I wanna be the Good Fairy

When I was little(er), I used to sit next to our cassette player and listen to the stories of famous ballets. My sisters and I would follow along to the regally voiced woman with the accompanying picture book, complete with illustrations, pictures and fact boxes about each story. We were all ballerinas, though none of us were flexible enough to be any good or dedicated enough to practice as much as we should have. So, I guess we weren’t ballerinas as much as we were girls who simply loved ballet.

Those ballets, like Swan Lake and Giselle, swept us up in our imaginations about fairies and castles and love stories. And, like most young girls, the love story was always the best part for me. How many times did I picture myself dancing the role of Aurora in the Sleeping Beauty? Or better yet, living it (pink dress, castle and handsome prince)?

Now, more than a decade later, I find myself beneath just one such castle, lit up against the evening sky like a beacon of enchantment, in a part of the world where all my favorite ballets first came to life on a stage.

I’m wearing a nice dress, and even though it’s not pink, I feel like a princess. And I’m rushing down the street because, as none of my habits have changed in the last two years, I’m late.

Dobrý večer, slečno,” says the woman at the door. I nod and brush past her in a whirl of cold wind blowing from outside, hoping to catch my friend before she disappears into the velvet-lined hallway.

“There you are!” says my friend, relief showing on her face. “I was worried you wouldn’t make it! They’re about to start!”

I can hear the orchestra humming as she gives me my ticket and we open the door that says ‘21’ – we have box seats tonight. The lowest balcony, left of the stage, juts out over several hundred floor seats and nestles comfortably below the many gold-trimmed boxes that peep out around the theater like pockets in a honeycomb. There are five chairs and ours are in the front.

We hang our coats on the wall and take our seats.

*I think it’s important to mention that the following pictures all come from the performance that I watched, put on by the National Theater. Like, it was gorgeous.

National Theater, Prague Credit: narodni-divadlo.cz

National Theater, Prague
Credit: narodni-divadlo.cz

For a moment, I feel guilty being so tall, but the feeling doesn’t last long. It’s wiped away by the soft dribble of music as the curtain rises and the scene begins.

I’ve seen Swan Lake. I’ve watched Coppelia from the wings. I’ve been in and witnessed the Nutcracker a thousand times. But nothing, nothing, has been as gorgeously done, as breathtakingly captivating as this performance: The Sleeping Beauty – Šípková Růženka.

The costumes were grand and elaborate, with no sash or sequin spared. The choreography was flawlessly synchronized and delicate. And it was entertaining, with jokes and glances and ‘turns of foot’ that left me flushed with giddy joy as I sat enraptured in the dark theater and watched a dream unfold.

The story itself is well-known. Baby princess is born. Fairies begift the princess with lovely attributes. Fanfare is interrupted by evil fairy (or in this performance, a shapeshifter with an army of incredibly realistic bat-people). Evil fairy condemns the princess to death on her sixteenth birthday and everyone is sad and upset (justifiably).

Then comes the wonder. Amid the quaking dancers and crying courtiers, who are weeping or shaking their fists, alights the soft and elegant ‘good fairy.’ She stands up to the dark force with a strength so gentle it outshines the beauty of all the glittering hems and glowing faces present. She never gets angry. She confronts evil with a tempered confidence that good will always triumph over evil. And then she gives the baby the gift of love (or hope or life – call it what you will).

The Good Fairy promising that the princess shall not die, but sleep. Credit: narodni-divadlo.cz

The Good Fairy promising that the princess shall not die, but sleep.
Credit: narodni-divadlo.cz

The rest of the story plays out the way we’d all expect. Beautiful princess is being pursued by a handful of suitors when she pricks her finger and falls into a deep sleep. The good fairy – ever to the rescue – enchants the rest of the kingdom as well. No one shall wake till the princess does.

The 'Prick' Credit: narodni-divadlo.cz

The ‘Prick’
Credit: narodni-divadlo.cz

Then, after a hundred years (during which time the audience enjoyed a twenty minute intermission in the winding hallways of the National Theater), the good fairy finds and guides a worthy prince to the princess’s tower where he fights the evil shapeshifter and wakes the sleeping beauty.

Wedding. More fanfare. Hurrah.

Awake and triumphant. Credit: narodni-divadlo.cz

Awake and triumphant.
Credit: narodni-divadlo.cz

As the final number plays out, I’m struck by something I never noticed when I read my little book so many times all those years ago. The princess and her prince look happy and sweet and each fairy, suitor and courtier has someone to dance with as the big ‘happy ending’ finishes, but the ‘good fairy’ is not there. And yet, of all those in this story, she is the true heroine.

I realize while watching the smiles of the happy princess that she isn’t who I’d want to be (though I’d kill for her dress). She doesn’t really have much of a story (she’s asleep for most of it).

Asleep. Credit: Pavel Hejný

Asleep.
Credit: Pavel Hejný

Why are we taught that the battle is always won by true love? Why does society teach us to be the princess, the center of attention, the one in the pretty dress?

Surely this is not the Biblical approach. Surely we are called to be servants – especially servants who trust in the Lord and His sovereignty, servants who are good and loving because He is.

Good and Evil. Credit: Pavel Hejný

Good and Evil.
Credit: Pavel Hejný

I think battles are won by goodness. I think I’d rather be the hero in someone else’s story than asleep in my own. I think I’d rather be able to stand up against the forces of evil with a confidence that God’s goodness will prevail – and that, possessing such confidence, I will become both brave and gentle, both strong and beautiful.

I’d rather be the good fairy.

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You’re stuck on an island

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“We’ve been trapped on this island for days and there’s no hope of getting rescued,” I say. Everyone nods in comprehension. “If we don’t decide whether to build a raft and get to safety or stay here and live off the island in ten minutes, I’m going to flunk everyone.”

Nervous laughter.

I’ve been trying to spruce up 9th grade conversation class – a difficult task when you consider how few games and activities there are which keep some twenty 15-year olds mostly engaged for 45 minutes, while reaffirming the lesson material and giving everyone at least a small chance to speak. If I’m being totally honest, most Tuesday mornings melt into chaos around minute three and I spend the rest of the class period trying to keep the volume at a humane level and the number of broken chairs / bones / feelings to a minimum.

So today we played a new game. Two teams were given a topic to debate, the other teams sat back and picked a winner. All survivor themed – all intensely dramatic.

After a mildly successful first debate where eight of my students reasonably argued (in somewhat legitimate English!) whether or not to leave the island on a raft, group two came up. Their topic was a touch more provoking.

Dan has killed Marika. Should we kill him in order to maintain justice?

— The following excerpt is an almost verbatim account of 9B during fifth period English class in which Mary discovers much about her students that she never knew, nor would ever have dreamed of before —

First Round: Petr v. Honza

Honza is a fluffy-haired boy with lanky arms. Petr is the size of a 5th grade girl and has as much spit-fire as a room full of baby dragons.

Honza and Petr giggle anxiously at each other like they’re not 15 year old boys and squabble over who should begin first.
“You start.”
“No, you start.”
“No, really, you can start.”
“Petr,” I say. “You start.”
“Okay, I think we shouldn’t kill Dan.”
Honza jumps in with conviction.
“I think we should! We have no food!”
“You want to eat Dan?” asks Petr with a curious glint in his pitch-black eyes.
“No, I didn’t say that,” says Honza, backing up slightly.
Petr’s tone changes into an accusatory laugh. “You want to eat Dan!”
“I didn’t say that!” Honza insists. Then he pauses. “But that’s not a bad idea. We have no food.”

DING DING DING.

[That’s the bell. Back to your corners. I’m not about to let them go on about cannibalism this early in the debate. Especially not with Dan present in class, sitting on a desk in the front of the room, restlessly awaiting his fate.]

Second Round: Julie v. Monika

Julie is a short, chocolate-haired girl with a sweet spirit and little inclination to talk. Monika is her twin soul set in a tall, fair-complexioned body.

“I think we should kill Dan because I don’t want him to kill me,” says Monika quietly.
“But we can’t,” says Julie simply. “We aren’t killers.”
“He killed Marika,” says Monika.
“What if we made him our slave?” suggests Julie with an innocence that makes the worst offenses against humanity seem like great ideas.

[Uproarious moans and commentary in Czech rise from both sides as team captains shout inflammatory things they don’t want me to understand. Julie and Monika remain quiet.]

DING DING DING.

Third Round: Ivana v. Gabi

Ivana is a large girl, polished in manner, princessy in poise, and very good at English. Gabi is a swearing, slouching, tomboy baseball-star and also very good at English. They size each other up.

“Let’s eat Dan,” says Gabi, just going straight for where it hurts.
“You can’t eat Dan,” says Ivana. “That’s disgusting.”
“He killed Marika,” says Gabi. “That’s disgusting.”
“We need to keep him alive and have him do all the work on the island for us.”
“We need food,” drawls Gabi with insistence. “Besides, if we kill him, we won’t have to listen to his stupid stories anymore.”
Ivana has nothing to say.

[“Oh, come on!” says Dan from his desk.]

DING DING DING.

Fourth Round: Petra v. Vojta

Petra is a swan – regal, dignified…a little prissy. Vojta is a gentle-giant, standing head and shoulders (and chest) above everyone else in school. I think the top of my head barely reaches his ribcage.

“You don’t have to eat him,” Vojta begins, swaying over Petra like a tall tree blowing kindly in the wind. “But the rest of us are hungry.”
“We can’t eat Dan. We aren’t killers,” she says, picking up Julie’s argument.
“We are now!” says Vojta, pointing at Dan with a ‘he-started-it’ look. Dan grins sheepishly.

Team Captain Petr jumps in from the sidelines (illegally) and shouts in Czech, “Don’t become the monster! Don’t be like Dan!”

DING DING DING.

Fifth Round: David v. Sara

David is a huge, doe-eyed teddy bear. He is literally Winnie the Pooh incarnate. And he’s shy. Sara is the class sweety – innocent, kind…Definitely not capable of cannibalism.

“We have to kill Dan,” says Sara with modest sincerity.
David says nothing.
“We have no food,” she says.
David still says nothing.
“And he killed Marika,” Sara presses. David blinks twice and then says with a voice softer than butter, “I have a better idea.”
He blinks again.
“Let’s eat Marika instead.”

DING DING DING.

Final bell. We vote to save Dan (it’s a close win) and he whoops and jumps around like a madman, causing some to regret their generosity almost immediately.

The shy kids go back to being shy and the princesses and giants and little dragons push and shove their ways back to their desks. Everyone is tussling with or teasing someone else. Everyone is friendly and happy – or at least amiable and content.

Their echoing footsteps disappear with the sound of their shrieks of laughter as they round the bend at the end of the hallway. Lunch time.

As I lock up their classroom I think to myself that if I ever get stuck on an island, I hope it’s with this crew.