Living The Journey - Everyday Heroes Tell Their Story
Author: Bridget McKern

Chapter 1
Introduction: Beginning The Journey







The journey of a thousand miles … begins with a single  step.  Lao Tzu    



The theme of this book suggests that just being alive in this chaotic world, is the stuff of heroism.  

The title, Journey of a Thousand Miles is based on a famous Chinese proverb and is a metaphor for the whole human experienceThe saying suggests, in typical Koan* fashion, that putting one foot in front of another, is the only way we can survive the difficulties that life throws up at us:  the only way we can keep faith with our living when we can’t see ahead and find it hard to see the meaning in our lives.  This sort of dogged persistence takes courage … ordinary everyday courage.

* A Koan is a Zen Buddhist riddle used to focus the mind during meditation and to develop intuitive thinking.

The reason for writing this book was to challenge the popular stereotypes of heroism and success and to throw open some different notions of heroism through the stories of ordinary people.  It is my premise that everyday heroes go unrecognised, especially by themselves.

            The word HERO has become a stereotype blown out of all proportion by a media and public perception which is obsessed with iconic popular sport and sensationalism.  Hero status is therefore made unreachable to those of us who lead so-called ordinary lives.  In the context of the Australian tall-poppy syndrome, it is hard for most of us to believe that each and everyone of us has the stuff of heroism in our bones.  But think about it. 

            Being born into this messy life wherever we find ourselves, is the beginning of the Journey for all of us.  We are born into various circumstances beyond our control.  We may have to deal with losses, accidents, cruelty, disability or sicknesses of body, mind or spirit, in ourselves, or in others.  Some are seemingly, sorely disadvantaged from the start, and not all of us can have idealistically fulfilling conclusions to our journey.  Success and failure, fulfilled potential or apparent disaster, are simply the sign posts that tell us we are on the Journey.  These things shape the way we become in the world and the way we think about ourselves and others.  Enough that we survived to tell the tale. 

Typically, the Hero in film and literature is depicted in male terms:  Man, the Hunter / Warrior, or in more contemporary terms, Man, the Acquisitor and Power Broker.  The men in this book, tend to challenge these conventional Hero stereotypes, because they have all walked to a different drum and their heroism is very internalised and hidden, even to themselves. (Rob, Raymond, Fred, and Don

             Women’s heroic journey has not been so well documented and is, therefore, perhaps not so obvious.  Women just getting on with the work of raising children, keeping homes, running businesses and shopping appear to lead unremarkable lives.  But the stuff of relationship and negotiation is often left to them alone, and the whole family structure depends largely on their infinite capacity to bridge the gaps, keep families together, settle disputes and shape the lives of children and communities with their work.

            The women in this book demonstrate the Journey of Heroism in the hidden feminine ethos.  Many of the stories here give insights into how these women, in particular, have been able to survive the difficulties of  bringing children into the world or supporting their family and finding that they are still emotional children themselves.  They have the hard task of maturing in spirit (an essential task of the Hero’s Journey) whilst living in a physical body which is already given over to serve others before self, whether it be as parents, wage earners, or both.  (Janet, Marian, Yolande, Bridget and Elda)

            In Australia today, many households are of single parents who have the added role of sole breadwinner to their already overburdened lives.  Single parenting, no matter what gender, is the stuff of heroism indeed.  However, no matter what the gender, the Journey has many markers that are similar in all stories, such as rejection, loss, loneliness and betrayal as well as the courage to face fears and get on with life as best we can, no matter what.

Nor does one have to be old to be a hero.  (Jeanie and Joan)  Children, too, have their stories.  Some, like Parama, cruelly cut off in her prime, are heroes none the less, because in their short lives they have influenced and inspired their own families as well as many others.  (Bronte)

The ‘Heroes’ in this book are standing in their own lives without any outside influences or pretence to be heroic for attention-seeking or public approbation.  Sometimes, just to survive against the odds is enough. 

The process of Self-Actualisation comes sooner or later for most of us, but not usually until after many tests of rejection, betrayal, disintegration, grief and loss, accidents of fate or choice, do we begin to see who we are, and feel our own power to be this person we are destined to be, un-trammelled by the opinions or expectations of others or society.  (Deirdre)

            Since time immemorial, we humans have used the power of storying to teach living skills, encourage each other in adversity and show the way forward for each race and culture.  By humbly telling each other what we are going through and hearing the similarities in other’s stories, we come out of confusion and denial and begin to see the light of day.      The reader of this book may well identify their own Hero’s Journey by reflecting on and identifying with these others.  In this way, we are helping each other to heal along the way.

            We are all heroes, just to be here in human bodies …  we just haven’t recognised it … yet !



Most of these stories here are collected using interviews and conversations with the donor.  After transcribing from audio tapes these have been extensively worked on as a cooperative venture together. 

Some stories were gathered along the way in my work as a nurse.  These donors have long since left this earth but this is their footprint.  Others have come my way through workshopping with other writers or serendipitous encounters.  They have been gifted to the book as a whole. 

            Each story stands in its own right to be read and acknowledged as partial and incomplete, but shows some of the landmarks of the archetypal Hero’s Journey progress towards potential fulfilment and full self–acceptance.  (See Appendix for Mapping the Journey)

            The ‘voice’ and essence of each story has been preserved by keeping as close as possible to the original transcripts.  This gives the reader a closer and more intimate experience, as if they were being told the story in the privacy of a conversation with the storyteller. 

            All wanted their stories published but none wished to hurt or offend others in the process.  Some donors have chosen to remain anonymous and names have been changed accordingly. 


Each story I have collected here reflects an aspect of the Journey of finding Love and Healing, and thus our true identity.  As I have collected each story, I have been able to reflect on aspects of my own Journey and I hope that those who read this book will in turn be able to identify and reflect on their own Hero’s Journey too.

            In the end, the Hero’s Journey is the Inner Journey of finding one’s true self in the midst of relating to others, being true to ourselves and following our particular passions and gifts.  Along circuitous routes we meet many dragons, guardians and helpers.  These external forces are mostly representative of those internal drivers that we carry within, consciously or unconsciously.

            Many of us are set up by lack of adequate parenting models, so we stumble around in areas of difficulty, doing the best we can with whatever brawn and brain we’ve been given.  It is then that other people become our models.  If we admire someone else’s way of handling things, we learn from them.  It seems that we have to go through various stages of danger and even disintegration before we find our Nirvana or place of deepest contentment.

            The work of the Journey is a life long commitment to re-integrate these separated parts of ourselves into the greater Self which gradually emerges from the shadows.  Heroes are nothing more nor less than souls in transformation.  The hidden Journey is about the Journey of the Soul in all of us.

Not to the swift, the race

Not to the strong the fight,

Not to the righteous, perfect grace,

Not to the wise, the light

But often faltering feet

Come surest to the goal

And they who walk in darkness meet

The sunrise of the soul.

Author unknown


True courage is not incompatible with nervousness;  and heroism does not mean the absence of fear but the conquest of it.  Success is all about the quiet accumulation of small triumphs. Henry van Dyke  1852 – 1933


It is good to have an end to journey towards;  but it is the journey that matters in the end.

                                                    Ursula LeGuin


The history of human life is the history of each person’s journey from birth to death.

                                               Promise of a New Day – Hazelden Meditation series


Life is no brief candle to me.  It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.                               George Bernard Shaw.


A note on the Labyrinth symbol:  

The Labyrinth, seen as a thematic feature in this book, represents one of the oldest symbols of the Journey of Life known.  Traditionally it was used as the means of symbolic pilgrimage, such as the one in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France.  To walk a Labyrinth can be the means to enact a healing meditation and imbue oneself with the mystery of restoring and re-patterning on a cellular level.  It has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance in modern times and can be found in hospitals, churches, and gardens of healing and retreat here, and in many other countries. 


Labyrinths are metaphors for uncertainty, but ones that assure us that if we stick to the path, we’ll get to the goal.



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