Hamartia.

While it sounds like a reasonable response to a mildly humorous joke told by your friend’s mother, Martia, a hamartia is in fact a fatal flaw leading to the downfall of a tragic hero or heroine (credit to the kind folks of Google for the definition).

Now, I’d like to smile smugly while you all applaud me for being so educated and knowing such a delightful word. But, the truth is, I’m only aware of it because of a recent paper I was required to write for a class.

Let me tell you, it was not a simple task.

With a mere five minutes left in class, my English teacher announced to us that we would have a creative writing assignment to complete by the following Friday.

“This is my favorite assignment,” he exclaimed. Which, remarkably, is what he has exclaimed about all assignments previously. “All you have to do is think of three of your own fatal flaws and express them through a metaphorical scene.”

Oh, yes. We all know how English teachers love their metaphors.

Initially, I’ll be honest, I thought that perhaps it would be simple. After all, I’ll be the first to tell you I have flaws. The hardest part would be narrowing it down to the most fatal, the top three.

However, as is the classic pattern of the Hero’s Journey, I quickly realized that this Hamartia paper would be a challenge.

The thing is, human flaws are not simple. Thus, how can one possibly hope to express them in a simple metaphor?

Believe me, I tried.

I tried for the classics: procrastination, fear, pride, jealousy, stubbornness.

But I found no success.

Now, in the end I did find success. Yet, it did not come in the form of something straightforward and easy to interpret. My fatal flaw was not simply a donkey refusing to walk.

No, it was a donkey who refused to walk when he encountered water, who leapt back in fear at the unknown and then struggled to trust the one who led him.

As much as we wish that our flaws could be something simple and easy to harness, easy to identify and spit out as words, that is just not how it will be. Our flaws are twisted and intertwined, they are sly and disguised, they are tied in to the very essence of our being.

So, tell me. What is your hamartia?

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