Entry 40: Patrimony- When you reach a certain age, you look back and tot up what it is you have achieved and what, if anything, you can pass on. Consider a tramp dying in a ditch with nothing except holes in his pockets before the gates of a mansion filled with the products of opulence owned by a man who has fleets of ships and warehouses filled with consumer goods. Can you judge which man has more claim as to who is the better person? Which one is worthier of salvation? Do you need more information or will you leave the decision to a higher power, say, the Twittersphere?
Patrimony is defined by Merriam-Webster as anything derived from one’s father or ancestors. It may be material and exogenous, such as that mansion or something less tangible but nevertheless real- such as an inheritable characteristic such as a predisposition to…what? Let us conduct a mind experiment where the progeny of St Francis of Assisi and Snow White are set against the issue of, say, Adolph Hitler and Cruella De Ville.
The children: a boy and a girl from each union, are stranded on a sinking ship. There are only two places left on the last lifeboat. You must choose who is to be saved. Do you save the girls? The boys? The pair from the forces of Good or those of the forces of Evil? Or one from each family? Choose. Perhaps you want to leave that to the Twittersphere, too…
Now lest any think that I am opposed to the digital universe which is disrupting so much of our lives and will continue to do so, let me say that I am more than happy to give it a big thumbs up. As an example, I am listening to a track that I thought was lost and gone forever- thanks to the power of musical streaming and downloading.
I am referring to Billy the Mountain, by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention from an LP I bought in Wollongong in 1973 entitled Just Another Band from LA. I lost it, with a whole lot else, somewhere in the Seventies. For a fistful of digital dollars, I have recovered the lost item. Now, whether it’s a blessing or a curse remains to be seen. But back to the questions posed earlier: have you consulted anyone? Played a lifeline, perhaps? Where, or to whom, do you turn? As for me- I trust the artists- and the poets, in particular.
Countless millions of men have looked into a mirror as they shaved and conducted a silent Q&A as they started the day. Thomas Hardy must have had a similar colloquy sometime in the 19th Century.
I am the family face;/ Flesh perishes, I live on,/ Projecting trait and trace/ Through time to times anon,/ And leaping from place to place/Over oblivion.
Let’s face it- our DNA is more durable than the stuff we squabble about endlessly.
The years-heired feature that can/ In curve and voice and eye/ Despise the human span/ Of durance- that is I;/ The eternal thing in man,/ That heeds no call to die.
I love that line- the eternal thing in man that heeds no call to die. When I think of the faults and foibles that I possess in more than abundant measure, I spread the blame down the endless years back to our ancestral mother and father, and thus, feel that I am able to go on living. So, if I were you, I wouldn’t be so quick to discount the concept of Original Sin.
Be like me and turn around the Biblical curse of the sins of the fathers visited on subsequent generations and use it as an excuse. Worth a try, anyway. Yeah, I know, I’m not fooling anyone, am I? I can’t answer the question of who should be allowed in the lifeboat. Our whole world is a lifeboat and the few privileged individuals who have stood outside it have attested to the ineluctable conclusion that we are all inheritors of the most precious gift the universe can bestow- our blue planet.
Now I’m listening to the last track of 2015’s The Best of The Grateful Dead, Standing on the Moon, written by Robert Hunter back in the late Eighties. Only twelve people in the history of the Earth have, in fact, stood on the moon. How many can you name? After Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, I mean? Even one?
Of course, this sort of taunting is meaningless today- by thumbing your device you will thumb your nose at me, easily reciting these names: Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, David Scott, James Irwin, John Young, Charles Duke, Eugene Cernan, and Harrison Schmitt. At ten years of age I thought I would be an astronaut, but guess what? So where do we turn when our dreams turn to ash?
Me? I turn to poetry. Billy Collins, the American poet laureate, wrote a brilliant poem entitled On Turning Ten. The last stanza: It seems only yesterday I used to believe/there was nothing under my skin but light./If you cut me I could shine./But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,/I skin my knees. I bleed. Do yourself a favour: find the whole poem and read it. Patrimony is really just the good stuff we tell each other.