Aeneas left the Beauty of Tyre in Carthage, against both the wishes of he and his men, in order to carry the mantle of Troy to far Lavinia; a decision that took the wherewithal of his ancestors, the Gods. Beowulf slew the enemies of his people and monsters unseen in Man’s mind and time. Jesus bore the cross, Buddha sacrificed princedom, and Moses kept the hearts of his people through life and death; through desert and slavery. We see our modern heroes battling the hardships of wilderness; Robinson Crusoe was based on a real man. Winston Churchill bore the troubled hearts of a besieged nation and defied the greatest evil the world has known. Martin Luther King Jr. carried on the defiance of institutionalized insanity of his namesake in great passion, flying bravely in the faces of men who wished him death.
These people showed acumen, determination, physical prowess, bravery, intelligence, wisdom, understanding of God and Enlightenment, the power of will, emotional levity, and pacifism. Odysseus was not sung about because of the men and beasts he slew! It was his wisdom, craftiness, and loyalty to his men and Penelope that we sing of today. So, with all this at our feet, do we act as swine before pearls? Or do we carry that mantle, and when war is made on the good and virtuous, defend it in peace and strength? When we have but only the greatest of ancestors, their good deeds not interred with them, we have to but only listen, remember, and tell in order to know how to be strong.
My great-grandmother grew up on a small farm in those limestone washes and gullies down in Cullman County. She was a child of the depression, and I’ll never forget her Christian strength, an almost piety in telling me of her experience of the Great Depression:
“Well, Ah’s a little guhl, nahn or tien, an’ what I remember most is we ate more turtle than usual.
I remember being a little hungry, an’ sometahms we couldn’t afford no flour one month or maybe
shoog’r. Naw, hehe, Ah guess the De-pression never really bothered us enny.”
I could see the poor girl and young woman (married at fourteen, my grandfather born when she was fifteen) letting the hardships of farm life in the Depression and New Deal era pass over her like she was a stolid mountain in a sea of rural poverty.
With all this I find strength like one might find water: thirsty, one begins to smell (here in Alabama) water all around mumbling, sitting heavily in the air, running, and falling. Strength is imbued in us early, and we are all Little Engines That Could. Not only do power and virtuosity surround us, it is what we are made of.
There is a story of one of Shakyamuni Buddha’s Jataka Tales, the tales of his rebirth, in which he lives life as a bird, and sacrifices his life through both exhaustion and endurance, to carry water in tiny mouthfuls to put out a forest fire that threatened every creature therein and so save them from the flames. And to this I say, rhetorically anyways, “What is a mouthful of water to a forest fire, compared to the Buddha that carries it?”
We are more than birds. we can wield much more than water, and like no other sentience before or since do we now have the potency, knowledge, and strength to eclipse our ancestors and make our civilization worth being remembered for its heroism and strength, for a people that do not remember the deeds of their ancestors will do no deeds worth remembering by their descendants.
Alex White lives in Florence, Alabama and is from Decatur, Alabama. A self-styled Buddho-survivalist, he enjoys the outdoors and is an avid angler and dachshund enthusiast. He maintains a poetry blog “Visions of the Afterworld” and copy edits for Garden Spices Magazine.
Cover Photo Courtesy of Himalayan Art.