In the first semester of my sophomore year at SJU, I came face to face with a certain quote that both excites and terrifies me to the core.
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
On the surface this is an inspiring bit of writing. Anyone can appreciate the way the words jump at you, and the connections some feel with these types of people. Its meaning however is more than just surface deep. This quote creates two completely different types of people, and the question is, which one are you?
This quote derives from the mind of Jack Kerouac, he wrote it onto a scroll which eventually became his most famous novel “On the Road.” It falls in the beginning of the novel but is an accurate prelude to the beat writer’s fast times with all sorts of drugs, traveling, drunkenness , and the men and women who were known as “the mad ones.”
Jack Kerouac hails from a generation of writers known as the Beats. In addition to writing desperate poetry the Beats were always ready and actively searching for some crazy exploit, jazz, shooting guns at bottles (sounds less crazy when I write it, also don’t ever do that), anything that involves traveling, excitement, adrenaline and squeezing the life out of life until there’s nothing left.
Most things that happened in that novel you can’t even do in this day and age, For example: I can’t move to Hawaii and get a minimum wage job and live out of a van just because… Well actually Chris Pratt did that for a while, but whoa, I digressed a lot.
The only other place I have seen this quote was printed on the inside of the Frank Turner album “Poetry of the Deed.” A little background before we continue, Frank Turner is a British singer/songwriter who is an enormous success across the pond and is slowly making his way into American pop music one tour at a time. If anyone knows Turner’s music you know his most important message is “Be what you dream and then take to the Road.”
When Frank’s own lyrics are put beside a Kerouac quote you think Frank is obviously making a connection to what Kerouac meant when he wrote it, but he’s not, and if he is, he shouldn’t be.
Despite some (admittedly fantastic) literary pieces, the Beat generation was hell bent on not contributing to society and living their lives like they knew they were going to die at the age of 30. To be clear this was not a “Tonight let’s get some and live while we’re young” type deal. This was an active rejection of any system that had anything that resembled personal responsibility or work. It’s the life of non-stop sin and laziness, and although this is not the worst thing at a certain portion of your life; ultimately it’s meaningless and shallow in the grand scheme of things. Kerouac himself realizes this in the novel and ultimately leaves that life behind, but not before he came away with enough stories to last a lifetime. Though this is not how you can spend your whole life, on a case by case basis some of what the Beats did was pretty incredible.
Turner meant something else. His “Road” is constantly working towards the person you want to become, through your passion. Your passion is what you fall in love with. It defines how you spend your time, who your friends are, what books you read and how you spend your weekends. Therefore, to Turner burning means living our lives to our greatest potential (cliché I know). Being mad and burning does not have to necessarily equate to what the Beats meant it to mean. Instead, we all could spend every second digging deep into our passion, creating beautiful things, and making the world a better place than we left it.
Now bear with me… ready for this? Ok. This sounds like something the Jesuits might say… right? (Incoming freshmen just say yes). After all, it was St. Ignatius (founder of the Jesuits, incoming freshmen) who said, “Go forth and set the world on fire.” It’s not just an option, it’s our responsibility to burn in this sense and always continue on our own personal “Roads.”
Like Kerouac, the only people for the Jesuits are the mad ones. According to the Society of Jesus, the greatest glory to God is the human being fully alive, and the greatest sin against the Holy Spirit is being a boring person. Living a life as a Catholic or just a student at Saint Joseph’s no matter what you identify as, means you should be desirous of all of life’s true fulfilling glories at once. We should never settle and should never want to say or do a commonplace thing and we could be “fabulous yellow Roman candles” because hey, we already have the Roman part. This list of notable alums of Jesuit institutions speaks for itself; we are called to do extraordinary things.
So now comes the question, which way would you like to burn? Would you like to experience all the surface level sensations and experiences or take yourself higher and achieve great things?
It really is your choice but, why not both?
Go party until it hurts and study until it hurts. Once we step onto this campus we are instantly indoctrinated with this by way of “Work hard, play hard” the battle cry of the red shirts, Although it may seem like something they just say, it is so insanely accurate in describing life at this school it’s not even funny.
As college students, and particularly as students of this university, we are all standing between our safe past and our scary but bright futures. So experience it all. Know that if you would like your two candles will always be lit. Go to all of those parties that don’t exist at locations that don’t appear on any map, then go and run a fundraiser for the club you just joined the next day. Take six classes then go to Opake to swim twenty laps in the pool and have enough time afterwards to play at an open mic night. Study until 2am for that midterm on Friday, destroy it, go do weekly service, then come back and spend the whole night out with your friends, a night that can only end with 3am Larry’s. Apply for leadership roles, get a job, push yourself, and never stop finding what it is you are in love with.
If what you do as Saint Joseph’s is similar to this, congratulations because that is the very essence of
These are experiences and relationships that are so precious and this is your time to let them thrive.
Go forth and let your “fabulous yellow roman candle” set the world on fire.