Outside the Maze
“From the moment of my birth to the instant of my death,
There are patterns I must follow, just as I must breathe each breath.
Like a rat in a maze, the path before me lies,
And the patten never alters until the rat dies.
And the pattern still remains on the wall where darkness fell,
And it’s fitting that it should, for in darkness I must dwell.
Like the color of my skin or the day that I grow old,
My life is made of patterns, that can scarcely be controlled.
Pattens by Simon and Garfunkel
Patterns by Simon and Garfunkel, part of which I transcribed above, presents a philosophy to life, portions of which appeal to me greatly. The first and the last of the stanzas above, leap out at me as matching pretty much what I see, the second one, not so much.
I was born into a family of nine children, arriving fourth on the scene, my little sister, JT, a year behind me, as my parents produced a complete baseball team of life’s players. My parents instilled in the nine of us, qualities and values which would shape our lives accordingly. Of all of the tools that our parents provided for us, I am going to focus on the ones that I feel were most instrumental, in creating successful, community contributors.
Because, make no mistake, that’s what we are. From the oldest to the youngest, we have all chosen education, first, and then careers that found each of us working in a field that not only deals with people, but puts us in positions which serve others. There are three educators, two mental health workers, two civil service employees, a doctor and a lawyer. Every one of us has at least a degree from a four-year college, and each of us has raised children to adulthood, except the youngest of us, whose oldest son is thirteen.
Of the plethora of ideals and values instilled in each of us, three stand out as having been instrumental in shaping our baseball team of players. There was a tremendous focus on education, religion, and responsibility. Though my father did not graduate from high school, and worked with his hands in a steel factory, he was highly intelligent, and recognized that higher education was the ticket to acquiring a job, for which one did not have to use a fingernail brush, to remove the dirt from one’s hands.
I came home from sixth grade one quarter, with a B- in conduct, a result of being too chatty, and a bit too bouncy, as befits a small, wiry, extremely active boy. My father was furious, appropriate conduct/behavior appearing very large in his sights, as far as expectations were concerned. I did modify my behavior, the following quarter, but it was not without a great deal of effort.
My father would regale us with stories of his own shenanigans in high school, and then turn around and demand excellence from us, in a clear case of do-as-I-say and not do-as-I-do. Nonetheless, the message was sent and received, and it was expected that college was on the horizon, for every one of us.
He went off to work every workday of his life, sick or not, and he frequently did masonry on the weekends, to supplement his salary. Each of us was required to earn money outside of the house, and contribute to the family. As a high school sophomore, I was working thirty hours a week at Sunrize Market, enrolled in the retail Clerks Union, and contributing two-thirds of what I made to the household coffers. I kicked and screamed, and argued with my mom ad nausea, to no avail. It was what we did.
Education and work ethic successfully instilled, I turn to religion. We were raised in the strict dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, with all of its accompanying freight cars of excess baggage. My mother, especially, oversaw this portion of our upbringing. During the two years I went to public school, I was required to attend weekly catechism classes, during which time I was required to memorize the litany of the Church.
Though I rebelled from the fold, when I was old enough to drive past the church on Sunday mornings, stopping long enough to pick up a weekly bulletin as proof-of-attendance, and then off to the car-wash, there are elements of this experience which remain with me. We were taught tolerance, that people were to be evaluated by what was in their hearts, and not by the color of their skin.
My father worked in an environment, dominated by Mexican and black men, with whom he got along well. He integrated Mexican food into our house, in the sixties, even before Mexican fast food chains began to sprout up all over SoCal. When I was in Missouri, and then later in New Jersey, in 1972, there was no such thing as take-out Mexican food, at least not within my scope of vision. It was still a Southern California phenomenon.
My patterns of behavior and belief, were well established by the time I reached high school graduation, but here is where the song above, and I, part ways. I take exception to the second stanza, specifically the part which hammers home the point that we are trapped in a maze. I find this concept does not apply to me, because a maze implies there is confusion and non-direction, and each person must determine for him or herself, how much confusion exists within.
I would even agree that there are times when that maze metaphor applies, but that on a big-picture basis, no way. As long as I have choice, then I am free to roam outside the maze, not necessarily possessing all the answers, but certainly having put the most pressing of questions at bay. And then I, along with Annie, am instilling in our sons, the values that we feel are most important, and the patterns persist.
Each person must take the tools instilled in him or her, and meld them into a life philosophy which then creates a life-path. Whether that path remains within the walls of the maze, or manages to break free, is up to the individual. All I know is I have managed to land in a “maze” here in Northern California, that is beautiful and alive. I blocked off the paths that were one-way, and broke through a few walls, so my maze is only a reflection in my rear-view mirror.
Does your view include walls and closed corridors, or are there blue skies above? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.