"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

20 December 2013

The Earliest Foundations

It is the wont of youth to live in the present and to value over highly all that is modern, new, to their inexperienced thinking different.  But nothing is good merely because it is new, and often what is old has stayed with us not because it is mere tradition but because it has been tried and found consistent with inalterable truth.  But the past also is of great value because, for better and for worse, it has formed us, it is why we are who we are today, and on it is built all that we call new.  Without the past we would be utterly adrift, living in a vacuum without purpose, value, or coherency.

In Patricia McKillip's The Bards of Bone Plain, Jonah Cle lives as an archeologist in the ancient city of Caerau, seeking and uncovering its centuries of history.  Princess Beatrice is drawn to this work, and when she explains why, they are words we would all be wise to take to heart:

I like recognizing -- I mean finding -- what's lost.  Or rather what's forgotten.  Piecing people's lives together with the little mysteries they leave for us.  I like seeing out of earlier eyes, looking at the world when it was younger, different.  Even then, that long ago, it was building the earliest foundations of my world.  It's like searching for the beginning of a story.  You keep going back and back, and the beginning keeps shifting, running ahead of you, always older than the puzzle piece you hold in your hand, always pointing beyond what you know.

The bard to whom she's speaking, himself more ancient than she knows, agrees:

That's what I feel when I come across a new ballad [. . .].  I keep listening for the older forms of it, the place where language changes, hints at something past, the point where the story points even further back.

We are historical beings, bound in our place and time, yet with the potential to transcend (at least some of) its worst faults because we can know our past and draw on its lessons and its wisdom to see our present more clearly and what we might do to try to shape a more beneficent future.  

But only if we stop and listen, reflect and understand, act with wisdom and not mere wit.


Alayio said...

Another good example of why age-integrated community is so beneficial. One of my school's greatest strength is our mixed-aged staff and our mutual respect for one another. My dear 72-year-old teaching friend is respected for her wisdom and experience, but she always respects me for my 22-year-old passion, vision, and courage to speak my mind--even if it is against conventional wisdom.
We all bring something to the table, and if we do not become well-practiced listeners we will miss something we need to hear.
We all need the vision of a different seat and the sound of a different story--the story of the past, yes, and the story of the present.

Beth Impson said...

So true, Alaiyo. Thanks for visiting.

William Luse said...

A Merry Christmas to Beth.

Beth Impson said...

And to you as well, Bill.