There is a sort of magic in an old man with a cane. It is the magic each man carries inside himself, the magic which says damn time and damn old-age. It says though I am old and though the motherland will claim me, though I soon shall meet a final resting place with peoples of the past, though my body soon shall be devoured by dirt or flame, I won’t give up without a fight. It is a magic which allows a falling man to stand, which allows a broken man another chance. Though temporary in it’s physical medicinal qualities there is a higher quality for which, I think, it strains: that of soul healing.
Now this is certainly no attempt at a clever introduction to an anecdote concerning any sort of Blues music, it is merely the most concise use of words I can think to describe the idea of which I am considering. What is this soul healing, you might be asking? Think of yourself as older than you are today presently- in some cases much older, in others let not you imagination wander to far. Imagine yourself as 85 perhaps, or 60 might do (Perhaps you cannot imagine yourself being even 40, let alone 21: try anyway.). Imagine that you have lived a full life. Imagine that you’ve raised a family. Imagine you’ve been part of something great. Maybe you were a solder, maybe you were a politician, maybe you were a missionary, maybe you were a mother. Let your imagination run wild! See yourself fulfilling all of the dreams that you have today, dreams which might seem impossible, see yourself completing them. Now look back on the life you’ve just lived (your still imagining) and ask yourself what more you could have accomplished, what more would you like to accomplish. Now look at your cane, sitting stretched across the table where your grandson left it, sticky with candy fingers, and then remember that you can barely walk, remember that you can barely do a thing without that cane. A think of how that cane has given you a chance, these last days of life, to do the things you’ve yet to do, to re-do what needs re-doing, to go places that need seeing, to talk to people who need goodbyes, to fix what needs fixing. And so that cane has given you another chance, a last chance to say a sweet goodbye to all the things you’ve done and to say hello to friends you could have had. Stumble to that pipe, but be careful not to fall, and claim for it your own. Draw it like your sword and wield it like a battle-axe. Claim the ending yet to come, for though it may seem a sad thought, it is yours, and final chapters bear the glory of the book.
I often let my imagination run wild while at work, when upon a quiet afternoon an elderly couple ambles in from their Buick with the reflexes of tortoises. I am impressed by the way they speak, often slowly and purposefully, as I am by the looks in their aging eyes. I sometimes imagine that they were eyes, once, which bore the brunt of beauty and now are relaxed under the less scrutinized burden of the face of wisdom. I sometimes am privileged to speak with World War II veterans, men’s whose stories are legends and who are many times heroes. I am never not impressed. I imagine the struggles they met upon their return home, to civilian, peace-time life. I imagine job-loss, and disease; I imagine financial struggles and reunions which new fewer men each year. I imagine failing marriages and failing businesses. I imagine families of children and pets and grandchildren and Christmases and long car rides and tears and funerals and paying for college many times over, and retirement, and a condo in Florida, and sending money to great-grandchildren, and spouses passing away, and being alone, and fighting on, like they did so many times before.
It is a beautiful thing to see: that same elderly couple arm in arm, helping each other to the table, helping interpret each others sentences. It is a beautiful thought: 50 or 60 years of marriage, of love, of till death do us part. It is a beautiful thought: engagement, marriage, weddings nights, first houses, children, jobs, working through issues together, homework and soccer, high school and proms, college payments and being alone again where it all began. I pray that one day I too will experience such beauty. I pray I too will have been with one person for 50 or 60 years, growing and living and loving her till death do us part.
I have of late been thinking much of the idea of time and our relation to it. Graeme, who is good at these types of things, directed me toward the following quote by Pascal from his Penses which summarizes, I think in good measure my own thoughts: ” When I consider the brief span of my life absorbed into the eternity which comes before and after.the small space I occupy and which I see swallowed up in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I take fright and am amazed to see myself here rather than there: there is no reason for me to be here rather than there, now rather than then. Who put me here? By whose command and act were this time and place allotted to me?” (Penses 205).
Truly, the answers to these questions are central to any argument concerning our existence, but beyond our beliefs concerning such philosophy, there is another question which remains, and which remains, too often, unanswered: with what will we reward said “allotter?”
Throughout history some men have lived and died for kings, some for books, and still others for women, but there is inside each of us a desire to attain honor, to experience love, to know truth. Now few men experience each equally: some desire honor more than love, and some love more than truth, but these three stand out above the rest. Too often though, in my estimation, they are forgotten, there is no conscience effort to know any of the three, no honest undertaking to have relationship with them in any way. Do we allow ourselves to go on through life, wasting the time we are given with frivolity no nearer to honor, love, and truth than the Easter Bunny is to the North Pole on Christmas Eve? Consider.
This evening I had the privilege to watch the Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring again and I was moved at Boromir’s farewell scene towards the end of the film. He has attempted to steal the ring away from Frodo but realizing his wrong has jumped to the aid of the hobbit’s friends Merry and Pippin who are being attacked by Orcs. He fights ferociously before he is killed by the arrows of an Orc archer. I imagine him fighting for his honor more than his life, in defense of his soul and personhood than of his body. I imagine his restitution coming with each sword thrust, with the shriek and death of each orc: a sort of reckoning. He was given one final chance, and when he died he was forgiven, forgiven by himself most importantly of all.
This came after wise words from the wizard Gandalf when in the dark mines of Moria he encouraged Frodo by responding to the wanderers worries with the following advice:
I wish the ring had never come to me…I
wish none of this had happened.
So do all who live to see such times, but
that is not for them to decide. All we
have to decide is what to do with the
time that is given to us.
All that we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. Indeed, Indeed. And so let us determine to seek after honor, love, and truth. Let us consider the time we are given as something more than coincidence. Let us deal with it accordingly.
There will come a day when your days will be nearing their end, when you will look back and judge your self, you will be forced to judge your life. What will you see? What will you wish you could change and for what will you use your cane? Will you be Boromir fighting for restitution, seeking a reckoning? Or will you be Frodo, having endured the journey as it came, prepared to enter the joys of the gray havens?
“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”
-Tolkien, in the words of Bilbo Baggins
“Still round the corner their may wait
A new road or a secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will com at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun. “
-Tolkien, in the words of Frodo Baggins