When I set off to college, my father inquired about the direction of study I would pursue. I declared an English major, to which his response was, “What are you going to do with that?“
Born in the 1920’s, my parents pursued schooling that led them down predictable paths toward sustainable employment. Their childhoods had been shaped by the Great Depression, and as individuals, they had developed unusually clear images of what they wanted to do.
It mystified them that their first-born’s vision was not the same.
My mother claimed that starting at a young age, she had aspired to be a nurse. This affinity had been preceded by emulating the tap-dancing prowess of Shirley Temple, but the allure of saving others and pursuing the path of Clara Barton became more compelling.
She graduated high school early – and though she was temporarily precluded from nurse’s training by her youth, she stuck with her dream until it came true.
My father, a very serious student, also decided medicine would be a concrete career of stability and purpose.
These choices left scant opportunity or inclination for reading fiction, considering philosophy, or dabbling in other areas of study. They did, however, lead my parents to each other, and a shared perspective on how the world worked.
Decades later, of course, life had kept changing, and what had seemed immutable previously was regularly called into doubt.
The Vietnam War was televised into my parents’ walnut-paneled den, its ornate tray ceiling painted in gold leaf.
Walter Cronkite intoned casualty statistics.
My mother affixed an “America, Love It or Leave It” bumper sticker on her Riviera Buick.
My father chewed the earpiece of his eyeglasses.
The many questions of that era propelled me down a path that examined uncertainties, yet did not demand answers. At times uncomfortable, at others exhilarating, it has sustained my balance over time.
That, I’ve come to understand, is an invaluable art. (c)