As the story goes, Socrates was kickin’ it in Greece one day, philosophising I suppose, and some dude wandered up and asked him how to get to Mt. Olympus. Socrates was used to far deeper questions, so this was cake. “Make sure every step you take is in that direction,” he replied. You didn’t second guess the wisdom of Socrates; he was like Confucious. Or Google. The wanderer looked around, shrugged, and started walking.
I recently attended a speaking engagement about “going beyond the content” in an effort to inspire students and show them that we care about their future beyond standardized tests. The speaker was wonderful, so much so that I regretted all the bitching I did beforehand about having to go. He suggested sharing the Socrates story with our students and letting them know we’re here to help them reach their Mt. Olympus, whatever that may be.
I asked each to tell me his or her goal and explain what steps they’re taking to get there. Then, one of them asked me, “Mr. B, what’s your Mt. Olympus?” I thought for a minute and said, “Shit, kid, fuck if I know. This is your assignment. Shut the hell up and write before I give you detention.” I guess I told him. But later I started thinking, rubbing the stubble on my chin the way I imagine Socrates would have undertaken such weighty thoughts. The kid stumped me; I had no clue.
What is my Mt. Olympus? Living on a boat? Sippin’ gin and juice and makin’ it rain with my homies in strip clubs? (I’m kidding, K.) A bungalow on a tropical island? Six pack abs? Growing my own food? Writing? Surfing? We get so caught up in everyday life that we take our eyes off the prize, or at least I do.
I made a goal once, ten years ago. I was in Tahiti reporting on a surf contest, and K flew over to celebrate our tenth anniversary. It rained nearly the entire time, real rain and not the hundred-dollar-bill kind. The only places to stay were with local families, and we rented a room in a soggy, mosquito-infested house with an old lady called Mammy who had elaphantitis and served us fish heads covered with flies. Being anywhere near that house was misery, and we were stuck there for days on end.
As soon as the event ended, we took a ferry over to Moorea, a neighboring island we’d heard was well worth the trip. As we got within sight of the place, we were struck dumb. The blues were bluer than B.B. King on his bluest day ever. We’d never seen anything so beautiful. How much of our bliss was thanks to being anywhere other than Mammy’s and how much was genuine I’m not sure. Either way, we decided right then that we’d live here someday, or in a place like it. We landed back in Norfolk a week later, but the dream must have missed the flight.
Is my Mt. Olympus a stunning view with perfect weather? A great job? No job? Spoiling myself? Helping others? I expected my 14-year-old students to know what they wanted out of life, but I’m completely clueless about my own.
Then, since I couldn’t decide, I concluded that having a goal is counterproductive. Too much focus on a goal has the unintended effect of causing us to miss what’s going on around us. Maybe the real goal is to enjoy the ride?
Even without surfing, I feel I have a good grasp of that. I wake up every morning that I’m not working and immediately start plotting the day’s adventure. I see K buried in the computer and realize she’s in her own world. I move on to son #1, who is either snoozing or off skating with bros or galivanting with his lady. I scoot to the daughter, who blows me off with deadly rolled eyes and hops on her bike to snap selfies.
Fortunately, I have the grom. He doesn’t know any better. He still thinks I’m cool. Nevertheless, it takes all my guile to pry him away from whichever screen his eyes are glued to. When no playground within the city limits catches his fancy as much as the Gangnum Style video for the 37,000th time, I’m forced to break out the heavy artillery – promises of slurpees or donuts, which always does the trick.
We bike. We skate. We battle. We explore. We talk about the Native Americans who lived here until we chased them off a few centuries ago. We hunt for aphids to feed his baby praying mantis and examine every plant, tree, and bush within two blocks only to learn from a lady walking her poodle that aphids don’t come around until later in the summer. Poor little Yoda Steve Borte, guess he’ll go another day without food.
We move on to another adventure. We carpe diem. Maybe if I had a Mount Olympus taunting me from afar I would miss these opportunities.
Soon enough, he’ll grow up and discover my lameness and find his own adventures. Then, I’ll have no choice but to confront my destiny. I’ll have to choose my Mt. Olympus. On the other hand, 2014 will be over, and I can just go surfing and let the ocean rinse it all away. Or maybe that’s been the problem all along.
*This post is dedicated to Yoda Steve Borte, a praying mantis who passed before his time. He either starved to death or was cooked because I left him atop the cable box.