A friend of mine told me once that he was ‘hopeful’, but not ‘optimistic’. I’m afraid I did not quite understand the difference. It may be that I am unable to take the long view and ‘hope’ that things will turn out better after my life has ended. I have a hard time imagining the future, but now and then I get a glimpse of what my ‘future’ could have been.
I had a reunion with my squadron mates from HMM-261 last spring. Of the officers in the squadron, I probably had the shortest military career of any. Many of my friends stayed in the closed, somewhat claustrophobic society known as the Marine officer corps for twenty years or more. They traveled a path I did not.
Instead I traveled a path that found me teaching first on an Indian reservation, and then in two small towns. Instead of joining the military/industrial complex upon retiring from the Corps like my friends, I joined the Franciscans. Instead of getting a master’s degree in some sort of industrial jargon, I got a master’s degree in ministry. Rather than being a cog in the military/industrial machine, I seem to walk alone through the profession I have chosen.
My squadron mates are still my friends, and we can have a good time together. Many of them added me to their mailing lists after the reunion and there I discovered how much our paths have diverged. My friends, at least many of them, are angry white men. Some of them subscribe very seriously to conspiracy theories that would make Robert Ludlum blush. They hate the president, poor people, ‘liberals’, Democrats, Moslems, etc. and sometimes, even Republicans are too liberal for them. I could be described as an ‘angry, white man’ too. I think the difference is in what we are angry about.
I am not saying my friends are ‘wrong’; although I mostly think they are. I do not think they are ‘bad’ men, but they have lived in a very small world despite their degrees, titles, important jobs, etc. At least their world seems small to me.
But then, they would think my world is much smaller than theirs. I am an aging, small town teacher known mostly for an irascible temper and inability to ‘make nice’ with people I consider to be idiots: I don’t suffer fools gladly. I would have been a total failure had I followed the path chosen by many of my friends, and they know it, but then, I am not especially successful on the path I chose. I have anger, anger I must come to terms with sooner or later, anger that I have not done the good in the world I wanted to do. Still, trying to do some good in the world, despite all the limitations and obstacles that are part of me, or created by me, is not something I think of as a wrongly chosen path. I am sure my friends do ‘good’ in the world, just not the ‘good’ I would choose.
I think, all in all. I made a good decision in my ‘road less traveled’. If I have gone through life stumbling, at least I have been stumbling down a better path for me. No startling conclusions, no profound wisdom here. Perhaps just the knowledge that the ‘future’ I had 30 years ago was a better one for me than one I might have foreseen. Maybe the path we choose is more important than how successful we are in walking it, maybe…