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Why Not to Concentrate

February 6th, 2009 | Posted by pftq in Essays | #
   I was walking home from school one day.  It was a bright and sunny afternoon.  The birds were chirping; the air smelled crisp and clean.  And then I stubbed my toe.  It was a painful stub.  The agony of my tiny toe scrubbing against the abrasive concrete, the concentration of all that pain in such a tiny insignificant stub on my foot, was more than I could bear.  I never wore sandals again.

   Yet that moment sparked a curious interest in me.  It made me realize that concentration, such as the concentration of all that pain in my toe, was not a good thing.  When one is trapped in a cell, concentrated in a small space, he is not happy.  When one is told how and what to think, to concentrate and narrow his mind, he is not happy.  Even in politics, concentration is not a good thing; Americans don’t like concentration of power.  Concentration means communism, dictatorship - all the things we fought to eliminate in past wars.  Just the sound of the word “concentrate” brings negative connotation, like gulping down three glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice, only to find it’s freshly squeezed from “concentrate.”

   Just look at the world outside and anyone can see that concentration is not natural.  Life seeks to grow and develop; we do not shrink as we reach maturity.  The universe is expanding, not contracting; scientists believe it started with the Big Bang, when all matter that exist was focused into one small point, concentrated, and because of that it exploded.  Today, the Earth is home to millions of species, species which share a common ancestor but continue to branch off through processes like speciation.  It is a simple concept, to expand rather than to contract, to go out into the world rather than confine one’s self, yet so many fail to understand it.

   In Bless Me, Ultima, Antonio learns this the hard way.  Throughout the novel he restricts himself to two possible paths.  With his future, he sees only that set by his mother, to become a priest, and that set by his father, to become a free-roamer.  With his religion and culture, he sees only that of Christianity and that of the indigenous, the English speaking and the Spanish.  Antonio spends the entirety of the novel determined that only one of the two can be right, that only one can be his destiny, that the world resides in good and evil, black and white.  But then there’s Ultima.  Ultima sides with neither his father nor his mother, yet she is favored by both.  She works with magic, yet she also attends the Catholic Church.  Antonio sees her as a healer, yet she blesses him with a thunderous whirlwind.  What is Ultima? Ultima represents the gray in the story, the state of neither good nor evil, but something that just is.  Rather than confine his options, Antonio learns to accept both his parents’ views, to accept both Catholic and indigenous religions, to accept both the English and the Spanish.  In doing so, he doesn’t just leave himself with two options in his future, he opens a third: to become the writer.

   Sometimes, the world man constructs can be delusional.  We come up with phrases like guilty or innocent, “with us or against us,” atheist or fanatic - what happens to the middle ground? James Froude once said, “As we advance in life, we learn the limits of our abilities.” I disagree.  I disagree because by saying that, one sets a barrier in his mind, a cap on what he can become. Works like Bless Me, Ultima force us to realize that we do not need a cap, do not need to confine ourselves or our choices, and it is important to recognize that, to recognize it is only natural to open our minds and expand our views, because to restrict them otherwise is to limit ourselves and those around us, and that, by definition, is concentration.
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