Last night, as the clock struck twelve and the Year of the Dragon became official in my frosty neck of the woods, I sat up in bed and thought, Hmmmmmmmm. This was quickly followed by a tussle with Spike, the Demon Cat, (which I lost) and a battered retreat under the covers and back to sleep.
In the light of day – and following several cups of coffee – that amorphously draconic hmmmmm began to take shape, along with the realization that I have become too much of a politics junky for my own good (but I’m working on that).
Here’s the thing: Emperors, presidents, tyrants, and generals, ambitious individuals with their sights on being leaders of men and making their mark on history, have long craved the Dragon dancing through their lucky stars. Rumor has it, imperial astrologers of yore were not above fudging a date here and there in the name of the draconic agrandizement of their liege lords. And one has only to look at the public personae of Gingrich and Romney to know they not only wish they were Dragons but strut about pretending to be Dragons (which no doubt pisses off Dragons immensely!)
But – and this takes me back to my hmmmmm moment – the fact is that too often people, especially those in the political arena, think of Dragon traits as power, authority, fierceness, courage, resoluteness, and confidence to the point of arrogance. This is only half of the picture.
Which brings me to a story…..
Long, long ago, the Jade Emperor (who had a rather contentious history with Dragons from day one) was having trouble with Time. The days and moons and years seemed to tumble past without any proper sense of order and, well, quite frankly, it was giving him a headache not even ginseng tea could alleviate. (The Jade Emperor was a bit of a prima donna, so this may well have been hyperbole on his part.)
To give order to the temporal chaos, he summoned all the animals for a great cross-country race. The first twelve creatures to cross the finish line at the Emperor’s palace would have a a house in the zodiac, a place in ordering the calendar. The very fact that the Dragon was invited to participate illicited rumblings of discontent from the mundane animals. After all, unlike them, he was supernatural, huge (i.e. long-legged), and could fly, and the Emperor made no secret of the fact that he expected the Dragon to come in first (even had a side wager on him).
Still, when the animals crested the hill in front of the Imperial Palace, there was Rat and Ox, Tiger and Rabbit, each claiming their space in time, but no Dragon. Suddenly the great creature descended from the heavens and landed beside the Emperor.
“What took you so long?” demanded the Emperor.
The Dragon stretched his wings (Chinese Dragons had wings back then) and pulled his tail close. “If you must know,” he purred – only a Dragon dared speak to the Emperor like that – “I was sailing along, making excellent time when I looked down on your land, acre after acre parched to the bone. The crops were brown and shrivled, the people starving, their paper voices raised in prayers for rain. Well, I could hardly ignore their cries, could I? What sort of Dragon would that make me, I ask you. Hmmm?
“So I wrapped my tail around the clouds, sparked lighting, roared thunder, and sent the rains to slake the dusty land. Your people needed help,” he chided, stroking his whiskers. “This race could wait.”
The Emperor glowered for a moment, embarrassed at being called to his duty by anyone, then smiled. “Dragon, your care for Our subjects is noble, indeed. You keep us mindful of the world beyond these walls. When I forget, I know you—well, you will not let me forget, I am sure.
“Dragon, the fifth house of the zodiac is yours.”
It was thus that the Dragon took his place in the arch of time, anchoring the world. And from that day to this, every Emperor tries to live up to the Dragon’s example.
For all you latter-day power-hungry wannabes out there who long for the character of the Dragon, remember: strength, luck, and charisma are all well and good, but they are in ways only the outer integument, the glittery scales that shimmer in the sun and rattle like sabres. The spirit of the Dragon is a much more complete, complicated, and tempered thing. Dragons may not have much use for politics, but they know that power without kindness is nothing short of tyranny. They know that a Dragon lacking compassion and honesty, who ignores others’ needs for the sake of his own comfort and advancement—He is no Dragon at all. And never will be.
Happy Year of the Dragon.