The time has come for my goodbye column.
Dun dun dun. Since this is a special occasion, I’m not going
to spend it lecturing you on the plight of Palestinians or the sad
condition of the Rwandan people. These are definitely column-worthy
topics, but this time I feel obligated to leave you with something
more explicitly relevant to your lives.
That something is a lesson on sucking it up and dealing with
your current situation, however wildly comfortable or truly
pathetic it may be. I admit, I’m only about to offer you a
fresh twist on the “it’s the journey, not the
destination” epiphany, but what is communication really,
other than just a bunch of recycled age-old notions wrapped in
different-colored packages? So here goes.
In one of my Spanish classes we recently read a very
Thoreau-ish-type novel about a man who set out to search for utopia
by abandoning civilization and heading for the hills. The book
prompted a discussion on “The Beach,” a movie in which
a bunch of kids, disenchanted with their people’s ways,
started their own society on an island isolated from the rest of
the planet. But it turned out that the problems these island
inhabitants had left behind in “civilized” society
ended up presenting themselves all over again in their new
Our conclusion was that there is no outside. It’s
dismayingly impossible to escape problems by running away from
them, because wherever you go you’re just going to end up
repeating the same mistakes. As simple and logical as this concept
is to grasp, common sense can only take us so far, until reality
steps in and proves how counterintuitive such a notion really is.
It’s a common gut reaction on our part to deal with
unpleasantness by recoiling and then doing everything in our power
to get the hell away from the cause of our pain. What’s the
old saying, nothing soothes memory like distance?
To a certain extent, getting away from it all may be just what
the doctor ordered. But be careful of your expectations, because
you might end up sorely disappointed once you make your move. So
many times, we fall victim to the idea that a change of location or
a change of careers or a change of partners will solve life’s
difficulties, that there really is one sweeping solution that can
cure all of our problems or make us truly happy.
I contend that those who believe in such a notion have truly
been victimized, because that idea is completely false and
tragically dangerous. I agree that starting all over has a certain
appeal to it, because we always make the intention to approach a
fresh slate with a different perspective and a more careful
strategy in hopes that we won’t mess up too bad this
But a chronically depressed person, for example, is not going to
suddenly shake free of that condition by losing 10 pounds. Still,
he believes this to be true and tells himself that once he reaches
this goal and moves away from his portliness, he will be happy.
Then, after he loses this weight, he might set his sights on acing
a certain class, and promises himself that once he accomplishes
this, he will be content. And the vicious cycle continues.
Thus, the danger lies in the fact that we keep postponing our
happiness until that future date when we’ll have the perfect
car or job or relationship. We end up disappointed and confused
when we get what we want because the anticipated joy is not as
intense as we imagined it would be, leading us to believe that true
happiness has eluded us once again.
That is why I advocate being happy with just taking the journey
and not stressing so much about the end goal or goals. Returning to
our kids on “The Beach,” they learned the hard way that
starting all over doesn’t necessarily mean starting afresh. A
brooding couple in “Eternal Sunshine and the Spotless
Mind” similarly discovered such a contention — after
having their memories erased of each other, a chance encounter
causes the pair to end up together all over again.
The same holds true on a macro level. Will destroying
Saddam’s regime mean the end of oppression in Iraq? Did
taking out the Taliban make everything all better for the Afghani
people? I’m not saying that complete overhauls are bad. We
should all fight for change, especially in places where justice is
forlornly absent. And I am not unaware that the danger associated
with being happy in the current instant is complacency.
But even government-hating, tree-hugging Thoreau pleaded with
the masses to check their expectations at the door, even for a few
moments a day, in order to appreciate their lives and attain some
sort of inner peace. In
“Walden,” he says, “However mean your life is,
meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is
not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The
fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life,
poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling,
glorious hours, even in a poorhouse.”
What a wise dude. I don’t profess to be as wise and hope
that you all can forgive me if I ever seemed to put across such a
pretense. Almost four years at the Daily and only two months as a
columnist have really taught me the value of the journey,
regardless of the destination. Not that the destination isn’t
also important — as idealistic as he was, Thoreau actually
offered mankind a bit of common sense in his conclusion:
“In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the
universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be
solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have
built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where
they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
I conclude similarly: The journey is nothing if you have nowhere
to go. Take care, all.