Here’s a myth for you, courtesy of a recent dream I had.
I’ve got a rodent problem. A really big rodent problem. There’s this critter roaming around and it’s not just a nuisance, it’s a menace. Standing on its hind legs, as it is wont to do, it’s four or five feet tall, maybe more. It’s got a nasty set of teeth and a nastier disposition. This is a supernatural creature, come from the Dark Side to do me evil.
I’m going to have to kill it. I don’t have an appetite for the hunt nor am I especially afraid, even though this is a menacing rival. I’ve got a job to do and I’ll do it.
I have a nail gun and take dead aim. The Mickie-Monster ducks and disappears. Clever bastard.
The hunt continues. I have to get him before he gets me and my family.
I’m in a warehouse that’s empty except for some debris in the middle of the room. A workman gestures surreptitiously toward the pile of stuff: the super-rodent is hiding behind it. I’m not sure how this is possible because the debris isn’t more than three feet high and the killer critter is bigger. But hey, if he’s there he’s there. Not mine to question.
I approach the pile, aiming to flush him out. And like a flash, there he is! Only he’s not a super-rodent, he’s a tiny little mouse and he’s scampering super-fast across the floor.
I’m not surprised. Supernatural creatures can change their physical appearance as circumstances warrant. It’s part of their arsenal.
I know something else, too. Just because he’s turned into this tiny, vulnerable thing doesn’t make him any less dangerous. I have something big and heavy in my hands, maybe an oversized air conditioner. I raise it high over my head and, as the tiny creature scampers by, bring it crashing down.
I’m not sure I got him: he was moving so fast he might have gotten past me and away. My partner Sheri is next to me now. I gingerly turn over the air conditioner to see what, if anything, is underneath. And yes, I got him. The mini-mouse is there in mini-mouse form, an almost unrecognizable mass of blood and squashed fur.
The super-rodent has been terminated with extreme prejudice.
I look at that tiny, helpless, bloody corpse and wonder, as I can tell Sheri is wondering too, if that much violence was really necessary. It’s not that I did anything wrong: this was a supernatural super-rodent, and if I hadn’t killed it it would killed me and maybe Sheri, too. Yet I look down at the results of my “appropriate response” and am left with only questions, and sadness.
And now, back to our waking life and the thoughts that come with it. Who among us, when threatened and enraged, hasn’t become a super-rodent? What is the appropriate level of force to use when doing battle with the super-rodents in our lives, whether that’s an intimate partner or a business partner or some bozo in a bar? Enough to defeat the creature, surely, and yet every super-rodent is also a tiny, vulnerable mouse, and so that same level of force is also wildly excessive.
There are no right answers here, only paradox. Shapeshifters are we, and this makes our choices complicated.
It’s been said that the gods laugh at us, and maybe they do. I can’t be sure, though, because all I can see is the masks they wear. The mask of the Innocent. The mask of the Killer. Our reflections in the mirror.
How hopeless it is, how quixotic, to search for right and wrong in a trickster world run by other rules than reason! It isn’t the gods themselves, but the faces of the gods—the masks of the gods—that are laughing at us—laughing uproariously!—as we miss the point entirely. We practice what feels like necessary violence, then seek to justify ourselves with thoughts of righteousness and justice (“I had no choice,” “he deserved it”) when the only axis that matters, the only axis that truly makes sense, revolves around compassion and forgiveness.