Gutterblood

I am tempted to say my heritage is trash. I am the product of a long line of poor pioneers and low men. I do not come from noble stock. My ancestors did no great deeds. They did not build civilization in any noteworthy way; they farmed and mined and stole horses and owned slaves. They were the worker ants, and so I am a worker ant. I cannot expect any great deeds from myself, because I lack the blood for it.

This seems to swim upstream against the popular American current of belief: that anyone is capable of anything with the right amount of individual willpower. I do not know whether that is the truth or not, but I do know that my will itself is shaped by the wills of those who went before me. Their weaknesses have been the seeds for my weakness, their lowness for my lowness.

But, I dwell upon this just to avoid responsibility. It is too easy to ignore all of the hardworking and godfearing among them. As they were, I ought to be–and more so, to strengthen the line. But their hard work was born out of necessity. Until these most recent generations, none of them have been in such a position of complete comfort. Through the luck and hard work of many generations, their latest fruit is in me: a tired boy for whom everything has been provided. The youngest and as of now last of many thousands of Joneses does not have to tame the land the way that they did. He does not have to go off to work at ten years of age to provide for his family. He can just sit at the end of the conveyor belt with his mouth open.

For me, working is a choice, and the choice to work becomes part of the work itself. Their challenge was to find a way to live amidst so much hardship. My challenge is to find a way to live amidst so much ease. I, like so many of my generation, have the pampered life of a king, with none of his responsibility.

The suburbs weren’t built to raise up kings. They were built to be safe and clean and nice, to raise up more independent American citizens, perfectly individual and perfectly free to do whatever they wished to the extent of their ability, so long as it did not harm others. But the creeping problem, the tendrils of which we have become ensnared, is that not everyone has great ability, or will, or vision, or passion, or whatever spark it takes to stand at the head of the armies of art, to build up the church or the empire or whatever needs building or saving or reforming. Everyone is suppose to be equal, but nobody is.

It is hard for me, as an American with a passing knowledge of history and an interest in the arts, to accept that I am capable of very little.

Which is why we need others, of course. We need to find the Great Men so that we can serve their vision, to sing in harmony, to build something greater than any one man together. The problem is that I can’t find any such men to latch onto. All of their visions are feeble. Their desires seem just as desiccated as my own. The problem with equality in this country is that it means I can’t find anyone else who seems noble enough to serve under.

I am exaggerating, of course. Very often, I meet people more skilled than me at everything; more powerful, more beautiful. But none of them care to lead. And the ones who do lead or wish to lead seem generally ugly and pathetic. And it is not  their own fault! They are simply betrayed by the office they have taken upon themselves, for the office always has greater aesthetic demands than they are able to fulfill. I suppose this is why we have hagiography. But in the real world, the wisdom of the rulers always runs out, and when it does, it is a messy affair. It is easy as a private individual to criticize public figures for their failings, but how would you fare under the spotlight? Every twist and wrinkle in your life would be revealed under the careful scrutiny of society, and your failures would confirm their suspicion of inevitable equality: that no one can be perfect, that no one can be noble.

But I reject that. They are simply picking at the fatal flaws of any given hero. We live in a country that gnaws at the need for heroes, needing them but not wanting to need them, craving them but trying to suppress them at the same time. Greatness in a man naturally grows in the midst of oppression and conflict, so the only real way to suppress it is to remove conflict altogether. Destroy all of these potential great young men and women with indulgence, with virtually infinite food and knowledge and entertainment. But this is an obvious lie, for anguish and sin and death still persist. We have merely been overcome by illusions of security. And so I still believe men of natural valor exist and are needed.

It hurts to admit that I am not one of them. Perhaps you need to accept that as well. Or, perhaps you are one of those who do have the capacity. You deserve your higher learning, and as a free and powerful man, you will put it to good use, to fight on behalf of the kingdoms.

As for me, I may not come from Great Men, but I do come from good men. So perhaps I cannot be great, but I can be good. I can serve faithfully. I can be kind to those around me. It is just painful to have a vision of a powerful nobility that I will never attain. And it is very humbling to have to grub around with the seemingly menial tasks ever tied to loving God and loving my neighbor. I grumble far too much about it, but I should be thankful. Some men will only ever be princes in this life, whereas I will only be a prince in eternity. Very few get to be both, but it is the latter that counts most. And so perhaps it is for the best that I will never ascend higher and exert my will over other men on this world. It is a weak will, after all.

But I will leave you with this thought: let us suppose both you and I are destined to be low folk in this life. We will never build our own castles. We will never overcome the warm, fuzzy shackles of mediocrity. We will never be higher than we are. But perhaps we can go deeper. Perhaps we can still question the mores of the city of men, and challenge the high places in our hearts or on the mountain tops. Perhaps we can explore the strange corners, and maybe even become a little strange ourselves. That would be fun, wouldn’t it?

What is your capacity? What is the office you have inherited?

Michael Thomas Jones

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