Yossarian desperately screams to Aarfy mid-flight commands, hell bent on survival. Yet,
every response is the unwavering and infuriating “What? I can’t hear you.” A peculiar
experience occurs every time I pore over the words of those moments. The Yossarian shouting
for sacred life transforms, morphing into a familiar someone, me. Every word, every emotion,
every thought is mine. I am the one screaming at Aarfy to listen to me, pleading, groveling,
begging for sanctuary amidst the veritable storm of a plane careening to a fiery death. I am the
one plunging to imminent obliteration, wishing only for someone to listen, to simply
acknowledge my voice. I’ve never been in a plane, but that feeling, that horrendous, indignant
anger is identical. No other event, save for one, has ever mirrored that feeling so closely, and I
abhor that feeling.
In the novel Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, a story following WWII Air Force pilots
stationed near Italy, Yossarian, the protagonist, is determined to stay alive.
The pivotal character
of Yossarian deeply influenced my life’s attitude. In particular, the aforementioned interactions
with Aarfy, a plane crewmate who pretends that he can’t hear Yossarian during life-threatening
Yossarian and I possess some vast differences, most notably that I’m not as cavalier with
women (nor as successful), and I’m definitely not a pilot in the army. I also don’t have a
deceased comrade’s lover stalking me with intent to kill. However, Yossarian’s repeated airplane
plights with Aarfy struck a chord so deep within it resonated through every crevice in my body,
empathy so primal I nearly crushed the book in my fingers. This empathy stems from a pivotal
moment during my sophomore year.
“Why won’t you listen to me?!” I shrieked, slamming my fists into the table. Heat
emanated off my cheeks, and I panted heavily through clenched teeth. Furrows riddled my
forehead, and I frantically shifted my eyes back and forth at my peers. They stared at me coldly,
some with hanging jaws, but all with bewildered faces. Slowly, my fists unclenched themselves,
and I slinked back into my chair, head hanging in quiet solitude. Class resumed awkwardly, and
the game continued on, as if I had never screamed. “Next time, they’ll listen,” I muttered under
my breath, and my eyes flicked back up to the teacher.
The aforementioned English class outburst stands out in my mind as my first realization
of my abhorrence towards ignorance. The occasion was a simple game, a basic class-building
exercise for a little extra credit. As fate would have it, I played this exact game a year previous.
Consequently, I knew the rules and I knew the winning strategy. Unfortunately, no one seemed
to care, and slowly as they ignored my comments and suggestions I grew more and more irritated,
more and more disillusioned with those around me, eventually culminating in my overemotional
outburst. That moment reflected that same anger I experienced when reading through
Yossarian’s situations with Aarfy.
It was through the parallels between my experiences and Yossarian’s that I looked to his
actions to guide my own. At the end of the novel, his commanding officers, due to the trouble
Yossarian has caused them with his rebellious attitude, offered him indefinite leave in exchange
for embracing them as friends and upholding what he regards as twisted ideals. He vehemently
rejects it, deserting the tangled heap of bureaucratic idiocy and flees to tie up his own affairs.
Yossarian’s embrace of free will triggered an epiphany, that I, and only I, can make my voice
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