My dear friend Harold, in an expansive and nostalgic mood at the café yesterday, told me that two days after he graduated from high school he said goodbye to his drunken father in Albany and hitchiked to New Orleans, where he signed on as a deck hand on a towboat that pushed barges to Little Rock via the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers. It was brutal and boring work, he said, but there was plenty of good food and high pay, which he saved for college. He won honors as an undergraduate at LSU, then was awarded scholarships and grants, one after another, for his masters and Ph.D. at Harvard.
“Along the way I found a mentor who suggested that I look into the work of a chap by the name of Erik Erikson,” Harold said.
“Yes. I objected on the grounds that my general interest was the literature of the Italian Renaissance, but Dr. Ramsey said understanding how we form our identities couldn’t hurt. Turned out he was absolutely right. In any event, I was immediately captivated by Erikson’s life story. He believed that we must embrace the notion that will is our personal salvation. One wills what has to be, not what is.”
“Another way of saying that we all must choose who we become?” I said.
“So you don’t believe in predestination.”
“Well, that’s not exactly the same thing, is it? Who we are is often different from what happens to us.”
“It’s said that a child forms his identity from the reflection in the eyes of his parents. But I did not recognize myself in my father’s hateful glare. I always knew I was not the loathsome creature he wanted me to believe I was.”
“That must have been awful,” I said.
“Water under the bridge, lad. I was lucky because it turns out that I am my mother’s son. Not his. But back to Erikson…”
( Collapse )