Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Count of Monte Cristo: Why I Write About Becoming Like Edmond Dantes

1997: A young farm kid named Travis gets a reading assignment from his English teacher: the class will be reading "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas. Despite the prescribed pace, I manage to complete reading the book in about half the time. My regulars at the local YMCA that I lifeguarded at smiled and shook their heads as I described how captivating the story was that weekend. My parents probably thought nothing of it, as I'd routinely stay up in my room or curled on the couch reading something (I come from a family of readers). If nothing else, reading this literary classic probably shaped my life more than anything else in high school.

Fast forward several years. During college I was able to find a battered copy during a beginning of term book sale. And read it voraciously. After graduating, that copy lived on the sailboat I called home, and was read regularly. When the advent of digital reading came and my wife bought me a Kindle, it was one of the first titles I found. On average, I'd say I've read the book about once every other year.

Why am I so obsessed with Edmond Dantes? When I draw my vision back to the 10,000 foot level, I think to myself, "He's the kind of person I find myself idealizing." Not so much in the area of vengeance (although obviously a significant part of the story) but more so in the area of roundedness. When presented the opportunity to learn every the Abbe Faria had to teach, Edmond grasped those things with desire. He poured himself into the task of creating a better self. And while his initial motivation was to avenge his circumstances, I don't believe this character is necessarily wrong. The first three chapters of Solomon's book of Proverbs appears to speak positively of the gain of wisdom:

"...making your ears attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding;..."

Analyzing my intrigue with Edmond Dantes made me realize the appeal of his character was in his multi-faceted nature. He was at ease in every situation he found himself in. All topics were not just fair game, but areas of expertise for this man of mystery. Truly, he was the original man of mystery. 

I'd like to say my fascination with becoming like Edmond isn't hubris. I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't almost equally obsessed with James Bond (Daniel Craig's version of course, and probably Roger Moore a close second.) But I think it's a not unworthy goal to be comfortable in as many situations as possible, to be able to adapt to the environment you find yourself in. And may through the study of numerous and varied topics to become better able to think critically, to frame arguments, and to find solutions to complex problems. Wicked problems, as my war college professor described them.

So I decided to set off on a personal quest, to spend my life in the pursuit of an ever-expanding body of knowledge and skills, to become the most rounded person I am capable of. A Renaissance man. Probably not "The Most Interesting Man in the World." But close.

As a Christian, this is a difficult topic. Humility would appear to contrast this pursuit. So to some extent, this quest is a challenge in successfully combining the two desires of my life: to know God, and to become the most capable man I can be. With that perspective, "I Am Edmond Dantes" seeks to be a vehicle to:

1) Record life lessons learned
2) Describe the results of my efforts (and maybe have some accountability to achieving results)
3) Process the challenge of combining spiritual thinking with lifestyle design
4) Communicate those things to others

So there's a manifesto for you. Cheers to the journey ahead. 

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