Submitted by William Elder.
Lying I’ve ranted about, leaving a parched taste in my mouth. With lying so poisoning our common air, it doesn’t surprise me. How about a word or two about the clean taste of honesty for a change, a little equal time? To hear a single word wrapped into a fortunate phrase that rings true is a nell to hear and pay attention to— a paragraph, an appeal from the human heart, a positive essay is to hear solid gold struck in our lead-laden hearts. Where it will reverberate only the winds of hope can tell— like dandelion seeds, despised for their profusion, but delighted for their bright hearty joy. Be not so quick to swoop death on joy you cannot create.
Why does truth, even its invocation, bring with it such a feel of cleanliness, a knuckle-rubbing anticipation of clarity, that golden note that that jars the soul alive? The deep want of more, I believe. Honesty deserves to be followed to see where it leads like fresh air in a cave, spring sought after like hope in darkest March. Most of us have no idea exactly what we are looking for, only that it is there— somewhere.
Myth is like yesterday’s well-remembered dinner— no longer sustaining, but fondly recalled. American myth is no different— but with mama ever in mind.
Where else in American myth to start with but “Father I cannot tell a lie!” in the mouth of young George Washington. Owning up to a supposed transgression, manfully confessed. Good PR for a man who secretly wanted dearly to be an English Gentleman (both in capitals) and was spurned by Englishmen only to fight his way to becoming Father of His Newly Independent Country (all in capitals) after their expulsion. Slave owner who freed his slaves on his death. President who refused to become head of an Imperial State after two terms as President, when America might well have installed him as such. A stuffy, priggish, private man who left his country to find its own way, retiring to plow and till Mount Vernon instead. His imperial reserve sufficed to un-fulfill our royal aspirations for quite some time. We were busy with Westward-Ho!
Murder the savages in our way was the nation obsession. Take the land we wanted. That they had taken the same from other savages before them with similar, if scaled down bloodshed, no matter. We had the invasion population, all disproportionately armed, another small detail. This was not to be a fight between equals, after all. We learned their tactics, applied our superiority, and slaughtered them, except when too inept to prevail— recall Custer. Manifest Destiny- Ho!
Indians, sure! Black slaves, why not? When the question was seriously, systematically raised, we turned to murdering our own white countrymen. Call it the American Civil War— Civil, indeed, count the dead: 618,222 men died in the Civil War, 360,222 from the North and 258,000 from the South. Updated count 750,000 all together, all dead.
Before the carnage, from among our supposed, if much fractured, common element— arose a railroad lawyer and astute politician— a man popular history is fond of referring to as Honest Abe. He had good PR too— rail-splitting and all that. But, surprisingly, his truth was astonishingly about as honest as his reputation, give or take. He possessed a rarity among American politicians: a good heart, a clear eye, empathy, and a backbone that made steel into a genteel bow.
Lincoln shepherded us through years of his personal and our national tragedy. With horror, but with honor. Hanging on, finally prevailing. Find fault as you will. Pick at that honor as you honestly will and enter your exception. Unless you insist solely on bringing in Jesus for your own reasons, Lincoln stands up to the test.
So we have examples of mythical honesty. What other kind is there? Where is it to be found?
I would suggest two other places to look.
Look to your neighbor. You mean that son-of-a bitch next door— across the street, down the block whose dog barks half the night, that prick, this one I have a dozen things to say to? Yeah, that guy— his snotty wife, and his rude kids, the lot. That guy! I ask you to make allowances— because I am writing this and I ask you to; no better reason. He believes as strongly about you as you do about him— and probably with just as good causes. You are probably both right. Relax and consider. You are both bastards that need a little understanding.
Washington did, in myth, cut down his father’s cherry tree. He did it before he understood the harm he had done— he was damned young, in myth— the waste to his father, and to his trial by youthful honor— not to mention the poor cherry tree.
The second place to look for ”honesty” in the modern world. Before you look to your neighbor, look to yourself. I was lucky growing up. My sixth-grade advisor, to whom I had been summarily sent, in a moment of turning me around from my defenses and pretensions, literally by my shoulder, looked at me, looked deep into me. I feel her hard thumbs in my shoulder muscles right this moment, now as I did then, as she turned me to face her. She said to me: “William, remember this. You are who you really are when you are by yourself.” No matter who I’ve looked at since, for whatever reason, I’ve tried never to forget that. No, Mrs. Trutt— I’ve tried my best never to forget: whoever you look at, to judge, it is you! Thank you!
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.