This is Day 329 of 15 Days to Flatten the Curve.
Deb and I are okie-dokie. And we’re gettin’ more snow. Forecasters backed off on their original apocalyptic predictions for our area, so whatever we end up with should be manageable.
I know that some of you aren’t so fortunate. It’s been one helluva winter in places that usually don’t get a winter.
When I traced my personal camping history last week, I left out two relatively recent experiences — the times that Deb and I went tent-camping. I think it’s worth mentioning here that in almost 16 years together we’ve never had anything resembling a “vacation.” We didn’t have a honeymoon. The closest we’ve come to what most people would consider “vacationing” were those four-day weekends in a tent.
Two straight years on the Thursday before Labor Day, we packed up the TrailBlazer and drove a half-hour east to attend a big country-music festival. We’d purchased a fair-sized dome for the occasion, pitching it on the bank of a small pond near our friends’ RVs — near-perfect, quiet and peaceful yet close enough to be social.
We didn’t build a campfire and we didn’t break out our propane stove to cook anything. Early each morning I’d roll off my cot, get dressed and sneak out of the tent, leaving Deb to sleep while I drove to a nearby general store to fetch hot coffee and fresh pastries. Throughout the day we’d sit by the pondside and graze on cheese, summer sausage and fruit (along with random bagged junk food), drinking the beer and hard lemonade we’d brought with us.
Actual meals, such as they were, came from concessions scattered throughout the festival grounds. There were port-o-lets a short walk from our site, as well as a clean and well-maintained mobile washhouse parked in our area of the campground.
Each year’s event, known as “Country Jam,” featured three nights of big-name country music. We enjoyed some of the most amazing live performances either of us had ever seen. And the hours we spent with friends were absolutely priceless.
The best of times.
But what we remember most from those weekends was our time together, just the two of us, growing closer than ever, especially on those sunny afternoons sitting in our camp chairs by the pond — drinking and laughing and noshing, tracking frogs in the shallows, watching across the water as a country-music star and his wife played go-fetch with their retrievers, feeling a light breeze off the surface of the pond, lovin’ our American Life.
There’s an old saw, taught to kids but most relevant to grownups, that I’m sure I first heard when I was very young. The occasion, I suspect, was after I’d tried to get away with something and didn’t. The saying goes something like this:
“Character is who you are when you think no one’s looking.”
Famed basketball coach John Wooden was known for invoking a similar maxim:
“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”
The point of the proverb is obvious to adults — fundamentally we are who we are, regardless of any show we put on for others. A coverup may or may not be worse than the crime, figuratively speaking, but it never erases the crime.
And as Shakespeare* (Launcelot) said, “At the length truth will out.”
Someone else always is watching. None of us is as clever as we suppose. Sooner or later — at the length — we’ll be tested and our character will be revealed.
Looking back at my recent “Flashback” posts, I noticed that a couple of them touch on the same line of thought. Here’s what Thoreau said:
“For the most part, we are not where we are, but in a false position. Through an infinity of our natures, we suppose a case, and put ourselves into it, and hence are in two cases at the same time, and it is doubly difficult to get out.”
And this from Pirsig:
“The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself. The machine that appears to be ‘out there’ and the person that appears to be ‘in here’ are not two separate things.“
Whatever we call it — character, integrity, honesty, principle — its most essential application is personal. Each of us is charged with taking care of our own business and our own house, developing inner character that doesn’t need be disguised or embellished for presentation to the world.
That’s a hard target, by the way. What Thoreau called “an infinity of our natures” makes integrity anything but easy. And still we strive.
While we tend to our own character, of course, we’re also unavoidably observers of the character of others. We’re the ones who are watching. We’re the ones administering the unexpected “true test of a man’s character.”
Often that puts us, imperfect as we are ourselves, in a tough spot. But it remains our role as fellow men, our inescapable duty to hold others honestly to account. As long as we fulfill that duty with character and integrity, it’s righteous — and it’s exactly what we should expect others to do for us.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that politicians, irrespective of party or ideology, usually aren’t inclined to welcome such scrutiny. They don’t much like being watched. They want their character to be defined by public statements, speeches, slogans, symbols and other political signals of personal virtue. That’s all the more reason for us, as engaged citizens, to watch them, to test them and to expose their true character.
The current governor of New York has spent the last year cultivating his image as a bold leader devoted to protecting “public health.” He’s been relentless in self-promotion, adamant in deflecting attacks, aggressively dismissive of all who dare question his character.
We now know that this governor issued an order that effectively sentenced thousands of elderly citizens to death — and then, when he thought no one was looking, he engineered a coverup to hide the magnitude of his crime.
That’s his character, right there, for all honest people to see. Truth will out.
The latest impeachment circus has showcased personal character in a different political way. We’ve witnessed hundreds of elected servants, with documented histories of pressing for due process and equal justice under law (for citizens sharing their ideology), of celebrating constitutionally protected free expression (of their point of view), of honoring and even supporting perpetrators of violent unrest (consistent with their political agenda), who then acted in diametric contradiction of their own records to persecute a former president, now a private citizen, whom they loathe.
All of them swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. And every single citizen-servant who voted to impeach, or to convict, violated that sacred oath.
But here’s the twist — it’s not that they thought no one was looking. Hell, they knew the whole wide world was watching. They simply calculated that there weren’t citizens enough, who cared enough, to make their blatant duplicity of any consequence.
Ultimately, they failed. They failed to convict. They failed the Constitution. They failed Liberty-loving Americans and they failed the country they presume to serve.
But they did succeed in showing us their character. Some of us actually give a damn about that.
Mind your own character, my friends. But don’t shrink from your duty — be the watchers. Our country depends on it.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.
*Quick — someone tell Andrea Mitchell that actually was Shakespeare….
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