Following is the second story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.
I believe that all of us who are attempting to uncover what the world is asking for from us are on our own hero’s quest.
It takes tremendous courage to step out of the mainstream and into the unknown. And as any hero will undoubtedly encounter numerous obstacles along the way, so will we. In overcoming these challenges, we discover the truth about ourselves and all that we have to offer the world. And for this reason as well our quest to answer the call is heroic, as it will no doubt benefit the world at least as much as it benefits us.
Just like that, with no warning.
Little One had paused for only a moment. A bird’s call had caught his attention, reminding him of a song his sister used to sing. He had stopped walking to look for the bird, but though he was at the edge of a dark green forest, he saw no birds anywhere. Disappointed, he lowered his gaze back to the ground to continue on his path.
That’s when he realized that the path had disappeared.
It had been there a moment before, he was sure of it. And it continued to extend behind him as far as the eye could see. But in front of him, now, there was nothing: no path, no marking, no footprints—entirely no suggestion of where to go.
His heart began to flutter in his chest. The forest in front of him was dark and foreboding. There was no sign of life anywhere around him. He suddenly felt very far away from home.
Without the path, he had no idea where to go, or even what to do. He was lost.
“You can only be lost if you don’t know the way home,” said a voice.
Little One spun around. There, just a few feet behind him on the path he had traveled, was an old woman with white hair, long fingernails, and a dark shawl the color of the shadows on the forest floor.
“You know the way home, Little One. I suggest you go back there now,” she cackled.
Little One wondered how she knew his name, but he just shook his head. “No,” he said. “I am looking for something, and I can’t turn back now, not after how far I’ve come.”
She laughed at this. “You wouldn’t speak that way if you knew how far you have yet to go. Turn back, Little One. I am only concerned for you. You will get lost, and you will not find what it is you are looking for.”
Little One’s heart sank. “If you could just point me towards the path. I know I saw it here a moment ago…”
“There is no path in these woods. You will lose your way and you will never emerge. You should turn back and go home to your family now.” A light glowed green in her eyes.
Little One could feel his heart beating in the back of his throat. He imagined his family eating together; he could see his home in the morning light, could feel the warmth of his bed. He longed to be there.
“Thank you,” he said to the woman. “I appreciate your help.” And with that he turned back around and began to walk into the woods.
When he looked back over his shoulder a few moments later, the old woman was no longer there.
The forest was dark and very little light made it through the thick canopy overhead. Little One could see only a short way in front of him. He reasoned that the mountains had been straight ahead of him when he had entered the wood, so he made his way as straight as he could by choosing a tree directly in front of him and walking towards it, then picking another and repeating the process.
At first he enjoyed the walk and felt energy in his legs. Every once in a while a bit of sun would penetrate the canopy and create dancing patterns of light on the dark skin of the trees. The leaves underfoot were soft and absorbed the sound of his footsteps. The entire forest was silent, in fact, except for periodic bursts of song from the bird he had heard before.
Soon, however, Little One realized something that made his legs feel heavy and limp.
After walking for about an hour, he passed a large tree with a double-trunk and an opening at its base that looked almost identical to one he had passed shortly after entering the woods.
Thinking it odd that two such trees should be so close together, he kept walking straight towards the base of the mountains. An hour later, he saw the same tree again.
Slowly it dawned on Little One that he was walking in circles.
“What a fool!” he said to himself. “I’ve been choosing trees that are slightly to the left. Of course this would take me in circles over time.”
He made a concerted effort to pick trees that were actually straight in front of him. An hour later his heart sank as he came upon the same double-breasted tree.
He began to pick trees that seemed to be a bit to the right in order to compensate for the apparent bias in his vision. An hour later, he passed the tree again.
Discouraged, Little One considered his options. “Since I cannot seem to walk in a straight line, perhaps I can find a river to follow. Rivers lead to higher elevations, and should take me towards the mountains.”
He started off 90 degrees to his right in an abrupt change of direction and looked all around him for signs of water. He saw none.
And then, about an hour later, he came upon the same twin tree.
He let out a heavy sigh, turned 90 degrees to his right again, and started off.
It was starting to get even darker in the woods when, four hours later, after four more tries, Little One passed the same double-breasted tree.
Little One had only a little water left and not much food. He remembered the words of the old woman: “You will get lost and you will not find what it is you are looking for.”
A raging fire flooded his limbs. “You did this, old woman! You removed my path so you could trap me here!” And then a darker kind of heat came for himself for having fallen prey to such a simple stratagem.
After a few moments the fire subsided. He heard the bird call again and felt an old, familiar pain in his chest.
“Please,” he said to nobody in particular. “Please show me the path so that I might find what it is that is calling me.”
He heard a rustling next to him. Thinking it was the bird, he moved towards it. As he peered at the roots of a tree, a snake’s head appeared.
“Snake!” Little One yelled. “Snake, help me find the path!”
The snake’s black eyes stared at him, unmoved. “There isss no path for you,” he said calmly. “Only other people’s pathsss. You have to follow the path within.”
“What path within? Just tell me where to go!”
“The path within you, Little One. Stop worrying so much about finding a path. You already know where to go. You just don’t know that you know.”
“That’s not helpful,” said Little One, the fire flaring again. “How am I supposed to know which direction to go in? If you’re not going to help me, you can leave me alone.”
“I already told you how to find your way. You will remember.” Snake looked calmly at him. “And when you find the path within, remember that the only ssstep you need to sssee is the next one. The path will appear as you walk it.”
Snake looked up at him for a moment, then slid over a root and into a hole in the ground.
Little One was confused. How he could know where to go when he had never been here before and there was no path? Without a path, how could he be sure he was heading in the right direction, and not just wasting his time?
He longed to know where he was headed, like when he followed the well-worn trail from the fields to his house back home.
He sat in silence for a long time. Then the bird called again. Again he tried to catch a glimpse of it, but again he saw nothing.
“You know the way home,” the old woman had said. “You already know where to go,” said the snake. Little One wanted to find their confidence reassuring, but he thought it more likely they were wrong about him.
He considered how he had gotten this far. After talking to Snake the first time, he had begun to feel a small tug within his chest, as if the mountains were pulling him towards them. “Lissssten,” Snake had said. And he had known then to start down the path that led over the plain to base of the mountains.
Now he felt no such tug.
In the deepening shade of the trees the bird called again, sounding even closer now. Little One finally placed the song. It was one his sister used to hum as she helped their mother cut vegetables for dinner.
“Lisssten,” he heard Snake say in his mind.
He felt something stir within. Remembering his sister’s toothless smile, how she literally jumped up and down when she had an idea, how completely and unhesitatingly she hugged him when she saw him, he felt not exactly the tug he had felt before, but a movement throughout his entire body that lifted him upward.
“Lisssten,” Snake said again.
Little One stood up. As soon as he did, the bird called. It was coming from just to his left. He took a step towards it.
More birdsong. And with it, a stronger movement within him.
He took another step, and then another. The song grew louder but never closer with each step. It continued to lead him deeper into the forest.
Then, after a time of walking, just as it was getting dark, he saw it.
There was a path in front of him, leading into a stand of trees so black he could barely see their outlines. He heard the bird call once more, behind him now, and then all was silent.
“You will lose your way,” he heard the old woman say in his head. “You will never emerge.” A tightness rose in his throat.
And then, remembering his sister, remembering the laughter and light in her eyes, he made a decision.
He approached the trees and began walking down the dark path.
Find Your Own Path
If, like Little One, you’re having a hard time seeing your own next steps, join us next month for Pathfinders, a group hike and discussion to help you discover your calling.
You’ll go on a beautiful walk through the woods. You’ll have meaningful conversations with others who, like you, are trying to discover what they’re meant to do in this world. And you’ll receive loads of support for listening in so you can identify and take steps towards work you love.
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