In preparation for entering her freshman year in college, my daughter and her contemporaries were urged to read Going After Cacciato, by Tim O’Brien, and to arrive on campus prepared to explore the book in discussion groups just prior to the start of classes. Cacciato is an exploration of experiences of the Vietnam war, of both fear and the heroism of the human spirit. As I recall, she didn’t much care for the book, but I read it and found it enormously inspirational, perhaps even transformational. It is, in part, about coming of age, of fulfilling the destiny of our dreams. We as a nation sorely need a message of destiny fulfilling, of coming of age right now. To that point, have a look at this excerpt from the book.
It is easy, of course, to fear happiness. There is often complacency in the acceptance of misery. We fear parting from our familiar roles. We fear the consequences of such a parting. We fear happiness because we fear failure. But we must overcome these fears. We must be brave. It is one thing to speculate about what might be. It is quite another to act in behalf of our dreams, to treat them as objectives that are achievable and worth achieving. It is one thing to run from unhappiness; it is another to take action to realize those qualities of dignity and well-being that are the true standards of the human spirit.
I am asking for a positive commitment. Live now the dreams you have dreamed. Be happy. It is possible. It is within reach of a single decision.
This is not a plea for placidness of mind or feebleness of spirit. It is a plea for the opposite. For just as happiness is more than the absence of sadness, so is peace infinitely more than the absence of war. Even the refugee must do more than flee. He must arrive. He must return at last to a world as it is, however much in conflict with his hopes, and he must then do what he can to edge reality toward what he has dreamed, to change what he can change, to go beyond the wish or the fantasy. “We had fed the heart on fantasies,” said the poet, “the heart’s grown brutal from the fare.” I urge you to step boldly into it, to join your dream and to live it. Do not be deceived by false obligation. You are obliged, by all that is just and good, to pursue only the felicity that you yourself have imagined. Do not let fear stop you. Do not be frightened by ridicule or censure or embarrassment, do not fear name-calling, do not fear the scorn of others. For what is true obligation? Is it not the obligation to pursue a life at peace with itself?
You have come far. The journey has been dangerous. You have taken many risks. You have been brave beyond your wildest expectations. And now it is time for a final act of courage. I urge you: March proudly into your own dream.
What is your dream for yourself and for America? What is your vision for the country you want to bequeath to your children, your grandchildren and all of our grandchildren? What is the dreamed-of soul of Cacciato as metaphor for America? It is within reach of a single decision right now and we can make it come of age.
Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
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