May 22, 2003

Things were better back then, they always say, the people who were around back then, and you’ve always been afraid to admit you believe them.

You hear these stories. Men coming over to the new world, getting a job doing something hot or dangerous or both, sending his meager checks back to his family, dreaming of bringing them over too, but not ‘till he can guarantee they won’t be coming over just to do the hot or dangerous stuff. And then he does. And maybe later he owns the place. And one of those kids that comes over, years later he takes another boat, but not back to the home country, to some foreign land to fight for the only somewhat less foreign land that he just left, and he does it with bravery, grit, and determination, concepts such as irony and adolescent cynicism shaken out of him by seasickness and later by mortar fire. Because anything less than steel nerves and blind faith would get him killed, his buddy killed, his unit killed. He makes it. He comes back, he has a kid. Years later, that kid has a kid, and years after that, that kid has you.

All you can do is read books about their time, the sooty-faced man in the hellish factory, his mud-drenched son crouched in a hole in distant Europe. The great men of their times, the Abe Lincolns, the Churchills, and the no less brave but certainly less renowned legions at their command, they knew what time it was. They knew right from wrong. Light from dark. And if there was ever a question, they’d go to a wise old man from an era where the clarity of good and evil was even crisper, and he’d point the way. They’d look down it, see it was perilous and rough, but they wouldn’t deliberate. They’d pack a knapsack, breathe in, breathe out, and start walking.

You know where your car is. Where your school is. Where your girlfriend is. The locations of all the things that are supposed to matter, you have a pretty good grasp of. But what you really want to know is where, over the years, where they hid the really important stuff. Where they hid Truth. Where they put Sincerity so you couldn’t find it. If Trust sank with the Titanic, if Loyalty was hidden under a canvas tarp in the tiny cargo hold on the Hindenberg. Why we let someone paint everything shades of grey while we were asleep. Why we let our grandparents die and take all the wisdom with them before we can take it all down and put it someplace safe.

You want to have somebody point the way but even then you’re not sure you’d follow the wrinkly, trembling finger off into the woods.

Posted by DC at May 22, 2003 02:14 AM

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