“Sir,” said Han, “he is a dragon.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said the Mandarin.  “He’s a fat man who is tracking dirt on my fine carpets.  What do you want here, old man?”

“I have come to help you,” said the little fat man.  “But if you want a dragon to help you, you must treat him with courtesy.  I have come a long, weary way.  Give me something to eat and something to drink and speak to me politely, and I will save you.”

“Now, look here,” said the Mandarin.  “Everybody knows what a dragon looks like.”

~ Story by:  Jay Williams / Illustrated by: Mercer Mayer

My mom used to read that story to us over and over again.

Did she read it so much because we loved it?  Or did we love it because of the manifest joy it brought to her upon each telling?

My mom loves dragons.  Chinese Dragons, she was very clear to differentiate.

I remember them tucked into surreptitious corners throughout the house…  A set of 19th century painted candlesticks, a pair of carved bookends, a lamp base that sat on her private writing desk…

I didn’t really recognize them as dragons, having been raised on western dragon tales.  They looked like caricatured Shi Tzu’s to me, and it wasn’t until I was older that I understood there was also a distinction in their symbology.

For, while we in the west (used to stories of Hero-Knights saving Helpless-Maidens from Malevolent-Dragons) demonize the dragon, the Chinese know the dragon as a being of wisdom and grace, a divine ruler who protects the innocent and bestows ultimate good fortune.

Today is the start of the Chinese New Year.  This year (Jan. 23, 2012 – Feb. 9, 2013) is the Year of the Dragon.  This is to be a blessed year.

But I can’t help but wonder what this means for us westerners.  Have our own narratives conditioned in such a way that we will mistake the auspiciousness of this year’s dragon events as ill-fated?

Already, I am challenged to undress the Devil-Dragon and  search for the beneficent guardian underneath.

Last night, my partner spoke of an alternative cancer treatment option he had recently heard about.  He said that he had actually contacted a treatment center and sent them his medical history.

I know this means that he is feeling worse, and more consistently.

This seems bad.

I also know that the medical records he has are incomplete.

His most recent records are from an emergency hospitalization last May, during which he was told the cancer had metastasized to his liver.

In July, he never followed up with the clinic who found he had spindle cell carcinoma of the heart.  (He forgot, he said, when I asked about it yesterday.)

He intentionally missed a series of tests in December, meant to tell him what is currently going on and give him a view of his current state of well-being.

All of this seems really bad.  Like the Dreadful-Dragon of medieval legend rearing its ugly head…

But today, forced to confront these things in our conversation last night, he has promised to call the specialists.

It was the understanding that the spindle cell carcinoma isn’t some harmless little splinter, as he had allowed himself to imagine it to be.

It is a scary, menacing Cancer-Dragon that is enveloping his heart.

But my dragons-of-old could be defeated by David-like knights, and the Chinese Dragon, swooping in on us today, is a different creature, valiant and bold and divine…