“Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.” –Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
Like many young girls, my niece is princess-obsessed. For her privacy, let’s call her Aurora in honor of one of her favorite princesses, the main character in Sleeping Beauty. A few months ago, for her three-and-a-half birthday, Aurora’s mom–my sister and the oldest of my five siblings–put the finishing touches on her princess-themed room. A canopy floats overhead her bed while tulle skirts the floor. In one corner, a pop-up castle provides a reading nook. Everything in her room is a combination of pink and purple.
Just shy of four years old, Aurora loves to change into one of her many princess dresses, regardless of how close to bedtime it is. After being cajoled into wearing proper pajamas and tucked into bed by her parents, each night while I’ve been living at their house, my niece and I have a tradition of making up bedtime stories for one another.
My stories always start the same way: “Once upon a time, there was a princess named Aurora…” Often, there are elements of magic tied in, like flying ponies or potions. Usually, she will interrupt at least a few times to add details that she deems essential to the integrity of the plot, like meeting up with Ariel from The Little Mermaid or having a Goldfish snack. Last night, when I asked Aurora what she wanted her story to be about, she surprised me by saying that she wanted it to be about death.
Her request reminded me of a short but powerful story I told my mother as a little girl after my father passed away, coincidentally, on the day of my three-and-a-half birthday. The night of his funeral, I went into my mom's room, climbed into bed, and told her: "Once upon a time there was a king, a queen, and a princess. The King died but the princess was still a princess."
Years later, after my memory of that night faded, my mom repeated the story back to me. Now, I cherish the power of storytelling so dearly, because stories have been the best connection I’ve had to my father for most of my life.
I heard my father’s voice for the first time in over two decades at the beginning of March this year. When my family got together to celebrate my nephew's first birthday, after the party, we watched home videos that had been unwatchable without a special converter, which my older brother had obtained. I felt joy seeing my father move and hearing him speak and laugh, and I was stricken by how much our senses of humor align.
While I am infinitely grateful for the videos, I truly believe that viewing them didn’t change me. The princess is, was, and forever will be a princess.
Our relation to others certainly has an influence on each of one us, but the relationship we have with ourselves is what gives us our power. It is not make-believe that produces a princess; rather, a princess is empowerment and security in one’s sovereignty. Our power hails from within.
My wish to you as you continue your life adventure is that you may live in compatibility with yourself ever after. After all, there is magic in knowing your story and who you are.