From Dr. Wayne Baker: Welcome back guest columnist Terry Gallagher. Thanks to all the readers who read—and shared with friends—Terry’s series last week on “Losing My Religion”. Here is Terry’s first column in a new series on “Second Acts in American Life” …
“There aRE no second acts in American lives,” according to F. Scott Fitzgerald in one of the most quoted lines in the whole of American literature.
No matter what Fitzgerald might have actually meant by the line (we’ll get to that by Friday), it’s often recited to mean that America is unforgiving, dog eat dog, make one mistake and you’re off the rails for good.
We know that isn’t true—certainly not in our political life. Bill Clinton had more than one chance. Lincoln became president after failing to win a Senate seat from Illinois. And the unfortunately named Anthony Weiner was leading the polls in New York City mayor’s race until his second act ended as the first one did.
But it really is true in some other ways, isn’t it? In one sign of the sentence’s enduring power, the great HBO drama, The Wire, shows a group of inmates working their way through Fitzgerald in a prison book club.
“He’s saying that the past is always with us,” according to drug dealer D’Angelo Barksdale. “Where we come from, what we go through, how we go through it—all that . . . . matters. . . . You can say you’re somebody new. You can give yourself a whole new story. But what came first is who you really are, and what happened before is what really happened.”
So which is it?
Do we get a second act?
Or is what came first who you really are?
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