Think you’re a savior? If you do, you’re wrong | Latte Guy | July 22

“It is unlikely that many of us will be famous, or even remembered. But no less important than the brilliant few that lead a nation to fresh achievements, are the unknown many whose patient efforts keep the world from running backwards; who guard and maintain the ancient values, ...whose inconspicuous triumph it is to pass on what they inherited from their fathers, unimpaired and undiminished, to their sons. Enough, for almost all of us, if we can hand on the torch, and not let it down. The destiny of mankind is not governed wholly by its “stars.” – F. L. Lewis

I don’t know about you, but I would consider myself a happy man if I go the rest of my life without ever again hearing anyone utter the phrase “raise the debt ceiling.”

Maybe it’s just me, but more and more the noise coming out of D.C. sounds like the cacophonous whining of obstreperous dime store shills for calcified partisan dogma. Watching the news these days causes me bone-crushing angst, violent, shaking rage, or bouts of uncontrolled weeping, which, coincidentally, is exactly how I feel when I watch the Mariners play.

While we often think of the world existing as two nonintersecting Venn diagrams, one containing the world’s leaders and the other containing all the rest of us, with most of us feeling wholly inadequate to lift the collective burden of the world’s seven billion inhabitants.

The world’s problems are not ours to solve individually. Or are they?

It turns out there is an ancient religious tradition – mentioned in Islamic, Jewish and Persian literature – that holds that the world is prevented from being destroyed by the presence in each generation of a small number of just men and women who, through their conduct and good deeds, ensure the safety and survival of our planet, a planet that otherwise would have been destroyed long ago by an angry and vengeful God.

(A God who, according to Mark Twain, created man because he was disappointed in the monkey).

These few men and women who keep the world from being destroyed, according to the ancient traditions, number just 36, and are ordinary people with no special claim to merit or distinction.

They go about their affairs and, in times of upheaval and strife, provide an oasis of sanity and continuity even as the world’s acknowledged leaders strut about making grand pronouncements and manipulating the levers of power, often setting in motion unspeakable calamity and unimaginable suffering.

These 36 ordinary people, known as the Tzadikim or Lamedvaniks in Jewish tradition, operate inconspicuously and with supreme humility, unrecognized by each other or the rest of mankind.

In fact, the tradition holds that any person who claims to be one of the 36 cannot actually be one simply because that same humility would preclude them from making such a claim.

Furthermore, tradition says if one of the 36 comes to understand his or her true significance to mankind, they die, and their position is immediately assumed by another.

The idea that a small number of just or righteous people can save mankind from God’s wrath appears in the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which God incinerated in a sea of fire and brimstone after Abraham was unable to find 10 righteous men in either place.

For good measure, God turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt when she looked back at the burning cities.

(I’ve always thought that a God with a better sense of humor or history would have turned her into an iPod or a vending machine or something more impressive and timeless than a salt pillar).

So no matter what I see on the news, I take comfort that the salvation of the world may lie in the hands of 36 unknown and ordinary people leading simple, unpretentious, holy and humble lives, working hard and praying for the sake of their fellow human beings.

Since no one knows who they are, just to be safe, maybe we all ought to assume we might be one of them and live our lives accordingly. Couldn’t hurt, could it?

Tom Tyner is an attorney for the Trust for Public Land. He is author of “Skeletons From Our Closet,” a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.

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