They Combed Their Hair At Thermopylae
“Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something more infinitely important than itself.” — CS Lewis
Life is never without crises. Our daily distractions often allow us to ignore this truth, until something frightening happens and forces our attention. In these difficult times of global crisis, many of us are paying close attention and many more of us are feeling the full force of the blow. Not dealing with crisis is worse. Yet, even in our disillusion, denial and devastation, life goes on. It more than goes on.
Far beyond mere survival, in the worst of times humans explore thought beyond limitations of crisis. We do much more than exist. In his essay on war, CS Lewis wrote of our human history, saying we do not put off cultural activities until disaster is averted or conflict resolved. Waiting until life is without danger to seek out knowledge and beauty is a moment that will never come. We do not wait.
Long before the film 300, Lewis told us that men will conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, and make jokes on scaffolds. The Spartan warriors combed their hair at Thermopylae. Though knowing their death was imminent, these men honored being alive by understanding the importance of what is left behind. This ensures continuity. We honor the evolution of our culture, this is our nature.
In early times, Neanderthals managed their survival. The Cromagnons transcended root needs as their culture emerged. They learned strategy, and by painting tales on cave walls, created art and history. Though for a time the two groups existed side by side, the Neanderthal, held in place by its limitation, died out. Moving past the predicament of survival, early man — the conscious, thinking, creative man, was born.
We are not only resilient, but we have the urge to move into higher and loftier thought. It is the foundation of human progress. Our survival is ensured in our ability to do more than survive. Man is more than the fight. Much more.