Sunday’s Wisdom #401: Pioneer Spirit

“The pioneers gave up their safety, their comfort, and sometimes their lives to build our new West. They were determined to make the New World strong and free, an example to the world. Some would say that those struggles are all over, that all the horizons have been explored, that all the battles have been won, that there is no longer an American frontier. …and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils. Beyond that frontier are uncharted regions of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice. I’m asking each of you to be pioneers towards that New Frontier. My call is to the young in heart, regardless of age. Can we carry through in an age where we will witness not only new breakthroughs in weapons of destruction, but also a race for mastery of the sky and the rain, the ocean and the tides, the far side of space, and the inside of men’s minds? All mankind waits upon our decision. A whole world looks to see what we shall do. And we cannot fail that trust. And we cannot fail to try.”
– John F. Kennedy, as quoted in Justice League: New Frontier

These words come from a real speech which Kennedy gave at the 1960 Democratic National Convention. There’s a great deal more within these words, of course, these are clipped together from throughout the latter portion of his speech. It’s very good work, capturing the spirit of an age, and the people at its helm, within two minutes of talking. That spirit, the spirit of the pioneer, is one that looks into the distance, looks into the future, looks into all that which are unknown, and finds the wonder, the danger, the challenge, and the promise of it all, and rises to meet it with the whole of one’s mind, body, heart, and soul.

Like much of the past, the spirit of the pioneers seems to have been largely forgotten by the people of today, such that children, who ought to be the most inquisitive and adventuresome of all living souls, are deprived of even learning it in the first place. It is a sad thing, and were it not for the tale of my own religion, my own family, I might well have never learned of that spirit either.

The roots of my faith pass deeply through the travails of such pioneers, some of whose blood still runs in my veins. We have a personal celebration this week to remember those men and women who blazed the trail, laid the foundation, built so much, and suffered much hardship in so doing. I am awed and humbled by the recollection of them, passed down through my religion and my family for generations. I am both inspired by them, and shamed by how poorly I have met the challenges of my life. These were humble people who believed in something greater than themselves, and built towards that in an endless labor of faith with hearts full of love. In contrast, what have I done?

But that is the wrong question, isn’t it?

The entire point of the pioneering spirit, much like my faith, is not what we have already done. It’s what will we do with our future?

With what spirit will we meet the problems of the world? What efforts will we undertake, giving what of our resources and ourselves, and in what company? With what resolve will we face ourselves, and the truth of ourselves, venturing into our own minds to challenge our demons?

The answers to these questions cannot be known beforehand. They can only be found, and made, within the moment. That is what every story is ultimately about: stepping into something we do not know and figuring it out on the way. That is pioneering. That is living.

That is true and real life.

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