When A Life Lesson Flies In Your Face

When Achilles was born, according to Greek mythology, it was prophesied that he would die young. To protect him from his fate, Achilles’ mother took him to the River Styx and washed him in its magical waters to make him invulnerable to all injury. She missed a spot, the very spot where she held him by the heel to dip him in the river, and that’s exactly where a poisoned arrow found its mark and ended Achilles’ life during the Trojan war.

We all have an “Achilles’ heel,” a weakness or vulnerability. Usually we have more than just one. When someone says “that really pushes my buttons,” chances are they really do have several, most likely of their own design and manufacture.

Some people are so full of anger and frustration that it’s not necessary to find the right button to trigger a reaction. Such people react like a touch screen on a phone and the slightest pressure can set them off.

My own Achilles’ heel reveals itself every spring. I usually have a fairly high tolerance for bugs, but I can’t stand horse flies. Or deer flies. Or any member of that family of blood letting buzz bombs, those infernal flying steak knives that have no difficulty cutting through the hide of a cow or horse, much less any exposed human skin. My ill will for the whole lot is such that I will risk allowing a landing and feeling the first cut of the knife for a chance at smashing the guts out of my unwelcome passenger.

Horse flies know that I am their mortal enemy, and they send their best warriors to confront me. Once they even sent an assassin.

Years ago I was a regular swimmer in Lake Chatuge. This was back when the lake didn’t taste funny and the water quality was better. (Many thanks to the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition for their continuing efforts to improve the health of the lake and its watershed.)

I was swimming one day at the Jack Rabbit beach where the lake is fairly narrow and a swim to the opposite shore and back was a good workout. There were several buoys in place which provided a place to rest if needed, and on this beautiful spring day I was the only person at the beach, though as it turns out, I was not alone.

The water was chilly that day, so I decided to limit my swim to between the buoys. I had just passed the first buoy doing the breaststroke when I felt a sharp stinging sensation on the back of my head. The telltale buzzing sound announced the presence of steak knives on the wing. What kind of diabolical bug, designed for feeding off grazing livestock, would fly halfway across a lake to harass a swimmer? It’s hard not to take such an affront to logic and good manners personally!

If you’re familiar with the breaststroke, you know that the head becomes partially to totally submerged with each stroke, and that blasted fly was timing his attack to every half stroke when I came up for air. I was bleeding and angry, so I interrupted my swim to tread water and do battle with the evil denizen.

A spirited battle ensued. I splashed and swatted. The fly circled and darted and dive bombed. The conflict seemed to go on forever until a fortunate swipe of my hand actually submerged the beastly bug. I was triumphant! But only for about two seconds until, to my horror and amazement, the fly emerged from the water and flew away across the lake.

It was then I realized that the battle with the assassin fly had left me exhausted, and I was a long way from the shore in cold water. If you’ve ever been in a similar situation, you’ll remember that first twinge of panic which must be immediately put to rest if you hope to make it to shore.

I was a good swimmer. My training took over my thought processes, and I’m here today to tell the story.

How many stories can we all tell about the times when irrationality and anger brought us to the brink of disaster and beyond? Anger has long been the Achilles’ Heel of our species. Crimes of passion, assault and outrage are our daily headlines. We tend to think that a bad temper is one of the hazards of youth, but anyone who has driven through Hiawassee and been tailgated or given the middle finger by an angry old man, knows otherwise.

The remedy for anger is vigilance. We never know when a horse fly or some other antagonist will be waiting to reveal our weaknesses. Anger is like a horse harried by biting flies, and we must never allow that horse to get the bit in his teeth.

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