I wouldn’t call myself a reader. I read, but not nearly as much as my wife or my boys or several of my friends. They’re readers. I may finish 10-15 books each year. Kristi finishes over 100.
But I do have my favorites and Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is in the top five and is required reading for my boys. Three reasons:
I’m fine with non-fiction books about manhood. Resources from John Eldridge, including Wild at Heart, are priceless.
However, I always prefer fiction over fact. For me, there’s simply more truth in good fiction (let that sit a while). I don’t watch bad movies for the same reason I don’t read poor literature. So the fiction needs to be good. Don’t give me heavy-handed lessons on marriage or manhood or life in general. The few minutes of Luke and Yoda in Star Wars: The Last Jedi are enough to carry me for months. It’s the same with the Old Man.
Ego, and self-preservation are not the keys to Life.
The Old Man and the Sea is not a new book but the lessons are timeless. The Old Man…I want to be him when I grow up. I also want to be Gandalf, Yoda and Dumbledore, but that’s a different lesson. Or is it?
What do these characters have in common?
The Old Man is the focus of the story, but his relationship to the boy and to the sea and to his village – those are what we’re to learn about the Man. It’s much the same with Gandalf (barely in The Hobbit, and missing from much of The Lord of the Rings), Yoda (who appears for brief lessons of wisdom…or to do things no one else can do) and Dumbledore (definitely not a main character in the Harry Potter series). Each of these characters realizes one thing: they are not the only person in the world and people should not see them as the center of the universe. They’re flawed and they know it. The stories do not revolve around them, but their influence is unmistakeable.
The Old man knows the Story isn’t about him. But he lives his part with strength, patience and integrity. Speaking of integrity…
There’s an obvious lack of male integrity and we live in a world of uninitiated men who gain and hold leadership positions. It’s been this way for a while and we have obvious current leaders who are summarized by a lack of integrity despite whatever good or bad we may see in their work. One can accomplish many good or bad things but have no integrity, especially when lack of integrity seems to be a badge of honor, and the last thing I want to know on my deathbed is that I accomplished great things but lacked integrity in doing so. If I have to choose success or integrity I will take integrity, and you can write my epitaph that I did nothing else.
Lack of leadership integrity has led others in my daily life to assume this is normal, desired and valuable way to live as men. Men set up behind the scenes, keeping records of wrongs, building alliances to fight battles for, they say, good and valuing the sin of gossip as a method to get things done. In the end they justify acting like jerks in the name of manhood or, worse, Jesus. It usually doesn’t take long for someone to mention that Jesus never acted the jerk for a man in the room to mention how Jesus turned over tables. Other than a possible misinterpretation of his actions, there is one example of Jesus sort of losing his cool. Maybe. It’s hardly something to solely base my interactions with others upon. Grace, as with the Old Man, is central to the life of Jesus. Without it, men are lost.
Read The Old Man and the Sea. Then, read it again next year. Spend a lifetime learning lessons of integrity and humility and perspective. Realize that you don’t have it figured out, never will figure it all out, and aren’t expected to figure it all out. Then say thanks to the Old Man.