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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Feed the Gallan Tree

"A high station in life is earned by the gallantry with which
appalling experiences are survived with grace."

Tennessee Williams


It's such a... I don't know-- Victorian word. Cast in finely engraved silver, frozen in daguerreotype, clad in a thick wool coat emblazoned with chevrons and brazen gold buttons, gallantry is a long time ago word. A bushy, unironic mustache-and-sideburns word. It's a parade-grounds word, a lace-and-satin word, a word that was used when heroes who didn't dribble a basketball or take off their clothes in movies roamed the earth.

It's a word that has gone out-of-style. Out-of-use. I tried to use the quote at the top of this post as an inspirational quote on the schedule at work a few days ago, and my supervisor, God bless her, didn't even know how to pronounce it.

"What's ga-LAN-tree?" she asked.

"Oh, nothing," I said, "now can you pass me that stapler so I can staple my eyelids shut?"

We have no more use for the word gallantry than we have for the acts which once defined it. Or, maybe, we have more use for the word and the acts which once defined us than we can even fathom.

I don't know.

148 years ago, the soldiers of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment who came swinging down Little Round Top because they were out of ammunition and could do nothing else to repel another Confederate attack were said to have acted with "gallantry".

The Navy SEALs who felled Osama bin Laden were said to have kicked terrorist ass, fuckin' aye.

I'm not quite sure what gallantry would look like today. Back in the day, it looked like this:

I mean, look at the way that one guy crosses his legs when he sits. Gays in the military or not, if we had a soldier pose for a picture sitting like that, well, that just wouldn't fly. Nowadays, we like our gallantry looking a bit more, um, buff:

Nice, eh? The ginger, by the way, is Prince Harry.

I suppose, to live a life of gallantry these days, appalling circumstances or not, one must abandon all hope of achieving the personification of the word by running through a field at full tilt brandishing a gleaming sword or struggling passionately for some noble cause or other. One must simply treat others with dignity and respect, to try your best to do the right thing wherever and whenever possible, and to forgive yourself when you don't.

And, if that's as gallant as it gets, I think I'm okay with that.

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