This time of year is more than budding flowers and nesting birds. It’s promotion time for scores of young across the country. Friends have posted photos of precious preschoolers wearing mortarboards to receive tiny diplomas. Others celebrate their own or their loved one’s high school and college graduations. Seeing these pictures on Facebook as families rejoice over this life event reminds me that all of us are on a journey, hopefully a hero’s journey to live a worthy life.
In literature, students read about heroes such as Odysseus, Beowulf, and Atticus Finch. They analyze the differences and similarities in those adventurous lives. Some classes examine scholar Joseph Campbell’s version of the hero’s journey and learn to recognize archetypal calls to adventure; thresholds to cross; tests, mentors, helpers, and hinderers; ordeals; seizing rewards; traveling the road back; and discovering freedom to live. Anyone interested enough to know more can find models of this ancient pattern if they wish to look it up.
It doesn’t take long before an attentive reader realizes this prototype is also the story of each of our lives. Adventure in some form or another calls every one of us multiple times throughout our existence. For some, it’s a siren call to foreign lands as missionaries, travelers, employees, or soldiers. For others, it’s a summons to marry and unite lives. This choice often results in children, an undertaking which certainly requires mentors and helpers to overcome hinderers and problems. To be alive means to join this hero’s journey. To recognize the steps along the way makes it more fulfilling.
It’s obvious new graduates stand at a threshold. Everything that’s been predictable is about to change. In short time, these people on the cusp of a new existence go from parents’ support and home to their own households and jobs where they are responsible to maintain employment, pay bills, and handle challenges. They realize they make their own decisions and no longer depend on someone else to tell them what to do.
Suddenly, it’s clear the guidance they received from loved ones helped prepare them for this day. I recall those early months on my own when I dug deep to remember what loving adults had taught me about budgeting and making do. Fortunately, I came from a resourceful bunch who taught flexible problem solving so handling difficulties might have caused stress, but it didn’t throw me off my intended path.
That’s the value, I think, in knowing the predictability of the hero’s journey. You know you’ll face tests. You know you need to find and recognize your helpers as well as your hinderers, and sometimes the difficulty is differentiating between the two. You know there will be rewards. Once again, it’s important to look for them. Sometimes they’re small and easy to miss. However, those who seek will find those treasures and can offer gratitude for large and small boons in life.
I’ve decided recognition is the operative word. We must learn to see and value individuals and moments, which adds richness to life that some never enjoy. For me, that adds up to that final part of this journey-- freedom to live. Truly being alive means savoring an awareness of those who enrich our lives and those instances where we experience life in that instant; whether it be catching a big fish, reveling in a splendid sunset, snuggling a baby close in the middle of the night, or comforting an elder passing on.
This time of year and its graduates remind us that we, too, are on a journey. We might travel a different path than they, but we also share helpers, hinderers, and rewards. Acknowledging these along our way improves the quality of our own lives. Happy trails.