I worked on set all day yesterday and found myself rereading an old novel I once read for my AP European History class at boarding school nearly ten years ago. Now I may never know what possessed me to grab William Wharton’s “A Midnight Clear” as I headed out the door, but life has its reasons. And I - ever a believer in everything happening for a reason - smiled a knowing smile while I read the following passage to myself on page 15:
All through basic, the controversy raged. Max Lewis was leader of the apostrophe group, claiming I’m a natural radical, troublemaker and guardhouse lawyer who Won’t do anything I’m told. Mel Gordon headed the no-apostrophe crowd, insisting I’m too nice, and Wont to do anything I’m asked.
They called themselves “the apostates” and “the anti-apostates.” Father Mundy says it’s all in the mind of the beholder.
So everybody calls me Won’t or Wont and it’s up to me. That is, all except Max, who called me W-O-N-apostrophe-T right up till he got IT.
Do you ever find yourself reading something that takes your own belief and applies it to a different situation? Here I am reading a classic novel about World War II, and at the core of the story to which I will never be able to relate, there are still underlying themes that are universal truths to every human being alive. I firmly believe, as in the above passage, that other people will always have their opinions about you, your life, your relationships, but you are the only one who can really determine the truth about yourself. Others will try to project their views and problems onto you (Won’t vs. Wont), but the most important thing and your most important job in life is to know yourself. The only person you will know for your entire life is you. Your friends, your lovers, your family members may know you as best they can, but they will never be able to know exactly what goes on inside that mind of yours. Try as they will to do their best to understand you and what drives you, the only person who can really know you is you.
Some people don’t want to believe it’s true, and that’s okay because it can be an overwhelming thought to have: that no one else will ever truly be able to fully know another person. The more time you spend with someone, you are able to become better at predicting what their moods and actions will be, especially if they fall into specific patterns of behavior over time, but you can never fully know what they’re thinking and feeling unless they tell you. And even if they do tell you, feelings and thoughts can change. But that is not a scary thing. It’s an amazing thing. Change is growth, and every single person has the power in herself or himself to change should that person choose to want to grow.
Another thought I had while reading the passage was how black-and-white the nickname situation was amongst the soldiers. There were two distinctly different stances, yet the protagonist never took a side. I like to think he didn’t take a side because he knew that it was up to him and, in truth, isn’t everyone a little bit Won’t and also a little bit Wont? Situationally, things change. There have been just as many times where I haven’t done what I’m told as there have been times where I’ve been happy to do what I’m asked.
Life is meant to be exciting. It’s not cut-and-dry, black-and-white. It’s meant to be colorful and messy, challenging you to keep you on your toes. Life is not something meant to be figured out; it’s a process meant to be enjoyed. There should be comforting things in your life that restore your soul, but life should not be comfortable. It should be exciting and scary and threatening and challenging and beautiful and fun. Anything less than that doesn’t serve you or your growth.
Any coin you toss has two sides, and you pick heads or tails for two opposite results. I like to flip a coin a lot when I have a tough decision to make between two different situations, but I’ve always thought the most wonderful thing about a coin toss isn’t when the coin has landed. No, the best thing about a coin toss is those few seconds when the coin is in the air and you are pushed to actually realize how you want the coin to land. The decision isn’t made at the beginning or the end of the flip. The decision is made in the middle when you realize what you actually want - when you know how you want the coin to land or that you don’t really care how it lands at all.
Life is like that. People around you are like the two sides of the coin in the coin toss. One side believes one thing about you, while the other takes the opposite opinion. And yet, even if you feel like you’re being pulled in two opposite directions, there’s still a beautiful, colorful, messy, exciting middle where you have the power to decide exactly what it is you want for yourself. Because you know yourself and what is best for you.
Wharton, W. (1982). A Midnight Clear. New York: A.A. Knopf.