Saturday, June 04, 2016
ON VICTORY AND STRUGGLE
The motto of our high school was “palma non sine pulvere”: No victory without a struggle. Lofty, suggestive, possibly even inspiring, it was largely wasted in its representative role. For it was, in practice, a theoretical motto, since few, if any of the people who graced the classrooms knew any Latin, and even the English version languished in obscurity except when it was trotted out by valedictorians desperate to appear wise at graduation. I uttered it once, on the valedictorian stage, in brief reference to winners of the long jump, and future engineers who powered their way through Physics 30. After that, I never gave it another thought for 45 years. I could probably make more of it today, given my broader experience with both victory and struggle. But I do wonder if there might have been a motto that would have meant more to teen-agers. I was, as I recall, uncomfortable on that stage, not because of the obligation to speak, for the gift of the gab was early bestowed upon me. My discomfort related to the idea of victory and struggle, and the knowledge that, as a blind graduate in a sighted school, people thought of me as a symbol of that very motto. I didn’t want to be a symbol of victory and struggle. In fact, I didn’t want to be a symbol of anything. All I wanted was to be one of them—the people who, by virtue of their place in the sighted majority, were relieved of the burden of being a symbol of anything. I wanted to get a degree, and work, and get married—not because that would be a struggle for me, but because that was what I expected everyone to be able to do. Now, if I had achieved a reasonable distance in long jump, or persisted at any level beyond Physics 10, that would indeed have been a victory after unimaginable struggle! Then, just possibly, I might have made more of the motto.