A book originally published in 1983 called “Quintessence: The Quality of Having It” was filled with objects, foods, places… in short, things that had “quintessence”: The quality of being the best example or most typical of something.
Maybe they were the definitive example of something. Here are a few of the objects that the book thought “had it”: The Steinway Piano, the Oreo Cookie. the Volkswagen Beetle, the Frisbee, the classic glass Coke bottle, the simple satisfaction of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Or as Lucy says to Charlie Brown at a moment when she is extremely disappointed in him, “Of all the Charlie Brown’s, you’re the Charlie Browniest.” In today’s world, her putdown goes around the earth and comes back a compliment.
Because now we live in a time when a digital rendering of any particular thing or person in the world is available in seconds, often times where we can either download it, print it, or buy it with a plastic card. Quintessence may be something we can still appreciate about some things, but authenticity is becoming increasingly elusive.Try this, since it’s summer: Shop around for “lemonade” and see all the variations on a theme possible there. Let me know when you feel you are in possession of authentic lemonade, short of making it yourself with real lemons.
Authenticity was on my mind as I read two separate accounts, published at about the same time, of individuals who definitely appear to have been the real McCoy. An example is this week’s story about seven Santa Monica teenagers who will be awarded the highest rank one can earn in the Boy Scouts of America: Eagle Scout.
At a time when all of youth seems almost surgically attached to some kind of screen device, you still have Boy Scouts becoming Eagles because of “exemplary effort, leadership, and service.” And none of their community service projects were dependent on Twitter.
Instead, these Scouts of Troop 2 contributed several hundred hours to their efforts.
The fact that we are more aware of Scouting’s struggles with admitting gay scouts and leaders than we are with the work accomplished by young men like these Santa Monica Eagle Scouts says quite a bit about how real and true things can be buffeted in our times. We’re all getting past our old fears about gay people; it’s just taking some like the Boy Scouts of America a little longer.
At some point, somebody in Scouting is bound to make the connection between courage and what gay young people deal with every single day of their lives… and Scouting will accept and move on.
Because Scouting is still the authentic thing that it was when it began: “Exemplary effort, leadership, and service.” All right, sure, some spiritual stuff is in there, but – Look, I’m not afraid of the Boy Scouts as a means of creating Christian soldiers. Scouting’s resistance to change originates in its protection of its integrity.That’s very different – and authentic – when compared to, say, Republican presidential hopefuls who resist gay rights and equality because they have absolutely nothing else to talk about and no ideas to offer about anything.
Politics offers a clumsy transition to the second account I read: That of the death of Joseph R. Biden III, the former attorney general of Delaware and the elder son of Vice President Joe Biden.
At this point, our Vice President has eaten more pain than most mortals are ever challenged to endure in one lifetime. In 1972
Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and his 13-month-old daughter Naomi were killed as they were driving to go Christmas shopping and were hit by a tractor-trailer.
Joe Biden’s fortitude in taking care of his kids as a single parent is well documented, as is his departed son’s public service, which included deployment to Iraq in the Delaware National Guard in 2008 and the awarding of a Bronze Star.
There are still real things, authentic people with actual courage, and individuals who serve rather than complain on Facebook. We are lucky to still have quintessential Americans with us in this century.