The most important and implacable truth about maintaining civilization and raising gentlemen and ladies is that it has to be taught—it has to be a heritage that is specifically and individually passed on generation to generation, and specifically and openly valued.
The stories, the “narratives”, the legends and myths, the movies and TV series and quotations and historical references people know and understand, all have to envelop the citizen of a civilization with magic and wonder, with ethics and manners, with decency and heroes that demonstrate the shared values.
In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo, one of the key heroes, gets to a certain point in the daunting journey of salvation and he says he just can’t go on with his mission, it’s too difficult, he’s faced too many dangers and the future looks like it will be even worse. His buddy is the lowly Sam, traveling with “Mr. Frodo” to fetch and carry and guard. At yet another moment in the adventure, they have barely escaped death and face even more peril, Frodo barely can speak:
Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.
It’s High Noon and Die Hard and Gunsmoke and the Longest Day and the man at the end of the movie saying to the children, “Stand up. Your father’s going by” and even George C. Scott turning around at the end of the film and going back into the hospital—but you all know them, don’t you, so many titles, so many characters, so many moments that thrill you no matter how many times you’ve seen them, so many moments when you feel the strength and the passion of Truth and Honor and the Hero . . . .
It’s Todd Beamer saying, “Let’s roll!”
You raise your children to be ladies and gentlemen, to honor the Good, to recognize and acknowledge the Hero and the Heroic, to know how “to fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run”—because there is thunder and magnificence in Sam’s “there’s some good in the world, and it’s worth fighting for.”