I remember seeing a towering statue when I was traveling through Italy as a young boy. The marble man’s face looked so determined, forehead wrinkled from strain, and his eyes set upon some faraway place. I thought the giant globe perched between his powerful back and open hands would fall at any moment. I couldn’t understand why he had been given such a hard job. A younger me just wanted him to let it roll down before he collapsed. Why couldn’t Atlas just put the world down?
I sit here hunched over a computer screen painting fluorescent light on my face with my shoulders bowed by weight and wishing it would roll off. This seems like such a frail activity, to look at it from the outside, because I’m not hunting food for my family. I’m not building a home with my bare hands. I’m just writing words. Poorly, I might add, while I, too, carry my own world as the sole provider for my family now.
I’ve rewritten this forty times and I need a compass. Do you have one? I wish you could help me hack through the brush. My imagination’s dense forest has become overgrown and I haven’t left my chair in hours. You could be so helpful to me in my journey. Won’t you tell me where to go? We used to have a set path toward mediocrity and success but that cultural conveyor belt has broken down. Is my responsibility to carry a universe of life like Atlas? I certainly don’t feel as strong as a titan.
These are the moments when I would ask my absent father for his word on the matter. He always had great wisdom to share, though he rarely employed any of it to himself. He could barely carry himself. Instead, I invent the answers for myself. I answer my own unending questions. I soothe myself. I probably look like a homeless person in the process, but half the fun of life is weirding people out.
The myth of an persistent Atlas is a message for fathers. I just know it. He is a titan carrying an entire planet and the cosmos, yet he holds steady even in the face of failure. I look at him now as a man with a purpose and not a slave to a job he was forced into. He understood himself and his objective in spite of the chaos around him. Because he was carrying someone else.
To become Atlas I have begun looking at how much I’ve already carried. Maybe that will help. As Rumi puts it, “You are what you are seeking.” I’ve carried death and I’ve carried love. I’ve carried my abuse and I’ve carried my name. I’ve carried victories and I’ve carried the blame.
I’ll carry a world, my sons. I’ll carry a world for you.