During the brutal winter of 1880-1881, the pioneer town of De Smet, Dakota Territory, was facing starvation. The supply train had been blocked by snow and could not reach the town. The settlers had eaten what grain stores they had saved, burnt all the coal and wood available, and were now twisting hay into sticks to burn and watching their children slowly thin with hunger.
And then, word was received that a homesteader twelve miles outside of town may have a store of grain. Two young men, Cap Garland and Almanzo Wilder, ages 16 and 23, make the trek across the white wilderness to retrieve the supply of wheat. Risking their lives, the young men reach the homestead, purchase the wheat, and make it back to De Smet with a blinding blizzard on the horizon.
Not one settler died of want in De Smet that winter. And young Almanzo would go on to marry a little girl who waited with her family for “the boys” to make it back safely. That little girl, Laura Ingalls, would grow up to become Laura Ingalls Wilder, one of America’s most accomplished authors of the pioneer heroism which founded our nation.
Those “boys” were not boys. They were men. Adulthood is an action. And today, despite the plethora of age-appropriate “leaders” on the civic stage, we are sadly in search of true adults.
A few years back our fearless editor-in-chief, Robert Royal, wrote a column entitled “In Search of Young People.” More recently, insightful TCT contributor David Carlin mourned the fact that without blood, without lions, “Catholic young people have generally abandoned the ancient teaching of their religion as to the sinfulness of homosexual practice – and since these young people are more or less logical, this renunciation of one part of the faith will eventually lead to the renunciation of the entire faith.”
As I read the poignant analysis of these two authors, I asked myself: Who exactly is it that offered the teaching that these young people abandoned? Is it, truly, that young people have been offered orthodox Catholicism, well-taught, vibrantly presented, and . . . have rejected it? Or is it that they have been given little guidance or exposure, if any, to the ancient tenets of our faith, to accept or to reject in the first place?
Is it not possible that the young people went #InSearchoftheAdults, and could not find anyone answering the call? Have we not abandoned our posts, before the young people abandoned theirs?
If I cannot find a decent steak at an upscale restaurant, I need to go in search of the chef. If I no longer see roses and forsythia blooming in the park, I need to go in search of the gardener. Likewise, if I no longer find vibrant, faith-filled youth carrying on the ideals I hold dear, I need to look in the mirror.
For all the bluster and brick-throwing, through the front windows of homes in my neighborhood this past October, Black Lives Matter has not opened a tutorial center for disadvantaged youth across America. The kids from Milwaukee Public Schools that I tutored during the COVID shut down had a Chromebook, an assignment list, and no one helping them through the mountains of unfinished math lessons crushing their spirits.
One fifth-grader who came to be tutored showed me his “Flocabulary” Lesson. Flocabulary, for the uninitiated, is a series of hip-hop-style vocabulary lessons. Our Flocabulary lesson that day presented a rap-style re-telling of the founding of the nation. We watched the episode on the Thirteen Colonies. Twice. After which Semaj and I gave up because we could not discern the diluted history narrative amidst the singing and the cartoon images on the screen.
But there is hope. And guess what? You are it. I repeat, YOU are it. You are the hope for this nation. It does not take much. Every simple gesture matters.
At the Independence Day Parade this July, I sat across the street from the home which had its front windows smashed in the October riots. The windows had been repaired, and our adults were now also working to repair the cultural damage. Our adversity-tested Sheriff marched boldly with the American Flag down our once brick-laden, dumpster-fire clogged, street. The adults stood to honor the flag and the police, and the young people followed their lead.
One young dad turned to his little daughter and taught her to salute the flag. She followed his example. She saluted and honored what her daddy taught her to honor. That was his job. He is a father.
If we go out and be adults, real adults, the ones who answer the tough questions and make the hard sacrifices, the young people will take note. Young people hunger for our boundaries and our time. We can give them both. We will have to let go of insecurity, the need for acceptance by the cultural bullies, and our own media-saturated tablet time.
It is not someone else’s job. It is our job. This is the time into which we have been born. And the Lord is counting upon us.
“Perhaps you were born for such a time as this,” Mordecai urges Queen Esther (Esther 4:14), calling her to risk her life to save her Jewish people from destruction.
And we were born for such a time as this. When we show up, like the flag-saluting father and Queen Esther, and Cap and Almanzo, we save De Smet; and De Smet, and this nation, are worth saving.
*Image: Genius of America by Adolphe Yvon, c. 1858 [Saint Louis Museum of Art, St. Louis, MO]