The other day while cleaning out an old desk, I found an essay I had written as a senior in High School, over thirty years ago. The essay was written in application for a two week intense experience at a university. As I read back through the essay I recognize a naïve, perhaps innocent, regard for the future. The interpretation presents a familiar black and white world that humans leave as they gain experience and begin to recognize the shades between. The essay was about the novel Jonathon Livingston Seagull and Jonathon’s life. Written by Richard Bach, the story set a standard for me, one that I now recognize parallels other, older human stories. In my years as a librarian I rarely come across, Jonathon Livingston Seagull, and perhaps the story is dated. Jonathon’s influence on young people may be at an end.
As I look back the novel continues to influence my approach to life. At 55 years old I recognize the limitations of the society we live in and appreciate the freedoms I continue to enjoy. Like Jonathon, I sometimes chose a lonely path, out of step with my contemporaries. The brief essay includes ideas I have considered and lived in the thirty years since it was written. Some days bring seemingly insurmountable odds and other days the way ahead appears to be clear. In the bad times I see Jonathon holding steady, his wings holding the dive, breaking his imposed limitations. There is a part of me that strives to push past the walls, to continue to childishly ask why, and to rebel against false limitations. As age has broadened my perspective to include the possibility of mediocrity I almost accept the limitations.
Jonathon’s story was written to encourage all people struggling to find the way, not just for me. The gull that was outcast overcame adversity, learned of a higher calling, and returned to the flocks to help them find a way forward. Jon forgave those who had wronged him and offered opportunity for them to reach beyond the walls of their society, to experience a path toward perfection. These ideas reflect in the many books I have read since. I include the essay here to provide perspective:
Essay from 1978
The novel, Jonathon Livingston Seagull, has been a great influence on me. The book tells of a seagull who fails to understand or conform to the limits that his fellow seagulls seem compelled to follow. Jon is banished from his gull society because he does not adhere to the limits practiced by the other gulls. After Jon has overcome all the limits in his world he goes to a “heaven” where he meets a wiser, older gull. This gull teaches that heaven is not a time or place, but perfection. Jon finally reaches a kind of perfection, but contrary to his expectations that perfection was the ultimate “limit” he finds that even perfection is limitless. If someone were to tell me now that I may never attain the goals I have set for myself, I would simply tell them they were wrong. True, any goal I set for myself is a limit, but goals are made to be exceeded. In our society limits are placed on us in whatever we do. Some of the limits are good, but others break down the process with which we could attain “perfection”. I am not saying that we have the ability to become perfect, but I think we can become better. Limits are only in the mind. I admit, of course, that there are physical endurance limits, but even these have often been overcome against heavy odds. Anyone who sets a goal for himself may fall short of his potential because just before the goal is reached he is satisfied and stops trying. I think that once one is satisfied with second best, he thinks first is out of reach, and then he is setting himself a limit. Jon not only was unlimited in his sense of self, but he also broke the bonds of his dislike for his society. Out of Love for his fellow gulls he returns and teaches the limitlessness of Love and Understanding of perfection.
This book reinforces many philosophies of man. It points out that Love and Understanding are all that is left in the end. In the future I hope I will be able to uphold this philosophy. As my life continues I want to help people overcome their conditions. Basically, everything is good, and evil only comes about when limits are placed on one’s ability to Love and Understand. Take away these limits and people can almost achieve perfection.
End of Essay from 1978
I smiled as I retyped this brief view into my naïve past. There are so many branched paths in a human’s life, so many possibilities to alter where each of us end up, and there is the final reality. The brightness of youth is invigorating. Is it for this reason that we constantly remake the world in the United States, the World? That youth is the exuberance that remakes reality in each generation? As an academic librarian I see these changes occur, sometimes slowly and at other times with the speed of light. I read my students' essays and reflections and smile at the “either-or” conceptualizations and then the beginning of the shades between. Society still has influence; you only need to read the old essay to see that Love & Understanding were key concepts thirty years ago.
Jonathon offered hope over thirty years ago and the message is a hopeful one today. The timelessness of a gull’s life has changed little while humans believe they have changed immensely. Can humanity hold their wingtips steady to push past the limitations of time, history, and belief?