Nettles Or Nails?

Some years back I wrote a brief personal essay on “the Jim-in-my-head.” The Jim-in-my-head is intellectually and physically fit, well-spoken and timely, gentlemanly even in revelry. He plays the upright bass and reads to his family. He hunts and fishes, writes and publishes, and still is home for dinner. He’s the idealized me, confident, unhesitating, and prudent.

Also, he does not exist.

I’ve known this all along, of course, but it hasn’t stopped me from chasing this phantom Jim, and stranger still, from feeling in recent years as though he’s slipping away. It should be no surprise, should it, that I am unable to catch a figment? But then, why these feelings of both failure and loss?

Last fall a couple of friends separately recommended to me the little book The Way, by St. Josemaria Escriva. I’ve been reading it little by little since then, waiting for the previous lesson to sink in before moving forward.

Fr. Escriva is no easy master, and his writings are loving, but direct and challenging, to the spiritually soft. One excerpt in particular has continued to influence my thinking on a daily basis:
“Many who would willingly let themselves be nailed to a Cross before the astonished gaze of a thousand onlookers cannot bear with a christian spirit the pinpricks of each day! Think, then, which is the more heroic.”  
— The Way, paragraph 204
I have said and written so many times that many people—many males, in particular—desire to be a part of something great and glorious, and our stories are filled with heroic deaths of good men. No man likes to imagine himself shrinking in the face of vice or violence, but perhaps it is easier to steel oneself for a bullet than to suffer a thousand paper cuts? Perhaps today’s nettles are heroic enough for now and serve not to wear us down, but to condition us for nails.

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