THE ART OF LEAVING
One of my students replied to a blog the other day (Blog 11/2/10) to say he wasn’t concerned about the indignities that come with age. He was maddened by the thought of one day being told “to leave the party and don’t come back.” I understand his point of view. We didn’t angle for life’s invitation, but as we are here, it would be nice to have a voice in the terms of our stay.
As I thought about the anxiety my young friend expressed, I was reminded of a book lent to me by my gardener before she left to have her baby (Blog 9/27/10). She said she thought I’d enjoy reading it and she was right. The book was science fiction, “Child of Fortune” by Norman Spinard. What’s more, though I read it a while ago, the story still haunts me. It’s about a girl, Moussa, who lives on a distant planet where, at puberty, the young are sent off on a Wanderjahr — a tour akin to the Continental jaunts upper class gentlemen of the Victorian era took as a rite of passage.
Moussa’s parents send her off with nothing in her pocket but small change and a return ticket to the home planet. They want her to be tested by her experience rather than stumble somnambulistically through a grand tour. To support herself, Moussa becomes a storyteller. She makes her way across many planets and has several notable adventures. At one point, she meets a young man who dabbles with drugs and together they travel to a world populated with flowers. The nectar from these plants is intoxicating, designed to ensnare the minds of visitors so they will stay among them and pollinate the species. Being strong, Moussa manages to free herself and her travelling companion before they die from lack of other nourishment. Once he regains his sanity and understands his situation, however, the young man decides to return to the flowers, preferring to face death in the dreamlike stupor of the nectar rather than face reality. Moussa is left to travel alone.
I tell Moussa’s story without intending to cast judgment on either her or her young man. As sentient beings, we are free to make choices. Everyone must find his way. But today I want to honor those who made a different choice than Moussa’s friend: those who took responsibility for their lives and tried to make the world a better place. I’m speaking of our veterans, many of whom were maimed or died while placing the freedom of others above their personal safety. Of them it can be said that in leaving the party, they made a grand exit. Our duty is never to forget.