The Chance to Reinvent

A co-worker’s daughter just christened a new blog, and that has spurred me to try and maintain this one, and not let weeks and months go between entries.  No idea how long I will remain zealous about writing in here–just have to hope that the urge to write in here comes more frequently than it has in the past few months.

During the time that Susie and I were spending the night hours at the McDonald’s on North High Street, she saw several of her former Graham School classmates hanging out there, along with (or a part of) the never-ending cast of characters of the transient kids who would come in and nurse cup after cup of fountain drinks to avoid being ejected for loitering.

There was one young woman there who surprised Susie.  She had come in and had greeted Susie warmly when she passed by our table.  (I had my Nook in my hand and, as usual, Susie was hard at work on her laptop.)  Susie was surprised.  The two of them had known each other at Graham, but weren’t really close friends.  They overlapped acquaintances and a class or two (not hard to do–Graham has a pretty small student body), but that was about it.

The young woman who had greeted Susie was a year or so older, and when she had been at Graham, she had been pretty straight edge, and hung mostly with the informal Christian group.  At McDonald’s, we mostly saw her sitting at the stone tables outside playing Magic: The Gathering while chain-smoking Newports.  (Some straight edge people I have encountered seem to not have a problem with that way of life and smoking, although the rationale there totally escapes me.  The main focus seems to be to eschew drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity.)

Often, conversion to a new religious or political philosophy is the classic impetus for re-invention.  The most dramatic example in history has to be Saul of Tarsus, known mainly as St. Paul.  After being a ruthless enemy of the floundering new church, he became its most tireless and prolific advocate his experience (whether divine intervention, or some kind of seizure or emotional breakdown) on the road to Damascus.  (Paul also elevated self-invention depending on the circumstance to perfection, writing in I Corinthians 9: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law.”

A more recent example is former white supremacist Larry Trapp, who was the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Lincoln, Nebraska during the 1980s and 1990s.  When he “welcomed” a new cantor, Michael Weisser and his family to Lincoln with threatening phone calls and hate mail, Weisser called him and, completely out of the blue, offered Trapp, who was wheelchair-bound and nearly blind from diabetes, a ride to the grocery store.  (He also mentioned that, in Nazi Germany, the very first laws were against Lebensunwertes leben, life unworthy of life, which meant that Trapp would have been the first to die under the Nazis.)  Trapp eventually left the KKK and befriended Weisser and his family.  I first learned of this on Inside Edition.  The story ended with: “And here’s the final twist: Larry Trapp now says he will convert to Judaism.”  Trapp died in 1992, three months after becoming a Jew.

Going away to a new setting is usually the ideal place for reinvention.  You tend to see this a lot at college.  There was a young woman from Upper Arlington who was in a mythology class I was taking.  She had graduated high school at 17 (compared to me, a freshman at 23).  She dressed like she had just stepped out of the pages of The Official Preppy Handbook, and I was surprised that she did not pledge a sorority.  We became close acquaintances, but not really friends, during the quarter we were in this class.

Less than a year later, I ran into her on Court St., where a friend and I were eating burritos on the steps of the Athens County Courthouse.  It took me a moment to recognize her.  She had dyed her strawberry blonde hair jet black, the same color as her eye shadow, and had discarded her blazer for a leather jacket and her penny loafers for Doc Martens.  She had also begun smoking, which was surprising, because she and I had shared the same loathing of that habit in the past.

It’s something all of us have done, not necessarily in as dramatic a fashion as I have described above.  We all adjust with change and aging, usually so gradually that we don’t even recognize it at the time.  One of the few worthwhile readings from the American literature class I took in high school was Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.”  I copied its most famous passage inside the front cover of my notebook:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

And speaking of consistency and reinvention, I see that WordPress has changed the specifics of this template on me!

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A friend’s Facebook meme inspired this entry.

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