From a front row seat atop a bluff, the sun bids farewell behind the majestic granite curtain of the Rocky Mountains. The snow—like roses thrown by adoring fans not ready to bid farewell—falls to the ground as the orange dusk is overtaken by night’s dark. There is no doubt that summer is long gone, killed off like a soap opera celebrity by some bizarre storyline. Winter has come. As he looks, he remembers the months gone by. Under the warm kiss of summer it seemed he was god, as one-in-all and as self-as-one. Nothing could stop him; there was nothing to fear. Leather seats sticking to bare back. Sweat beading down from dark hair needing a haircut flowing in the wind with windows open. The rhythm and words of Everclear’s chillaxed but upbeat Santa Monica overpowered the soul of a mindless driver, living in seeming autonomy with the world around him. Sam couldn’t help but think that this first snowfall defined his existence. All of his years had been something of a miracle. He was not old by any means. But at the same time, he had entered a phase of bittersweet young adulthood. Accolades and triumphs surpassed by nobody of his tender age marked every step of his life thus far. His successes were no easy glories like many of the easy-street friends with which he had always associated. His rise to this precipice was painful and earned; his family at times dysfunctional. But nothing could ever stop him. Nothing could hold him back. Until now.
Scars marred this young man’s handsome flesh. Many of his nieces and nephews had been slain on September 11th. He took this tragedy harder than most. Like many, he found his faith in the darkness. At first, he found the characteristic resilience which had personified his character to the rest of the world. But with the darkness and despair so deep and penetrating, he knew that this was mostly a show. Though young, he was both blessed and burdened as a patriarch among his kin. Years ago, in the peak of his adolescent fearlessness, Sam managed to make peace among broken and despairing factions. He still remembered, though too easily forgot, the pain and sorrow which led him to be the head of a family which never accepted him. He was strong and athletic; though not as finessed and chiseled in his figure as many, nobody could question his quickness nor his strength.
The loss of that day still seemed to hide the light which shined within his soul. When he took upon himself the mantle of protecting the greatness and glory of his brethren, he knew the costs he could incur. After the pain of that day, Sam knew he had to act. He fought long and hard, finding those responsible and exacting vengeance on the many who spilled the precious blood of his kin. He made no friends, for he knew that friendship was too easily broken by convenience. He was a man on a mission, not of mercy but of justice. It came with the territory. Nobody reveled in the burdens of leadership. As an idealist, Sam had always been able to inspire, through words, though kindness, and through mercy– and also through the luxury of wealth he had acquired through the reigns of leadership. His name alone had always been enough to make peace and help others prosper.
Sam was not a stranger to violence, but in his younger days, it was so easy to enact schoolyard justice. Glory shone in his actions. Something was different since the towers fell, however. Like the rest of the world, Sam lost his innocence. There was no glory in his fighting, and duty, though it knows no bounds but justice herself, carries no glory and no grandeur. He had become hard. The cold was fitting, as it seemed to be at parody with the feelings inside his worn yet young face.
Only after the towers fell, Sam, still the same person, exists as a fundamentally different person. He had tried to resurrect his old self a while back and hope for change, but the only outcome of his hope was a hard-learned lesson in vainglory and superficial caricatures of identity without any root in reality. When the stock market crashed, Sam lost most of his wealth. Like most people, he too had been living on credit. His mission and his responsibilities had not changed, but it seemed his name means little now, and his wealth—amassed throughout his life—seems fleeting. As he stood on the bluff he understood he had entered a dark night of the soul.
It’s a funny thing. Sometimes, even with your eyes open wide you can live a life with your eyes wide shut. Sure he had made mistakes in his past, but nothing he did seemed to deserve the crushing heft of this moment. All day long he hears the muttering of gossip from those surrounding him: ‘He’s not what he used to be,’ or even worse, ‘He is lost, poor fellow.’ But when it counted, even those who burn his ears with gossip still turn to him in moments of despair, the titular leader and identity of their collective glory.
Coming of age is not easy. But looking down at the snow, he knew he had two choices. One option seemed easy. One seemed too much to bear. Freezing cold beneath his full suit, Sam looked out at the distance surveying his claim. He looked to aging roads reminiscent of glory and prosperity as he noticed how quickly today turns to history. He saw lights still glowing, burning bright to light up the entire hill upon which the city stands, its warm orange glow diffused by the cold white snow. Looking more closely, he saw a tall building, which beneath it he knew were scores of huddled masses. Too easily Sam remembered the days when he did not know those huddled masses. They came to him searching for the ability to build a new day both for themselves, and for Sam, their kind benefactor. It caused incalculable heartbreak to know that today those masses weren’t throngs of refugees seeking his help, but those under his care, demanding assistance. He longed to help them. But with no money, and the overarching importance of keeping them safe—fed or not, clothed or not—keeping them safe was his primary objective.
Overwhelmed, he looked down as he prepared to make his jump. So many had called for it for so long in the whispers behind his back. However, Sam had never been phased by their hate, too proud to be stopped, until now. He wasn’t what he used to be. Age is nothing but a number. Though young and strong, he seemed to be an old soul his whole life. Most saw him better suited for grey hair and an eccentric top hat, not the well-worn suit and purple tie he had grown to love and hate. “Ice,” he said as an ironic snowflake fell upon his iconic pointing finger. But as he tried to make peace with himself, he looked again to the skyline. He saw a university, growing, and full of vigor. And as he studied the difference he realized he could not leave this place behind. He had grown fond of the university. Thinking back, he grew stronger within his soul as he thought of the intellectual vigor and ivory-tower debates which filled his privileged but painful childhood. His strength, he remembered, was his confidence. Since he ascended to this power and prominence, he left much of that debate behind. His principles, and indeed his patience, were lost in recent years. But as he looked down again, he found the strength to look beyond the pitfall below where he nearly laid his life. Too much was counting on his life, and he had never seriously let anybody down. Perhaps the situation had changed, but this was no worse than anything he had seen before. In fact, he had seen much worse. He realized, questioning how he even let himself get this close, that the real chasm facing which pushed him to this place didn’t involve insurmountable odds. Sam had lost faith in himself. No words and no catch phrases could reclaim that faith. It wasn’t a matter of dress or of style, but of action. Faith is earned, and built day-by-day and person-by-person even within himself. But he knew he could and would—as he always had—reclaim that faith in himself, for night must give way to a new dawn.
Taking a deep sigh of both relief, and even excitement that he could now face the challenges before him he changed his answer, “Fire. It must be fire. ”
We must look to our past to have the strength to conquer our present and build our future. Greatness can never come without challenge. Our present crisis is a crisis of confidence, not in our leaders, but in ourselves. The present times, are the times which try men’s souls. We have seen the reality of this moment. Each summer soldier and every sunshine patriot has shrunk from the service of their country. If we are to prevail, indeed if we are to endure, we must find strength in the intangible elements that comprise our greatness.
As a nation which could conquer the greatest empire in the world solely by the force of an idea and win its own independence; as a nation which saved its own soul in a harrowing and devastating civil war fought against ideas—that union was malleable and that freedom was not universal; a nation which fought against tyranny and unspeakable horror in World War II even when the horrors of poverty and depression sapped the vigor of our own citizens: America has survived worse. We, The People, must stand united and strong. Our power is in our purpose. In each hard-won battle America has fought, it has been the knowledge that our enemy is not internal but external, that there is always a greater enemy outside than within which carries us to victory. Let us hope and pray, that in this present crisis, a quiet but unmistakable crisis of confidence, we as a nation may come of age and quench our thirst for greatness—not by force of might, but by the gentle force of freedom. While we endure the hazing ritual, we must find the strength of our conviction against the temptation to turn every stone to bread. We need strong, bold, and brave leadership to carry us to tomorrow. Conservatives, as the protectors and defenders of the social contract, must remember our duty is to build an America with a brighter and better tomorrow, not to lay blame to the self-imposed rubble of today. My generation comes of age in an eerily similar way as how our own nation was birthed– lost, forgotten, and dumped on by our masters. We, today’s college generation, have a choice. We can allow ourselves to be consumed and lost by the forces around us like the fat, spoiled, and ungrateful generation that marked the Woodstock generation and choose the inglorious death of ice. Or we can choose something greater. We can pull ourselves up like the greatest generations before us and fight with nobility and glory and choose the triumph of facing the possibility of fire. Many shame our youth. Many claim laziness and worthlessness. However, all those involved in this burgeoning new movement of intellect–those among us who appeal to future glory than present blight—have a very different story to tell and a calling to serve in the priesthood of freedom.
Ronald Reagan said farewell to a nation with these words:
“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I’ve ever quite communicated what I meant when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”
America is still that city. It hasn’t changed at all. It’s residents, with no reason to walk outside the walls, have simply forgotten what it looks like from afar and need someone new to remind us of our promise. We thought we had found that in Barack Obama, but he was nothing more than the other sunshine soldiers with kind words and no perspective. Hardened and harrowed, let us press on to find tomorrow.
Troy Ard // University of Colorado at Pueblo // @troy_ard