Only the Strong Can Be Virtuous

Atlas must not shrug,

Mountains hold many small things.

Evil hands grow frail.

What follows might sound like a silly thing to draw a lesson from but I don’t think that it is. One of the central pillars of my thinking is the notion that the universe is fundamentally fractal, it follows the same patterns over and over again, just at different scales.

Maybe that’s mysticism, maybe it isn’t, but when you do an ordinary thing like wash the dishes or walk in the woods or take a shower, I believe you are playing out the same music going on above in the heavens… just in a more minor key. Hell, fundamentally, is discord. Evil is a bum note.

As a great man once said, “Rome falls a thousand times while you vacuum your carpet. Your job is to notice.” This is true. I believe that’s why Christ was able to teach in parables, because simple things like drawing baths and tending lamps are truly smaller versions of creating oceans and making stars. “As above, so below” as the alchemists were fond of saying. In every small thing is something larger. “The universe is in a drop of wine.”

The other day I was jumping rope. I like to jump rope. It’s great exercise and you can always challenge yourself by trying to do a new trick or a new jump. It’s less boring than running, at least to me. In any case I was taking a rest between intervals and I sat down on the floor of my garage covered in sweat and listened to the music blaring from my phone. “Energy” by The Apples in Stereo. Somewhat appropriate. As I sat there, hunched over and breathing heavily, I noticed an ant.

We’ve had ant problems. In the summers our area basically turns into a rain forest and the heat together with the moisture makes it a haven for insects of every kind. But ants are the worst. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to battle a legion of ants making a trail through our living room to and from some minuscule scrap of food that one of my kids knocked under the couch. They always come at night, while you’re asleep, and in the morning you wake up to discover your home has been invaded.

My wife hates them and I use hate here in the purest sense of the word. Once they were in the sink going after scraps on a bowl and instead of simply killing them she boiled a pot of water and poured it on them, literally cackling with delight as they disintegrated.

So yea. Ant problems.

As the line “the world is synchronicity” played from my phone I reached out with my thumb to smash the creature. You must stop the scouts. If one ant finds a food source he will return to the hill and bring back ten thousand more. I stopped though. I don’t know why. I was simply moved by a small bit of compassion for the thing. Snuffing it out so suddenly seemed cruel. It was probably having a happy day. I didn’t want to end it.

Sure, it occurred to me as I spared the thing’s life that I might pay for it later. It might find something. The one might become many. But… if that happened, well, I could handle it. That doesn’t sound like a big deal. It is though. A few years ago I couldn’t.

I went through a very long period of depression. Very long and very deep. I was suicidal and I used to practice shooting myself in the head with an empty revolver, trying to work up the courage to do it with a live round. Sometimes I still think about the click of the hammer in my ear. Not a good place.

Naturally, during that time my marriage suffered. My wife, God bless her, stayed with me through it but it was touch and go for a while and at some points there she could’ve hardly been blamed if she had left. We fought constantly. We were always at each other’s throats. Any little thing could set us off and I remember being paranoid about the smallest details because everything had become a land mine. Shirts not in the hamper? That was a 30 minute fight. Her shoes got mud in my car? That’s an hour. The dog shed on the couch? I punch a hole in the wall. The baby cries all night? I might’ve thrown myself from off a bridge.

Of course, none of that fighting was about what started it. The shirts were only a problem because I was a problem. The dog was just being a dog, it was me who was unstable. My depression had made our marriage so weak that anything and everything threatened to tear it down. A legion of ants on the floor back then might as well have been demons from Hell. I’d have blamed her for not cleaning up properly, she’d have yelled at me for not helping, I’d have cursed her and asked what kind of person did she think she was to deserve it, she’d have shoved me, I’d have stormed out and slammed the door and woken the baby up. My wife would cry. I’d go downstairs and practice killing myself.

So yea. Problems with ants.

I’m better now and my marriage is stable and good. Because of this, I could afford not to kill. I could let the ant live. When you see a violent man, the odds are you’re also looking at weak one. Maybe not physically, no, but economically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually? True some men are simply evil but… then again…. it’s not exactly clear what the difference between the weak and evil is. Weak men fall to temptation. Only the strong can be virtuous. Only from a place of power can you show compassion. The Kingdom of God is within you, and your internal kingdom must be strong.

You have a moral obligation to build yourself up. Start doing so. One by one, each of us doing that… that is how we save the world.

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