Murphy\’s Bye-Laws

Law #4: Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it. –H.D. Thoreau

The Rocky Bottom

Posted by PintofStout on December 31, 2008

As the holiday season prepares to go out with a bang this evening, I’d like to reflect on thoughts I’ve had while catching up with old friends and acquaintances.  This year has found me with a full social schedule over the past two weeks meeting with prodigal friends returning home temporarily or carving out some time to catch up.  At one time, all of the people I visited with shared some aspect of their lives with me before separating to pursue individual purposes.  I’ve thought much about the divergence in our lives and geography and how much one has had an effect on the other.  When these friendships were built, both our lives and our geographies had converged.  We came from different places and then grew and learned together before taking parts of each other with us toward our individual pursuits.  Perhaps this is why a great feeling of completion arises from bringing these pieces back together, however briefly.

The diversion in all of our once-merged lives is likely driven mostly by our lives themselves and not simply geography.  It is the choices made in living and the circumstances steering those decisions that introduce the separation in geography; seldom is a change in geography initiated for its own sake.  Circumstance bounces us around pretty randomly, like a rubber ball bouncing on gravel.  Ups and downs are all part of the equation.

This line of thought was mostly sparked by the meeting of college friends.  Most of them had continued on the path they started, virtuously forging ahead, while some of us (*cough* me *cough*) wandered toward no goal in particular.  Toward the end of my quest for a degree, it is no secret that I had taken a plunge.  Circumstance and, of course, my decisions separated me prematurely from my fellow travelers; it separated me from much, in fact.  Many connections were lost in my nihilistic plunge into self-pity, and many of those connections are yet to be reestablished.  Comparing current circumstances when the connections are reestablished has proved very interesting in regards to the sometimes winding paths we travel in life; the paths that diverge greatly at so much as the flap of a butterfly wing or a bounce off of the proverbial bottom.

I once saw a quote by General George S. Patton (ironically while waiting to talk to the financial aid department at YSU) that stated, “I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.”  This quote assumes a simple two-dimensional system where the path stays the same.  I have  felt lately that the premature divergence spoken of previously was my bottom.  The comparison of current circumstances on the Patton scale shows stark differences.  But I don’t think Patton had it right. The bottom is rocky and rather than bounce on the same path as the fall, one is just as likely to bounce in a completely different direction, maybe in a direction better suited to the bouncee than the path that led to the fall to begin with.

The different path I ended up on cannot be labeled better or worse than any other potential path on an objective scale.  I’ve looked back on many turning points in my life where I had initially valued some outcome negatively, such as denial of admission into the U.S. Naval Academy, or the loss of goals and perspective academically, but upon further reflection these turning points have often led to my subjective happiness and growth.  Struggle and adversity is often held up as a catalyst for imporvement. Like Gandalf emerging from great tribulation more powerful, adversity may have been what was right for me – the me created by the convergences with other people, the ups and downs of circumstance, and, of course, the rocky bottom.

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4 Responses to “The Rocky Bottom”

  1. Sunni said

    Very interesting and thought-provoking musings, my friend … thank you for sharing. Like you in some respects, once I achieved my goal from youth I “wandered”, because I didn’t consider what came after … and by the time I’d earned the degree, I was certain I didn’t want to follow the usual tenure-track path. I’m still wandering, and often wondering—both about paths taken and not taken … and trying to enjoy it all as much as I can.

    Happy New Year!

  2. Sara said

    I think I’m still wandering. Only I’m wandering now through the eyes of toddlers, which definitely takes me on a different path every day! Love this one. Happy New Year!

  3. Holly said

    Maybe you aren’t the thing that is falling and at risk of bouncing, but rather one of many rocks at the bottom that is going to impact the direction of the falling thing’s future.

  4. Perspective is a critical consideration, which I initially overlooked. With further consideration, I am still quite sure I was the falling object and not the rocks. That isn’t to say that circumstances couldn’t be reversed in other instances, or that being a rock is a bad thing (sometimes we really need the rocks).

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