Things I aspire to on the path of becoming who I really am
Appreciate this list, Latham. As someone who has, in the space of maybe 5-8 years, had my core identity upended more than once, I sympathize with your monument metaphor. I'm increasingly aware of how I can only write such a list after major disruptions. Most of the big upheavals we can't see coming. And many of those forces scoff at whatever lists we've made. I always enjoyed teaching American naturalism -- Jack London, Stephen Crane, Ambrose Bierce. The upshot of that literary movement is that we're little more than a fleck of bran in the cosmic muffin.
On your subject of a good death, it's interesting to note that Tolstoy's Ivan Ilyich would have thought, until his terminal illness, that he had his monument scripted perfectly. What a powerful tale about how to avoid living the wrong life. It's counterpart might be Willa Cather's "Neighbour Rosicky," a story about a Czech farmer in Nebraska. I know of no other story that describes a good death better. And one thing I appreciate about it is that we understand that Rosicky's death isn't purely about his own serenity -- it's about how he shares that serenity with others, how dying well in fact requires him to turn away from himself toward his family.
Such a thought provoking exercise, Latham. Your monument collection here is as aspirational as it is humbling. And I love the paradoxical nature of these two ideals: live with iron-clad integrity, and also live as gauze blowing in the wind... you’re always invited to change when life shows you the way.
On that latter note: This line struck all the chords for me, “Writing truthfully means seeing the world as an outsider. Living truthfully means having the courage not to fit in.” If I were to pick one wound that refuses to heal, it’s this one in a landslide. This week, I’ve been particularly consumed and heart broken by it. Clearly I needed the Jungian synchronicity of reading your piece today. My spirit guides took note and sent me this message. Being an outsider isn’t a cross to bear or a flaw to fix. It’s a blessing to celebrate. I’m so grateful for the reminder. Thanks Latham!
What a generous essay. I imagine it was a meaningful process to put these elements and guideposts together; it's certainly meaningful to read. I just moved to Annapolis, so the image and metaphor of the tomb made me want to get over to the chapel to see for myself.
I'm struck by the empathy that runs through these aspirations, for yourself as well as others. In his excellent bio of U.S. Grant, Ron Chernow returns often to Grant's exemplary humanity. In a passage after the horrific fighting at Fort Donelson, Grant is surveying the frozen fields of battle. After giving a swig of brandy to two wounded men - a Union officer and a Confederate private - he says, "I suppose this work is part of the devil that is left in us all." Then he quotes a passage from Robert Burns, which apparently was not uncommon for him: "Man's inhumanity to man / make countless thousands mourn."
Thanks for sharing so much of yourself here.
I especially enjoyed the section on Stephen King's advice to break out of the grip of polite society. This piece is a heavy-weight, with a lot of ballast for stabilizing the soul. And your ending is exquisite.
You chose some powerful works of literature, and an equally powerful image in the monument to John Paul Jones. I recognize that desire to conquer self, to serve, and to overcome in you. My father was career Army. But I am saddened because I think you are missing the mark still.
I have not read "The Glass Bead." I will have to, because the character of Father___ (I don't remember his name, and if I go back to look, this post will disappear. Bitter experience.) sounds like he has hit the mark. He is courageous for the right reasons. He is not self-seeking or self-aggrandizing. But I am merely guessing from what you have written.
There is one single man who can be your model, who can lead you to places you have not fully envisioned, and who Fr ___ followed.
In our culture, living truthfully means seeing the world as an outsider. Living truthfully means having the courage not to fit in. So too does writing truthfully. Following that one man will mean the world will see you as an outsider. Not everyone. But many.
Yes, Christians are frequently not good role models. I relate to GK Chesterton's quote: Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has not been tried. Gandhi has been reported to have said much the same thing.
P.S. I am taking a class in Mystical Theology now. I find it quite moving.
Great reflection Latham! What a beautiful scene to open up with. Your drawing was such an apt addition too. I think physical monuments often do serve as a guidepost as we're growing up, but when we start to think and question things deeply, they are bronze pieces that can't answer all our biggest questions.
This was one of my favorite parts, "Life isn’t a series of great moments in a montage. Teacher after teacher reminds us that life happens in the small moments. And to the best I can, I want to fill those moments with the best of myself." In terms of moments vs monuments, the moments have so much more longevity despite being more ephemeral.
Way to go Latham. Really enjoyed reading your guiding principles (your Monument as you put it). As you pointed out, it seems like we're on the same wavelength this week with quotes from "If" and sharing our rules for life. Thanks for also sharing the other extracts. I've only read Siddartha by Hesse, now I'm curious to check out The Glass Bead Game.
Thanks for pushing through your resistance and writing this, man. It's nuts to think you could have held back and we'd all be a little bit lessor for it, not to mention yourself.
Beautiful piece Latham. It’s so awesome to see your storytelling continually evolve each week.
I love how essay this is inherently an act of “being your own guide” as your principles are authentic and real to you — not copied.
Keep on keeping on :)