Saturday, May 29, 2004

"You know the only reason I don't think you're the world's most unreasonable cockeyed optimist is because I've met your father, don't you?"

--My wife Elisabeth to me a few minutes ago
Part 1

εἰ μέν κ᾽ αὖθι μένων Τρώων πόλιν ἀμφιμάχωμαι,
ὤλετο μέν μοι νόστος, ἀτὰρ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται·
εἰ δέ κεν οἴκαδ᾽ ἵκωμι φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
ὤλετό μοι κλέος ἐσθλόν, ἐπὶ δηρὸν δέ μοι αἰὼν
ἔσσεται, οὐδέ κέ μ᾽ ὦκα τέλος θανάτοιο κιχείη.

When I was young, I wanted to fight epic battles. I wanted to do deeds worthy of song and of tears, to spill my blood as an offering to...something. And that unknown "something" was the key. I wanted a cause for which I would gladly die.

Epic causes were hard to come by in my childhood. My life was my family, music practice and rehearsals, and schoolwork. None of them was an epic cause. I wanted nothing more than to escape, to go out into the world and find a cause worthy of my hand and heart and blood. But I couldn't leave, and there were no epic causes in my life.

So I found my epic causes in books. I buried myself in stories of people whose lives mattered, who didn't trouble themselves with the tiresome activities of my daily life, whose every action had an immediate and vital worth. No music practice and math homework for them. They wore bright armor and carried bright banners of gay and defiant hue, hurling themselves against the darkness until their life was gone, and even then they were undefeated. I wished I could be them.

Movies and computer games served the same function--I could escape into a world where things mattered and feel as though my life was somehow worthwhile, even if only vicariously. So I read and escaped...and there I wallowed.

For some reason my years at Hillsdale College were different. They certainly weren't epic, but they were worthwhile. There was at least an active quest for a cause in my time there--the classes were concerned with matters of vital import. I loved it. I even stopped reading fiction...or at least, when I did, it was no longer obsessive. I had a life for which I was more than willing to leave my vicarious lives.

I even found a cause--The Cause. I was going to devote my life to truth and love and light and hope. I was the Guardian of the Sacred Flame. I was an epic hero. My name would live in glory long after I was gone. I might bleed and die, but my sacrifice would give hope to those who remained, and they would be grateful. I would be a Knight for Humanity, an Emissary of the Light to those in darkness.

So I came to the school that trained such Emissaries, eager to be challenged and exhorted to Glory and Honour and Holiness. And there, I discovered instead that darkness reigns, and, though I had expected it, I found that I was too weak to overcome it. Instead of my Epic Cause, I found petty humans fighting amongst themselves for any cause but the true one. And there, in their midst, I lost my Cause.

Again I am bored. Again I am listless. Again I wish only to escape this endless plain of gray and find my country of colour and purpose and glory, to don my armor and drive against the enemy with my banner of gold and sing and laugh and weep and bleed and die.

So I read. And I wallow.