Anti-Gnostic recently posted this passage from Alexis de Tocqueville on another site:
“Amongst democratic nations new families are constantly springing up, others are constantly falling away, and all that remain change their condition; the woof of time is every instant broken, and the track of generations effaced. Those who went before are soon forgotten; of those who will come after no one has any idea: the interest of man is confined to those in close propinquity to himself. As each class approximates to other classes, and intermingles with them, its members become indifferent and as strangers to one another. Aristocracy had made a chain of all the members of the community, from the peasant to the king: democracy breaks that chain, and severs every link of it. As social conditions become more equal, the number of persons increases who, although they are neither rich enough nor powerful enough to exercise any great influence over their fellow-creatures, have nevertheless acquired or retained sufficient education and fortune to satisfy their own wants. They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands. Thus not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants, and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone, and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.”
Profound and prophetic. Deracinated me-man. A miserable island unto himself. A fellowship bereft of fellows. And worse, a man severed from the generational chords that connect him to father and son. Never to accept the civilizational estate from the former, as he squanders the inheritance of the latter. Tocqueville: …threatens to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.
There are few so wretched as those living solely in the squalor of their own lives.
And this reminded me of similar conversations through the years. The exact time, place, and content of the words has been long forgotten, though I recall musing with a friend of the newly panoramic view from fatherhood. Of what felt like a spiritual molting. Of stepping beyond the confined space of our own small lives and realizing that we are all very short links in a very long chain. Of relinquishing with resignation a young man’s diversions for a grown man’s responsibility. Of fighting against life’s changing seasons…and learning to lose with perhaps some grace.
And that final loss–suffered by every man–is rendered palatable only by the comfort of a role well performed. Of a life that was worth the living. Of a link that strengthened the chain. For most that will come from a conscientious stewardship of the civilization to be bequeathed to one’s true children and theirs. For some, from the courage, laughter, or innovation that inspire their people. Though for all, the final sleep arrives most gently to those who live on in others. And for those who find Earth’s most cherished object in the mirror…the sting of its approaching finality will be acute.
And this is what so many have either had taken or crassly cast away. The arteries from our past to our future, and between those with us in the today. We are not merely of ourselves. We are a part of something more. Something ancient and organic. And we have a part to play. Perhaps our children’s skin will one day be warmed by the light of a distant star. Perhaps their feet will fall upon other planets. But for that, they must have a place on this one. And that is our part to play.