I’ve loved Homer’s Odyssey ever since I was fourteen. There is an aura to long books that soaks you in, perpetuating the experience for enough pages that you feel like no one is shoving you out the door. Odysseus and I hit it off–both clinging to rafts in an uncharted ocean–somewhere between his escape from Circe and that line I’ll never shake:
“So let this adventure follow.”
In five words, he verbalized a feeling I’ve wrestled with practically since the day I was born. My name is Gillian, and I occasionally have trouble going with the flow.
Odysseus, if you can recall from your college days, was searching for his homecoming. In Greek, you’d call it nostos — which more specifically implies that you’re returning from a long journey. Despite the famed brilliance he’s reported to possess, Odysseus keeps getting stranded, alongside characters who don’t seem to understand that he’s growing weary and just wants to spend time with his dog.
One of my favorite scenes in the journey is when the Phaeacians sit him down to tell his story–yeah, exactly what a war vet who’s been stranded in the ocean for twenty years wants to do–and he can’t seem to shake off their overbearing hospitality.
As the story goes:
“He kept turning his face at the blazing sun, impatient for it to set, as he was longing to be on his way.”
I just reached that part in the book (again) today, and this swell of urgency crept up in me. I wanted to throw up my arms and say, “I know exactly how you feel, dude! In fact, I feel that way every day! Let’s get out of here before they feed us another piece of spanokopita and sail on to somewhere better!” If I could enter the story at that moment—and given my lack of Greek ancestry that would probably really offend some diehards—I’d swoop him up in a three-masted ship and make a beeline for Ithaca once more. Maybe this time we’d rely on a GPS instead of the wind.
So I guess it’s no surprise as I sit in Ann Arbor, Michigan—cold, confusing, and a shore I never imagined I’d wash up on in my wildest dreams—that I wish Odysseus would return the sympathies. I keep looking out the window for a sign, and feel a little deserted when the only car that pulls up is Pizza Hut. We’ve taken his journey so many times together, and there are only so many more Cyclops eye-gauges I can manage. Why can’t he come with me for once – show me where to go, turn the pages of my life? And why can’t I get the hell out of here?
And then I remember something funny. Odysseus sailed on knowing what he wanted; the journey was a test – how badly do you want to know yourself? Is home a place or a state of mind? And all those other pitfalls in between were just rumbles in the sand, bedtime stories he’d tell to his grandkids, and well worth the effort if true happiness was on the other side. He might look on impatiently from time to time, but like I said before, he signed up for the ride. “So let this adventure follow.”
Odysseus probably didn’t have to deal with snow. Or University of Michigan crime alerts. Or law school homework. But then again, I avoided the Cyclops, Poseidon & a house filled with drunk men (unless you count the brothers of Sigma Chi down the block). We both hit our stumbling blocks, but we both know that we’re fighting for something. It might be slow and trying, but the ship is moving – and it’s going somewhere bright.
So please, Mount Olympus, if you grant wishes to Americans: let these next six weeks of my Master’s degree follow.
[But I see the point. Sometimes you just have to keep rowing.]