Introductory Reflective Essay

Joseph D’Ambola

It is all well and good to have a philosophy in life, a creed. But be weary that it works on the dreary Monday as well as the sunny Saturday. For it is on the days when living well is the hardest that we find out what we really live for.”

While in high school, I spent a summer in the Dominican Republic. We stayed in an old village; ten of us in a one room shack with a makeshift toilet and no shower. It was here where I met Montoya — an unassuming man, short, and round in the middle, with a thick mustache and dark skin. He was the head of the village’s church and had been for twenty years. Because he was older than the other men, and radiated authoritative wisdom, I was naturally drawn to his company. As we dug trenches and trekked through the forests of Santiago, he peppered the days with adages and anecdotes to keep our minds on things beyond the mundaneness of our daily chores. One afternoon, as we took shelter from the sun’s endless bombardment against our efforts to lay the foundation of a house, we found ourselves huddled under the branches of a mango tree, once again clinging desperately to Montoya’s words while he filled our heads with stories of great men doing horrible things, and meek men doing grand things. It was in this bout of his wisdom that he said something that would grip me from thence onward — “It is all well and good to have a philosophy in life, a creed. But be weary that it works on the dreary Monday as well as the sunny Saturday. For it is on the days when living well is the hardest that we find out what we really believe.” Therein lies the pulse of my portfolio. Even in the mundaneness of everyday life, Philosophy is needed, but also extremely revealing about what someone really holds as truth.

The beauty of writing, if the writing is honest, is that the soul can speak freely without the hinderance of the tongue. Montoya’s words are so branded on my heart, that when I write, his wisdom bleeds out through my pen. Looking back on the essays in the portfolio, this theme of finding philosophy in the everyday is blatant. In my first essay “Trying to Remember a Dream,” through analysis of the rhetoric and literary devices of Jhumpa Lahiri, the focus is on the philosophy of Jhumpa’s father, portrayed as a fiction narrator in the story. Lahiri uses the story of his journey to America from Calcutta and then his everyday life in America as he tries to survive and provide for his family to show his ideology and philosophy. In my essay, however, I attempt to highlight what she is trying to say, though remaining in the confines of literary analysis.

In the next essay, “‘Sein’ed, Sealed, Delivered”, I analyze a scene from the episode “The Soup Nazi” for its cultural significance and how it shows the importance of the show as a whole. The beautiful thing about Seinfeld is that it is a show about nothing, but not just any kind of nothing — it is the kind of nothing that everyone in America experiences every day. It is people reading, eating, and talking about anything and everything that comes to their mind. They discuss family, relationships, friendships, and careers in a way that anyone who is familiar with the world at all can sympathize with. But in this commonality, the nature of things is seen everywhere. They offer explanation as to how people view different cultures and people groups; they offer opinions about things that everyone thinks of. The show in itself is one big philosophy lesson, but it can be received by everyone, because it deals with things everyone deals with. This is why this topic is so important to me — Philosophy, examining life, loving knowledge is a necessary thing for happiness, and if it can be made more accessible by allegorically infusing it in what everyone knows and understands, than that is essential.

The Wildcard project is the most direct exemplar of the aim of the portfolio. Entitled, “American Religion,” it is comprised of ten annotations of works from the New Yorker that all share a similar thread. The thread is the political side of philosophy — analyzing why politicians do what they do everyday through a “religious” lens. I chose to write on this idea because it is what politicians decide to do that determines how we are to do our day to day lives. Therefore, what they believe, that dictates their action, is of the utmost importance The first two articles was extremely poignant, dealing exclusively with the philosophy of western politics and giving a firm stance on the nonreligious aspect of politics. I began with these pieces because it’s important to know how we have gotten to where we are currently, so that we may then more clearly see why and how things are done now. From here, I was led to four more articles that gave me a greater understanding of different players in both the religious (Christian) and secular aspects of politics, and also how faith can be expressed in politics. The next few were dealing with the intricacies of the separation of church and state, and the different arguments involved in that discussion.

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