Spotlight, The Heroic Life

Lessons in Sacred Awe

Greetings rogues. I know I need to catch up on all the wonderful comments you left about barefoot hiking. These last couple days in Thailand have been a whirlwind, so today I just want to leave you with this short thought.

During my stay here I read Zorba the Greek.

This is the most misogynist book I’ve ever read. Plus it’s a chore to read. How did it ever become a literary classic? Perhaps a generation of professors pined to live the heroic life but, like the narrator of the book, didn’t have the courage.

Fiction seemed safer.

But Zorba has some insightful passages. In one, the narrator explains to his Greek friend what he means by Sacred Awe:

‘We are all little grubs, Zorba, minute grubs on the small leaf of a tremendous tree. This small leaf is the earth. The other leaves are the stars you see moving at night. We make our way on this little leaf examining it anxiously and carefully. We smell it; it smells good or bad to us. We taste it and find it eatable. We beat on it and it cries out like a living thing.

‘Some men—the more intrepid ones—reach the edge of the leaf. From there we stretch out, gazing into chaos. We tremble. We guess what a frightening abyss lies beneath us. In the distance we can hear the noise of the other leaves of the tremendous tree, we feel the sap rising from the roots to our leaf and our hearts swell. Bent thus over the awe-inspiring abyss, with all our bodies and all our souls, we tremble. From that moment begins…’

I stopped. I wanted to say, ‘from that moment begins poetry,’ but Zorba would not have understood. I stopped.

‘What begins?’ asked Zorba’s anxious voice. ‘Why did you stop?’

‘…begins the great danger, Zorba. Some grow dizzy and delirious, others are afraid; they try to find an answer to strengthen their hearts, and they say: “God!” Others again, from the edge of the leaf, look over the precipice calmly and bravely and say: “I like it.”

This Sacred Awe is, I think, quite important to whoever tries to live the heroic life.

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5 thoughts on “Lessons in Sacred Awe

  1. Lorri says:

    I find what you are doing is indeed heroic. In fact I think anyone would. It is obviously heroic. However… I find my life heroic as well. I haven’t climbed an actual mountain nor saved a damsel in distress, save myself. However, every day I get up and do what must be done to keep things going and pay my bills and raise my son on my own. I am often on the verge of taking that step that will take me over the edge or that leap of faith that keeps me going. I am sometimes afraid and move ahead anyway and sometimes fearless as I trust in my path. I am making my way through life doing not only what I feel I must, but also trusting that I am where i’m meant to be in this moment…and in this way, I am my own hero.

    • Hi Lorri. I think that’s where we’re different. I don’t believe my life is heroic. As I’ve written before, I believe heroism is emergent. It is the pursuit of something that is always beyond one’s grasp. If I decided I was a hero, I would feel like I had given up any hope of being one.

      However, I am sure you are your son’s hero :) What a beautiful comment and I can see how dedicated you are. I think acts of fortitude and self-sacrifice for our loved ones are often more daunting than any mountain. There was a time when I really didn’t get that. Someday, I know, your son will grow up to be very grateful for all you do.

      Thank you for posting Lorri! And thanks for reading!

      • Lorri says:

        On the contrary what you do is heroic simply because you’re out there searching for it…for life…for the possibility of something amazing around the next corner. I envy a little bit the freedom you have to commit to that life. However, I too am never sure what’s waiting around the bend in my own small life. It’s heroic but perhaps on a different scale than what you’re doing. Still, oddly enough, I see parallels. Is that possible?

        • Definitely Lorri. Personally, the freedom I have is hard-won and only exists because I demanded it. 2 years ago I was under a half-million dollars of debt for a house I didn’t want. I had a job that was’t fulfilling and didn’t pay well. And I was 80 pounds overweight. (A year before that, you can add an unhappy marriage to the mix, too).

          It took a lot of work to change things. There was a time I thought it was impossible. But I spent a year looking for the right new job, something I would enjoy & would pay better. I made a lot of sacrifices to get rid of the house and the mortgage, and changed my lifestyle to be able to pay off debt and lose weight.

          What is most heroic to me is challenging yourself. It doesn’t have to be climbing a mountain, it can be losing 20 pounds or squeezing 5 hours a week into your schedule to work on your novel. But challenge yourself.

          That’s what I call heroic.

  2. Pingback: An Open Letter to John Halstead |   Rogue Priest

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