The making of a Late-Modern Testament.
|Chapter 33: Post-Modern Heroes - Michael and Giordana
“Little Michael has arrived in world under siege, where all that is good and worthy has been thrown away and trashed. All around us, life and order is crumbling into a chaos where nothing works, or if it does, perversely. Our humanity is constantly challenged by impossible paradoxes and ambiguity. Uncritical friendship, trust and openness of character are dangerous when all around us there are enemies awaiting any weakness they can find; any chink in our defenses, for undisciplined virtues bare us to attack as much as the ordinary weaknesses and vices.
Michael is now completely at the mercy of whatever comes into his life. We have to provide him with not just protection, but the consciousness to stay close to that protection at all times. And while he is young, that means he does as he is told and quick about it, without argument. One day his life may depend on it.
We have high expectations of Michael. We will not accept the second rate from him because only the first rate will enable him to move securely in the world he is about to enter. And that means being as tough and uncompromising with those expectations as is necessary and appropriate in the circumstances.
In the first instance that means laying down firm routines and sticking to them, for this is the foundation on which you will build the boy who will become the man, who knows that he has to fit into his community, not the other way round. And the quicker you get those routines in place and working, the easier it will be for parents and particularly the health of his mother, because inevitably, the worst of the strain of dealing with a complete dependant infant will fall on her. We do not need unnecessarily exhausted and stressed out mothers of such infants. This is why husbands are so important in taking turns on night shift and applying perhaps slightly less empathetic behavior for getting the rules in place that will make upbringing easier for the adults in the short term, and produce a pattern of more reliable behavior training outcomes in the longer one.
For you who must give him his first lessons in this great project, there is the difficult business of drawing the line between meeting his needs and indulging him. This is an area fraught with hazard if it isn’t handled properly and requires considerable trust between mother and father. Mother has very powerful instincts that are perceptive and right most of the time. But equally, and especially when she gets tired and stressed, she can lose perspective and needs a father’s emotional distance to help her get over that.
Male ‘insensitivity’ and insistence on firm parameters is a legitimate contribution to early childhood that should backstop the mother’s intuitive nurturance, when the going gets tough. Mothers need to know themselves well enough to know when to let go and let father do his thing, when that moment comes.
Michael’s present needs are great and unconditional. He needs enormous inputs of energy, maintenance, interactive communication and loving responsiveness. We have to guess at, interpret and meet these needs as they arise, because he cannot yet tell us what they are. And we do not have the luxury of being able to guarantee to ourselves that our guesses are right. All his needs are presently urgent and will be pressed by him accordingly.
As time passes however, and much sooner than you may think, for babies are fast learners, you have to make judgments about whether his crying and screams are signals for urgent needs to be met, or whether his growing sense of empowerment in the world is starting to assert itself. Babies can become quite savvy at getting emotional leverage off harassed and stressed parents, who just want the crying to stop. They may be primitively unsophisticated, but they aren’t stupid. What they cannot know is that lack of routine can stress them out too and may disrupt their wellbeing and behavior.
Be generous to him, for from that he will learn of generosity, but only if you also make sure that you limit it enough for him to eventually learn generosity to others; that he eventually comes to understand that he is not the centre of the universe and that the needs of others must sometimes come before his. This is the heart of our system of socialization and it starts right at the beginning, even if those lessons are only given initially in the smallest degree. We want him to grow, but not into one of the little princes of yesteryear
By all means err on the side of possible indulgence for a while, until you have your son’s measure a little more. And as you do, you start to press your case for the child you want him to become. That won’t be easy, because his ego is all encompassing. He won’t like the application of discipline and counter-demands. There will be a power struggle and you as parents must win, or he and we will lose.
Setting the balance between Michael and others and doing this with all your heart will bring him to the fount of his strength, to be a good and worthy son, brother, friend, team player and perhaps a leader amongst his peers.
Go with our blessings in this great journey, for although it may seem a small struggle in the greater context of the life of this community, it is for each of us the largest measure of ourselves, which when taken together, makes up the social chain mail that secures us all. And we cannot afford weak links; for it is there that our enemies will attack.
Know that we stand by you to add our weight to yours. You are not alone, for just as you are becoming mentors to Michael, so you have those who have come before and mentored you. He will acquire other mentors from amongst his elders, just as you will mentor others beyond your own immediate family, when the time comes. This matrix of mutual support will succor you always, just as you and your peers will succor him and others of his generation and following ones.
Even so, it will not be easy. You will need every ounce of your energy and courage to commit the necessary resources and draw the difficult lines in the sand that all generations must do, if their new human capital is to prosper and thrive.
Bless you for stepping up to the reproductive challenge. Bless Michael for being our hope for the future. Protect him so that one day he can protect us.
Go in the love that binds us and makes us strong, so that you too will bind it and make it stronger
This is our faith. This is our living fortress. This is our surest defense in adversity and our greatest gift to our world. Even in a thousand years, this edifice will not be finished, for it is a work in progress that every generation must rebuild. Every generation is under the same pressure to succeed and none can afford to fail, ever.
The price of failure is death; in the first instance, the social and personal software that makes us whole; then, inexorably, the built and natural infrastructure we live in and depend upon to make a living; and then, the final blows that turn our community into a thing of the past, and its population either scattered or killed.
Go in faith. Go in love. We are with you always. Amen.”
And Michael grew from baby to child and then into his adolescence; that difficult period when he had to leave childish things behind and start the long journey into adulthood; its joys and its heavy responsibilities. Teaching him his responsibilities and rationing his privileges in accordance with his progress towards his goal would be a challenging and bumpy ride, for him and those who mentored him. He would cleave and fight, win and lose, love and hate and all the extremes of triumph and despair would be his companions, until at last he would find his feet and his initially humble place in the world of men and women.
At the age of 13, he made his way into the rite of passage towards adulthood. This treacherous transition was a signal for the adults around him to close ranks so that he could be both closely controlled and protected while he made the passage. He would never again be the object of so much scrutiny, concern and hardnosed discipline. His thirteenth birthday was not so much a celebration as the introduction to the army of a new recruit.
The Passage to Adulthood:
“We are here to celebrate the beginning of Michael’s entry into the world of adults. We can already see the strengths and weaknesses of the man to be. It is our commission as his armorers, to arm the former, and armor him against the latter.
We must teach him honor, virtue and duty, so that he might be a model of the things that hold us together and keep us sustainably strong. We cannot afford even one weak link in the chain of life, not just for here and now, but for the degraded social product it reproduces downstream, by way of associates and successors. We must teach him that there are no excuses for doing what he should not and not doing what he should, or doing it badly or half-heartedly. We live too close to the economic and military precipice to tolerate poor social attitudes and practice.
More than anything else, successful reproduction of our social system and the relationships that underpin it, are the key to our success in all our other endeavors. We must teach Michael that however desirable and attractive girls are and however much he wants to cleave to them, they are for all that, just sisterly peers, who should command the same respect, tact, manners, consideration, sensitivity, camaraderie and competitive jostle, as would be allotted to a brother or any other young male. They are not there for him to sexually interfere with and if he is caught doing it, the consequences will be severe. It is our brief to keep our maturing children safe from themselves and each other and we take that extremely seriously.
Reproductive behavior is the preserve of men and women, who are of an age, training and maturity to cope with what is a complex and challenging relationship. Boys and girls, despite whatever knowledge they may flatter themselves with on this subject, understand virtually nothing of what is really involved. What goes on between men and women is much tougher and more hazardous than it looks and we cannot afford the mistakes, mismatches, misunderstanding and the misery that so often comes, when precocious behavior meets blithe ignorance. Nor can we necessarily fix some of the nastier venereal diseases that are going round. Nor will we tolerate the use up attitudes that can be so prevalent amongst particularly male adolescents.
What you will get, young Michael, is a sister mentor, who is seven years your senior. This puts you out of range of physical intimacy with her, because she is an adult and you aren’t, but she will induct you into emotional intimacy and lead you in the lessons you need to know about how to be with a woman. If you do what she tells you, exactly; listen to everything she says, intently; and you manage somehow, against all odds, to win her faint approval as a suitable young man who might pass scratch with the other sex, you might qualify for an introduction to a young woman who thinks you aren’t of bad report, at the appropriate time, when Sister Mentor thinks you are ready.
And if you fail with your Sister Mentor, do not expect to find a female partner in this community. Bear that in mind when you feel like having a fight with her, as you undoubtedly will, from time to time. Remember, that however angry you get, you have to be thinking about the repairs you will need to do afterwards. And that will depend on how you have limited the damage of the fight in the first place. It is just one of the many skills that she may teach you that will vitally affect your future quality of life and prospects. And if you learn them well, Sister Mentor’s good report on you, which will be available to every young woman who eventually consents to be introduced to you, will stand you in good stead......or not, if it isn’t.
She will build on the platform that your parents, teachers and community leaders have already been teaching you about how you deal with adults and peers and being a good group member. She will teach you the specifics of what it is that women want from their men folk in terms of the solicitous and constant attention that the business of partnering and raising a family of your own requires. And in all things, at all times, it is your capacity to give more than you get; that you are not the centre of any relationship; and that you must pay attention to the other, so that you anticipate their needs, without them having to ask, or demand, or fight you for them to be met. She will make sure you understand that the drivers of your hormonal needs will always be the last in line to get fed.
I say it again, just in case you didn’t hear the first time, the drivers of your hormonal needs will always be the last in line to be fed. Even the most senior commanders always feed the troops first and only then feed themselves, no matter how hungry they are. Never ever, ever forget that, because if you do, it will be branded onto your backside as a reminder.
It is over to you and Ms Angela Bradbury, who has very kindly agreed to act as your Sister Mentor. And remember, if you do win her approval, she will be there for you whenever you need counsel, support or a kick in the backside, through girlfriend and marriage problems and crises, even when you have reached an age and station when you are mentoring others. Treat her as you would a close relative, for you may never be closer to anyone else, except perhaps for your immediate birth family and wife-to-be.
A man who neglects his sister mentor is unworthy to be seen in decent company. So look after her as if your life depended on it, because in some ways it does. She is the crossover point between your parents and your future family, if you choose to have one and are able to bring one into being.
And if you then apply these lessons to all your relationships, male or female, you will be blessed with the love of those who deal with you, your affairs will likely prosper and you will be able to enter the great hall of happiness that is the reward for a life well lived. And no matter how you rise in the affairs of the world, that law of relationships will still apply.
Your sister mentor, eventually, if she comes to believe that you can be trusted, will entrust you with a lot of very personal and intimate information. If you ever abuse that and we find out about it, I will personally thrash you within a millimeter of your life. Keeping confidences is a fundamental rule here and we do not tolerate gossip. Don’t do it, or even think about it.
Moving right along, while sex and the relationships built around it loom large in Michael’s and any other young fellow’s priorities, they aren’t the only ones that needs claim their attention. We must teach him to be able to absorb blows without demur, so that he will not collapse under a welter of misfortunes, and still find it in himself to summon his courage, even when all seems lost. We must teach him to strike when he must and defend what he holds dear. Security for all of us is tenuous, and doing whatever is necessary to protect this community is expected of everyone, male or female, but particularly males, for they are more expendable.
Just in case you are still uncertain about this; women are the vessels of life and each one of them is worth ten of you. You will sacrifice anything to keep her and her children alive and in good health, no matter what! The only reason our female military reserve gets used is because we have run out of men. This is not to say that women do not make fine soldiers. It is just that if we lose a young woman to battle, we lose not just her, but her potential children as well. And we regard mothers as more critically important to family life than fathers. Women construct family life. Men support them. So if we have to lose a family adult, the males are the first to go. Period!
We live in a dangerous world, so we must teach him foresight to sense round corners, to anticipate hazard and opportunity, and the caution to cover his back and his options. We must teach him to see the world as others do, so that he can guess what they bring to the table, and how they might play their hand. We must teach him to balance his ambitions and his judgment against the need to work collaboratively, for unique though he may be, he is a satellite of our social order and part of its interlocking mesh.
And yes, as we do with his sisters, we must teach him the skills he needs to be economically useful, support his community, himself and eventually his family, for we do not have the fat in our system to carry much dead weight for long. And no matter how humble or exalted the skills, we expect them to be performed to a high standard, every time, for we have invested heavily in him and expect a consistent return on that investment, in due season.
Michael has talents we want developed to the highest possible degree. He particularly shows an aptitude for organizing and manipulating materials and thinking both abstractly and concretely in three dimensions. While we have limited engineering facilities here, some of our allies do have a fuller suite, and we would like to be able to better establish such an industry here in the future, circumstances permitting. We have high expectations of Michael.
Michael, this is one of the most memorable and changeful periods of your life. It is also one of its most challenging, and how you manage it will depend in large measure what opportunities come your way for the rest of it. Often, you will be tempted to squander them, and we will be there, as far as it is in our power, to make sure you don’t. We do not want you to look back on it with regret for things that should have and could have been. You will not always know what is in your own best interests, even when you think you do. That is what we are here for. It is for you.
In some ways, we have much better things to do than worry about you, and yet we will, even as we half die in frustration and irritation with the half grown man and half lost child, who tries our patience and goodwill.
And all this, Michael, must be conducted under the shadow of the disorders, violence, disease and famine that stalks us from year to year. We cannot guarantee anything or really know our fate. We can only struggle as best we can to make what we have got work, in the hope that there is something left for you and your children.
Is this possible? Are you up to it? What does the future hold for us in this insecure and unstable world we have inherited? You are as much a key to the answer to that question as any of the rest of us. How you take your place amongst the men and women of your generation, will in some measure determine what that answer is.
Go securely in the faith and love that we shall bequeath you. That is our greatest gift beyond all else that we will ever give you. Treasure it in your darkest hours that it might light your way to better times. Never take that for granted, for with your steadfast goodwill, it will be your companion and strength for always.
Michael, welcome to the company of aspirants to the world of men and women.”
Michael grew up in the sometimes exciting, sometimes tempestuous and sometimes dangerous times he lived in. He took risks, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not, and escaped with most of his skin intact. He felt both the wrath and the love of his mentors and family as he felt and pushed his way from being a child into becoming the man. He made a lot of friendships and a few enmities amongst his peers that would last much of his life. He made acquaintance with the world of women and learnt something of their ways as best as any young man is likely to. His sister mentor thought he was a fair kind of fellow who would be suitable for introduction to some young women, who she judged would be good for him. There is a couple that he rather likes and that is still in play, under her ever watchful eye. Sex is for proper grownups, who are fully engaged with one another at all levels of the relationship.
It is recognized that young people come to their maturity at different times, somewhere between the ages of seventeen and twenty. This decision tends to be made later in time than for girls, who generally get to maturity a bit earlier. For boys, the sister-mentor, in consultation with the parents and the area committee, make that decision.
Michael's, coming of age was his seventeenth birthday.
A few don’t make it into adult society, despite the best efforts of all around them. Eventually, they have to leave the community and make their own way in the world. They are almost always accepted back after a year or two, if they genuinely want to try again, and they are not a security risk.
Coming of Age:
“Coming of Age is always a momentous occasion. We are all so pleased and proud that Michael has made it into the ranks of our men folk, albeit as a very junior member of its fraternity. He moves out of the world of his parents into it, just as his sisters move into their age cohort sorority at their coming of age. It will become one of the major controlling influences in his life, until he reaches a level of seniority when he may become one of the controllers, along with other leading brothers and sisters of his generation, and joins the Combined Council of Elders, that manages our community.
It is a time when his relationship with Angela changes into second gear. Michael and Angela now understand each other as adults, and while she is the senior one, they constitute a kind of informal working group to fine tune his domestic affairs, which are still in some state of flux. From now on, Michael will enter into more intimate relationships with the women in his life, until he finds a lifelong companion who will have him. Angela will continue to be his confidant, but also ensure that these relationships are strictly serial, not casual and they only ever end after proper exploration of all the possibilities of lifelong commitment have been explored, and found not to be appropriate in all the circumstances. Relationship churning is not tolerated.
We understand that Michael has got as far as the stage 2 relationship engagement module with a fellow engineer, Giordana de Sanctis, who is here with us today to celebrate with him this big day in his life. We wish them well in their journey of exploration and hope that whatever happens, it will be an important growth experience for both of them, and the basis for a lifelong friendship, whether that ends in marriage or not.
We consider it a very important test of the caliber of the individuals involved and the success of our training, that long term friendship is the outcome, even if it were a propensity to quarrel or important lacks in commonality that made the relationship a non-marital one. The capacity to fight and maintain relationship respect and integrity, and the capacity to make the best of what one has, is a vital training outcome and test of our social product.
We do not take kindly to the wanton waste of good social capital. Sister Mentor Angela has spent far too much thought, effort and time selecting Giordana and grooming this couple for that to lead to nothing. Even if that choice in hindsight proves to be wrong, they both owe it to her and the rest of us to conserve the value that has been generated in that failed exercise.
Even if Giordana does not marry Michael, she may well be important in his life by being a sister mentor to one of his younger brothers, or a career mentor for one of his other siblings. And Michael may well be a career mentor for one of hers. Thus no engagement potential is wasted here and is therefore available to strengthen our social and economic matrix.
Whatever happens between Giordana and Michael, we expect a profit for the outlay of social capital we have invested in them and some solid social infrastructure as a legacy for the next generation.
As an intellectual learner, Michael has proven himself worthy of the hopes we had for him. His feel for hands on engineering and his flair for design means at last we have a wo to go knowledge intensive practical worker who can help bring our engineering workshops up to the next level of production technology and innovation. With his help, and those of others we have trained, we will be able to widen our inventory of manufacture to include tractor and automotive spare parts and machine gun sub-assemblies.
The very intensive twenty-four months he spent with our somewhat larger number five sister community across the border in South Australia, were an invaluable investment for us and we thank them for their help and support of us and Michael, while he was there.
Now that he has come of age, Michael moves from our cadet youth reserve forces into the standing defense militia, where he will spend the next twelve months full time and then move to part time in its service, for the rest of his active life. We anticipate that after he has gone through his militia upgrade training, the defense forces will get the use of his skills as a manufacturing armorer, equipment battle damage salvager and mine field/IED designer.
And so, Michael has come amongst us as a man, to take his place amongst men, to choose and engage a mate who perhaps will one day have a family with him, to start the road of a promising career, to be there for us when we need him, to sacrifice himself if that is necessary, that we shall survive and possibly prosper for another generation. He takes upon himself the certainty of the grave and sometimes heavy responsibilities of adulthood, hopefully some of its joys and rewards, the love of his mate and his children, and the respect of his community. And if our hopes are realized, he will hand these virtues and the heavy mantle that comes with them, to another generation, who will hopefully replicate the standards he set.
Michael takes his place as a man with the gravity and seriousness that that implies. He is not without humor or light hearted moments, but he must never forget what he is there for, what has been done to get him there and the ambitions he and his community have for him.
Bless you Michael. May you live long and happily in the arms of your community, your mate, your future children and those other children whom you come to mentor.
Bless you Michael. Live warmly in the love and security that you have inherited and that which you will bequeath. Go safely. Go with confidence. Go with hope and courage. Go even to death, knowing that you have done everything in your power to safely pass on the baton of life to the next generation, and that your life has been honorable and worth the effort you put into it.
I give you Michael, the man.........”
His youth slipped off him like a loved set of clothes that did not fit anymore and no longer seemed quite so stylish as they once did. His maturity grew over him, somehow making him seem more solid to the beholder and stronger of mind and resolve, with a graver look in his face. The unformed innocent openness gave way to something more defined and set. His gestures were more measured, deliberate and the spontaneity no longer had free run of his whole sensibility; or at least not as often as it used to. His laugh was deeper and more resonant, as was his voice. His capacity to sustain concentration on what he was doing had become much more pronounced. His values and self understanding were sufficiently shaped and practiced for him to start to become more definite in his judgments, and confident in backing them.
His relationship with his Sister Mentor Angela was one of increasingly loving respect for someone who had given him more than anyone else in the world except perhaps his parents. It was a very intimate relationship in that he knew a great deal about her personal affairs, including her marriage to Bert, at which he had been a best boy. And he knew how not easy that relationship could be from time to time. But his and her relationship was still a very unequal one, in that it would never occur to him to be anything but a learner from her. What her learning edges were, were none of his business, for she had a mentor of her own who would deal them, and it would be considered very poor form if he ever presumed they were.
Whenever he came to her, it would always be he who kissed her on the cheek. He was still the supplicant, and would be until he was into his middle thirties
Giordana and Michael were now into their final engagement unit where they were being subjected to increasingly tough and demanding team effort projects, which would put the relationship through some stress tests, along with other couples doing the same thing. This included domestic conflict training, and it wasn’t just lots of theory. It meant getting down and dirty, and ending up with some emotional bruises. It meant getting into truth and reconciliation, learning damage control and managing conflict. It meant sexual intimacy, but with very solid etiquette and sensitivity training thrown in. The old mantra, “Your hormonal needs are always the last to get fed”, was drummed in over and over again.
Thus Michael came into bloom and married his lover and truest friend, Giordana.
“Dear Friends. There was a time when enormous resources were put into marital ceremony and feasting, gifts and honeymoons. Weddings were full of effusive congratulation for a union happily concluded. It was only a matter of time before a failure rate between forty and fifty percent would begin to mock such blithely optimistic pomp and ceremony. Thus today, the celebration of the wedding of Giordana and Michael is a modest affair, conducted with a humility that is proper to it.
There was also a time in our community when marriages were contracted and lived out as if they were entirely private matters. With such a prolific failure rate, the catastrophic losses, both tangible and intangible, became too great to ignore. Authorities could no longer afford to just keep flushing marital debris through the divorce, social security and child maintenance systems. Nor could the broader community continue to absolve itself from taking much greater responsibility for such a terrible outcome by simply assuming the private failure of the contracting parties. System collapse was starting to stare everyone in the face. Something had to be done and it was done.
Thus today, Michael and Giordana, after much soul searching and counsel, trial separation and community based marital mentoring, have taken the first step of many in what we hope and expect will be a lifelong growth experience that will be more important to them and us and succeeding generations than anything else they ever do.
Today their marriage is being much more carefully prepared for and publicly scrutinized by a much more proactive surrounding community. We have all had to learn to be more actively interested in each other and much franker about our emotions and intimacies. Only by declaring ourselves openly to others could we expect them to be open in return. Thus our system of mentorship only works because the mentors have to tell all first, starting with their failures and disappointments. By such acts of trust freely given, trust and affection is returned and so it is with great pleasure that today we honor Michael’s Sister Mentor, Angela Bradbury and her husband Bert. They have agreed to be Michael and Giordana’s best people today, and have thus taken on the lifelong obligation to mentor their marriage. All of us gratefully thank them and wish them well in this demanding and caring endeavor.
This ceremony has been as simple, short and low key as the stage of their relationship; i.e., a very initial encounter on the long and sometimes arduous road of marital partnership. To use a Real Estate analogy, they have merely procured and today taken possession of a commonly owned territory or space for their partnership that presently boasts sunny summer days, balmy nights, dreamy views and the very sweetest tent for two.
Now they have to build a more all weather and solid structure whose very windows will restrict and put those views into clearer and perhaps less flattering focus. Above all, it must also have a flexible, extendable and upgradable infrastructure to meet the ever-changing circumstances of their lives. In short, they will have to capitalize and then maintain this psychological space in much the same way as the physical ones that they will acquire.
None of this rather sober reflection is to belittle the obviously very real romantic love and passion that has brought Michael and Giordana to this point. For them, right now, it is all encompassing. It is hard for them to see anything else but the heart racingly exciting prospect of being together for always and always.
We do understand this, for we have not forgotten these halcyon moments in our own lives. Long may something of this abide in their hearts. It is the profoundly necessary initial glue that holds men and women together through the struggles that particularly attend the earlier years of married life. May this romantic engagement become part of the deeper understanding, empathy, forgiveness, respect and commitment that comes from overcoming those hurdles together.
Nothing is more endearing or profoundly hopeful than to see an older couple who are still having a ball together. But by saying ‘still’, I don’t mean, as they were when they fell in love, but still, despite the hardships, the conflicts, the frustrations and the obstacles they have overcome, all to keep their relationship fresh, challenging and fun. They have never given in to ennui, or resignation or despair. They have found and cultivated all that was good between them through constant, thoughtful and loving effort. Equally, they have learned to accept with grace and forbearance the not so good things that they must unavoidably endure in one another.
This is an impressive achievement, but not one for you to beat yourselves with if you don’t eventually attain quite such a blissful state. It is not given to all of us, despite our best efforts, because we cannot control all the variables. There are some elements in relationships that are so serendipitous they defy definition. Perhaps most of the relationships under this roof today, while not blissful, still represent very solid relationship achievements that are to be admired and respected.
Thus while all of us here share a considerable satisfaction today at the joining of Giordana and Michael, and hold fervent hopes for their future together, as with any really momentous life decision, it is as much a grave and anxious moment as a joyous one. Behind them are much easier, safer, and more predictable lives. Before them are learning curves as steep as cliffs, whose tops are yet shrouded by the mists of uncertainty, limited knowledge and inexperience.
Today you have given away the last of the things of youth and taken on the beginnings of your part in holding up the roofs and walls of the world, so that its and possibly your children can grow, thrive and emerge safely from under its eaves; so that they may take your place when the time comes, with the energy, love, faith, steadfastness and knowledge that you have passed on to them.
And yes, they will inherit many of your flaws, so be wary of them. Minimize them if you can, for they weaken these structures. Remember, bad temper, impatience, thoughtlessness, arrogance, unreliability, faithlessness, greed, laziness, cowardice and all the thousands of other human failings, are all the more reliably learned by the young the more you model them. And if you cannot find it in your heart to hold the structures of domestic life together, how can your successors hope to do so? It is a heavy responsibility and burden you have taken on.
Thus today we are restraining our very natural exuberance that Michael and Giordana are now together with our collective blessing. However, they do have our most heartfelt promise that we will celebrate their marriage and give recognition to their marital achievements in an ever more carefree and grand manner, as they pass the tests of time and trial. They have our earnest promise that we will be there for them in their times of need, in helping them to regularly analyze their progress, remedy faults, encourage strengths and reward their successes. Their success as a couple is not merely their goal, but ours.
Just as Giordana and Michael have promised lifelong intimacy and partnership with each other, so relatives, close community and we their friends supportively bind ourselves to them. In this we hope and expect that they will grow in stature, esteem and authority as they travel through life together and in their turn become honored role models and mentors for those who come after them.
Go therefore in the peace that is to be the fruit of your love’s labor. Eat of it freely, for the more you partake of it, the more it grows and the tastier it becomes. It can never cost you too much, for its value is priceless. It will enrich all of us while you live and it will be the most substantial part of whatever you bequeath to your successors. Bless you both. May the warmth, comfort and love you and we give to each other, keep and hold us all our lives, and down the generations.”
Michael and Giordana seamlessly became part of the stream of life of their community. She and Michael had three children. One died during the ‘police action’ when BURP gangs (BUrn/mUrder/Rape/Pillage) staged a surprise attack and the number 2 crèche was hit by mortar fire. The staff just couldn’t get them all down into the shelter fast enough. The child died immediately. The commune counter attacked, with Michael leading a militia company behind the attackers, cutting off their retreat.
Of those attackers who were not killed in this assault and surrendered, the leaders were tried for murder, found guilty and were hanged. The others were allowed to go free in chained pairs; one without thumbs and the other without big toes. Both were branded on the forehead with the commune logo. They were a sobering reminder to anyone they met, of the wrath and justice of the Commune Number 3; measured justice, with the promise that the whole limb to which the toe or thumb had been attached would also go, if they were ever caught near the commune again.
Giordana never really fully recovered from the grief of it, but the community rallied around her and helped her (and Michael) to carry the burden of her depression. It was the additional work and community involvement that they gave to her that enabled her to gradually get over some of the terrible loss. Others had suffered equally grievously and working with them helped her to put her own grief into a livable perspective.
The two remaining children took on their dead sister’s name into their own, so that the memory of her would live on in them. They would always, from then on, be addressed with two names, even though in one case it was of the opposite sex.
Michael was sponsored to study for a full engineering degree, and went on to become an inter-community technical and military coordinator. He became career mentor to Angela’s youngest child and in his mid thirties took command of the cadet reserve forces for the commune. His father died of one of those intractable diseases that antibiotics no longer had the capacity to fight. It was a long, painful and lingering death that coincided with his son’s forty-second birthday.
“Simon my father was not a man of many words. When he had to speak, it was sparingly. What we his children knew of him were in his gestures; the look in his eye; the set of his face and the body language that would signal his moods and expectations of others. There was a certain density in his manner that made him somewhat larger than life. We feared as much as loved him, for his praise was as sublime as his wrath was painful.
He wasn’t remote or judging in that biblical sense, but he did evince power and one could sense that there was always a bit of it kept in reserve, even when he was letting his guard down. When Mum got to the end of her patience, she would get frustrated, angry and scolding. When Father got to the end of his, ‘stuff’ happened.
He drew the line over what was and wasn’t OK with clarity and consistency. Whatever we children were doing, we knew what Father was likely to think and do if he were privy to it, for good or ill. And mother’s threat of what might happen when father got home, was not an empty one.
No matter how busy he was, he always took the time to take an interest in what we were doing, how we were faring and what needed an eye kept on it.
My father Simon had high expectations of us, but he forgave all if we genuinely couldn’t fulfill them. His charity knew no bounds and his love for us was always, whatever his disappointments, without qualification or resentment. And we hardly ever tested him in this, because we loved him back enough to want to do the best by him that we could.
Simon was very generous in his mentoring, both in the career sector and dealing with boys who needed a man’s hand to guide them. In these troubled times, a number of children in our community lose parents to hunger or disease, but more often they lose fathers in the defense of the commune. We keep our women in reserve as far as possible, because they reproduce and make good our losses. So the men must make the bulk of sacrifices to the gods of war. And fatherless adolescent children are particularly vulnerable at that age. I note that all of Simon’s ‘other children’, Ilse, Bruno, Fatima and Leong , are here to grieve his passing.
Simon was a child when this commune was founded and saw it grow and survive disaster on a number of occasions. His father was one of the founders and Simon grew up as its charter and conditions were being hammered out. The laissez-faire libertarianism based around social rights that was inherited originally from the American constitution, and found its most extreme expression in latter-day consumer societies, was dumped in favor of a much more responsibility and obligations intensive regime. Parents became accountable for the behavior of their children to the commune and children became accountable to their parents in ways that had not been possible in the previous hundred years.
It was realized that survival meant producing people who were disciplined, reliable and worked to very high personal standards. Only by achieving that consistently could the commune guarantee itself from being suborned from within and able to maintain strength by creating a matrix of interlocking social armor, which would operate like a phalanx, or chain mail, both on a battlefield and off.
Simon grew up as the system of inter-family and half generation mentorship evolved, to plug gaps, cross check weaker players and modify inter-generational conflict. Simon was the first cohort product of that system and it was obvious to anyone who knew him and was old enough to remember the chaos that ended consumer capitalism, what a huge difference the new social compact made to the quality of the young people who were its first graduates. Simon was a model youth and man in the new mould.
Simon and his commune brothers and sisters, including my mother, developed what scholars of the ancient Roman world called auctoritas, gravitas, dignitas and pietas. They became adults with depth. They could command respect just by their presence. And I feel that presence all around me and in me, because I, and my brother and sister, and those peers of ours who he and my mother influenced, carry what he and she taught and lived into the deepest part of ourselves.
My late father walks in us. I hear his voice in mine; his mannerisms; even some of the phrases he used. The man may be dead, but what he bequeathed lives and its legacy is something to be proud of. He left an estate, but most of its wealth is built inside us.
His tireless efforts to be a good husband, father, community member and leader; to improve our security and standard of living; and to ensure that his life’s work would be left in good hands, are a testament to him and a challenge to us, that we will be worthy of him.
How can we forget what he and our Mother did for us? And although her marital bed seems so very empty without him, we, the product of that bed, are still there for her, to comfort her always and to remind her of him. We bring her the attentiveness that he and she taught us. There is a fund of stories that we will always share, of what brought us and kept us together, which is the ongoing history of our family. And her grandchildren, who are the future promise that she and he made possible, have and will continue to give the mother still left in her its second chance, but without the pressures that she once had to endure.
Mother, you are surrounded by those who love you dearly, and while nothing can altogether compensate for your loss, your and our children are the leaves and branches to the root that you have become to us; all the more treasured for the loss of the other. Bless you always.
And thus, and thus, I give you Simon, father to us and the people of this land. Long may his presence be felt and his memory and the things he stood for be honored.
After the cremation, all those of you who came to say goodbye will get a dusting of his ashes to rub onto their skin, that a little of it would be absorbed into and become part of the wearer.
Bless all of you for sharing with us the burden of and grieving for his death. Bless you for your words of concern and condolence. And may you be blessed with a life as rich and fulfilled as his was.
Go therefore in the peace that is to be the fruit of your love’s labor. Eat of it freely, for the more you partake of it, the more it grows and the better it tastes. It can never cost you too much, for its value is priceless. It will enrich all of us while you live and it will be the most substantial part of whatever you bequeath to your successors. Bless you all. May the warmth, comfort and love you and we give to each other, keep and hold us all our lives, and down the generations.”
Brother Michael of the Rock:
Michael and Giordana did not grow old together. During the Great Famine, Michael started to give a good part of his food ration to his two remaining children, even as he continued to work tirelessly to save the commune from marauding gangs in the pay of rogue food corporations.
Being away a lot, he pretended he was being fed elsewhere, so he managed to conceal what he was doing from Giordana until he fell ill with one of those diseases that take famine victims. She and the children made it. He didn’t. She became white haired with grief and the children grew up quickly, in the way that suffering and privation mandates.
And yet they survived and were whole. The cannibalism that afflicted some communities of that time never came to the Commune number 3. It withstood the sternest possible test of its integrity as a community and from then on became known not as Commune Number 3, but ‘The Rock’. Michael, along with about half a dozen others were renamed. He became Brother Michael of the Rock, and a cairn was erected in their special memory, to remind its people of the sacrifices that were made so that they might live.
Testament of the Rock:
“When a community survives the ultimate tests that can be thrown at it, it is not just a matter of good fortune, but prudent far sightedness, big social and economic expectations, relentless training to meet them and a deep faith in the things that we believe and stand for. Sure, amongst other things, we have been lucky. Things could have been worse. But we have withstood pressures that lesser places could not, and did not. Famine, marauders, disease and surrounding disorders that often cut off supplies and access to markets, made life all but unendurable for nearly three years, but the chain mail of our social and defense structures held.”
Each year, Giordana, now known as ‘The White’, would celebrate the life of her late husband Brother Michael, and the survival of the place now called ‘The Rock’, with a special meal that represented the simplicity, wholesomeness and ruthless force that underpinned its survival.
At the head of a small group sitting around a table, Giordana raised her hand to get the silent attention of her guests. “My dear friends, before we eat, out of respect for Brother Michael, now known as of The Rock, let us think on our fate as it is weighed between the frailty and the strength of the life force within us and without.”
She picked up a glass of water and started to drip part of the contents into a large dish in front of her. “These are the tears shed for the suffering and death that we must all endure.”
She put this glass down and picked up another of wine. She slowly decanted part of it into the dish. “This is the blood of the life force that is sacrificed for us so that we might live.”
More water was then poured over the pool of diluted wine. “These are the purifying and renewing waters that wash away wounds and loss.”
Bread was then broken into the mixture. “The earth absorbs all that we do to it”.
She then got up and took the dish around the table, giving a piece of soaked bread to each guest and saying, “thus the earth turns suffering into a living feast.”
When she had finished she added some more bread. Then, out of a miniature automotive oil decanter she poured over it a black mixture of vinegar and bitter herbs. She then took the plate around the table again, saying, “Whatever evil we put on or into or above the earth eventually comes back to us as a bitter harvest. Let the acridness stay on your palate as long as it lasts, for in the struggle with evil we must endure its effects until its force is spent.”
She sat down again and with all the guests reflected on the little ceremony that had just been performed. At last one of them looked up and said, “It is over and I am free.” Each guest repeated the words in their own time until everyone had spoken. Refreshed in spirit they then commenced their meal.
About half way through the meal, her eldest, Josh-Attida, brought in the miniature automotive oil decanter again, only this time it had methylated spirits in it. He poured some into a small dish and lit it. As the flames rose from the table, he said, “This is the burning ambition of enemies who would see us and our children destroyed. This is the fire that they will use to burn our homes and hopes for the future. This is the picture of hell that we will sacrifice anything to prevent, even if we must burn to quell it.” He put both hands over the bowl and the flames died.
As he took the bowl to the open fire, everyone in the room stood up. He threw the contents of the bowl into it and there was a small explosion, and everyone cheered. He then smashed the bowl against the fire surround and each person cried at the top of his or her voice, as one, “We shall destroy our enemies utterly and they will know our resolve and wrath!”
At the end of the meal, when it was time to go, Giordana went round the table again, giving each person a piece of fruit and she said,
“Go therefore in the peace that is to be the fruit of your love’s labor. Eat of it freely, for the more you partake of it, the more it grows and the better it tastes. It can never cost you too much, for its value is priceless. It will enrich all of us while you live and it will be the most substantial part of whatever you bequeath to your successors. Bless you all. May the warmth, comfort and love you and we give to each other, keep and hold us all our lives, and down the generations.”
Each person ate the fruit of goodness silently with their eyes cast down in meditation. Then they got up, embraced each other and departed.
Giordana grew old, but never seemed to tire. If something needed to be done, no matter how busy she was, she always somehow seemed to find the time to do it. Her wisdom and counsel were often sought if something difficult to resolve came up in the community of The Rock. She listened, consulted, summarized, deliberated and judged so that all sides would get their carefully balanced measure of justice and resolution, which would bring them together, and mend the fabric that protected them all.
She was a formidable and venerable voice in the Council of Elders, and while she always spoke softly, the weight of her words were carried by the silent attention of all around her, whether they agreed or not. And while her view did not always carry the day, those whose different views had prevailed over hers, always felt the special need to justify themselves to her, and keep her approval. More than that, when other leaders deliberated, even when she wasn’t there, at the back of their minds was the specter of what ‘The Great White’ would think.
She always felt her husband’s death keenly, for not only had she loved him deeply, but she and her children in some measure owed their lives to him. She was driven to be worthy of that sacrifice, and it often struck people who had known him, how his mannerisms and ways of speaking would sometimes unconsciously come through her when she spoke, particularly in matters of public importance. It added something to her already considerable auctoritas, and to a tradition of very powerful and sometimes heavy hitting matriarchs and community leaders.
When she died, at a great age, every man, woman and child in ‘The Rock’ and people from communities hundreds of kilometers away, came to her funeral. The ceremony was conducted in complete silence, for there were no words that could be said that could express how they all felt and silence seemed to say it all. The ceremony did not end so much as very slowly dissolve, like the tears that were shed.
The stories of Brother Michael of the Rock and his wife, Sister Giordana the White, became part of the mythology of the former Commune number 3, even in much later times, when it became a territorially expansionist enterprise that swallowed neighbors, sometimes as allies to be absorbed and sometimes as enemies to be defeated. But that story is for another time.