Well, that was fun. We should do that more often.
We're a day removed from signing the #1 prospect in the nation. I've spent the last day basking in the glory of Ole Miss finally living up to (and surpassing) its inherent potential. It's hard to feel like we're not awfully damn close to getting out of that desert Hugh Freeze talked so much about a little over a year ago. During the course of the last day, while I've been basking, I've also been listening to the critics, to the "Haha Ole Pi$$ T$UN Rebear$ bought dem croot$" folks. It's annoying as shit, isn't it? It's annoying that we're at a point in our history where we're doing what we all knew we were capable of, but all anyone can talk about is how we obviously must be cheating. I'm getting sidetracked, though, because I don't want to talk about how unjustified this criticism is without evidence (though it is). I want to talk about the lessons that we, as a fanbase should learn from all of this.
I'm going to digress. Bear with me. I'm going somewhere with this, I swear. There's a class I teach every few years that is designed for non-English majors. It's a general education Lit class, a course focused on introducing literary fiction to Engineering and Nursing and Chemistry majors. I like that class. It's fun for me, because it affords me the opportunity to practice what I preach. I believe in the power of literature. I come from the state that is last in the nation in education but that also produced Faulkner and Welty and Hannah and Morris. I don't believe that literature is for specialists. So to get that idea across, early in the semester I always give my students an essay called "Metaphor and Memory" by Cynthia Ozick. It's a wonderful essay.
At core, "Metaphor and Memory" is an examination of the humanizing force that literature is and should be. Ozick's argument is rooted in the belief that empathy, the ability to imagine the lives of others, is at the core of the literary experience. She's talking, of course, about metaphor. Not the small scale "red as blood" type of metaphor. She's talking about large-scale metaphor. The kind of metaphor that Faulkner was using when he made the universal specific in Yoknapatawpha County. Ozick believes that we can trace the literary roots of this back to a very specific point. That point in history is the divergence of the Judaic philosophy from the Greek philosophy. She argues that the Greeks rooted their religion in inspiration, in spontaneous revelations that owe nothing to memory. The oracle might speak the word of the gods, but those words didn't necessarily have anything to do with what came before.
She delineates that philosophy from what she sees as the central tenant of Judaism. Here, I'll let her speak for herself:
We come now to a jump. A short jump across the Mediterranean; a long jump to the experience of another people, less lucky than the Greeks, and - perhaps because less lucky - collectively obsessed with the imagination of pity; or call it the imagination of reciprocity. The Jews...were driven to a preoccupation with history and with memory almost at the start of their hard-pressed desert voyage into civilization. The distinguished Greeks had their complex polity, their stunning cities; in these great cities they nurtured unrivaled sophistications. The Jews began as primitives and nomads, naive shepherds as remote from scientific thinking as any other primitives; in their own culture, when at length they established their simple towns, they had no art or theater or athletics, and never would have....And, finally, the Jews carried the memory of four hundred years of torment. Unlike the citizen-Greeks, their history did not introduce civics; it introduced bricks without straw, and the Jews who escaped from Ramses' Egypt were a rough slave rabble, a mixed multitude, a rowdy discontented rebellious ragtag mob. A nation of slaves is different from a nation of philosophers.
Out of slavery a new thing was made...I have all along been calling this new thing "metaphor." It came about because thirty generations of slavery in Egypt were never forgotten - though not as a form of grudge-holding. A distinction should be drawn between grudge-holding and memory; they are never the same. As for grudge-holding, it was forbidden to the ex-slave rabble...The Egyptians were cruel enemies and crueler oppressors; the ex-slaves will not forget - not out of spite for the wrongdoers, but as a means to understand what it is to be an outcast, a foreigner, an alien of any kind. By turning the concrete memory of slavery into a universalizing metaphor of reciprocity, the ex-slaves discover a way to convert imagination into a serious moral instrument...
Four hundred years of bondage in Egypt, rendered as metaphoric memory, can be spoken in a moment; in a single sentence...The sentence is easily identified. It follows sixteen verses behind "Love they neighbor as thyself," but majestic as that is, it is not the most majestic, because its subject is not the most recalcitrant. Our neighbor is usually of our own tribe, and looks like us and talks like us. Our neighbor is usually familiar; our neighbor is usually not foreign, or of another race...We are still, with our neighbor, in Our Town...We have not yet penetrated to history and memory. The more compelling sentence carries us there - Leviticus 19, verse 34, and you will hear in it history as metaphor, memory raised to parable: "The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the homeborn among you, and you shall love him as yourself; because you were strangers in the land of Egypt."
Now, my intention here isn't to proselytize or argue for the merit of one religion over another, and I'm not even really concerned with fiction here, though I know I rambled on about it for a while. What I am interested in is how we as Ole Miss fans respond and react to our newfound success.
If we sustain success, if we really do pull up a seat at the big boy's table, the way we all hope to do, then we're going to be that ex-slave rabble. We are not Alabama or Ohio State or Notre Dame or USC. We are Ole Miss. Our history is hard and complex and ugly and beautiful, and we have done many, many things wrong. In a year or two years or three, we very well might find ourselves in a position we are unfamiliar with. If we do move on up in the world of college football, we will lose recruits to schools that we perceive to be "lesser." How we respond to those losses will speak directly to who we are as a fanbase. Will we forget yesterday? Will we forget that on a day of great joy and success for our program, we suffered the slings and arrows of other fans? Will we throw out accustations of cheating and impropriety based on our own bias? Or will we pat the other guys on the back, tell them they did a hell of a job, wish their new players luck, and remember what it was like to be lost in the wilderness?