So this stately gentleman visited me in my sleep last night. I coined the name Crusty for my visitor; otherwise he is Horace. He left me with a few words. Ha! There was this reference to him needing to be brief or struggling to be brief; and then this … my memory of his sage counsel. Not very brief!
Crusty prefaced his wonderfully poignant speech with a reminder, ” many past words will be revived, which now have fallen off; and that many [which are now] in esteem shall fall off. Came across like personal advice for me to not take my writings or myself too seriously. He said, I reminded him a bit of himself in his day. The man did look a bit crusty, but in a good way. I laughed when he reminisced, “my observations were for my own improvement; and my words come directly from writings which were just an amusing pastime.” Hey! That’s me, I shouted! So then you write in a personal journal too, I asked? No response from Crusty. Darn dream state! The kids must have thought I was losing it my sleep again. In any case, I must have had a lot on my mind. The old man sure covered a lot of ground. Reminded me of my Dad in his last days making sure he had dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s, just in case he missed passing on essential life tips to me in my adolescence.
Speaking about brevity, it’s about time to get on with Crusty’s counsel, before I loose you. I recall his words were something like this:
“As we speak, cruel time is fleeing. Seize the day, believe as little as possible in the morrow (must be a really old guy to use that word). Seize the day! Dare to be wise; begin! Begin, be bold and venture to be wise. Those who begin have 1/2 done. One must avoid that wicked temptress, Laziness. Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.
Dare to be wise; begin!
When life’s path is steep keep your mind even. One must rule their mind or it will rule them. Hold your temper. Anger is a brief madness. Madness is not good even in brevity. Govern your mind [temper], for unless it obeys Anger’s commands. Subdue your passion or It will subdue you. In counterbalance, it’s lovely to be silly at the right moment. Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans.”
As dreams go, this one was every bit classically disjointed. I have this picture of the old guy jumping in and out of commercials or performances. At one point I swear he was standing on a park bench doing a poetry reading.
“Then come at once and pause for breath
in chasing wealth. Remembering death
and death’s dark fires, mix, while you may,
method and madness, work and play.
Folly is sweet, well-timed.”
What!?! “Enjoy … Enjoy”, he said. “Mingle a dash of folly with your wisdom. Chase wisdom down. Own it. But, be wise in doing so. Having wisdom is not wise when it is derived from books alone. Live under the open sky, and dangerously. Think to yourself that every day is your last; the hour to which you do not look forward will come as a welcome surprise.” Then he’s back into verse again …
“Happy the man, and happy he alone,
he who can call today his own:
he who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Be fair or foul, or rain or shine
the joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
Not Heaven itself, upon the past has power,
but what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.”
Truthfully, I struggle with prose and poetry. I write what streams and then I ask myself years later, “What was I thinking?” Help me her Sage. What does it all mean? He begins the rest of his Speech. “Leave off asking what tomorrow will bring, and whatever days’ fortune will give, count them as profit. [I’m thinking he meant to say a bonus.]
Ok, so I’m not supposed to be focused on tomorrow’s fortunes; and for that matter, not on what I’m not getting done today to better that fortune. Wow, that’s a lot of double negatives!
OK … Why?
Is this that ‘live for today’ mantra that contemporary Psychologists proffer? Pretty close, if I understood what Crusty followed with. “Fortune makes a fool of those she favors too much. He who is greedy is always in want. As such, he will always be a slave who does not know how to live upon a little. Clogged with yesterday’s excess, the body drags the mind down with it. [It’s] not him with great possessions should you in truth call blest; with better right does he claim the name of happy man who realizes how to make use of the gods’ gifts wisely, is skilled to meet harsh poverty and endure, as one who dreads dishonor far more than death; a man like that for friends beloved, or for his country fears not to perish.” Don’t get swayed my modern-day profiteers who argue their Twitter posts and fame make them rich and good role models. “Faults are soon copied,” he said. Fame and fortune are not measures of a successful life. End of day critiques are folly and not the types of folly Crusty meant when allowing for it to balance us.
By now I’m guessing my surprise visitor spent considerable time in Preacher School (which actually turned out to be wrong). In any case, he goes on to say, “He who postpones the hour of living rightly is like the rustic (wow, another old old word reference) who waits for the river to run out before he crosses. Keep the faith! He who feared that he would not succeed sat still. It is courage, courage, courage, that raises the blood of life to crimson splendor. Live bravely and present a brave front to adversity. Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant. [It’s] the lofty pine [which] is oftenest shaken by the winds; high towers fall with a heavier crash; and the lightning strikes the highest mountain.” Oh my! And, I thought Fear of Success was some contemporary’s genius idea.
Be not afraid!
Have faith in your humanness!
Too simple? Too modern?
Crusty does speak in very old language sets and references; almost parable like. More of his counsel … “Treacherous ashes hide the fires through which you stride. If any man cannot feel the power of the gods when he looks upon the stars, then I doubt whether he is capable of any feeling at all. If you wish me to weep, you yourself must first feel grief too. How slight and insignificant is the thing which casts down or restores a mind greedy for praise. You must often make erasures if you mean to [produce] what is worthy of being [used] a second time; and don’t labor for the admiration of the crowd, but be content with a few … He who combines the useful and the pleasing wins out by both instructing and delighting the [community]. The man who is tenacious of purpose in a rightful cause is not shaken from his firm resolve by the frenzy of his fellow citizens clamoring for what is wrong, or by the tyrant’s threatening. Force without wisdom falls of its own weight.”
From humility to shared pain to letting go to avoidance of force back to that word wisdom again! Preach it! And, Crusty continues to deliver! “We are but dust and shadow. [Although] I shall not wholly die and a great part of me will escape the grave. [Be considerate and reasoned because] what you have not published, you can destroy. The word once sent forth can never be recalled. Humor is often stronger and more effective than sharpness in cutting knotty issues. A cultivated wit, one that badgers less, can persuade all the more. Artful ridicule can address contentious issues more competently and vigorously than can severity alone. Surely a Man may speak Truth with a smiling countenance. [For] without love and laughter there is no joy; live amid love and laughter.” Ok, I’ve heard that last line before — Live, Laugh, and Love. Imagine that the old guy is contemporary. He was right up front. Stuff does come around full circle. “Whatever advice you give, be brief.” Heard that one recently too. And then there is the modern-day version of this sage advice, “a shoe that is too large is apt to trip one, and when too small, to pinch the feet. So it is with those whose fortune does not suit them.” Is this not “Stay within your wheelhouse!”
Crusty finally said goodnight, but not before getting back up on that park bench reciting these two pieces. The first is quite dark in my view. Do we really fight through our dark side this much to find wisdom and act on it? And if not, if it is as simple as waking up in the morning and simply beginning, why do I struggle so much with this these days? It was once my mainstay.
“Moreover, you can’t stand so much as an hour of your own company
or spend your leisure properly; you avoid yourself like a truant
or fugitive, hoping by drink or sleep to elude Angst.
But it’s no good, for that dark companion stays on your heels.”
“So, if you don’t summon a book and a light before dawn,
If you don’t set your mind on honest aims and pursuits,
On waking, you’ll be tortured by envy or lust.
Why so quick to remove a speck from your eye, when
If in your mind, you put off the cure till next year?
Who’s started has half finished: dare to be wise: begin!”
As I prefaced, so much for brevity. Old Crusty did leave a brief message as he check out. I totally understand his perspective. “Now is the time to drink!” Ok, I’m joking … just a bit. He did say this; but modern-day usage might imply a very different intention or use. I definitely like this new phase in my life. I do drink a good Scotch from time to time, but not exactly the kind to pound the bottle. So if it’s time to drink one and hit the sack, I’m all in. Thank you Horace! Time to rest and await the next visitor.
By William A. Lee
2016, December 16
Do I dare observe that Horace was Twitter ready centuries ago?