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I love reading the Greeks myths and thinking about how they relate to things in the present day. One of my favorites is the story of Pandora and her Box, believed to have been written in the 7th century BC. While rereading it the other day, I realized again the Greeks were on target with their explanations of life. The Pandora story has been analyzed and given many meanings, but I will add yet another for those of us with TLE.
Pandora, according to some of the oldest myths, was the first woman. She was made by Hephaestus at the request of his father Zeus, king of all the Gods. Hephaestus was the god of metal, fire, artisans, and craftsmen. He crafted all sorts of wonderful things for the gods—beautiful and powerful things—but Pandora was a different sort of creation. She was made to be a punishment to man for Prometheus’s gift of fire to mankind. Hephaestus endowed her with all sorts of talents, intellect, and beauty and when she was complete, Zeus gave her a box.
Actually it was a jar, and we can blame the box reference to a botched interpretation in the 16th century, but for purposes of clarity we will call it a box. All sorts of the world’s evils were in that box: death, disease, famine, and so forth. It also contained Hope.
Up to that time, the newly made mankind had not experienced anything but paradise. Then Zeus put a ticking time bomb into the world, a woman who has been imbued with an intelligent curiosity and a closed box containing the seeds of all bad things. How long would it take for her to open it and change life?
At this point you probably have a good idea of what the ancient Greeks thought of Zeus. And frankly, there are some elements similar to the Christian and Jewish version of the Garden of Eden. But we will move on.
For me, the story is a little confusing as it appears that since she is the first woman, all these newly minted men had been running around enjoying life to the fullest. Here the story of How and Why is less important than What.
So here we are with Pandora and her box. As intended by Zeus, she finally succumbs to curiosity and opens the box, letting all the evils of the world fly out and take over. As these evils leave the box, she attempts to stop it and slams down the lid, trapping the only good thing that it contained: Hope.
It is this action that fascinates me and provides an interesting metaphor to living with TLE. As human beings, we are all created with gifts we can use either for good or evil. We all have curiosity and intelligence (OK, I know what you are thinking, but this is not a political blog, so stop it). And we all have our box, the issues that surround TLE. We can’t really ignore the TLE issues as that would not be human. When we open our box, we run the risk of releasing only the very worst.
For me, opening the box looked like this: I decided to use my intelligence to understand my condition. In doing so, I learned how devastating this condition is to each individual who has it; I learned all the personal pain others have experienced; I learned of all the negative outcomes to treatment; I learned of all the stigma that surrounds it, not only in my life, but for all who deal with TLE; I learned of the lack of interest many neurologists have in dealing with its special issues; I learned of the lack of funding for research when compared to other diseases and conditions; I learned of the government’s criminal disregard of safe treatment, and on and on.
Stigma, Pain, Loss, and Shame to name a few evils flew out of my box, and in the beginning I, too, slammed down the lid on Hope. I see how wrong I was to lose hope under the burden of all that needs to be addressed.
But here is where I move from ancient Greece to 19th century Russia. Tolstoy in observing the overwhelming evils of poverty in the world asked the question “What then must we do?”
“In examining the causes of poverty through the ages, Tolstoy developed a vision of a way of life that would deny the possibility of the exploitation of one person by another: a vision of self-discipline and responsibility, of joy, passion, and compassion, in which work for its own sake plays an essential part as a means to a healthy and kindly life.”
So where does that leave me, with the Eve of the Greeks, Tolstoy’s visions on the cure for poverty, and my sadness and frustration surrounding the issues with TLE? I believe that like Pandora, we will and should open the box. In doing so, however, we need to be very careful not to shut in Hope. And that like Tolstoy, we need to deal with the evils that have escaped our box through a vision of self-discipline, joy and compassion, understanding the whole, but dealing with what is actually in front of us at the moment.
I am never going to have the power to change a major issue with TLE. I worried that a blog entry about Hope would be meaningless to most in the face of all that needs to be said. But despite all of this, in the beginning of this new year, I would encourage a sense of Hope over all other issues. Hope opens our mind to the possibilities that have yet to be explored. Maybe someday that sense of Hope will power something so great for us that all our lives will be changed in the process.
Who knows what was intended, but maybe Zeus put the cure to the evils in the bottom of the box. Till then, don’t slam the lid on it.