when there was no one there. And sometimes, someone -would- be there and I would clutch my hands into fists. I’d try to lock my eyes on my hand and imagine, as vividly as I could, seeing God’s hand. I pictured its color, whether or not hairs were on it. I pretended I could see it… And derived more comfort than I ever have from anything else. I’d hold my shaking hand out in the dark and pray. Isaiah 41:13 would whisper into my soul and the fierce trembling of my terrified heart would calm, I’d stop holding my breath and find sleep again. Morning would dawn and I’d always look at my hand and feel tenderness for God. I remember consciously refusing to seek His hand often because I was afraid that He’d grow weary of my dependence, tired of helping. It was hard to see the bigger picture then–the present was all I could focus on. The “future” was a blurry, dream-coated hope of which I was altogether uncertain. I kept waiting on that magical day to come that would transform me into a grown-up… Would it be aging children, living alone, graduating? Which event was it that we going to catapult me into this fairytale I called “someday”, when some man would hold me, look at me as if I were delicate ad special despite the flaws? I kept waiting but one day merely turned into another. Decisions were made but they didn’t seem to make me feel any more like a grown-up than ever—the “someday” still hadn’t come, the fairytale still existed only for my characters. I remember the first time a man called me a woman, and how strange the word felt when used to describe me. Was it simply reaching an age that transformed you? I’m still uncertain when or how but, one day, I simply didn’t question it anymore. I’d never felt like a child—but I was able to understand things that I hadn’t been able to before… I could see what “next year” looked like… I knew what summer would smell like without having to imagine it. I knew how to check my daughter’s temp without a thermometer, although I wasn’t quite sure -how- I knew. I knew how to cook, without really knowing how. I knew what “bad” milk smelled like, and that I couldn’t drink it. Shortcuts were still forbidden; change, strictly avoided; confrontations, terror-ridden; goodbyes, dreaded; children, mandatory. But small pieces of myself had changed. Instead of hoping for a soulmate, I began to long just for a father. Instead of intimacy, companionship. Dreams were exchanged for prayers for my daughters’ welfare. Where once my world revolved solely around survival, now it included play designed to teach my daughters I was there for them. I’ve built the last eight years around them and have worked hard to make sure they’d have fond memories of me in case I died before they were old enough to remember unaided. Why? Because, even though I am quite ordinary and forgettable… I love them, and I know how important and foundational it is for children to truly believe that their parents love them. I know this because, even though I had the great support of a loving mother, I always longed for the real love of a father.

“It’s the Circle of Life
And it moves us all through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Til we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle
The circle of life.”

And so, here I am, discovering that my path in life is being a mother and teacher, and of sharing some of the most painful and private parts of my life out of a desire to help others and to be loved. You see, the fairytale isn’t magic. It is not about cute houses with pools and white picket fences, compete with a dad, mom, two kids and a dog. The fairytale isn’t about marriage at all. It’s about living day to day, juggling the bills and the housework; deadlines and mortgages; long weeks without a single adult conversation; baths and bedtime stories–the fairytale is in maintaining all this while still planting seeds of joy inside those around you, and of soaking in the feeling of being loved by anyone. The fairytale is in the undying, persistent faith that insists God is not the grown-up version of an imaginary friend but rather is quite real. It insists that He did and does, hold your hand. The fairytale is in choosing humor and tenderness in lieu of doubt and fear. It’s in the decision to see the point in life regardless of how long you have. The fairytale is in forcing yourself to lie still through a biopsy, to whisper to yourself “just breathe” when what you’d rather do is hide beneath a mound of blankets because you optimistically believe that if medicine can add a day or a year or thirty years to your life, it’s a gift, not a curse. The fairytale believes we matter more than progress, more than a computer, more than money. We come full circle when the survival mechanisms we employed during childhood meet the informed desire to live, knowing full well that the “someday” of our childhood fantasies may or may not ever materialize. In short, realizing that our place in life isn’t necessary a position of royalty but is nonetheless monumental in its influence upon the well-being of those who surround us.

As a grown-up, my fears are different than a child’s. But what delights the child also delights me: conversation, laughter, surprises, hugs, time. The child’s fairytale includes an abundance of love and joy in the absence of pain or struggle but an adult’s fairytale includes an abundance of love and joy in the midst of pain or struggle. The child’s monster captures the princess and locks her in a hidden castle, stripping her of her freedom as she awaits rescue from a brave knight willing to make sacrifices on her behalf. It’s about the princess. Adults’ fire breathing dragons are scary tests that threaten to cast a spell of darkness over the fragile kingdoms of peace and stability we’ve worked hard to obtain. In the end, though, the child’s hero and fair maiden share a love that inspires them to forgive the injustices they’ve endured—injustices that barely matter once the two are together. The adult fairytale’s conclusion is incomplete–she knows nothing is guaranteed–but, like the child, she still believes in the value of others and, while its definition may have altered, she never stops believing in the possibility of a happily ever after.