This Too Shall Pass

Being of a certain age, I have become used to being ignored. This is not an age when age carries any cache of respect. All experience is suspect in this time of digital adjustments. But then, as I recall, my kids seldom listened to me when they were younger. And certainly my wife never has, except that one time, at the beginning. Perhaps that is only what I deserve. But not being wise, I do not “know that dark is right,” nor wish to “go gentle into that good night.” 

One definition of the truth is: fact that matters. Another is: that which is remembered. Parsing current events and placing them against the happenstance template of what I have known leaves me to wonder what of it will be remembered or actually matters. 

I am thinking that Donald Trump matters. Until his magical escalator ride, he was just another forgettable celebrity in an age of celebrity. Then, suddenly, an errant potion of genius, hubris, intuition, and daring took possession of his soul and transformed him from Mickey Mouse with a broom to a knight. 

But we are not in a forgiving age, no matter how much we are inclined to forgive ourselves. 

We are all mortals, but some less so than others. I was just reading an article in Taki’s Magazine by the great Theodoracopulos himself about heroes of the Formula One race track. I am old enough to appreciate this sort of thing. Race car drivers had the right stuff when I was a kid, and they were men’s men, if that is a thing. This was before Tom Wolfe captured the same sort of daring and bravery in the space race. 

But what strikes me now is just how ephemeral it all was. Theodoracopulos was writing in his wonderfully conversational style about Lance Macklin. I had forgotten him, if I ever knew him. But I remembered others of his kin: Sterling Moss, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, and Graham Hill. They were often on television in the 1950s and ’60s when their races were televised. The helmets and the soot and the unshaven cheeks and mustaches were quite impressive. Their British and Spanish and Italian accents were terrifically exotic to me. This was the upper class of what I was already aware of in American stock car racing. 

Now they are largely forgotten as is the ostensible reason they did what they did—as are the great air pioneers of the ’20s and ’30s. But we would never have gotten to the moon without them. Many died in their sport—not so common a fate in baseball, or basketball, or even football. We draw our heroes by the inch now. And then forget them. I can’t imagine any of the players on Manchester United taking such risks. And they will be forgotten, too. 

Politicians, as they are politely known, are most easily forgotten. Whether they look like fly larvae, or the by-the-numbers fill-in cast of a pharmaceutical commercial—they mouth other people’s words and promise other people’s promises. The few that are better than that are the exceptions who prove the rule. When nonpoliticians run for office, they look uneasy and out of place. As they should. If they win, they will likely be losing their souls. 

It is no accident that the few exceptional politicians in my memory were not dependent on winning. I think that can be true of pilots and race car drivers as well. They excelled at what they did for love. 

Some twit will tell you that there was a darker side to Abraham Lincoln, or Ronald Reagan, or even Winston Churchill. Maybe so. Maybe an understanding of the dark is what it takes to appreciate the light.

About Vincent McCaffrey

Vincent McCaffrey is a novelist and bookseller. Visit his website at www.vincentmccaffrey.com.

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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