Rise Above by: Ulff Lehmann

I’ve been wrecking my brain how to approach this piece. The mighty overlord asked me to write something with the topic of our upcoming anthology in mind. It’s still tough, with this shit show of fascism and hatred on our doorstep, to consider compassion, kindness, and rising above adversity, when all I want to do is lash out.

If some of you complain now that this is too political for you, move the fuck on, this is my space, and I write what I want. You don’t have to read it, put your MAGA hats on and go burn a cross or something.

I’m white; I grew up in West Germany before the Berlin Wall came down. Issues such as skin color never were an issue, mainly because there were no kids with different skin colors in our neighborhood. We had a Persian-German girl in our class, but even she wasn’t different, to me at least. So, my being white and male basically fulfills the stereotypical privilege we hear so much about.

So obviously, what do I know of rising above adversity?

Ironically enough, a lot. Then again, every compassionate person should. Did I grow up privileged? Fuck yes! With both of my parents working good jobs, I was given opportunities few people ever will have. Was I aware of that privilege? When I grew up, not so much. Later, yes.

There was an incident when my family was on vacation in Tunisia, and I grew ill. Being white already allowed for preferential treatment by the hospital staff, for me who was in pain that was nice… that my parents had credit cards basically put me at the front of the line, past the mother with her ailing daughter, and I don’t know who else. In hindsight, I’m embarrassed, ashamed. I never considered money that important to be treated with privilege. People should not be separated by wealth, not given preferential treatment.

So, why does this make me an expert on rising above adversity? It doesn’t, but it may give you an insight on my outlook in life.

I believe in justice, not mercy. People are equal before the law, and all that stuff. Just because someone has more money, should not entitle them to be put in front of the line, past all those who have been waiting for hours. Kill someone; you are a murderer, no matter your pocket book. Rape someone, off with the balls; I don’t give a fuck how much money you have! I learned the world isn’t fair, early on. Most of us have… Silly me, I have yet continued to not screw people over, and be a decent enough person, aside from my sarcasm and such.

Yet, despite all this privilege, I’ve been close enough to suicide at least twice, not counting the numerous times I almost drank myself to death. I hit rock bottom more than once, soldiering on until I couldn’t anymore. The last time that happened… well, you know that story. And I rose above the shit nonetheless, with the help of my therapist.

So, yeah, I know what it means how to rise above adversity.

How does that translate to writing? I believe my philosophy is a pretty steady through line in my stories. But am I the be-all, end-all of that? No, of course not. Each of us has enough baggage we’re dragging through life, most of us aren’t aware of it, but still it’s there. We see ourselves in characters we read, put ourselves into characters we write. And somehow every bit of kindness the character we identify with, helps us to make it a moment longer through the day, be it in anticipation of continuing the journey, or in the afterglow of a magnificent tale.

It matters little to others, but to us it’s the world.

A lifeline.

Those of us who battle with depression know how tough it can be.

To rise above, even now, and tell you about my baggage takes effort.

Fantasy, in general, doesn’t deal with these things. There are scoundrels, heroes, anti-heroes, the good, the bad, and the what-the-fuck-is-that kind of people. Some have little depth; others have a depth that is only hinted at. One of the best examples is Boromir, in my opinion one of the coolest characters in Lord of the Rings. He is tempted by the Ring, only because he wants to help his people. He knows his father is a madman, and he still wants to do the right thing. Road to hell and good intentions and all that… in the end he almost falls off the wagon but pulls himself back by his eye teeth and sacrifices his life to make up for the shit he almost caused. Tragic? Definitely. But he rose above the adversity of the Ring, his desire, his pride, and did what was right.

Boromir is rare.

How many times do we have an orphaned character, to whom the fact that they watched their family killed by orcs is a mere point on their CV? These traumas are mere bullet points, to be washed away when they hear of their *dun dun duuun* destiny. Depth of character comes from them looking longingly at the sunset, but when it comes to make little orc orphans, they’re all in.

This kind of trauma is there, always present. In everything the characters, and we, do. We may not be aware, but it is.

Compassion, perseverance, overcoming the odds. These are the keywords for the anthology.

Compassion, it seems rarer each day we read the news. It’s nice to read about, it gives us hope that there might be some good left in this bleak world of ours. How would I put compassion into a fantasy story? Being the hardliner justice dude, it’s at once simple yet difficult. The best I can come up with right now is a particular scene from “Kingdom of Heaven” where Balean frees the Alexander Siddig’s character, and is paid in kind at the end of the film. Does it always work? Being nice and kind? Nope, but it helps us through the day when it does happen. In the early days of my unemployment I was making a bit of money on the side, so I could afford some things while a friend of mine, also jobless, could not. I had no problem paying for the beers we drank when we watched a movie. I also paid for the ticket, asking nothing in return. There were tears in his eyes. He said nobody had ever done such for him. To me that’s normal, I treat people the way I want to be treated.

Perseverance… success against all adversity. Be it learning to walk again after a severe accident, or remaining kind no matter what shit others throw at you. Been there as well. Should we ever meet and you buy the beers, I might tell you about it.

Overcoming the odds… knowing that the upcoming anthology’s proceeds go to a mental health and suicide prevention charity, this certainly is not the rags to riches shit that Hollywood peddles all the time, but the kind of journey where everything is against you. This the same as perseverance, really. People remaining kind, honest, themselves, no matter the opposition.

A hero’s journey leads to some kind of transformation in the end. Sometimes it’s a growth of character, gaining wisdom, slaying the princess and saving the dragon sort of thing. But the cookie cutter routine doesn’t work for us broken people, of which there are far too many as it is. We’ll never be cookie cutter, always the odd one standing at the fringes of the party. It’s part blessing, part curse. For a mentally scarred person, happy endings don’t happen, the optimum for us, in the end, is normalcy, peace, contentment. That’s our happy. So being able to live with whatever baggage we are dragging around, that is a worthy aim, a goal for our hero’s journey. We can’t impart wisdom to heroes, heroes don’t have our problems, don’t understand our problems.

We are the hangnails of life, let’s embrace that!

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