Do you remember the tale of King Arthur & the Knights of the Round Table? It’s a series of legends that means so many different things to so many different people. The tales revolve around such high order concepts like honor, courage, & equality. This tradition is not just an amazing story: but a series of numerous amazing stories that, taken together, create a context for an idealized age. The theme that stood out the most for me as a student was the love triangle involving King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, & Sir Lancelot. This particular sub-plot highlights what is to me the most treasured of all high order concepts–FIDELITY.
The entire premise behind the Round Table was equality. Unlike a traditional table that takes the shape of a square or rectangle, there is no “head of the table.” Any point around the circle’s outline stood an equal distance from the center. Any one knight seated there could take center stage at any given moment. Each man, whether lord or vassal, was equal part speaker & listener; performer & spectator; leader & follower. The Round Table served as a stirring symbol for an ideal for which we still strive even today. So imagine the shameful scandal it must have been when the leader behind such a beautiful idea fell victim to the common sin of adultery.
Click on the highlighted link that follows to see a YouTube video clip from the 1981 movie Excalibur. In this scene, the King asks the rhetorical question, “What is the greatest quality of knighthood?” The answer he receives foreshadows the betrayal that is yet to come.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Arthur’s Queen Guinevere, the iconic pure lady in the most elevated legend written from the courtly love tradition, not only cheated on her husband . . . but did so with the his best friend . . . Lancelot!
Sir Lancelot was Arthur’s greatest Knight. On multiple occasions, depending on which tradition of the legends you cite, Lancelot fought & defeated the entire lot of knights all on his own. He was the champion who would defend the King’s, or the Queen’s, honor in single combat in situations that didn’t warrant involving the entire army. Lancelot was supposed to be the Guardian of Purity; but he betrayed his King–and best friend–by sleeping with the Queen. The affair between Lancelot & Guinevere was the betrayal of Betrayals! It was a sin interwoven into a sin. Not only did the King of idealistic Camelot lose his wife to such a profane sin of adultery; but did so knowing that it was his best friend & bodyguard who stole his wife away! Why didn’t they just stab him in the back & then urinate on his bleeding corpse as they ridiculed him while he toiled through his last painful breaths? Where were their 30 pieces of silver, as they had “betrayed their master with a kiss“?
Here is another link from the 1981 movie. I couldn’t find a clip in English but that shouldn’t matter as the action requires no words. Fast forward to the 1:18 mark & witness for yourself the death of fidelity.
But when it comes to stabbing people in the back, it was Arthur who had the last word. After having endured so many whispers of this tragic betrayal, the King tracked his Queen into the woods only to find the unclothed bodies of the two people who he loved the most asleep in an intimate embrace. The brave warrior held mighty Excalibur over the pair of evil-doers, ready to slay them as was his right as husband & king. But instead, the King of Camelot, Champion of Equality & advocate of righteousness, plunged his sword in between the two lovers & left them alive to awaken & live with the guilt of their sin. While Guinevere & Lancelot chose to strike their King down with infidelity, their King responded not with violence but forgiveness. Arthur was too faithful to his wife & friend to end their lives.
Editor’s Note: The following content involves the use of characters both named & un-named. Any likeness to other people, real or imagined, is completely coincidental.
Fidelity. In my own life, my pursuit for this lone ideal above all others has been the biggest source of my frustration as well as the greatest block to finding lasting love for myself. Although I don’t claim to be “king” or any form of “royalty” for that matter, I’ve often played the role of Arthur in my life’s intimate relationships. On more than one occasion, I’ve dealt with the aftermath of some unseen betrayal–or, worse yet–borne witness to such betrayal, at least in my own eyes, similar to the ghastly scene that Arthur discovered in the woods. I even shared one such instance with my wise pastor. I told him that every time I closed my eyes, I’d see my beloved Lorraine with that corrupt monster who stole her from me. I could never free myself from the pain of that disappointing image; I could never feel pace, whether my eyes were opened or closed. For months afterwards, all I saw was PAIN. My pastor responded in a factual but sympathetic way: “It’s true what they say. Once you see something that horrible, you can’t un-see it.”
In more practical terms, he followed this up with: “You have to forgive.”
“Forgive?” I asked, confused.
“Forgive them. Forgive her. But forgive him too.”
I stormed out of his office in anger. I was disgusted with my pastor’s weakling advice. I could forgive her, of course . . . she was pretty! But forgive that fat, ugly beast? NO! I wanted to slay this pile of walking pollution as was my right as a man betrayed. I would un-sheath my Excalibur & not re-sheath him until he had feasted on my enemy’s blood! (This is figurative language used for dramatic effect only).
At the time this conversation occurred, there was no talk of “Arthur” or “Round Table.” I only bring it up now because, after countless painful nights & deep reflection, I, too, chose not to strike down those who had wronged me. At first, my pastor’s plea to forgive seemed like vile weakness; but eventually, I saw forgiveness in this case as strength. Like King Arthur, I did attention to betrayal; but then walked away. Today was the day that this same pastor invoked the legend of Arthur & “The Sword in the Stone.” And today was the day I finally decided to heed that wise man’s plea & put the betrayal behind me, not in front of me. It only took . . . oh, I don’t know…..a year or so. (Statement inserted for humorous effect only).
Today’s sermon haunted me as I went about my Sunday’s chores. At some point, I realized something. It wasn’t so much the loss of Lorraine that I had been mourning; but the failure of faithfulness. I had witnessed what I believed to be the loss of a sweet girl’s innocence, & I regretted that perceived loss. She wasn’t the love of my life; but she was my Camelot. She was validation of an impossibly child-like expectation I have always held onto. She was my fairy tale. And her betrayal was the death of my innocent vision.
In every Arthurian legend, his death evokes both pain & hope. Pain, because the Warrior King who was not too proud to show mercy when warranted had passed; hope, because of a prophecy that declared that when the need arose, on a future date the King would return. If I’m not mistaken his epitaph read:
Arthur: the Once and Future King.
For me, fidelity died with when Lorraine disappointed me. But it wasn’t her job to uphold my world view anyway. Concepts like Fidelity are bigger than one person or one moment. Fidelity, like love & courage–can be vanquished for a time, but not forever; so I mused.
I’ve mourned the death of my personal Camelot as I saw it sink beneath the dark waves of The Lake. My treasured dream had ended. But after today’s sermon, I realized that my use of the word ended is premature. The place where I am now is neither an end nor a beginning; but a continuation. Life, spiritual growth, triumph–these high order ideals often occur in cycles. I had witnessed what I thought was the death of fidelity; but it was simply a set-up for its re-emergence. My cycle continues. I’m still learning. I’m still improving. I hurt but then heal. I hate but then love. I fight but then forgive. Just like the legend says about King Arthur, when the need arises on a future date, my Camelot will come again. I treasured Lorraine. I treasured what she represented for me; what I made her out to be. But doing so was unfair to both of us–and foolish. When I experience my own personal Camelot, it doesn’t have to have anyone else’s name on it other than my own.
My Camelot . . . will come again.
A creative writing exercise that employs current circumstances to enhance realism.
It’s finally June. After a long winter of wearing masks, Covid restrictions, & uncertainty; the sun is finally shining on a bright reality similar to the one we knew before “Coronavirus” captured the headlines in March of 2020; and for those of us whose lives it did not take, it put on hold. But at last. It’s warm outside. The masks are off. We have permission to enjoy life again. Things are finally back to normal. It’s summer.
I’m typically a night owl which means that I rarely get along with early mornings. However, today I couldn’t help but tire of the bed shortly after 7am. It’s the first Saturday of June & I had the day off. I had promised myself that Summer 2021 was going to be one for the ages, for me at least. It would be a summer of momentous positive change. Why sleep in when there was a warm, bright world outside just waiting to erupt into a sizzling summer? I took my coffee on the front porch, facing East. I wanted to acclimate myself to feeling alert this early in the morning. I would use the bright sun in my face to reinforce the caffeine in my bloodstream & the general feelings of excitement surging inside me. I sat out there so long that my coffee became warm, not hot: much like the weather. It was warm, not hot: a rather pleasant circumstance.
I went back indoors where, to my shock, I felt cold. The sleeveless muscle shirt that seemed like such an advantage outside suddenly became a liability. My housemate keeps the thermostat waaaaayy down. She was away for the weekend so I immediately went to shut the A/C down. Then I took my place on the sofa to finish my coffee only to find that the lukewarm liquid no longer appealed to me. I turned on the TV as I planned out my day. What chores had to be done first, what time should I go to the gym, etc — such weighty topics required my attention. Time, like the sun outside, was burning. I don’t have expensive cable so I watch YouTube on my TV. I had been hearing that old Guns N Roses song “Cold November Rain” at the gym lately so I decided to play a version that included the lyrics. As I settled into the song, I noticed that I still felt cold, despite having shut down the A/C. Then, the following verse appeared onscreen:
Don’t you think that you need somebody?
Everybody needs somebody.
You’re not the only one.
You’re not the only one.
Out of nowhere, I found myself thinking back to a photo I recently chanced upon featuring Lorraine. Her best friend had gotten married in May; it was a majestic affair from all accounts. Lorraine was one of nine bridesmaids. They were all beautiful–the bridesmaids and, of course, the bride herself. But Lorraine, even off to the side–even with their every effort to minimize the superiority of her beauty . . . easily overshadowed them . Just as the sun outshines the combined light of the moon & the stars in the night sky, Lorraine stole the show–just as she had stolen my heart years ago. But oddly, she was the only bridesmaid who was there alone. She, the sun amongst the stars . . . She, the standard for all womanly beauty . . . She, the matriarch of the endless tempest in my heart . . . was alone.
But so was I.
I grabbed the Afghan from the couch & wrapped it around me. The atmosphere no longer felt lukewarm; it felt cold. I shivered as the irony set it–It was June, but still felt like winter to me.
Even on the brightest summer day, the next thunderstorm is always waiting to strike. I felt it in my bones; it was going to rain again–a rather (un)pleasant circumstance.
This piece serves as the pilot episode for a fictional summer series following one man’s continuous struggle to pick up the pieces from a disastrous disappointment & evolve to the next stage that awaits him–presumably a happy one.
Click the green hyperlink to view the exact interview on YouTube: Soldier’s Story.
I just finished watching a documentary chronicling a soldier’s experiences during the War in Iraq. Sgt. T.W. of the 101st Airborne Division recounts an experience when his platoon comes under mortar fire inside the courtyard of their Forward Operating Base. The blast knocks Sgt. T.W. on top of a fellow soldier, Barnes, the platoon’s Radio Operator. While both men absorb shrapnel, T.W. stands up with only mild injuries; but Barnes takes a more direct hit & subsequently endures multiple surgeries & years of rehabilitation afterwards. When a reporter asks T.W. why it was Barnes & not him when both soldiers stood only feet apart, the sergeant explains simply: “There’s no rhyme or reason to it . . . if you spend too much time thinking about it, you’ll go insane.”
While the once popular AMC original series “The Walking Dead (TWD)” is fiction, I don’t consider it irreverent to relate a serious moment in the drama to a serious moment in real life. After all, I’ve always believed that fiction mirrors reality because we who create fiction do so to make sense of our real world experiences. In Season 4 of “TWD”, the eye-patched Governor with his one good eye finds himself with a small group of other survivors as they celebrate their good fortune to be some of the last men standing on earth. When the group asks the Governor how he’s managed to stay alive, he responds cryptically, “It’s best not to think of it.” In this moment, the Governor sounds like a true veteran of a real war & not just a character on TV.
Although I’ve never been a soldier myself, I often perceive life as one continuous war; one challenge after another; a series of endless battles. We conquer one challenge to celebrate briefly only to proceed inevitably to the next challenge. Most of the time it’s not life & death; & even when it is, for most of us, our life & death experiences don’t involve mortar fire or unexploded IEDs. Still, even for those of us who are fortunate enough to live the life of a civilian a world away from any formal warzone, peace is often difficult to find. For me, I feel as if there’s an emotional war raging in my head.
I’ve suffered from insomnia for most of my life. If I don’t fall asleep in that first hour, I’m just as likely not to sleep at all than to find even a brief respite from my life’s deepest regrets & unanswered questions. I was a humanities major in college & have always been the analytical type. My interests lie in literature, history, religion, & psychology instead of math & science.
The following material is a fictional account made to appear like the narrator’s private thoughts–for dramatic effect only.
Why didn’t I supplement my Bachelor’s of Arts with more business-related courses? Why was I so afraid to fail? Why did I mismanage this or that opportunity? And, although it may sound trite compared to soldiers lamenting war, lately I can’t seem to stop asking myself:
“Why did she pick him over me?”
I’m moving soon. So I’m going through my personal effects, labeling boxes, & the like. I came across some pictures from my younger days. It just so happens these photos span several years & include me with many of my ex-lovers. I looked so young & clueless–cheerful & funny, yes–but so skinny! And so presumably weak! I remember thinking back then that while I could attract the pretty girls from time to time, I rarely felt capable of protecting them. In the back of my mind, I always knew that if I ever were to graduate to the status of “head of household,” I’d have to toughen up into a fierce guardian. I always assumed that when it didn’t work out, it was because she would leave me for a man she considered to be a better protector.
But now that I’ve much more visceral with years in the weight room & numerous trips to the Golden Corral, I appear much more proficient in that role. And yet, it seems as if more girls liked me better back then; back when I was cheerful but outwardly weak.
But, at least the good girls would understand. And that’s exactly what Lorraine was. She was the absolute good girl; she was the incorruptible one. Lorraine was the exact type of modest beauty that would reward fidelity with fidelity & find security not in overwhelming size alone but in the knowledge that a man who loved her enough would do anything to protect her.
I treasured her. But all she did with my gift of friendship was treat it like worthless trash. I thought she was a woman of substance–someone who cared about the why behind the action. But somehow, she chose that fat, hulking, colossal pile of meat-head garbage over someone who cared. I hope she never finds happiness! She doesn’t deserve to ever be loved. EVER! She deserves to feel the pain that she caused me. She deserves to stay up late at night; staring at the ceiling in a dark room, asking herself “What if?”
That soldier from Iraq was right. One of the most aggravating heartbreaks I’d ever experienced prior to Lorraine occurred while I was unemployed. A supporting friend warned me, “An idle mind is the Devil’s playground. So find something to do or you’ll drive yourself crazy.” And although I have something to do now, Lorrain’s descent into depravity still haunts me. The Governor was right. “It’s best not to think of it.” How can a fictional character from a TV show know so much more about grieving than I do? How could his one eye be better than my two?
I don’t have that answer. I’m only concerned with what I need to do right now. I’ll start with this. It’s still early afternoon & the sun is out. But tonight when it’s dark, I’ll close both eyes & block everything out. I’ll rest easy & tomorrow morning, I’ll focus just on what I have to do for that day. I’ll keep both my eyes & still manage to find peace somehow. Whether soldier or civilian, we are all casualties of life anyway. We all carry some scar of our past struggles; whether that be a missing eye or damaged limb. In my case, I carry the shards of glass from a broken dream named Lorraine. For now, I’ll have to find consolation in knowing that one day I’ll be over her. I’ll conquer this overwhelming disappointment the same way I m’ve gotten over all the rest; celebrate briefly; than move on to the next challenge. Because that’s what life is. It’s one battle after another. It’s . . .
one continuous emotional war.
And I’m locked & loaded.