Marvin Repinski: Restoring the glory of duty

Published 5:49 pm Friday, October 29, 2021

“Taking (the lame man) by the right hand, (Peter) helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk.”  (The Bible, Acts 3:7-8)

Early in 1862, a scene is recorded following the death of Prince Albert.  His son, the Prince of Wales, eventually left for a visit to Egypt, which included a tour of the Holy Land.  It was the Princess Royal who had inherited Albert’s cast of mind. “Duty, duty, duty, dearest brother,” she cabled the Prince of Wales. 

Her brother had received from Albert similar admonishments, hoping to transfer his oldest son into his own likeness. It was a story of the father’s diligence of creating a son as a mirror of himself. It didn’t happen, to that son’s sorrow.

The old man’s requests and expectations to be a dutiful son, a person to accomplish  and expand the family’s fortune and always be a winner may in some circles be laudable, but that needs an immense amount of rethinking.

There are several ways to speak of duty and it’s a large word in my life. I was never, as I recall, asked to imitate anyone, to match the skills of another person or to search for someone I would want to be like. With four brothers, we were shaping our lives early. 

A father with a blue collar job that loaded and unloaded boxcars for the Soo Line Railroad, provided for limited provisions. If you’re going to have anything that mattered to you, work for it: duty was your self-imposed word! Any odd job that could be invented would create a “yes, I’ll do it; I can do it; what is expected?” Without a sense of duty, replacing a pair of tennis shoes would not happen.

While inherited wealth is the gift for many, the ordinary person works, holds a job, improves our skills, and seeks a talent to advance our journey. But without a dutiful outlook you may live in a cardboard box under a freeway bridge.

Bringing together writings of past creative people like Jan Vredeman deVries, we can learn how duty is applied to a life’s work.  This is his most famous called “Perspective.”

“That is, the most famous art of eyesight, which looks upon or through objects, on a painted wall, panel or canvas; in which are shown certain ancient as well as modern buildings, temples or shrines, palaces, private apartments, porticos, streets, promenades, gardens, marketplaces, roads and other such constructions, resting on their fundamental lines, their basis being clearly explained with descriptions; an art of the greatest utility and necessity for all painters, engravers, sculptors, metalworkers, architects, designers, masons, cabinetmakers, carpenters, and all lovers of the arts who may wish to apply themselves to this art with greater pleasure and less pain.”

Moving from the arts, as this descriptive writing praises, one of my interests is what goes into the work of an accomplished chef.

The Sept. 3 issue of the magazine “The Week,” contains this page “Leisure:  Food and Drink.” It gives compliments to the three restaurants that are noted as recovering from the past difficulties. “The dining establishment, Gage and Tollner in Brooklyn, states the magazine, is one of the oldest and most venerable institutions; established in 1879 as a waterfront oyster house, the restaurant thrummed along for generations before falling on hard times about a decade ago.”

The other establishments, one in Milwaukee, and the third in Washington, D.C., picture what can happen when a call to duty becomes the reworking of a once troubled business.

Why? As it is said of the third food establishment, “the service is like the food; personal,” and the kitchen “keeps you smiling right through the dessert.” 

The reflections of the persons, who serve us food in public places is an example of how commitments and nurturing skills in one’s area of work can place our heads in the sky.  Then can anything match the satisfaction of work done well?  The poet Henry Van Dyke wrote:  “This is my work, my blessing, not my doom.”

It’s best we think well of ourselves and it will follow like the sun arriving on the horizon.  Remind yourself of the statement of that rare lady, Eleanor Roosevelt:  “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” 

Can we clutch to ourselves the truth of Eleanor Roosevelt’s conviction?  For some of us, there is a lot of work to do. I pray that moving ahead will, as the title of this essay states, restore the glory of duty to the steps you experience.

“Everyone must leave something behind when he/she dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built, or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”

— Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.