- Aeneid, Book VI, lines 143-148, trans. Seamus Heaney
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The key to the underworld, for brave Aeneas, is a golden tree branch. It is always easy to enter the land of the dead, walking out is tougher. The bough guaranteed passage back to the living, yet there was no guarantee that one could a) find the branch in the forests of Hades, and b) once found, it would come away for the one who took hold of it. But Rome must be founded, and Aeneas, led by two doves finds the branch - some scholars presume it was mistletoe - and takes it in his hands and so is able to move through the underworld to find his beloved father and seek his counsel once more.
There is never any doubt that Aeneas will succeed in finding the bough and that the bough will come away for him. But for you and I, it is a bit different, no?
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The purpose of our days is direct: be who you are - completely.
The path to that purpose is often circuitous, torturous, foolish, with switchbacks, cul de sacs and hairpin turns. It ain't easy being green. Every choice creates and presents new choices and you can choose so poorly for so long that the way back to base, the ground floor of your experience is wholly lost. Dante's great description of his mid-life crisis begins his descent into hell:
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.
So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.
I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.
Every time you choose A over B, you are, in large and small ways, creating the world you live in. It cannot help but be this way, so the question is begged: What are you choosing?
The fucked life has no reigns on the process, but instead is pulled and pushed along by the choices others make about their lives. Have you claimed to be in love, when you were not because it was what you thought was expected of you, or you didn't want to hurt someone's feelings? How'd that work out? Have you taken work that you are ill-suited for in order to please someone other than yourself? Have you worked essentially as a caddie? Always carrying the bosses bags and hoping for a tip? Each is a choice and when you don't exercise your choices, when they are exercised for you by others, well, can you be surprised that you're fucked and stuck? Even in this shitty economy, you always retain the choice as to how you will respond to any circumstance.
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So, about Aeneas...
When Dante goes to hell, he is lost and needs a guide, who, it just so happens is Virgil - the dude who wrote The Aeneid. (Patterns, patterns everywhere.) But Aeneas isn't lost. He's aiming for hell because what we seeks is there. He tells the Sibyl of Cumae: I pray for one look, one face-to-face meeting with my dear father. Teach me the way and open the holy doors wide.
And what does she teach him? To look, to search deep, and when he has found it to take hold of it boldly and duly.
And what is the golden bough? Why, himself, of course.
But you knew that, right?
Had it been any other thing, any other way, no blade or strength could quell it. You must first master who you are before you can possibly know what you want.
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Now, isn't there something you should be doing?
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Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.