Originally published July 20, 2007
It was my intent to write about the qualities of great men. To define and debate whether there are absolutes in this arena, both in qualities and men. I had settled into that place in my mind that produces these works, found a place near center and could feel the ideas percolating. I took a walk, as I often do, to cement these thoughts into some semblance of order. As I walked however my thoughts began to stray from my original course to the near misses, the small wrongs of man and society alike. I saw it as I walked.
The cracked paint on the fence post. The dents in the cars. The trash strewn along the curbside 10 feet from the trash can, the dog shit on the sidewalk….little things. Upon first inspection these things all bring me to ask, how did this happen? How did this become this way? These little things occur every little where, every little day. It is pointless to ask how, or even why, for the answer is always the same – life happened. It happens to all of us, every single day.
Our world is not perfect. It is also not permanent. It is furthermore not always intended for too close an inspection, unless the inspector wishes to see the inequities that naturally happen. Perhaps this is the same with great men. If examined under too bright a light there are surely cracks in their fence posts, dents in their cars, trash on their lawns and yes, even dog shit on their sidewalks.
Do these things make great men less great? Do these things simply prove the point that all are affected equally by the subtle mistakes and misgivings of our world? Do these things matter? Likely not, but I’m quite certain there are those who on the surface at least would disagree if the conversation had begun under a different pretense.
All this talk of great men grew from my own meditation on how to resolve a few situations in my little life. Simple things in the simple world. I feel I’m close to these answers, but yet can not seem to push forward with resolution. Call it uncertainty, second-guessing, fear – it has no singular name. Whatever “it” shall be called it seems to stand between what I know should be done and the actual doing of these things. Pause. Trepidation. Weakness. Lazy. All good nicknames for the space betwen the right decision and the right action, but none individually fitting as a grand name. You see I sometimes revert to the concept of asking what another would do when I struggle to decide. And if I’m going to ponder what another man would do then of course why not ponder what a great man would do, for surely this is the highest authority, the only caliber of man capable of providing direction.
But these matters are small I tell myself in rebuttal. Surely a great man would scoff at the very thought of being perplexed over simple little things in a simple little life, there are economies to be built, medicines to invent and societies to govern. Then I see once again the cracks in the paint and the dog shit, always the dog shit. These exist for all of us – great and un-great alike. So surely these great men I attempt to channel must deal with these things, even if it is with more ease and speed than I.
Which brings me to the thought that perhaps these little things are not as little for me in this particular case as I make them seem to be. Or perhaps I’m just bad at making decisions. Or perhaps my mind is now stuck on the dog shit and I’ve effectively rendered myself incapable of focusing my energies on these little things any longer. In any case, I am still left without resolution.
Perhaps this is all right as well. There may be cracks in the paint of the fence post, but the post is still standing, as is the fence. There are dents in the car, but it appears to still serve its’ purpose. I could go on with this exercise but I’m sure you get the point and besides, I don’t really feel like writing about the benefits of the dog shit.
So I am left without resolution. So be it. Rilke once wrote to “love the questions themselves”, perhaps that is my mission this day. Perhaps I will “gradually, without even noticing it, find myself experiencing the answers, some distant day”. I will abide by this thought, although I will secretly hope that the answers will come tomorrow, or soon after….Rilke never said I couldn’t keep that thought in the back of my mind. Wait, he actually did, oh well, I’m not Rilke. I will carry both the torches of passive wonderment and active meditation, one of them will eventually light the fire under me I seek.
In the interim I will try not to worry about what a great man would do, or think in this particular set of circumstances. I will instead remember the constant answer to questions like these….life happens, it happens to all of us, every single day. And when it happens, I’ll know it.