I grew up in an imperfect household, like many, if not most of us. One of the lessons clearly instilled in me at an early age was that responsibility and duty are primary. I read the Odyssey at 12. Odysseus had a primary responsibilty to return to Ithaca. I started the Iliad, but could not find my way to go through it. I could not experience the origin of Western literature. It was just too hard, too coldly violent for me to experience. I have picked up the book several times over my 60 years, it remains true to today. I cannot read it. I understand that the Classical Greeks, the people that gave birth to the entire Western Civilization, were an unimaginably hard people.
In 9th grade, my English teacher used to select passages of literature, have us read them, and then do a writing assignment describing our reaction to them. Looking back all those decades, I know there must have been dozens of assignments. But the 14 year old boy only remembered one, which I quote, probably with small errors, here: “Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant only taste of death but once. Of all the strange things I have ever heard, it seems to me most strange that men fear death, given that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.” (Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar)
We get one journey through life. After that, nothing. For most of us, we may be remembered by the generation that succeeds us, but thereafter, our lives are consigned to be utterly unremembered.
Given inescapable annihilation, we must choose how to create ourselves on the canvas of a lifetime. We can chose to do it with a nod to excellence, an embrace of responsibility and duty, and a touch of panache. The alternative is to amount to nothing.