Family dinners in my clan are epic affairs, not just because my father and brother are extremely talented and prodigious chefs, but also because our free-flowing and verbose discussions have us at the table for hours. Currently restricted to the familial confines, we are not subjecting waitstaff and fellow diners to the often-animated and usually polite discourse that has characterized our meals for as long as my memory stretches. As with many broods in the COVID era, we are spending a lot of time revisiting our past and planning for the future, the present being an overwhelming stasis. Commensurately, there has been much contemplation of the paths taken and avoided, the choices that have come to define our lives.
Indoctrinated into the mélange of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Golden Rule has been the foundational principle of our family. My father drummed its dictates into our head from a young age, along with an admonition not to drink and drive, a temporary source of confusion for children who wondered why he was hypocritically sipping Pepsi while at the wheel. I still question that decision when he could have been chugging the ambrosia that is Coca-Cola, but now I digress.
As I raise Violet, Pops’ maxim has been supplemented with my own views of how to best approach the journey of Earthly existence. Certainly, treating others with care and compassion, as we would wish to be treated, is critical. Also, I am a geography major, a trails person, a graduate of Frost’s alma mater, and consequently conceive of one’s life as a series of crossroads, a metaphorical and sometimes literal trek that must be navigated.
Cartographically and topographically inclined, I frequently counsel my daughter and my friends and my clients thusly: “Always Take The High Road.” In our interpersonal interactions, in our educational progressions, in our career development, we face a myriad of choices. It would be easy to stoop to the pettiness of a rude customer or client, to get caught in the vortex of lies, taunts, and other frustrations emblematic of the morally deficient. There are shortcuts on offer in life that are functionally invisible; nobody would have to know. But we know the steps that we tread, will have the blotch on our psyches that comes from dealing a low blow, from taking the easy way out.
Instead, it is best to buck up, to swallow the insult without digesting it, to convince the dean to let you take that impossible class because you want the challenge, to congratulate your coworker on her promotion even though you know you deserved it. To be transparent: this advice is not for those whose mark of excellence is based on net worth or status. The high road may take you farther from your supposed friends, may cause you to get a worse grade, will almost certainly result in a considerable amount of money left on the table. Those are ephemeral outcomes and thus irrelevant; the sanctity of your soul is eternal.
Having followed this advice myself, or at least hewed to it as best as a flawed human can do, I intuitively understand the repeated effort that it takes to always tread the high road. Deprived of oxygen and energy, it is a definite struggle to stay the elevated course. Sometimes, I am plumb exhausted, briefly wishing that I would succumb to the siren song of gravity, rather than fighting its inevitable pull.
As a masochist, I am predisposed to enjoy these labors, even as my feet blister and my heart races. As an aesthete, the view from the high ground is spectacular.