The Great American Myth

The great American myth is the hero who leaves home to remake himself in another place.  Huck Finn took a raft, Dorothy flew off in a tornado, Jack Kerouac hitched rides, and my sister left home and ended up a doctor on the other side of the country.  I left for the Peace Corps, quite honestly, because I didn’t know of any more valuable way to address my restless and impulsive nature than to change my speaking, eating and thinking habits.

Jeff Gaura circa 1987 standing in the Dang Valley of Nepal
In the Peace Corps, the Himalaya in the background

“Better for it,” is the most common phrase associated with the question, “what was it like to…..” when asked about living next to one of the highest mountains in the world for two years.  Truth is, I don’t know if I really am better for taking that path.

Are you better off for marrying your spouse?  Are you better off for taking such and such a job, moving to such and such a city?

We lack anything to compare it to, since that is what we did during that time of life.  No rewinding of life allowed!  Sure, we have adjusted to it.  Now and then, for the taste of Freedom (Capital F included), we imagine a life in another place, just to address restlessness and the desire for variety.

Changing things up, when we are restless, is downright addictive.  We all conclude, in retrospect, that “we needed to be there, at that time” in our lives.  We conclude that college was good for us, even if we partied to oblivion, on family money.  We tell our buddies anecdotes about that girlfriend/boyfriend that we slept with that we didn’t marry, “helped us learn what we didn’t like.”

Yet, we were also damaged by this exploring.  And we can’t go back.  It is that going back that gets my attention these days.

I am not a hero for running and cycling with the best.  Nor am I a hero for dropping weight, eating right, nor taking advice from those who know more than I do.  But I do ask, every blue moon, “what if I had done this when I was 21, when my youthfulness would fuel my athleticism?”  I get no answer.  Dad and mom kept me out of sports for really good reasons.  Today, I wear a uniform and pretend that I am great.

This is my season of being Huck Finn with athletics.  I am building my raft, and I start floating down the Mississippi in two weeks, at the first race of the season.  The boat may wreck, or it may end in New Orleans, at the front of the pack.  It may get washed up near Memphis.

I am remaking myself…again.

What are you doing to remake yourself?  Reading this blog isn’t it.  I would love to hear your stories.  They will inspire others, and you will be better off, for putting them in writing.

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