Wrestling with Literature

Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience

there, and why is it meaningful to you?

Out of breath and hurting all over, I drip with sweat in the midst of a six-minute wrestling bout with my friend, James. While fighting on the bottom and gasping for air, I am reminded of Einstein’s words: “When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour.” When I read “The Aeneid” the hours pass in what seems like mere minutes, but when I am locked in James’s agonizing corkscrew for the third time, leaving me in a position too vulgar to describe, minutes feel like an eternity. Sensing my pain, our coach mercifully calls us off the mat. With a sigh, we slump down against the wall. Through strained breaths, James and I take our minds off the mat and discuss our recent literature in-class essay. As vehemently as we struggled on the mat we argued over the concept of free will on the Pequod; Melville’s epic distracts us from pain in the most uncomfortable of places. Whether our dialogue brings us to Orwell’s Airstrip One or Fitzgerald’s West Egg, literature gives us respite from the stresses of ankle picks and hip tosses.

In sports I experience pure euphoria, the physical manifestation of triumph. But I feel most comfortable with a book in my hand sitting on our back porch. I feel engaged, stimulated, and at times inexplicable happiness, perhaps not a visceral joy but a deeper sense of satisfaction. Although most literature can be enjoyed without intense scrutiny, some authors such as Faulkner and Hawthorne require an intellectual pause to decipher their convoluted sentences. Indeed, Latin requires even more effort. Authors from Apuleius to Ovid require a pencil in hand just to distinguish a subject, verb, and direct object. The unregulated and open sentence structure makes an afternoon of Latin reading a bit more work than simple pleasure. I developed a cipher to guide myself: a geometric code in which the circles delineate subjects, the underlines single out verbs, and the boxes take note of infinitives and gerunds. When these notes scribbled into the margins take shape, I feel exhilarated. I finally see the artistry of Latin in chiasmus or the ululating nature of hexameter, the true majesty of Latin.

The artistry of Latin is not only limited to aesthetics but also includes the values of loyalty and family that resonate with me. In literature we follow the exploits of heroes and villains, learning by proxy from their successes and foibles. I sometimes find myself wishing that I could carry my family on my back out of a burning city, like Aeneas fleeing Troy. Instead, too young to make an impact, I watched my sister suffer from the consequences of a teen pregnancy. She never completed community college and for many years she hid the fact that she was living in section 8 housing with no running water, adding two more children in five years. Similarly facing difficult circumstances, my father suffered bouts of unemployment and underemployment because he did not finish college. His ordeal of moving from job to job during the great recession convinced me not only to pursue higher education because I truly love it but also because of the security that hopefully comes with it; I will be the first of my siblings to attend college.

Just as I must think diligently when I read, so too must I stop thinking when I step on the wrestling mat or on the football field. Not a thought can cross my mind; everything I do is for my teammates. As much as I like this camaraderie, I too like the camaraderie of characters. Achilles, Icarus, and Billy Pilgrim comprise my literary team. Together we assemble against Vercingetorix and Smaug. Although I relish the feeling of Friday Night Lights shining on the field, I feel most content spending an evening with Plato.

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