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The Beginning in the End

Whenever significant experiences begin to end,

the natural human tendency is to turn around and
look back upon the journey—rejoicing the good
memories and mulling over the mistakes along the
way. Early on in freshman English, we learned that
Odysseus’ final return home to Ithaca is not the main
“purpose” of the Odyssey; his long and arduous
voyage home and how it shaped his character is the
key focus (after all, Odysseus’ travels do take up a
significant percentage of the text). As my time here
at Punahou draws to a close, the memories—both the
good and the bad—that have arisen in the past few
weeks have led me to believe that the “journey”—
not the destination—is a key element of not only a
solid education, but of life as a whole.
Many of the stories, poems, and texts we have
read in World Literature either directly refer or allude
to a sort of “path” every being travels along
throughout their life. One of the main concepts in
Buddhism is the Eightfold Path. In the Eightfold Path,
Buddha outlines the principles one must practice in
order to attain enlightenment. The fact that not only
must one learn these values, but also practice them,
in order to garner true wisdom shows to me that the
element of “experience” is a key element in attaining
enlightenment—or whatever it is that one seeks.
Another concept in Buddhist philosophy is a part
of Buddha’s Four Noble Truths—that life is dukkha,
or, loosely speaking, “suffering”. Suffering comes in
many forms: physical pain, sadness, fear,
disappointment, frustration, etc. By definition, the
presence of suffering implies that one is still
searching for a sense of satisfaction, a sense of
contentment. To me, this seemingly endless pursuit
for a sense of fulfillment is what drives and defines
our journeys through life. Since life is constant
dukkha, it stands to reason that we (may) never even
reach that desired sense of contentment. Without a
“destination” in sight, our lives must thus be infinite
journeys. Thus, with no ultimate destination possible,
the only reason to live for is the journey.

Not too long after our study of China and the

numerous philosophies that stem from there, a
speaker in chapel said something that reminded me
of the concept of journeys again. Unfortunately, I
have to admit that I do not always pay the best of
attention during chapel, so the details—such as the
name of the speaker and the exact words of the
following quote—escape me at the moment, so you’ll
have to forgive me. However, the quote went
something like this, “an audience does not attend a
concert simply to hear the last note”.
As a musician, this particular line struck a chord
with me (no pun intended). In many of the
ensembles I perform in, the conductor often
emphasizes the importance of rubato. Literally, the
term rubato means “stolen time;” to musicians,
however, rubato means a pushing and pulling of time
in order to add a sense of depth, expressivity, and
personality to the music. Time is never literally
“stolen”. Every moment of flourish or rubato in a
piece has meaning behind it—whether it be positive,
negative, sinister, or humorous—not a single
moment is pointless. Symphonies and operas would
not exist without all the notes in between the first
and the last. As the speaker in chapel stated, people
attend concerts for the experience of the opera or
musical, not to see whether the characters lived or
died. Just as “audience members don’t attend
concerts simply to hear the last note,” I believe that
the purpose of our education here at Punahou is not
to attain a high school diploma, or even to graduate
knowing how magnetic fields work, but to actually
shape and define who we are as people, just as
rubato and dynamics shape give life and character to
a piece of music.
As Gautama Buddha once said, “It is better to
travel well than to arrive.” Although I feel that I
haven’t necessarily traveled one hundred percent
“well” during my time here in high school, I realize
that my journey through life is just beginning. The
wisdom I have garnered this semester through these
readings in World Literature make me feel
determined to live every moment of the rest of my
journey to its fullest.