This week I’m excited to introduce you to a fellow blogger and dear friend, Sarah K. Sarah writes about leading with authenticity and transparency. Her latest blog post was so powerfully written that I asked her if we could share it with you. If you have experienced addiction up close and personal, as a knight, or a lady, then you will appreciate her allegory. Thank God for the “sonlight” that appears to lead every knight and lady to victory!
Life in the trenches of leadership often translates into fighting one’s addictions in silence, and battling one’s temptations alone. This essay is written in honor of those I know who are proving to be battle-tested knights of the most courageous fiber, and the ladies and heirs who wait for them.
Once upon a time, a time like right now, there are castles in your neighborhood, filled with families from your church. Each castle has a knight, and a lady, and they look normal and happy when you meet them walking with their children among the villagers.
But there is a deep, dark, tenacious secret lurking behind the thick stone walls of these castles. Each knight has a very private set of personal demons who shadow him closely. They stay hidden until he calls them out for companionship, unless he ignores them for few days or weeks, and then they call to him, beckoning with siren voices to remind him of their joys. If they have their way, they spend every nightfall with him by the fire sitting in silence, torture fused with gratification. Each knight loathes and loves their company all at the same time.
The knights often suspect that the others have a pet demon or three of their own. But when they gather together, they choose to speak of other things, more comfortable things. They fancy themselves brave and courageous warriors, but their skills are merely practice runs, untested in battle, unproven on the field.
These knights work diligently to keep their demons shuttered away when their ladies are present. The ladies don’t like demons, they say. The ladies would be uncomfortable with these creatures, they say. I don’t want to make my lady feel bad, so I will make my demons my private business. To protect my lady. To avoid her unhappiness and strife.
None of these knights realize that when they aren’t home, when they are asleep or distracted, their demons prey upon their ladies and their heirs. In castles all across the land, “pet” demons cackle behind their faces at the joke they have so successfully perpetrated upon the knights who believe themselves to be conscientious owners.
Like many other leaders in this village, one knight in particular invites his demons often and curls up with them by the castle fireplace. He doesn’t realize at first that they have sunk their claws deep into his spine, immobilizing his reactions and numbing his instincts.
His pet-demons soothe and gratify him while they duplicate and multiply, until they gradually spread throughout all the corners of his castle home. After a time (and he can hardly determine when it happened), they transition from being his pets to dominating him as his masters.
He is paralyzed and mostly preoccupied as they gleefully suck the heart and life from himself, his lady, his heirs, until all of them are hollow shells of humanity, walking the castle hallways like ghosts with pale cheeks and empty souls.
All because he prefers comfort. All because he favors the moment’s gratification over the fear of embracing the victorious warrior hero he could become.
Some knights, in contrast to their peers, choose to weigh their options. They consult in hushed tones, while some recoil in horror at their honesty. Others whisper of terrifying tales from long ago, breathlessly sharing legends of men who summoned their pet-demon-masters out into the light and fought them face to face on the battlefield. Tales of fierce and furious warriors who entered hand to hand combat with these creatures of lustful darkness, and who had won against all odds.
These legends, muttered by those who scarcely believe it themselves, bring glimmers of hope to a small group of knights. A seed of rebellion is planted, of revolution against the demon pets who have become their slave owners.
One of these knights lies awake at night, drowning in self-doubt. He longs for freedom, but deep inside believes he is worthless. Years of torment and broken promises leave him convinced that he deserves the pain, destruction, and self-loathing his demons heap upon him. He is certain that if he summons them for battle, he will buckle and fall the first time he is struck.
This trembling knight skillfully hides his fears but inside he doubts that his soul is worth saving. He dreams of battling valiantly for his lady and his heirs, to heroically protect his castle and honor his fellow knights, but he is not entirely unconvinced that his lady should leave him. He questions whether his heirs are not better off without him?
His withered soul whimpers in remorse when, despite knowing their true nature, he still sometimes seeks the false comfort of his demons, because every fiber of his being believes that he deserve no better. His lady has stood by his side; she repeats over and over that he is worthy, that he does have what it takes to be a real knight, to be that man.
Yet his wounds are so dark and so deep from betrayals inflicted by those who swore at his birth to protect him, and his lady’s faith in him is not enough.
He tries to reject his demons.
He stops feeding them.
He refuses to snuggle with them at night.
He chains them in a dungeon deep in the castle’s bowels, and prays his heirs will never find the passageway. He loathes these pets who comforted him during his years of abuse as a lost and lonely child. But he cannot bring himself to kill them.
And so his broken-hearted lady waits, unwilling to abandon her knight just yet, but daily feeling more alone, increasingly afraid for herself and her heirs. She lives in terror of that hidden room, fearful of the day the dungeon passage might be unlocked and what those demons might do, who they might devour if they escape.
In another castle, a third knight passes a long mirror in the castle hallway and catches a glimpse of his growing hollowness, trailed by his demon shadows. In a stroke of discernment he attributes it to the demons themselves, so carefully hidden. Insight tumbles upon insight and his eyes are opened to the growing numbness of his lady, the restlessness of his heirs, and the coldness creeping in around his flickering hearth fire.
He gathers his courage and one morning he kisses his lady on the cheek, chucks his heirs under their chins and tiptoes into the morning dew. Hands trembling, and feeling entirely alone, this terrified knight buckles into his shining unblemished armor, which has never met a test beyond the village training grounds. He crosses the castle drawbridge onto the battlefield, and calls quaveringly for his own demons to join him in the blinding daylight.
He must start fighting them alone, before anyone else can step in to guard his back, because they are his own demons and only he can call them out onto the field. They will not heed any other man’s voice. He must take ownership of his own fight.
As his voice carries over the morning breeze, summoning his demons to their doom, as his sword clashes the first blows, other warriors from nearby castles and foot soldiers from the village notice the commotion.
Some scoff at his feeble starting efforts. Others mock him for not embracing the demons as the lifelong companions they have accepted. Nearly all recoil in horror from how hideous these demons appear in the clear light of day.
As he tentatively strikes the second and third blows, an elderly sage, one who had lived long enough to remember days when those whispered tales of legend were real life, totters forward to cover the knight’s back. Until the knight has called the demons out and struck these first blows, no one else is free to help him.
This third knight fights bravely, and before the battle is done he is bruised and battered and bloodied beyond recognition. But once he begins the battle, more and more men appear to fight by his side. Many of them summon their own demons and the blood and the muck grows slick on the field as these clumsy and untried warriors begin to prove themselves in combat.
The second knight stands in his castle window and watches the fray. He longs to be one of those knights on the field. He longs to believe that his demons can be vanquished, and to know what it would feel like to stand in the sunlight without shame. But he fears his chainmail and armor is made of glass, and would shatter at the first blow, leaving him vulnerable and exposed.
His lady longs for other knights to call to him, to beckon him onto the field, to encircle her beloved but broken knight. She longs for stronger warriors to lift him up, to tell him he is worth the pain of the battle.
She dreams of the day someone will say, Even though you must fight your own fight, if you will only summon your demons to the battlefield and strike the first blow — we will stand beside you.
But he is wary. He hears as casual observers callously shame those on the field for bringing their demons into daylight. They taunt the battle-weary knights, shouting that they should retreat back into their castles and take their demons with them.
We prefer our knightly leaders to have shining unblemished armor, unbattered from the fight, unbloodied by the foe, they shout. Give us a new lord for the castle, one whose armor is untarnished and who keeps his demons quietly by the fire like the rest of us.
The discouraged knight internalizes their cruel words, and believes his fate is sealed. If these people met his demons, they would agree that he is worthless. Better to leave them chained in the basement and let the next generation fight them. He turns from the window, his spirit too defeated to watch whether the knights on the field are slaughtered or victorious.
The day wears on, and the knights’ confidence grows greater as they close their ears to the rabble from the crowd, shutting out the noise from those who cluster cowardly at the edges of the battlefield. It is only when they stay in the sunlight and face the demons head on, that they remain victorious.
Over time, the demons grow smaller and smaller. But if these knights pause to seek the shade, or daydream of the comforts of the evening fire, or reject the assistance of their fellow warriors and split off to fight alone, or look over their shoulders instead of straight forward — the demons rebound even larger and more powerful than before.
Some onlookers turn their backs when a knight stumbles under the onslaught. They proclaim that no knight can be a true warrior if he falls to his knees. Or if his feet slip out from under him in the bloody mud.
They do not count the times he rises, only the times that he falls.
Or they taunt that if he cannot slay the demon in a single blow, then his fight is worthless and the battle is wasted.
But each knight in turn realizes he must close his ears to their taunts and depend only on three things – the sonlight shining truth over his head, the glimpse of his lady waiting with his heirs on the balcony, and the strength of the comrades by his sides.
These are the reasons he fights.
They are the reason he will win.
They are the catalyst for the legacy of victory he will leave.
As long as he has sunlight, as long as his lady is waiting, as long as he rises to continue the battle — he is a warrior.
He is the stuff of legends.
He is a hero.
(Portions of the story contributed by the lady of a fellow knight who is currently watching the fray and longing to step onto the battlefield.)
About Sarah K
Director | Producer | Strategist | I create Hollywood-quality Brand Campaigns for organizations that value their social impact as much as their bottom line. @skamedia http://sarahkasaftei.net/a-tale-of-knights-castles-demons/
Header image courtesy of G. Pennock Photography