On his way home from Troy after fighting and fighting and fighting some more to get his brother’s wayward wife, Helen, back, the red-haired king Menelaus took a detour to gather booty in Egypt. You know, like you do when you’ve been away for ten years battling Trojan warriors…why not stop by the Nile to amass more wealth instead of hightailing it straight home for a hot shower and warm meal and a comfortable bed?
When he finally did get around to setting sail for home, Menelaus found himself trapped by unfavorable winds and uncooperative seas. Long story short, in order to get home he had to trap The Old Man of the Sea, Proteus, to find out the secret to getting home without further delay and harship. Problem was, Proteus was a shape-shifter, and trapping him was tricky business.
” …we rushed him, flung our arms around him – he’d lost nothing,
the old rascal, none of his cunning quick techniques!
First he shifted into a great bearded lion
and then a serpent –
a panther –
a ramping wild boar –
a torrent of water –
a tree with soaring branchtops –
but we held on for dear life, braving it out
until, at least, that quick-change artist,
the old wizard, began to weary of all this…”
From Proteus we get the word “protean,” meaning changeable, variable, or versatile.
I was trying to decide the other day how to describe how I was feeling about my life these days. I kept thinking about Proteus. I can’t seem to get a grip on anything. It may just be that I’m not managing what we call The Big Board well – I don’t have the calendar organized and I don’t know who’s going to be where or when more than one day out. I don’t have the birthday presents bought and wrapped for the next weekend’s birthday parties. I don’t know who has what practice on what day so the cleats or ballet tights aren’t by the door ready to go. I can’t remember if we’re having dinner with friends or going to a brunch on Sunday, so do I need a sitter or don’t I? Work is a little crazy right now because it’s that time of year plus there’s a lot up in the air. I’m really tired but I don’t know if that’s because of allergy medicine or because I’m watching too much Jon Stewart or not getting enough exercise or what.
Is May a ramping wild boar or a serpent or a torrent of water? Whatever it is, I can’t hold onto it very well. It’s trying to wrest itself from my grasp.
Have you ever tried to maintain a grip on a torrent of water? I hold out hope that the old wizard will soon begin to weary of all this. I know I am.