"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."
There is a strange passion in loyalty to something we desire to accomplish. A passion that burns inside our very souls, pounding from the depths of our chests wanting to reach out and grasp a goal that seems inevitably and perpetually out of reach. We strain to find the motivation to keep going but the strain is never an option. Inside, we can feel our emotions stretching over our limbs like muscles that cling to every joint and refuse to allow us to get that much more forward. Creases in our face begin to form and fold as the pressure builds, each one like a strip of tight heat across our foreheads and next to our eyes.
I want what I want! I know I can reach it! I burn with desire, from head to toe! Can't you see this means more to me than breathing itself?! Can't you see, I am worthy of this! I can have this! I need this!
This passion is something all of us have whether stretched out over a long period of time in hopes of reaching a professional goal or nearly instantaneous in a moment where life is about to end. A passion so strong, rooted in sacrifice, it manifests itself with ferocious velocity throughout our bodies. Physically, we ache inside sometimes literally, almost always emotionally. And just when you think you've reached a moment of reprieve, you look over at something off in the distance that immediately reminds you of this deep, deep desire and you cannot prevent your emotions from overwhelming you once again.
At this very moment, I can think of two things that drive me the most each nearly as important as the next. Yet at the same time, I can also sense what it must feel like to have this same passion not for something to come or something inevitable but for something in the here and right now. I picture the men I trained with during my short time in the Army Infantry and though I could not serve by their sides in war, my mind automatically skips over what could have become of them and I am left ... just missing them. A whisper of my heart tells me they are gone, having laid the ultimate sacrifice for their nation but my mind does not want to accept this or spend more than a moment thinking about it. I cannot! For their passion to serve, their passion to sacrifice, and God-forbid, their need to passionately want to survive--oddly enough--gives me hope and renewed strength.
Requiescat by Briton Rivière (1840-1920) is a painting of a soldier, in full dress armor, lying in repose while his faithful bloodhound waits by the side of his master. The somber tenderness of this piece is humbling to behold which is centralized and signified the eyes of the hound and the position of his nose next to his master's deceased hand. Yet detail is just as significant to the entire piece as the canine who idly awaits: We can see the intricate armor indicating the man's military significance. He is lying in repose so he was someone important. The embroidered and tasseled blanket over his bed showing expense was no object in honoring his sacrifice and existence. And most interestingly, his faithful pet is seated on his haunches yet his upper body is up and ready. I also appreciate that the dog's head is poised upward yet resting endearingly as if to say, "I'm ready when you are, master, but I sense something is wrong and I will not leave your side."
A heartbreaking painting when you grasp the full magnitude of what is being shared in the incredible detail and implied by the look, the feel, the color, and the emotions of his faithful dog. Dare I say that there is no direct symbolism here to which we can all relate in terms of relationships. No, what I see is a man enriched by giving up his own life while being honored more so than any human could have. It's that honor. The honor symbolized by his pet that looms patiently by his side as if he were going to get up and continue on. I honestly cannot relate the symbolism here to humans as it just doesn't seem right nor what any honorable man or woman would want after paying the ultimate sacrifice of death.
What comes with an honorable life and the instinctual desire to sacrifice oneself no matter the end result is true legacy. Though each of us has a "legacy" to leave behind, the most significant legacies are those left behind by the ones who have given up the most for others. A deep passion and willingness to fight on, to push forward, to ignore temptation, to follow-through regardless of the oft endured ridicule, ostracizing, and ignorance. Do any of us know who this man is? Probably not and there really isn't much written about this piece. Yet what is portrayed in this work doesn't make me think of any one person who is lofty in what he or she has sacrificed but of all the ones who have received no attention, no honor but have left a wake of influence and a void of quality that once was there.
Requiescat in Pace means "Rest in Peace" in Latin and is far too often misused. It isn't a statement of hope, but a message of what is--a phrase used to indicate that this beloved person may now enjoy the painless spoils of all he has done. His life may be over but his legacy will live on.