So, when I told my father that I was going to study art in college, I didn’t get the reaction many of my peers did. Thankfully, my father did not react by immediately orchestrating an intervention. He probably didn’t consider my decision particularly wise, or think that it would offer advantages under the trials of life, or that it was the decision he would have made himself. But he didn’t try to stop me or talk me out of it.
My dad didn’t go to college as a young man. The next generation in my family has made up for that and racked up more than a few degrees, due in no small part to the fact that my parents are very intelligent people and instilled in us a value for education. However, they were somewhat ambivalent about the value of a college degree, or more specifically about the notion that what one chose to study would really matter in terms of a career or what someone did with their life. They taught us to answer when opportunity knocked, but also not to let whatever we might lack hold us back from anything.
Funny enough, I have followed in many of my father’s footsteps when it comes to making my living in business. He worked as a real estate broker and entrepreneur as long as I can remember. In response to my desire to study art, he told me that Thomas Jefferson said, “I study war, that my children may study business, that their children may study the arts.” I later learned that this quote is more accurately ascribed to John Adams and reads,
“I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have the liberty to study Mathematics and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematics and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”
Dad got the gist and correctly pinned it on a founding father.
Despite his unspoken fears for my chosen course, he inspired me that my pursuit of the arts was possible because of the sacrifice of others. If his work in business was responsible for creating an opportunity for me, I should take the opportunity and he would be proud.
Which brings me to my point. I just finished reading Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer, which I highly recommend. I never followed Tillman‘s college or NFL football career. I heard about him—leaving his football career, joining the army, and subsequently being killed—on the news, complete with all the spin, just like most everybody else.
I think like most people, I was smart enough to know that the story was being spun, but also to know that whatever the truth was behind Pat Tillman’s decision, someone had just made a choice that involved a lot of sacrifice and that had to be based in principles. In my eyes, that alone made him worthy of my respect. When he was killed and it was later reported that his death was due to friendly fire, I thought about whether that ought to diminish my esteem for him. The way it was reported kind of made it sound like “Oh, he got killed by his own guys, so he isn’t really a hero.”
To me it makes no difference. Pat Tillman made the ultimate sacrifice, but every soldier shows that they are willing to make that sacrifice when they enlist. They become heroes in that moment and then, so long as they keep themselves free from disgrace and dishonor, deserve to command our respect. By “our” I mean those of us who are free to pursue our livelihoods, to practice business, to raise our families, and to enjoy the life we can create for ourselves, because someone else is willing to die to give it to us. I know that there are thousands of “thank a soldier” blogs out there who do a better job of making the case for respecting those who serve. But for me, Pat Tillman offers the opportunity to reverence a contemporary the way we reverence Nathan Hale, to keep in remembrance the name of a real person, only a few years younger than I am, who “more than self, their country loved.”
Pat Tillman’s story reminds me of another phrase from founding father, Samuel Adams,
“Contemplate the mangled bodies of your countrymen, and then say, ‘What should be the reward of such sacrifices? Bid us and our posterity bow the knee, supplicate the friendship, and plow, and sow, and reap, to glut the avarice of the men who have let loose on us the dogs of war to riot in our blood and hunt us from the face of the earth? If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude than the animating contest of freedom’–go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!”
Let’s pursue the virtuous goals of our lives in gratitude and reverence for the fact that our ability to pursue these endeavors according to our own choices and abilities depends on generations upon generations of individuals who were committed to the principles of liberty and freedom—committed enough to give up their own pursuit of similar goals, in favor of sacrificing their lives.
Also, check out the Pat Tillman Foundation.