I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. … We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial — I believe we are lost.
From Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” (this week marked his 102nd birthday).
When declaration of war was announced in 1914, people cheered the news and celebrated in the streets of London, Paris, and other cities. The years preceding World War One had been filled with an odd malaise, a palpable lethargy born in part of perceived stagnation following the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. The Western world was world weary and fatalistic, in search of itself. Passion, a certain joie de vivre, seemed to be missing. Young men signed up in droves for this new conflict as girls waving kerchiefs cheered them off, completely ignorant, as was everyone, of the new nature of this war. This war was not to be a gallant adventure worthy of grand tales and Haggard novels, but the onset of a new era–the era of total war, of Verdun and Stalingrad. For millions of young men, eager for escapade and excitement, their lack of passion was filled brimming with blood and horror.
I am a charter member of Generation X, the original slacker generation. Funny to think about it now as that generation heads toward 40 (not me of course). Generation X–national abhorrence with our parents’ generation’s war and OPEC had changed America’s collective image and there was a feeling that all the great adventures had been done, all the great wars fought, all the great causes championed, and all the great bridges built. That there was nothing left for us. Like that generation of youth in 1914, we looked around at our world and came up searching. We had no passion, we had nothing to suffer for.
Suffer. That is what passion means, to suffer or endure. It comes from the Latin pati which originally comes from the Indo-European pei, to hurt. The word get its current meaning of ‘strength of feeling’ about 700 or so years ago from Christianity’s Passion of Christ, and its colloquial meaning of ‘great love’ from the various passions of Christian saints such as St Theresa or St Francis.
But let’s think about its original meaning. Passion is perhaps the greatest gift anyone can have. It is what propels, what drives. Do you have anything in your life, outside your family, that you are willing to suffer for? Halo and Facebook don’t count. If you are reading this, on a CrossFit blog, then you probably have CrossFit. You are willing to suffer, to endure hurt, in order to better yourself. Other people train martial arts, rock climb, dance. And that is all just great.
The point is that we never want to find ourselves like that doomed generation of 1914, so hungry for passion that one of the most destructive wars in history was celebrated at its onset. My grandfather traveled through France in the twenties and I remember him remarking on the lack of men between 60 and 20 years old.
While I fervently hope that something like World War One is never to be repeated, we are each faced, many times in our lives, with calamity and and disaster. Passion can pull one through these times and help stave them off. With passion, life has so much more color, more pull, more zest. It feeds the soul. Without it, we are lost.
One thing that I love about CrossFit is that I am surrounded by passion. It takes passion, a capacity to eat bitter as the saying goes, to do CrossFit. Being surrounded by such people is immeasurable. Such desire, such fire, such discipline. They push me, inspire me, awe me, teach me. What a great way to spend the day.
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