The Road Not Taken

1 12 2010

Back in my classroom teaching days I often perplexed my students by saying that there were only five stories in all of film and literature. Once I listed the five I challenged them to come up with an exception to my claim; many tried, but with no success.  Of course, the plots, characters, settings, moods and tones of stories will change but not the core of the five basic stories or a combination thereof: Good v Evil, Coming of Age, The Journey, Man v Self/Nature/Society/God, and Love/Hate.

Next, I asked the students to figure out why my claim rings true.  I gave them a hint by alluding to the old cautionary saying attributed to Winston Churchill:  “Those that fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it.”

Eventually, some shiney marble would figure out the reason why both statements are true.  The simple answer is that human nature does not change.  Therefore, since all literature and all recorded history is the story of humans as seen through the eyes of the author, director or historian there are only a limited number of possible scenarios to play out.

Recently, Linda and I have started to rent movies as a way to help fill up the time in the evenings while here in Princeton. Normally, back in Pekin, we don’t rent movies; I think we are engaging in a bit of escapism these days.  Over the last couple of weeks we have seen Bucket List, The Book of Eli, Julie and Julia and Eat, Pray, Love.  All of these are movies we have wanted to see and the list of actors/actresses is beyond compare–big Jack, Denzel and Meryl fans.  All four of the movies were real thought provokers, each in its own way.  The core story that I found in each of these was that of The Journey.  I am sure, as with most well-done pieces of film or literature that different stories can be detected by different viewers/readers.  I guess that is one of the characteristics of good literature and film.

As I said, The Journey was what I took away from each of the four movies.  Some of the journeys were literal and some were figurative.  Either way, the characters ended up in a different place than they started.  I guess the reason I picked up on The Journey story in all four films is that I believe I am on a journey of sorts as well.  Mine is not a literal journey but it is no less of a challenge than Eli’s odyssey across post-apocalyptic America.  I am on a journey of self discovery.  A journey not to figure out who I am but rather to figure out who I should be.

We are all products of our environment to a greater or lesser degree.  As I recall/relive/revise/re-examine my upbringing and youthful experiences in Princeton I try to correlate those experiences to who I am today and have concluded there are aspects of me that I do not like; characteristics that I have, for the most part, delegated to the back shelf of my public persona.  This realization is not new.  Over twenty-five years ago it started to dawn on me that some things I would do or ways I would look at the world were not only negative but totally self-destructive.  Over the last two and a half decades I have been able to alter my behavior most of the time to where I no longer act out or express those feelings openly. Now, I believe it is time to complete the process.  I must rid myself of the thought process that I hope will allow me to become the person I should be.

One of the books (I don’t remember which one) I have listed as ones that made me think has a line in it that basically says when a person is ready to learn a lesson, life will provide a teacher.  I know from my experience as a professional educator that this is the absolute truth.  I believe I am at or quickly arriving at a point in life where I am ready to learn this lesson.  Now I have to pay attention so that I do not miss the teacher.  I suspect that I already know who the teacher is but I will have to wait and see.  Preparedness and opportunity are converging.

Sometimes a lesson about what not to do in life can be more valuable than a lesson of what to do in life.  This journey and learning experience is a bit scary since it is an internal journey of self discovery with an uncertain outcome (I intentionally did not use the word destination).  For some reason, Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” kept running through my head today as I took my walk.  I wonder if the road not taken for many people is the the internal road of self discovery.  Is it not taken because of fear as to where it might lead or does it have to do with the difficulty of the road itself?  I want to make this journey as much for my wife, children and grandchildren as I do for myself.  In another twenty years or so when I am coming close to the end, I want my loved ones to welcome and cherish my company, advice and humor.  I want theirs to be good memories of those final days.





2 responses

27 12 2010
therma cuts

It is always pleasure to read your articles, will back here soon

27 12 2010

Thanks for your consideration and appreciation of my, sometimes, convoluted thoughts.


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