The Home: Source of Inspiration

Human nature needs not only physical rest, sleep, and food to restore and replenish its energy, but also inspiration to lift the heart and spirit. The emotions too have their essential needs and basic requirements. God ordered the days of the week for the Sabbath to nourish the soul and allow man to transcend the drudgery of work, preoccupation with the material world, and the business of getting and spending. The words of the Mass, “Sursum corda” (“Lift up your hearts”), elevate the spirit to contemplate the divine mysteries and be still and know God. This fundamental need to be uplifted, inspired, energized, and strengthened governs the emotional life of man that requires new breath to rekindle the fire of passion and desire.

Homer’s Iliad shows that the home and family provide one of life’s greatest sources of inspiration when the weariness of battle and the toil of war weaken the heart and break the spirit. When the Greeks suffer great defeats and find themselves in desperate straits because Hector and the Trojans penetrate their camp and threaten to burn their ships, Nestor urges them to fight with greater courage and honor by appealing to their families: “Remember, each of you, sons, wives, wealth, parents—are mother and father dead or alive? No matter, I beg you for their sakes, loved ones far away—now stand and fight, no turning back, no panic.” Whenever the Greeks find themselves in the throes of a crisis and need more will power, fortitude, and zeal to withstand the onslaught of the Trojans, the leaders who urge them to fight with valor and honor appeal to the soldiers’ ancestors, father, or family to rekindle in them the inspiration to perform heroic feats.

Without the loving memory of the glorious deeds of grandfathers and fathers to imitate or the thought of beloved mothers and Fireplace_Burningwives to defend, the soldier on the battlefield loses heart. These reflections on dear members of the family make a profound difference in the outcome of battle and protect warriors from despair and demoralization. To urge her husband to exercise more caution in his own self-defense on the battlefield, Andromache pleads with Hector to recall the importance he plays in his own family’s life: “You, Hector,–you are my father now, my noble mother, a brother too, and you are my husband, young and warm and strong! Pity me, please! Take your stand on the rampart here, before you orphan your son and make your wife a widow.” In loving families, then, bonds of undying affection give heart to soldiers who suffer the weariness of war and the discouragement of defeat. No one on the battlefield rallies himself with more passion than those who remember to uphold the tradition of their honorable forefathers and to think of the consequences of defeat–their loving wife a widow and children as orphans. Without the family, soldiers are robbed of strength in the moments of panic, strife, and riot that rage in the midst of war.

In a modern culture of divorce and fatherless families, children lack the inspiration and inner resources they need to confront the crosses and crises of life. Without a family history of traditions passed down from one generation to another that rouse endurance, valor, and commitment to ideals of excellence, the young lack the fortitude to resist the onslaught of forces and temptations that threaten them. No one can do difficult or heroic things without inspiration, and no one can singlehandedly inspire himself. As Homer shows throughout the Iliad, only the gods, heroes, leaders, and noble examples from the past possess this power to lift the heart and rekindle the flame of life. Without the family, a person suffers emotional impoverishment that starves the soul and depresses the will. Of the many harms inflicted by the attack on the family, this loss of heart and the problem of emotional deprivation go unnoticed. It inflicts the harm of neutrality, apathy, or insensibility that replaces the passion, fervor, and conviction that inspire Homer’s heroes.

Dickens’ Hard Times portrays the lives of children devoid of sources of inspiration who have been taught “Never wonder. By means of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, settle everything somehow, and never wonder.” Confined to a utilitarian education limited only to the study of facts and denied the recreation of play and the life of the imagination, Tom and Louisa Gradgrind commiserate over the barrenness of their young lives. They have no sources of inspiration from family, books, religion, or great art. Tom complains, “I am sick of my life, Loo. I hate it altogether, and I hate everybody except for you.” Louisa also feels the drabness of a life without any sources of wonder, goodness, beauty, or joy: “I can’t play to you, or sing to you. I can’t talk to you so as to lighten your mind, for I never see any amusing sights or read any amusing books that it would be a pleasure or a relief to you to talk about when you are tired.” Without a sense of wonder or any sources of inspiration from home or school, these children have lost their love of life and sense of adventure.

Listless and lethargic, both children feel the absence of the love, happiness, and goodness in the home that fill the heart with new life, hope, and excitement. Comparing his dull existence to the status of an animal, Tom says, “I am a mule,” and Louisa laments her miserable childhood starved for a life of the affections to rescue her from the tedium of her drab lot. She complains to her father, “How could you give me life, and take from me all the inappreciable things that raise it from the state of conscious death? Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart?” The suffering both children experience in their home and schooling that ignore the life of the emotions leads to pathologies that express themselves in Tom’s gambling addiction and in Louisa’s incapacity to think for herself or trust her feelings when she receives a marriage proposal. Lukewarm and halfhearted, she regards marriage with utter indifference— feeling neither hot nor cold. She feels unqualified to make important personal decisions because of the void in her heart unmoved by inspiration. She grieves for her lost childhood and lack of sensibility when she explains the crisis in her life to her father: “What are my heart’s experiences?” and “You have been so careful of me that I never had a child’s heart.”

Greeks and Trojans in war live the passionate lives of men inspired by noble ideals and the love of the family. Though brokenhearted, they rally when leaders invoke the name of their fathers. Though embattled and threatened by death, they find new energy at the thought of defending their wives and children from the barbarism of the enemy. Though exhausted from the toil of war, they find fresh heart and firm resolve to fight to the bitter end because of the power of new life surging and lifting their spirits. As modern families suffer the attacks that subvert it, the sources of inspiration that mothers, fathers, and family traditions instill in the young lose the power nourish the heart to make it steadfast, to move the soul to aspire to excellence and greatness, or lift the spirit to resist defeat, despair, and pessimism. Like the ancient Muses that infuse energy into the minds and hearts of artists to perform at their best, all human beings and especially the young need the vitality of a passionate heart and rich emotional life that the inspiration of loved ones breathe into the soul.

Mitchell Kalpakgian, Ph.D. has completed fifty years of teaching beginning as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas, continuing as a professor of English at Simpson College in Iowa for thirty-one years, and recently teaching part-time at various schools and college in New Hampshire. As well as contributing to a number of publications, he has published seven books: The Marvelous in Fielding’s Novels, The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature, The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization, An Armenian Family Reunion (a collection of short stories), Modern Manners: The Poetry of Conduct and The Virtue of Civility, and The Virtues We Need Again. He has designed homeschooling literature courses for Seton Home School, and he also teaches online courses for Queen of Heaven Academy and part-time for Northeast Catholic College.
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