Entry 59: Where’s The Harm?– What wouldn’t I give to have the resilient characteristics of a tardigrade? These critters are almost indestructible- small but tough. The name tardigrade means slow walker– but who’s in a hurry, if able to withstand extremes of pressure and temperature, to say nothing of poisons and a variety of stressors that would kill every other multi-cellular organism on earth?
And, interestingly, these wonderful little plodders are not classified as extremophiles; that is, they do not thrive in extremes of heat, aridity or pressure, like those organisms adapted to extreme conditions- but they can resist those extremes, preferring temperate conditions- like us. I suppose they could be classified as the Hobbits of the microscopic world.
The German pastor, Johann August Ephraim Goeze, in 1773, first described these “little water bears” as he called them, measuring less than ½ mm as a rule. Emily Dickinson, in an early poem describes a theological virtue we are all familiar with,
“Hope” is the thing with feathers/ That perches in the soul/ And sings the tune without the words/ And never stops—at all//And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard/ And sore must be the storm/That could abash the little Bird/ That kept so many warm//I’ve heard it in the chillest land/ And on the strangest Sea/ Yet, never, in Extremity,/ It asked a crumb—of Me.
This is a very different kind of hope from that detailed by Friedrich Nietzsche in his explication of the Pandora myth. We may think that we know what words like faith, hope and charity (or love) actually mean. But it’s not so simple. Our definitions bend and twist as the torsion of our lives unwind under the force of time. I can remember a moment as a child (when the Latin Mass was still the norm) when I was petrified to let the Host touch my teeth. The priests had impressed upon us the need to avoid crushing the body of Christ within our puerile mouths.
How could we dare to subject our Saviour to such torture? Decades later, I scoffed at a traditionalist Catholic who objected to the validity of a Eucharist celebrated at a school camp high up an escarpment in North Queensland in the early 90s, by a parish priest confronted with a mixed bag of Catholics and non-Catholics who were invited to share the Paschal sacrifice with leavened bread and wine in clay-ware containers.
The word the critic used was, heterodoxical. As an aficionado of language, I naturally honed in on the usage, particularly when I saw the blanching on the cheeks of the priest. Did I leap to his defence? Ah, you know me better by now. Of course not! Today, heterodoxical persons just get excommunicated. Pretty grim, of course, but not as dire as the auto da fe of medieval times where the lateral thinkers were routinely set on fire.
Ten years ago, I awoke on Good Friday morning with a fragment of a song in my head, Where’s the harm in that? linked to a nebulous character who was simple and uncomplicated but who felt as deeply as anyone in MENSA or a Nobel laureate. As the day wore on, the persona of the song became more detailed and real until, by that evening, when the song was finished, Michael had as much substance to me as any acquaintance.
The line, But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen, from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest applies here. Carl Sandburg, even though he only had daughters, knew what fathers want to say to their sons,
“Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.”/And this might stand him for the storms/and serve him for humdrum monotony/and guide him among sudden betrayals/and tighten him for slack moments./
“Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy.”/And this too might serve him./Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed./The growth of a frail flower in a path up/has sometimes shattered and split a rock./A tough will counts. So does desire./ So does a rich soft wanting./Without rich wanting nothing arrives./
Tell him too much money has killed men/and left them dead years before burial:/the quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs/has twisted good enough men/sometimes into dry thwarted worms./
Tell him to be alone often and get at himself/and above all tell himself no lies about himself/whatever the white lies and protective fronts/he may use against other people./Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong/and the final decisions are made in silent rooms./Tell him to be different from other people/if it comes natural and easy being different./
Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives./Let him seek deep for where he is born natural./Then he may understand Shakespeare/and the Wright brothers,…and free imaginations/Bringing changes into a world resenting change./He will be lonely enough/to have time for the work/he knows as his own.
But-alas-only if the son lives long enough.