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Nobody Told Me to Read “The Odyssey”

Nobody ever told me to read The Odyssey—and that was the greatest educational travesty of my life. I first read it after high school while working at Colonial Motors in West Concord. I didn't "get it" any more than the most confused among you, but what I did do is "feel it." I felt its primordial power and emotional bareness; I felt another world, another age, and another human journey come alive inside of me. It made me feel that I was a part of long and unbroken lineage of humanity searching for truth and purpose in a world—especially my world, a world not always blessed with clarity and opportunity. I had always been the kid in the back of the class staring out the window dreaming of a better world—and scheming a way to get there. I liked to read, and we read good books in school, but I only lived in those books for the moment. Good books were like a party with a great group of friends: fun, exciting, and memorable, but not life changing. They died, most of them, the moment I closed the book; but, The Odyssey changed my life.  It showed me that wisdom is not learned; it is cultivated by deliberation and attentiveness.

Some of the words you’ll find within yourself;

The rest, some power will inspire you to say.

 The Odyssey ~Book 3, Lines 20-29 

I say this and you might wonder why it is not changing your life. (Hopefully, on some level, it is changing your life.) You might wonder if you are missing something everyone else is getting. You probably wonder why I feel it is worthwhile to read this book during your 8th grade year. Why don't we just watch Star Wars or 24 or Wizard of Oz?" Why? Because Star Wars, 24, and Wizard of Oz are spin-offs—mere variations of stories that came before them; they are built on the backs of the hundreds of books and stories and movies that came before them. The Odyssey, however, was built on a foundation of human experience. It was created out of our most primal need for the wisdom, hope, and guidance that will get us through life. The Odyssey doesn't give us the tools we need to tackle the problems of life; it simply shows us the heroic nature required to deal and cope with the setbacks, sorrows, and tragedies of every life. Bright-Eyed Athena might not be at our side helping us through the day, but The Odyssey shows us that Athena comes in many guises and seldom reveals her true self, and that we, too, need to accept wisdom at opportune and inopportune times in its many forms and guises.

As much as we are taught to stay away from strangers, we still must turn our ears to the words they speak—for it might be the very truth we long and need to hear. We might not have a six-headed monster on one side of the hallway and a deadly whirlpool on the other, but we do have to make tough decisions where the outcomes range from bad to worse. Don't despair or even allow for frustration. If you wonder what is going on, then you are doing the right thing. Please, keep on wondering. I hope you wonder; I hope you wonder about who you are and where you are going; I hope you wonder about the problems of life; I hope you wonder where you will find the strength, the wiles, the courage—and the desire—to face these problems with insight, cunning, and perseverance. This is what Odysseus had to do, and, if you are to grow towards your individual greatness, then this is what you must do as well. If songs are to be sung about you, then you must be the hero of your own odyssey through life.

By the end of this school year you will have defeated me. You will leave my classroom a pillaged wasteland of poems, projects, broken pencils, essays, reflections, ballads, cheese-its, comments, short stories, blogs, and granola wrappers. Maybe you will burn your Huck Finn mini-series, shred your twenty writing mistakes, meditate—literally—on your haiku book, delete your website, disown your blog, and refuse to listen to ballads, write clear opening sentences, and/or paragraph your thoughts; you will throw-away your active reading sheets, erase your margin notes and refuse to admit you know where a comma goes; you will dangle and misplace modifiers and use lusciously disturbing adverbs and insipid adjectives at will. You will forget when Kat died, when Huck tricked Jim, and when Leaves of Grass finally ended.

It might feel like you forgot everything you are supposed to remember.

But you will not forget The Odyssey. It does not happen.

Posted by in John Fitzsimmons on Tuesday October, 8, 2013
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