Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Stoic Humanity. . .

At the end of the movie Moonstruck there is a view of the house and a focus on the ancestors whose photos hang on the dining room wall.  They look like a hardened people.  They do not look happy.  They look almost angry.  But they are not.  They are stoic people who lived through the turmoil of war, the pain of want, the constant threat of death, and with an understanding of how fragile life really is.  You look at the photo for yourself.  If you old enough, like me, you knew people like this and not from a photo.

I think of my Aunt Anna and Uncle Hieronymus.  They were a stoic people whose faces seemed upset but they were not.  They had gone through a hard life and had learned that to endure was its own victory.  They did not search for things to give meaning to their lives nor did they instinctively judge their lives by what made them happy or sad in a moment.  As a child growing up I wondered why they were hard but I have since learned that their stoic lives did not prevent them from being kind, loving, and generous.  My Uncle Roney made sausage that we called Roney Bologna.  Long after Uncle Roney died, we picked up Aunt Anna for church every Sunday.  She suffered through my loud mouth and my driving -- neither of which she truly appreciated.  I was not sure she even liked me.  Then one Sunday she asked me to come into the house with her after Church and she handed me a small package of Roney Bologna that she had found cleaning out her freezer.  It was the last tie to Uncle Roney and his beloved sausage.  She knew how much I loved that Roney Bologna and it was her joy to give that last sausages to me.  I was overjoyed but also deeply touched.  Her face seldom broke into a smile but her heart was generous and giving and she expressed a kindness and love I surely did not deserve.

At the time I thought she needed to lighten up, to chill out, and let go.  All the Uncle Roneys and Aunt Annas just needed to to get in touch with their feelings and they would be happier and their lives better.  How wrong I was!  I should have learned to be more like them.  We all should.  We live in a world where people are so in touch with their feelings that these feelings are like a prison holding them captive to every wind of change -- happy or sad, angry or chilled.  We have lost touch with the kind of stoic endurance which once marked the shape of people and kept them going in times of trouble and trial.  Instead we are always upset, always offended, always fearful, always angry, and always impatient.  We judge everything by the moment and we are never as happy, healthy, wealthy, or excited as we want to be.  We are forever fighting boredom or anxiety or want as if these were the worst things that we could ever endure in life.  

The generations of those who went before us may not have left us a legacy of smiling faces but they surely left us an example of what it means to endure through real problems, challenges, and trials.  I wonder what Uncle Roney or Aunt Anna might think if they saw how upset people today get when they are addressed with the wrong pronoun or angry over the slowness of the internet or fixated by the screen instead of the person.  The pollsters tell us how depressed we are and how we struggle to find the strength and courage to endure the news on TV or the unfriendly words of our social media friends.  We are a mess and but the mess is largely of our own making and it is made worse by how deeply we are in touch with our every feeling and emotion.  Not even God is immune from our impatience or boredom or desire to make Him conform to our preference.

I have been thinking a lot of Uncle Roney and Aunt Anna.  I think I need to be more like them and less like the generations around me.  Maybe we all do.  For all the time and effort we spend getting in touch with our feelings, it has not helped the quality of our lives all that much.  Feelings are not all they are cracked up to be.  There is something to be said about endurance, the stoic endurance of those who know their lives are not the sum of what has or will happen to them but defined by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus and the eternal future He has prepared.  It should not be a surprise to us that as Christianity has become less and less a part of our identities and lives, we have not found happiness, contentment, and peace but just the opposite.  Uncle Roney and Aunt Anna were, if anything, faithful Christian people and this was the key to their endurance and their peace.


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