You are the Way

The point is not to take the world’s opinion as a guiding star but to go one’s way in life and work unerringly, neither depressed by failure nor seduced by applause.

—Gustav Mahler

Vincent Van Gogh, A Pair of Shoes

I remember when it seemed that all my undergraduate friends were packing up their English and Classics degrees and heading off to law school.  Many of them are quite happy today.  I was so tempted to take that route.  It was not they whom I thought to follow; it was the reasonableness of a legal career.  Neither normal nor lucrative was the journey into Classics, Ancient Languages, Ancient History.  Why did I do it?  It was not courage.  I had all the recklessness of youth, but would hardly have described myself as courageous.  But I saw something in one of my Classics professors.  A spark.  A spirit.  A grand sense of humor.  A sophistication.  A humanity.  If only I could tap into what he had.  He was too humble to ever give a straight answer, even if I had been bold enough to ask, “What is your secret?  Why are you so good at enjoying life?” It is thirty years later.  I have found that whatever the answers to those questions are (and believe me, I have asked myself over and over), the truth is inexpressible.  All the most creative phrases in all the tightest paragraphs in all the most complex theses–these become circumlocutions and equivocations.  Like a great book which you can always and never comprehend.

You are doing what you are called to be doing if:

  • your mind is still open

  • learning is still invigorating

  • you are still convinced that you are more than flesh and bones

  • your struggles still yield precious insights

  • you still have a heart that hears the sighs and cries of humanity

  • there are still times when you are so overwhelmed by the goodness that you collapse in humble gratitude

That professor and his spark are now a part of me.  I have within me sparks of the many who helped me climb a ridge or ford a river or blaze a new path through what seemed so miserably inaccessible. We all have those sparks that are traceable human by human back to the dawn of our race. And the world that fights against us– those who mean well but aren’t, those who are just plain bullies–these too serve our greater good.  Perhaps we require a humbling, a dislocation.  Perhaps we need a foil against which to reflect our own virtues. We truly are greater than our losses and smaller than our egos.  Maybe it is a roller-coaster.  But we love the ride, right?


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