Sitting in O’Hare about to board an airplane bound for England, I felt a bit like Odysseus standing on the shores of Calypso’s Island. I stood (or rather sat) on the threshold of a great adventure, a journey that would put my intellect to the test, and challenge me in ways I’ve never experienced before. The comparison to Odysseus may seem like an extravagant metaphor for the beginning of a study abroad experience, but as it were, I had just finished reading Homer’s Odyssey, so I ask readers to bear with me (Perhaps you’d be more comfortable with a Luke Skywalker analogy?).
The so-called "Hero’s Journey" is an ancient story-telling tradition that has been repeated countless times throughout history, from ancient Greek poets to George Lucas and J.K. Rowling and everywhere in between. The Argentinan author Jorge Luis Borges once commented that there has only ever been two stories ever told: the story of a warrior lost at sea, searching for a beloved isle, and the story of a god who crucifies himself on top of a mountain.
Through the years, the basic structure of the Hero’s Journey has been used over and over again. That plot structure is tweaked here and there to be made appropriate for the times, but nonetheless, an easily recognizable pattern is almost always present in any story. There is a beginning, middle and end, either happy or sad, and the hero always struggles towards a goal or against some great evil. Academics like Joseph Campbell have fleshed this theory out in considerably more detail, but I hope I have said enough to make my point.
I believe a similar pattern exists in our lives, as great story telling often reflects and speaks to the experiences we all have and share together. We all have goals, and we all have various obstacles that stand in the way of those goals, obstacles that should and can be overcome. But, we cannot overcome those obstacles without a struggle, and the struggle is usually what gives us the best materials for story telling.
In the stories I will tell about my experiences here at Oxford, I hope to be able to draw comparisons to the idea of the Hero’s Journey. I will be the hero, not because I am especially heroic, but because it is from my point of view that all will be expressed. I feel, in my own insignificant way, a bit like that cunning warrior Odysseus; I’m out at sea and will eventually end up back at home, but not before I am pushed and pulled and struggle through a demanding trial of events. I will face down many enemies (in the form of 16 essays, at around 2000 words each) and will be supported by friends and family throughout.
I will try my best not to bore you with my philosophical ramblings and pointless analogies. I’ll post pictures and talk about my life more normally once things get fully underway.
I’ve only been gone a few days, and already I miss home, but I also realize that home isn’t a precise physical location. It’s more than that (everything always is for us philosophy majors). Home is where your life has meaning, where you are understood and appreciated, and that can be anywhere. Oxford will hopefully become my new home for the next 14 weeks, but eventually I will return to Chicago-land to the people that I know and love best.
Right now it feels like I’m in a waiting room at some doctors office, but I can’t say what ails me or what kind of doctor will see me. Maybe St. Thomas Aquinas has the cure I need, or maybe David Hume, Immanuel Kant, or Shakespeare? Who knows? Seminars and tutorials start next week, so I’ll write more later, time permitting.