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The Road to Freedom (Hint: it is paved with mischeif)
Chapter 9 | Reader's Commentary
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It's Sunday and we're happy to be back in your inbox. We're on the last few chapters of Season 1 now. You're used to getting writer's commentaries by Omar but this is Paul speaking again, and I come to you with my reader's reflections on the current chapter “The Highway”. If any of the chapters move you to do the same, we welcome your commentaries! Send them to us.
In Chapter 9, we witness a birth within our hero Maskat, a new swagger that he gracefully dons, as he begins to forge a truly independent identity. On the other side of his sweet revenge against a pair of menacing bullies, he finds himself crush-less (she sold him out), school-less (he got expelled), and homeless (he’s been living at the docks). And in this moment of losing everything, Maskat is on the other side of some of his most wretched nightmares, and yet, he’s feeling A-OK. And slowly over time, as this independence takes root, we see a Maskat who’s been absent in previous chapters. For that Maskat lived in the shadow of his friends, his education and the distinctly large shadow of his father Zemunke. It’s from these dark places he’s traveled to, that he finds a glimpse of, dare I say… gumption, to emerge from these shadows radiantly into the early light of his own being. Behold, the dawn!
Similar to Maskat, I was born into a religious family and had a very strict childhood. We went to church, we fasted, we didn’t say certain words (except while driving), and a lot was expected of us kids: grades, obedience, and safety. I can’t help but feel a little jealous when I read this story, because unlike Maskat, my awakening didn’t happen until I left the house at 18. Somehow Maskat was able to break free from within the confines of his existence. And he did so in such a spectacular show of reckless abandon.
In a series of events that begin with an open market heist resulting in the destruction of an unassuming man’s business (a necessary casualty?); ending in the public humiliation of the two most feared students at Stonetown Academy (can you say, death sentence?) So long, innocence and hello pangs of guilt. Arrivederci flying below the radar, and welcome, a life of potentially getting your ass kicked in the hallways by two resentful thugs.
He literally broke his world through a series of decisions. And with every world shattered, he finds an empty space that he must fill; and he fills that space by expanding. Expanding within his own sense of self, expanding his own limits, and expanding beyond the expectations placed on him.
But it’s in these very empty spaces that we all grow up. Imagine a world of humans who had followed every rule? Not to mention boring, it could be terribly unjust, as there would be no challenge to the status quo. So it stands to reason that the youthful shattering of predetermined worlds becomes a necessary step not only in our individual and collective development, but perhaps to our own moral and ethical survival.
The boy has to steal the key from under his mom’s pillow in order to set the wild man free, in Iron John. It’s the shattering of his own body, that the main character of Fight Club begins to take action in his own life. And it’s in the decision to take a motorcycle trip across South America rather than finish medical school, that a young Ernesto Guevara becomes intimately acquainted with the indigenous people of his continent, giving him a cause worthy of the rest (and expense) of his own life.
Even psychologists agree that there is an important developmental role that rebellion has for us humans. I used to wonder why there exists such strict norms if the very act of breaking them apart, is necessary in making us functioning citizens in this enormously complex world.
But then I wonder, maybe it’s on purpose. Perhaps to some extent, our familial and societal rule-keeping also serves a developmental motivation. Besides bringing order and organization to us upright and verbal (and sometimes-hairless) primates, they seem to provide the contrast necessary for our younger selves to act against, so we could fully grow up, find, and define ourselves.
But freedom is not just in the breaking of rules and shattering of worlds, it’s in the understanding that some of these realities may not have ever had any substance at all, or at the very least is lacking in any current relevancy. It’s in the discovery that we have agency in our own lives. This agency comes from knowing we can affect change, and an understanding that what we fear may not be as bad as we had imagined. And I think that’s what gives Maskat his swagger. The sure retaliation by Omari and Azizi turns out to become a distant memory. The heart-stopping fear of Zemunke’s wrath when returning home late, slowly dissolves away, along with his fear of Azizi.
I wonder what imaginary dragons are keeping us in line?
It’s in the loss of our walls where we can smell the fresh air of possibility. It’s a necessary sweetness in the gut-wrenching sea of unknowns that come with such a break-out. It’s the spark of life that makes our hearts race, our hairs stand-up, and our imaginations soar.
Now if you’re finding yourself as a respectable adult needing to break free from something, I do not necessarily suggest you start a local chapter of Project Mayhem, but maybe you need to shatter a few of your own realities and assumptions. Just don’t hurt anyone in the process, and make sure you accept any and all consequences, and you’ll find yourself basking in the aftermath, realizing that, like Maskat, you’re going to be A-OK. Because you realize what you shattered is no longer of value, or maybe it wasn’t even real in the first place.
I’ll see you at the docks.