Happy Columbus Day — say it loud, say it proud

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Happy Columbus Day. There, I said it. And I mean it. I don’t wish you a solemn Columbus Day, nor a mournful one, nor still a guilty one. No, I wish you a happy Columbus Day.

It’s a day to celebrate the contributions of Italian-Americans to our nation’s history. That was the original intent behind the holiday, after all, to elevate Italians at a time when they still faced marked bigotry. But more than that, it’s a day to celebrate a man whose example of courage and determination we need, as they say, now more than ever.

Christopher Columbus wasn’t just the man most responsible for opening up the New World to the Old; he was also an example of the American Dream centuries before our nation was born.

The son of a tradesman, he was mainly self-taught in the ways of words and letters and began acquiring his sailing chops as early as age 10. This wasn’t a privileged young man, but rather one who through pluck, will and a healthy Catholic faith, rose far above his humble origins and became one of humanity’s greatest and most ­famous heroes.

At a time when the world is battling a global pandemic and the economic catastrophe of lockdowns, Columbus offers an example to us about balancing the fear of death against the immortal human ­longing for prosperity, achievement and discovery.

Four times he would cross the Atlantic, most famously in 1492, with his trio of ships, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Each was a potentially deadly, dangerous voyage into the unknown.

While it is certainly true that Columbus was better at getting to the New World than he was at governing it, his opening of Atlantic trade would change the world forever, arguably save the West and spread the Gospel of Jesus farther and wider than anybody in what then was known as Christendom could have imagined.

If this sounds hyperbolic, consider that just a few decades ­before Columbus’ first voyage, Constantinople had fallen to Muslim invaders — and that it was only in that same year of 1492 that Christians reclaimed the Iberian Peninsula in the Reconquista.

Christendom had been in a battle for survival through five centuries of invasions and crusades. The riches of the New World, tapped first by Columbus, ensured the safety of Western Europe and laid the groundwork for its global dominance.

The upshot of Columbus’ grit and courage is nothing short of the world we inhabit today, one in which Judeo-Christian values through centuries of churn and violence have led to the freest, most equitable and most prosperous nations in our planet’s history. There are those who say that Columbus didn’t live with our modern values. That is true, but it is also true that without Columbus, our modern values might very well not exist.

A wise man gazes on history with a fervent hope for mercy, not unlike what so many hope from God. He doesn’t dare mindlessly condemn his own past in toto, because he knows that his own age, too, has its own moral blind spots and is marred by great crimes (in our age, those social-justice messages are tapped out on phones produced under conditions approximating slave labor).

The best he can do is to live in the world as he finds it and do his best to bring about a more humane future — a future that may well treat his own age as base and uncaring. That’s how Columbus lived and acted in history, not living long enough to see all his greatness ­reduced to his mistakes.

Columbus Day is a time to ­remember that that which seems impossible rarely is. It is a day to feel inspired, to know that we shape the future. So go to an Italian restaurant Monday night (at 25 percent capacity, of course) and raise a glass or two of Chianti to Columbus and the crews who served him. Wonder at the bravery of those men and ask yourself what challenges you can face with strength and purpose.

Don’t allow the naysayers who line their pockets with the outrage of the guilt steal from you the history that belongs to all of us; don’t fear their sneers or snide remarks. Christopher Columbus endured plenty of those in his own day, but rather than cower beneath the criticisms of those who were supposedly his betters, he trusted in himself, in God and in the limitless possibilities of human exploration. ­Monday is his day but also ours. Let’s hold it in our hearts.

David Marcus is The Federalist’s New York correspondent.

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