James Rigney was the South Carolina author of a great book called the Wheel of Time. It is a 14-volume allegorical masterpiece about all aspects of human nature, and in the prologue to each book, he describes with great effect the course of human events: “The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.”
But this is not an existential post about reincarnation. It’s about an American myth that should not be forgotten.
Yesterday, on the 4th of July, I was reminded of our American legend of Ben Franklin meeting the woman outside of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Mrs. Powell enquired of him, “Doctor, what have you given us?” Franklin replied without hesitation, “a Republic, if you can keep it.”
Whether this exchange actually occurred is irrelevant, and if this legend isn’t already a myth, it should be. Many people mistakenly believe that myths are pure fiction, but to the contrary, a myth is something more real than truth. It’s a form of hyper-reality or meta-narrative; a motif extracted from many stories with a rule that can be applied universally across each of them. You lawyers will liken this to the rule of law applied across common facts.
Franklin’s rule was that we Americans carry a Sisyphean burden to defend and protect the Republic, not by nihilism and whining, but by active participation in American Life. How you raise your family, run your business, treat your neighbors and volunteer in your community matters deeply to the health of the country. Every conversation, email, Facebook post and simple act of kindness has unknown and unknowable consequences that cascade throughout society. Who knows what effect your actions will have on other people?
It is far too easy to sit on the sidelines and whine about everything that has gone wrong with our country, the lunatics in political office, the tyranny of the billable hour. That requires no effort and no responsibility. The more difficult task is to pick up your burden and bear it without complaint–with responsibility. Be a better American.
John Adams was in his last year of life when he received a visit from Ralph Waldo Emerson. During that conversation (which Emerson recorded in great detail) Adams made a plea which should serve as a clarion call us today: “I would to God there were more ambition in the country.” And then he paused and said, “by that I mean ambition of the laudable kind, ambition to excel.”
Now that the fireworks, watermelon and Budweiser are finished, how you spend the next year as an American citizen? Will you complain and gripe about the troubles we face?
Or will you get to work with laudable ambition and excel?