We who have breath
Published 8:47 am Wednesday, January 14, 2009
We live but one lifetime. We can neither resurrect the dead nor capture the future. All of the past has been passed to us, and we are custodians of such institutions the previous generations deemed worthy. They are now ours, for they belong to the living, and only to the living.
No armies come forth at Charlemagne’s command and Shakespeare’s pen lies dormant. Socrates drank the hemlock and Tolstoy lies entombed. Newton’s inventions have been invented and Caesar has ceased. Milton and Pascal are but dust.
But not us. Not yet. We live in the land of the living. We inhale and exhale life. In our existence is embedded the responsibility to carry on and add to those things we consider noble and good and beautiful. Those things we deem worthwhile. That which is true.
The chorus of voices from the past call out to us as to what is the essence of life. As to what is valuable. As to what is good. Perhaps their demise validates their cries, for self-interest is no longer their god. They have nothing to gain save the welfare of future generations, the direction of humanity.
And so it comes to us, this mass of values and habits and cultural creations. This collection of human achievements, accumulated through millennia by thinkers and doers and dreamers. By doctors and farmers and writers and readers. By biologists and botanists and plumbers and pilots. By the cabinet maker and the homemaker, the ponderer and the poet. This banquet now sits before us, beckoning our participation.
Of what will we partake? What endeavors will we consider worthy of our efforts? What vision will fuel our passions and what ideas demand our most valiant efforts? In what arena will we stand though encompassed by the mouths of a thousand lions?
And what will we add to what has been brought to us? We stand at the forefront of the human historical narrative. As we move forward, we step on virgin soil. As a people, we decide the nature of the footprint.
T.S. Eliot, in describing culture, said “…it is what justifies other peoples and other generations in saying, when they contemplate the remains and the influence of an extinct civilization, that it was worthwhile for that civilization to have existed.”
May it be so with us. Across the meadows and the forests, in the cities and the suburbs. About us, who now have breath, may it be said “…it was worthwhile for that civilization to have existed.”