If you think getting old today is a bummer, imagine when really old was 45, and 50 was ancient. Rulers of kingdoms acted like spoiled teenagers because they were spoiled teenagers.
During the 14th century (1300s) — the worst of the Black Plague years — many of the warring monarchs were not yet out of their teens. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen year-old kings waging war. Hormonal tyrants, the anointed of God, doing whatever they wanted (unless they got so far out of hand that their own family did them in).
So, my friends, gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Time is still a-flying.
Robert Herrick was a 17th-century English poet and cleric, best known for his poem To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time, generally know by its first line Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.
Sunday morning, I woke to a blanket of snow across the landscape. Maybe 5 inches. Not a mega storm, but enough to cover the branches of the trees, the lawn, and the forest floor.
I went out to take some pictures. Maybe it was the time of day … it was just a little past eight in the morning. There were dozens of little birds heading for the big forsythia bush. The birds love that bush. They love it in summer and spring and fall as well as in the winter. I don’t know if there is something there which they eat, or they just feel safe in its twisted branches.
We used to try to control it, but in recent years, it has quite gotten away from us, completely hiding the chain link fence that is the demarcation between our yard and the woods.
I was able to get some pictures of the little birds, something that usually eludes me. I don’t know what they are. Some kind of wren or finch. There are so many and they look very much alike. Our garden birds, sharing our world.
What kind of idea are you? Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accommodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive; or are you the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damn fool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze? – The kind that will almost certainly, ninety-nine times out of hundred, be smashed to bits; but, the hundredth time, will change the world.
Play close attention to the phrasing. The prompt does not ask whether you tend to compromise or not. Compromise, dealmaking, and survival mean and imply different things when an idea is at issue. Therefore, before jumping into your response to this prompt, you should consider reflecting on what it means for an idea to compromise (etc.) and how that might translate into human actions.
I don’t fit in a category. Not me, not my ideas. The concept of “compromise” as wrong bothers me. Not because I “go with the flow.” I have no idea what “the flow” is. Or who is doing the flowing. I’ve never been in touch with popular thought because I don’t care what’s popular — or unpopular — or even hated. What I believe is subject to lots of varying forces. What you might call compromise, I call being in touch with reality.
The world and I have undergone dramatic change with the passage of time. Isn’t that the way it is supposed to me? Is not life a learning process? If life does is not growth, what is it? If my ideas are fixed and cannot change, they will become ridiculous. Irrelevant. Stupid. And so will I.
What might make anyone think their idea is “The Idea?” Or that it will be adopted by the “world?” (Whatever that is.) What historical thing, event, process, cultural trend, would make someone expect righteousness (as they perceive it) to prevail? Throughout human history, exactly the opposite has been the invariable human experience. I don’t see it changing.
When reality bites, I don’t stand around waiting for it to eat me. I think. I test my ideas to see if have legs to stand on. If not, I try to figure out what can I do to make them sturdier.
Some call it compromise. I call it smart. I know people who can not change. Refuse change. Are stuck in a fixed belief system. Maybe their system made sense. Then, not now. Today, they are relics. Laughable parodies of who they once were. We find them pitiable, that they can’t let the light in. They’ve locked the doors and drawn the shades of their minds. So sad, we say.
For most of my life, I believed everything could be fixed if we kept trying. Fifty years later, the world is no better.
My generation is weary. Our children are trying not to drown. Their children — the grandchildren — are even more cynical.
So what kind of idea am I? What kind of idea are you? I am not an idea. I’m alive and constantly changing. If that makes you judge me weak or unrighteous, too bad. Holding to ideas that don’t work renders them meaningless. Ultimately, renders us meaningless. Written or shouted from a rooftop, it is just noise.
Rigid ideas of good, bad, right, wrong, evil, and righteousness are the problem. They will not save the world. Not now, not eventually. Not. Ever. Nor will they lower the heat of hatred and rage threatening to engulf us.
Rigid ideas are destroying us, marching us in lock step to nothing and nowhere.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there; The children were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads.
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap, Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap — When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash, Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash. The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow, Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below; When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer, With a little old driver, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name: “Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen, “On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen; “To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall! “Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky; So up to the house-top the coursers they flew, With the sleigh full of toys — and St. Nicholas too: And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around, Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound: He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot, And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot; A bundle of toys was flung on his back, And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry, His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry; His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow; The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath. He had a broad face, and a little round belly That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly: He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself; A wink of his eye and a twist of his head Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk, And laying his finger aside of his nose And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle: But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight — Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Lewis Carroll is my favorite poet. In this, one of his less well-known but nonetheless wonderful poems, he offers commentary on both parenthood and aging. I find myself relating. Really. No kidding.
Just for fun, I’ve included John Tenniel‘s original illustrations which accompanied the poem on publication.
The poem appears in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and is recited by Alice (Chapter 5, “Advice from a Caterpillar” which was Chapter 3 in the original manuscript, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground). Alice informs the caterpillar she has tried to repeat “How Doth the Little Busy Bee” and it came out all wrong as “How Doth the Little Crocodile”. The caterpillar asks her to repeat “You are old, Father William.”
Following is the poem she recites.
“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”
“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”
“You are old,” said the youth, “As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?”
“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling the box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?”
“You are old,” said the youth, “And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”
“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”
“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?”
“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”