Never Give Up On Life!
What do you think of your fellow humans?
Perhaps we should begin with the quote itself; that way you might have some idea what the heck I’m talking about. From Tennyson’s “Ulysses”….
“….that which we are, we are, one equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Now that you have your reference point shall we begin?
THE SUMMER OF 1968
I was a junior at Seattle University when I first read “Ulysses.” I had never read any of Tennyson’s works until that day and in truth I have read few since; however, there was something about that poem and in particular the last stanza that resonated with me then, so much so that I memorized it and still remember it to this day.
At the time that I was reading it the world was an unsettled place. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing with riots seeming to occur daily. If the riots were not centered on Civil Rights then they certainly were about Vietnam as human beings rose up to speak out about what they perceived to be injustice around the world. By the time I read that poem Martin Luther King had been assassinated, Robert Kennedy had been assassinated, the Chicago Democratic Convention had turned bloody and the Soviet Union was flexing its muscles in Eastern Europe with thousands dying in the process.
I have not a clue what Tennyson’s intentions were when he wrote “Ulysses.” I never met the man so I’ll forever be ignorant as to his intentions. I, on the other hand, looked at his words as an anthem dedicated to mankind and to that unique quality of man that makes us continue to struggle forward despite seemingly insurmountable odds.
Little did I know that my father would be dead in a few short months and those special lines would take on a whole new meaning for me.
A LOOK AT HISTORY
I have always been a history buff. I never did very well in history classes because studying was not something I cared for nor was sitting in lectures listening to a teacher with the charisma of dried toast. Still, I love history and in particular moments in history when man faced incredible odds and yet moved forward into the teeth of that challenge.
Stories from the Civil War fascinated me. I visited Gettysburg once and stood looking out over the field where Pickett’s Charge took place and I was in awe of the courage it must have taken to march into that barrage of gun and cannon fire knowing the odds were great that they would die shortly. Time after time at Fredericksburg Union soldiers approached Marye’s Heights only to be mowed down by merciless fire and yet each time the order was given new rows would form and advance on the hillside. It was hopeless insanity on the part of the commanding officers but to the men it was their duty and repeatedly they fulfilled their duty. What is it about mankind that we can face certain destruction and yet keep on course?
Stories from the Oregon Trail were always favorites of mine. Men and women walking (yes, walking) close to 2,000 miles through some of the most inhospitable weather and land this country has to offer just for the chance at a better life. Cholera decimated many a family, hunger and exhaustion were their constant companions and still they took each agonizing step westward for what they believed to be the Promised Land. Giving up was not an option; perseverance was their only weapon against despair.
I have no doubt that each of you can think of many instances in history that Tennyson’s poem can be applied to but for now let’s take a look at the present day.
DO WE STILL HAVE THE RIGHT STUFF?
Oh, I think we do! Would you like an example of bravery under fire? How about the firefighters who ran INTO THE FIRE during 9/11? It is practically impossible to pick up a newspaper without finding a story about heroism in today’s world. Despite the horrendous nature of tragedies near and far there are always those who risk it all to help others.
Take a quick virtual tour of the world and see what stories you can find. Stop in Uganda for a moment and think about this: hundreds of thousands are being slaughtered in that nation and yet each day villagers get up, feed their children and try to carve out a little slice of life for their families, living in constant fear and yet going about the business of living. Hope does not spring eternal in that country but still humans move forward, doing anything necessary to plow ahead.
Shall we talk about poverty in our world, poverty so bad that most of us in industrialized nations cannot conceive of it? The pictures we see of distended bellies, of eyes staring off into the darkness of existence, it is all beyond our comprehension. How can they go on each day? How do they manage to stay sane let alone alive? But they do, and then do again, holding onto a flicker of hope so dim as to seem hardly worth the effort.
I have personally known men and women so ravaged by the effects of drugs and alcohol that they are on borrowed time each day of their lives, paying the price day in and day out for a disease that controlled them for decades. Once sober or drug-free but still suffering from body shut-down they will smile and tell you that life is good. How is that possible you ask? Perhaps Tennyson understood best of all.
Or how about the single parents out there who struggle daily to make a good home for their children? These are the everyday people who do nothing more than breathe love for their children and do everything in their power to provide a good home. The bills keep piling up, the support system is limited and sometimes weak, the job is grueling and yet each day they get up determined to make a better life for their family. Can you say dedication? Can you say determination? Can you say….human?
KICKIN’ AND SCREAMIN’
We come into this life kickin’and screamin’ and most of us go out exactly the same way. Our hold on life may be slipping from our grasp but whatever we have left to hold onto we grip with a fierceness that is superhuman. Is it fear of death that makes it so? Do cancer patients doomed to a few remaining days fight to their last breath because they fear the Great Beyond or because they do not want to let go of this precious gift they have been given?
When I was holding my father as he died from a heart attack the grip he had on my hand was fierce. The pain was twisting his face into an ugly, wretched mask. He had to know he was dying but he was holding on with every ounce of strength left in him because that’s what we humans do. We do not let go until the choice is taken away from us.
“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” No truer words have ever been written in describing the very nature of mankind. We are a race of survivors and we cling to the specialness of life with a singular purpose. It is a wonder to behold and it truly is something to be proud of as a member of this race.
We have our faults. There can be no debate about that point. As a species we have performed unspeakable acts upon our fellow men and women and at times our pettiness is beyond comprehension. It would be easy to condemn our race as pitiful and merciless, incapable of greatness because of our egos and limited scope of the larger picture. I think that would be short-changing us. We have our dark side and we have a long journey ahead of us to reach our potential. Still, we are strivers. Still, we are seekers. Still we are discoverers. Still we do not give up!
2012 Bill Holland (aka billybuc)