Monday, April 13, 2009

An Intellectual Odyssey

I have always viewed my life as somewhat of an intellectual odyssey. Even as a pre-schooler I can remember being enthralled by a world of knowledge that seemed so rich and open to investigation. While my journey into the realms of learning has changed direction on many an occasion, its well heeled sense of growth has nourished my being in the best possible manner. I am better for it despite the constant struggle for individual success , and in this realization I take the utmost solace.

In the complete sense I am a very fortunate person in that I grew up in a family that both encouraged and valued education. My grandfather and father both sought enrichment in self study and encouraged me from my infancy to follow along such lines. Grandpa Hymie in particular was an all-around seeker for the truth. His library was filled with books on history, the bible, photography, electronics, far eastern culture and woodworking amongst others and his keen mind lusted to tangle the mosaic of human epistemology. He saw no limits to his pursuits and was a free thinker in the true spirit of the phrase. There was a passion that eclipsed his persona, a rare energy that I have sadly seen in only a handful of people that I have ever encountered so far. Sadly he passed away just after my 7th birthday but his enduring take on life provided the spark for my own journey.

They say that you don’t remember much from such an early age but I have recollections of my numerous visits to his apartment those times on his veranda when he told me about his experiences in World War II (he fought with the South African Allied troops in Abyssinia), his study of Ancient Civilizations and his work with tropical fish. I remember vividly a two-foot sized replica of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ that he had displayed on a shelf in a room filled with art work (most of it his own…he was an accomplished amateur painter as well).

The intensity of the Thinker figure, engaged in nothing more than the delicate art of contemplation, resonated with me as it defined the richness of what my Grandpa’s life aspired to be. On a level I was driven to imitate not necessarily in content (as I could already see that some of our interest differed) but in the greater energies of learning, self-betterment and a cultivated appreciation of personal but universal reference.

Despite this gift of knowing my Grandpa there was much that haunted me. I was a sickly child in that I suffered from asthma a condition that first struck me severely at the age of three. My experience in Pretoria’s Andrew McColm Hospital where I was isolated from my parents and placed in an oxygen tent was gut wrenching and even now they provide some glaring early images from my early childhood that I would sooner forget. However my illness, twisted as it was, allowed me to retreat into a life of scholastic pleasure. I missed much formal schooling in the earlier grades but was reborn into a world that extended beyond the curriculum into that of the aether of history where the larger than life figures of Napoleon, Caesar and Churchill and others loomed from above. It was a world of the outwardly improbable bought into existence by my own desire to seek and grow. A world that I could tame with my very own pace as I read, absorbed, re-read, investigated but above all else.... imagined.
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