Inspired by the Charles Portis novel TRUE GRIT
What is grit?
Physically it’s loose particles of sand and stone. Think coarse sandpaper or the sand inside a bathing suit after a visit to the beach.
Used to describe a person, grit’s not as obvious or straightforward. Simply put, it’s strength of character. Courage. Resolve.
In today’s society softness, dependence, and political correctness rule the day. Unfortunately these new characteristics have replaced toughness and grit.
There are those still around that remember grit.
Grit is the single mother working two jobs to support her children. She won’t be appreciated for her sacrifices until the kids are much older, if at all.
Grit is immigrants of the past and today. They come to a new country in search of better lives and arrive with little more than the clothes on their backs. Some survive and thrive, but they all struggle.
Grit is the amputee getting around while missing a leg. They never complain or rely on others for anything.
If I’m completely honest I don’t have much grit in comparison to those examples.
Recent generations can’t comprehend a world without cell phones or high speed internet. They definitely couldn’t consider what it’s like to grow up with parents who strike them.
My generation was first of the internet age. We’re also the last to know the bite of our parents’ belts. We knew lengthy bike rides without supervision. We were the last to learn to accept a world with bullies. We learned resolve from them, or at least, how to circumvent them in order to get through the day.
The Columbine massacre occurred toward the end of my generation’s youth. It was approximately then that we left behind our society’s collective toughness.
My generation understood resilience and self-reliance in ways that those who came after us will never learn. Those who followed us become bored, hungry, or triggered easily, instead of learning that living with those feelings create grit. Then I compare my generation to those that came before. . .
My parents and aunts and uncles remember corporal punishment in their schools. Their teachers wrapped their knuckles with rulers and paddled them in front of their classmates. Our elders remember conscription through the military draft. If they were unlucky enough to be selected, they went overseas to the Vietnam War where they learned even harsher lessons.
My parents’ generation saw the end of the civil rights movement. Segregation and the fight for basic human rights was still an everyday struggle. There is no comparison between my era and theirs. My generation is as soft and weak as the recent generations appear to me through my lens.
Charles Portis wrote the novel True Grit in 1968. It’s a book about life on the post-Civil War southern frontier.
The story is told through the narration of hard-as-nails fourteen year old, Mattie Ross. Mattie discovers her father murdered and robbed by a man her father generously took in. The adolescent girl becomes determined to embark on a quest of vengeance in pursuit of her father’s killer.
Mattie catches wind of her prey and seeks a federal Marshall to assist her. Not just any law-man will do for the tougher-than-her-years adolescent. Mattie sets her heart and coin on the one described as having the most grit.
The girl’s sentiment should feel ironic to modern readers.
Every single person living during that time-period had exponentially more grit than any of us living today. Each character in the book, from the livestock dealing Colonel Stonehill, to life-long outlaw, “Lucky” Ned Pepper, to Mattie’s hand-picked Marshall, Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn, every one exemplified grit in all the ways that modern society lacks and is unknowingly missing.
Without giving too much away, Mattie finds herself at her nadir near the end of the book. It’s then that readers come to comprehend grit in a way that they will never have to in all of their own modernity.
That grit that’s displayed in Mattie and the rest of the characters in the tale can’t be found on a Netflix queue. It isn’t on a social media feed either. It’s because of this that I believe Portis’s novel should be made required reading for every American, liberal and conservative alike. True Grit gives a tablespoon’s taste of toughness and resilience in an age when it’s rare to find any at all.
Rest in peace to Charles Portis who passed away of Alzheimer’s in February of this year. I wish I had discovered True Grit much earlier so I could have thanked him for writing it.
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