Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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Right Quick: Valar Dohaeris

It seems I’ll be writing quite a bit about death at the start of this week, which is a curious way to welcome the month of June. Like most people, perhaps, I don’t care to dwell too long on the empty silence of eternity that yawns beyond the swan song of a heartbeat. But alas, Death awaits us all, and with all things, what matters is what we learn and do while we can.

Frank Lautenberg, a veteran of the U.S. Army Signal Corps and senior U.S. Senator from New Jersey, was the last veteran of the wars that rent worlds serving in the Upper Chamber. His passing has now ended forever the era when those who defended freedom in the Great Wars of the early 20th Century represented entire states of free men and women in Congress. As the world tumbles on, which it always will, we should take a moment to remember that we stand on the shoulders of men who built and defended across the world a civilization that we now take for granted.

The things these men must have seen and known…

If we are lucky, neither us nor our children will ever be called to dutifully face the martial belligerence of the extinction of liberty. While all of the men who did will soon be gone, we should always remember and honor the fact that such men lived. Thank God that such men lived, fought, and went on to serve their families and country in civilian life. The ultimate gift they will leave behind is a nation increasingly distant from the cost of constitutional virtues that are neither free nor universal, even if they ought to be.

It is easy to forget in good times the horrors that can surface in terrible times, but there is the enduring paradox of building the peaceful prosperity of a nation on the solemn sacrifices of a generation of mortals who knew they lived far too close to an abyss. Can we live peacefully in a free world where ever fewer of us know firsthand the costs of peace and freedom?

I did not agree with Sen. Lautenberg, may he rest in peace, on many or most political issues of the day, but I certainly share his love of country and zealous commitment to the American project. In short, I’m glad that such a man lived and served for people like me. I’m likewise glad that men and women today still serve and bring the raw edges of wisdom in a broken world to those of us who will never see suffering as they are called to.

Someday, as assuredly as Ozymandias reigns over sand and dust, my generation will have perished and with us the firsthand knowledge of life in the Second Millennium. Whether the values and wisdom we hold and accumulate will translate well to those who inherit our stations is a question our lives will serve to answer.

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Memento Mori

Update: This post was adapted by The Huffington Post. You can find that article here.

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” –General George S. Patton

“Someday, perhaps, it will be pleasing to remember these things.” –Virgil

How can anything be worth anything if it lasts forever?

Valar Morghulis. Valar Dohaeris.

My great-grandfather, Arthur, was a fatherless man. He was born black and Irish in the Deep South in the eleventh hour of the 19th Century. He married Elizabeth, an immigrant from the Bahamas, and she bore them 17 children, among whom is my maternal grandfather. Although Arthur died half a dozen years before I was born, I have always been aware of his nearly seven score years of life through the tales his great family still heartily recalls well into the 21st Century. Two ghosts of those tales seem particularly relevant today.

My great-grandfather’s father, the Irishman, died in a now century-old war before his son could ever know him. Arthur did get to know his own sons, however, and one of them was a man named Earl, who went to fight in Vietnam. Not unlike the grandfather he never met, Earl left a young family behind to serve his proud country. And also akin with that late grandfather, Earl never again saw his homeland, or the wife and young daughters he left there.

Today, most of Earl and Arthur’s American family remains in Florida and Georgia, where they have lived for more decades than hardly anybody can remember. The Army brought my parents to the D.C. metro area years ago, and, occasionally, some of our kin will make the long trek up the South Atlantic coast for a visit. When the weather is glorious, or at least tolerable, my parents will take them to the National Mall to stroll through the grandeur of the Capital of the American Republic our forebears built. Although our itinerary may vary, a sense of rooted wonder always carries us to the dark marble wall that commemorates the fallen of Vietnam. We always remember to scratch Earl’s name onto pieces of paper that we bring for this familiar ritual. Granny hates being in photographs, but she always submits to a few still-frames of time on these occasions.

We usually smile.

Growing up in the military, I learned that Veterans Day was meant to celebrate peace and those who returned from service to America and her values of liberty, justice, and honor. This November, I will celebrate my father, mother, sister, and brother for their service.

As a point of distinction, Memorial Day commemorates sacrifice and loss: the ultimate cost of freedom. In reflecting on the passing of warriors like Arthur’s father and son, we remember that all men and women are born to die, and what matters is the how and why of our ineluctable departure. We remember that our free Republic was built upon the ashes of dreamers and is maintained upon the hallowed dust of sacrifices honored. We remember that our lives are never solely ours, and our deaths are no more the bookend of our stories than our loved ones will allow.

For as long as I can remember, funeral days have always nurtured times of celebration in my family. The former homes of those gone to glory become sites where the living gather to eat, drink, and merrily recall halcyon days past and grievances overcome. By celebrating life—and all that has been done so that we might freely enjoy it—we consummate the purpose for which our loved ones lived and died, whether in far-flung wars or quietly at home after untold suffering. It is for this very purpose—the enduring happiness of those whom we shall someday leave—that we now live and remember.

Happy Memorial Day!


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The Inheritance

“It has always been my belief that people who spend too much time with my work end up as lost souls, drained of reason, who lead lives of raving emptiness and occasional lunatic violence.  What a relief it is to see this documented.” – Liberalism Lemony Snicket

Turns out the gates of civilization are more fragile than we thought.

When I was growing up, Mom encouraged me to read a lot. She brought home encyclopedias, dictionaries, Bibles, and thesauruses so I could learn facts about the world. She took my siblings and me to local libraries on weekends in the summer, so we could exercise our minds during the dog days of bare feet, sweet tea, mosquitos, and moon pies. Dad kept saying, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”, and “A mind is terrible thing to waste.” I certainly didn’t want to lose my mind.

When I think about my success in school and getting into Yale, I think first and foremost of my parents encouraging me to read. I think of books and all they taught me. For inasmuch as learning is sacred, books are acolytes of the divine. The idea of hurting them is somehow…sinful. They are, after all, a singular inheritance. If all society were lost tomorrow, and we had to start from scratch, we would rediscover writing, electricity, industry, astronomy, and all the gifts of science and math. But the lessons of our books would have gone the way of the nephilim and Atlantis. All those windows into vast tapestries of imagining and experience would never be more than half-remembered dreams from too many lifetimes ago.

So imagine my horror at discovering that some postmodern industrialist smilingly murdered a series of books to decorate storage space. The barbarians are inside the gates, indeed. I always imagined there was an abyss at the heart of civilization, the analog of the supermassive black holes within all the galaxies in heaven. I never thought I would catch of glimpse of what it might be like to see that void, that negation of all sapience—that ultimate nihilism. It’s enough to make you wonder—or cry or plea—is anything sacred?

One of the things that struck me in places like Yale—where a certain kind of liberalism is the smog you have to breathe—was how often the answer to that question seemed to be: “What does that even mean?”

Dear Reader, I cannot tell you what that means. If you have never felt anything like transcendence, purpose, or calling to rise above yourself, I cannot talk to you of Honor. If you have never believed anything worth fighting or dying for, even when the stakes seem impossibly trivial and the potential reward more spiritual than effable, I cannot speak to you of Sacred. If you have never met something so beautiful that the experience of it could only be a testament to Truth, I cannot convey to you Beauty. And if you have never fallen in love across a bridge of pulp and ink, I cannot explain to you why a book is more precious than a mockingbird.

I can’t make you care about or understand anything. I can only show you the little pieces of the world that I see. And through words across the cloud, you’ll learn something true or not. If you believe that something substantial would be lost forever if every book were ruined, then we are at least as far as the foothills of tradition, with its many idiosyncrasies.

If you cannot fathom freedom without this precious inheritance, then you have another portrait of why I am a conservative.