Monday, January 28, 2013

The Old Man and The Sea

Today I handed the seniors their copies of The Old Man and the Sea, a book which I fondly remember but have no idea when I read it.

I lied to them, naturally, as they all claim I do anyway whenever I recall any of my stories, and told them that I read it my senior year and was enamored by it--the journey, the heroic realization, and the whole dream despite the futility idea. They were less-than-receptive.

"It's short," was the consensus, and based upon that sole fact, and possibly that they only have to answer 11 short answer questions and complete one essay, they seem to have accepted their fates of having to read two books simultaneously, Hamlet in class, and TOMATS outside of class.

But what I want to discuss in this post is Santiago's struggle. We all are faced with daunting challenges, with people who test our emotions and make us do seemingly crazy thing. And we all encounter difficult obstacles. But Santiago's struggle is one of failure and simultaneous success, and in a way is the quintessential metaphor for life. We aren't given a success without smaller failures, and we certainly don't fail completely without succeeding in the least bit. With respect to Santiago, maybe his fish is a fish that we're all destined to try to catch...

So I tried to parallel this idea for my students, and suggested that they discuss a difficult trial in their lives. What have they struggled with the most? The answers, however, were somewhat surprising. One student said that nothing really difficult has happened to him in his life, and until that moment had never really considered it. I thought to myself that he is completely skipping the quest for college, the constant struggle to sustain grades, relationships and still hold down a job; and he also completely skipped over his parents' divorce, which definitely affected him during the first two years I knew him. So why the humility? Why the ignorance of something that was so affecting and transformative? Is it because he actually doesn't realize it, and hasn't yet gained the maturity to process and comprehend the indelible impact this will have on his psyche? Or is it that he is truly mature enough and is worldly enough to recognize that his struggles with attempting to get into a great college really isn't that difficult in the scheme of world poverty, genocide, natural disasters and being born as a different gender/race/religion?

I'd like to think that my students learn something in my class--even if it's simply gleaning some miniscule lesson from my "boring" lectures and superfluous notes. And I'd like to think that they might, someday, realize a parallel between what I'm asking of them and what they're reading--that the fisherman is an everyman, just like they are an everyman, battling a literal or figurative juggernaut. But at the same time that they, as the fisherman out at sea, don't lose sight of the shore; that they maintain some semblance of reality and history and that they can carry something great with them wherever they go, and will attempt something seemingly wild, adventurous and life-changing because that's life. You can have the longest list of Facebook friends, but you have never tasted success if you first haven't tasted the salty sweet of failure on your lips as you sail back into port, bones still strapped to your boat.

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