Monday, September 21, 2015

Last Thoughts on an Untamed Man

This month my family buried my grandfather.  I was honored with the task of giving the eulogy.

New York Times columnists David Brooks has written recently about the distinction between "resume virtues" and "eulogy virtues."  Resume virtues being those things that you do in order to become a member of the coastal elite.  Eulogy virtues being, well, those things recognized as virtuous across time and space.

I can agree with him that it is time to give more attention to eulogy virtues over the resume but I question the premise that an impressive curriculum vitae can be considered "virtuous" in any meaningful sense of the term.

At best resumes are a way to communicate your skills for a job.  Among the aspirational classes, however, they have become a way to demonstrate that you are willing to sacrifice a balanced life, to sell out a sense of self to conform to the management fad de jour, to ignore the existence of the eulogy virtues, for the sake of looking good on paper.

Maybe you would have volunteered for that reading program regardless, but your willingness to try to cash in on it leaves me skeptical.  It's not a virtue if you try to get paid for it.

They're not "resume virtues" it is called constructing a personal brand and I call it a vice.  "Know Thyself" the ancient Greeks counseled.  If you spend your life conforming yourself to someone else's expectations in return for money, acceptance or any other thing you're asking for sorrow.  It makes no substantive difference if the expectations your submitting to emerge from a boyfriend, your mother, or the human resources department at Goldman Sachs.

It is slavery without the whip.  It is the slavery of a civilization which substitutes conformity of outlook with ability, where the letters after one's name is valued above the character imbued in the person.  Resume virtues is just a euphemism for trading the birthright of being born free for a little porridge.

News flash: New York Times columnist out of touch with the human experience.  I know, I know #DogBitesMan

Early this month my family gathered to bury had a better understanding of virtue.  He never studied the subject.  He didn't know the difference between a Ionic or Doric column or between a Stoic and an Epicurean.

His virtues were not cut and pasted from a book.  They had not been modified by critical theory.

Formed and selected by their time and place through unreflective evolution, they were wild. He did not argue the nature of "the good" but sought to go out and be good.

Wild is not always better, ask him who has tried to eat a wild grape or compared wine made from it compared to its domesticated cousin.  But that untamed man never confused those skills by which he made his living for his sense of virtue, from a critical sense of good and ill from which an artful life is hew.

His faults were that of the wild vine.  Wildness may lack an element of discipline but has its own strength.  Thoreau was right when he observed,

The story of Romulus and Remus being suckled by a wolf is not a meaningless fable. The founders of every state which has risen to eminence have drawn their nourishment and vigor from a similar wild source. It was because the children of the Empire were not suckled by the wolf that they were conquered and displaced by the children of the northern forests who were.

His virtue was wild and it was the source of his strength.  That kind of man may not be advantaged in the present, but he will survive.  When civilization crumbles, it is that kind of untamed women and men who will rebuild it.

Last Thoughts on Daniel Lyndon Winings

A few years ago this family gathered together along with our friends to say goodbye to my cousin Jake.  It was an unexpected loss and soon after arriving I needed a few moments to myself. 
I found a quiet place and sat down in front of an elderly couple and closed my eyes.  A few moments later, in a voice much louder than he intended, the elderly man behind me said, "There he is!  That is Daniel Winings.  I worked with him at the Oliver plant.  Let me tell you, that man could work." 
Family, friends, let me tell you, this man Daniel Lyndon Winings, he could work.  But there was more to the man than just work. 
Raised on a farm when his father was still farming with horses and mules, his mother dried cheese curds on the clothes line, and the only refrigeration was well water, he left that farm and joined the war effort as soon as he was able. 
After preparing for an invasion of the home islands that never came, he was two ships over when the surrender treaty was signed.  He took part in the repatriation of Japanese soldiers from China.  This Westervelt farm boy walked the grounds of Tienanmen Square.
The author and his grandpa in the 20th century.
Let me tell you, Daniel Lyndon Winings knew how to stand up for what he believed in. 
Coming home, he won Grandma Jeans heart and even after they were married continued to woo her with nights out dancing at the Moose Lodge.  Let me tell you, the man Daniel Lyndon Winings knew how to love. 
Even after a Friday night out, if he'd made a commitment to one of his children, he'd be up early the next morning with them.  Daniel Lyndon Winings knew how to keep his word. 
Prior to the 1920's change was slow.  He would have been impressed by the quality but a rich farmer from the Middle Ages would have recognized most of the equipment on Great-Grandpa's farm.  In an age of Ipad's and GPS guided planters, that is not true today. 
Social scientists who study this kind of thing say that half of the technological change our species has experienced since it stepped off the savanna until the present has happened since the 1920's.  It happened in this man's lifetime.  He may have stopped being hip sometime in the Eisenhower administration but let me tell you, this man knew how to change. 
I was fortunate to know the man.  I am honored to me numbered among his descendants.  He had  as many faults as any other human being but let me tell you, 
This man knew how to work.
This man knew courage.
This man knew how to love.
This man knew how to keep his word.
This man knew how to change.
His life was a gift.  His memory is a blessing. 
The philosopher Epictetus in the second century AD wrote, "Never say, 'I have lost it' but rather, 'I have given it back.'" 
We have not lost Daniel Lyndon Winings.  We are giving him back. 
We give his flesh back to this black earth which nourished it.  We give his spirit back to the god who sparked it. 
This man knew how to work,but he left work for us to do.
This man knew courage, and we can face our own challenges with the same.
This man knew love, and we treat our loved ones the same.
We too can keep our word, even when it is difficult.
We too can learn to live in a world that is ever changing.
Yes, this man knew how to work and his legacy is not finished working in us.

Join me in a word of prayer.
Creating god,
This man's flesh came from the earth, 
we return it.
This man's spark sprang from the forging fire of the cosmos, 
we return it.
This man's flesh and spark walked among us and left a legacy; 
that legacy remains with us.   
It is ours.  We honor it.  We cling to it.   
We are strengthened by it.
In that legacy we find the peace to carry on.

Grandpa's house is empty now.


  1. Perfect! Brought tears to my eyes once again.

  2. Perfect! Brought tears to my eyes once again.