Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Swimming Upstream

"His heart sank, for he saw that he was saying all the things that young men in the same situation were expected to say, and that she was making the answers that instinct and tradition taught her to make--even to the point of calling him original"
--The Age of Innocence, Chapter 10
  Hoo-boy. . the angst is a'coming. Newland Archer is feeling the pangs of "sameness" set in and a life of shadowy cave dancing stretches before him with little hope of real living, refreshing banter, or even a few healthy disagreements with sweet May.  Even in an "argument," May was playing the part and toting the line she'd been molded to tote. Can you blame her?
And will Newland break free?
Do we?
When I read this I felt a new pang of sympathy for Mr. Archer. I have often wondered how I would have fared as a white antebellum woman born to privilege, or a pre-suffrage female, or even a fifties housewife. Could I have bucked the trend, smuggled the slaves, chained myself to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or pursued higher education? I like to flatter my independence and say I would have, but who knows?
I think we underestimate how truly hard it must be to swim against a current. Those salmon are something special. We are fluid creatures and the easy path comes so. . .. well, easily. How do those that turn and stand do it? To what do they cling?
As a high school teacher I saw lots of folks who thought they were swimming upstream. But, they weren't. They were just swimming in a different stream. Those who truly make a difference don't do it for the sake of being independent. I believe they do it because the cause is worth it. It is worth the risk, the prison, or even the shame.
I don't know if Newland has it in him.  But I certainly hope I do.

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