Sunday, September 9, 2012

Guides: Those I Owe

This week I’m out of town, celebrating my eldest child’s birthday, so I don’t have time for a full post.  However, here’s an intro post for a new series I’ve been contemplating.

I’ve been thinking lately that I’d like to do a series of posts on people who have influenced my life.  Partially as a thank you, and partially just as a way to preserve the stories of these folks for posterity.  I know I tell you not to read this blog, but my children are another matter.  Them I can assign it to as schoolwork or something.

But I’ve also been thinking that I’d like to expand the common definition of “influence.”  Generally when we think of people like this, we think of the people who inspired us, who taught us, who mentored us.  Our parents and grandparents are often at the top of this list.  And I don’t mean to discount those people: those people are of course the prime influencers.  But there are others as well, perhaps others that we don’t think of at first blush, and perhaps don’t ascribe enough credit to for our lives turning out the way they have.

For instance, say there’s a person you don’t know all that well—just an acquaintance, really—but this person just happens to be the one who introduced you to your spouse.  How different your life would be without that person!  Can you honestly say that this person has not influenced your life?  It may not be influence in the way we normally think of it: this person didn’t teach you any philosophy that you adopted to live your life, they didn’t pass on any virtues that you later took as your own, and they didn’t teach you any skill that you later used to earn a living.  But, still, they did something, without which you would not be who you are today.

Or how about the person who inspired your parent to choose a certain career path: all your life, perhaps, your parent has been that thing—doctor, lawyer, teacher, grocery store manager, motorcycle repairman, social worker, police officer—and that’s always who they’ll be to you.  Perhaps that career is how they met your other parent ... without that inspiring teacher or parental figure or helpful coach, you may never have been born.  Can’t say that person didn’t have a profound influence on you.

This is all tied up with the idea of fate that I talked about before.  The idea that the thousand unlikely coincidences that have come together to weave the tapestry of your life are not so random.  Only, this is a slight twist on that, because now we’re adding a hint of human agency to the “coincidences.”  Sometimes these people meant to change your life (or at least they were influencing you on purpose); sometimes it’s entirely accidental.  But my point is ... does it really matter?  The people are important either way.

So all these people are ... somethings.  I’ve been trying to think of a good word, but so far I’ve come up blank.  The closest I’ve come is “psychopomp”.  Now, technically, a psychopomp doesn’t have to be a guide specifically into the land of the dead, but that’s the usual imagery associated with it.  The word literally means “guide of souls,” which is a nice image, and fits this category of person.  Imagine that your life is a bit like wandering through a maze.  Sometimes when you choose the correct path it’s because you’re smart; sometimes it’s just dumb luck.  And then, sometimes, someone else just happened to be there, showing you the path, and you never could have found your way without them.  That’s the image I’m looking for.  Openers of the way, like Papa Legba or Wepwawet.  Or Door, even.

But “psychopomp,” besides having the close (and undesired) association with death, also sounds a bit psychopompous, if you know what I mean.  I’m looking for a nice, simple term: something to put at the beginning of a series of blog posts, that might be a bit more concise than “People Who Made Me Who I Am Today” (which would naturally be abbreviated “PWMMWIAT,” which I suppose would be pronounced “pwim-wyatt,” which is just silly).  I think I’m just going to go with “Guides,” although I’m still open to suggestions.

But the point is, these are the people who were my guideposts, my compasses, whether from exerting a strong magnetic force on me, or just from jerking a thumb over their shoulder and indicating a better road.  Both are important.  Both have had significant impacts on my life.  Both make interesting stories, and that’s what it’s really all about.

Well, that, and saying “thank you.”  Whether they put a huge amount of effort into their actions, or whether it was an offhand gesture, whether they did what they did out of a sense of duty or whether it never even crossed their mind that their actions would have such significance, whether they’ll appreciate being thought of or not, or whether they’re even still alive to be appreciative, they all still deserve my gratitude and my kind remembrances.  They made me who I am today; it’s the least I can do.

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IMPORTANT NOTE: This list is no particular order, and most especially not in any order of importance.  In most cases, the posts were just written as something came up in my life that reminded me of that person.  If you’re a friend or relative of mine and you don’t appear on this list, it’s probably just because I haven’t gotten around to you yet, that’s all.  Stay tuned.

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