Archive for January 21st, 2011

Of all of the thousands – some say it was only 275 – of quatrains written by Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet Omar Khayyam in his Rybyaiyat, there have only been two that have stuck with me over the years. I was fortunate or unfortunate enough to be in the class of a teacher who wished to teach us rhyming; thus I learned that Khayyam’s verse was in iambic pentameter. Perhaps the first of these quartrains is very familiar to you; it goes like this: “The Moving Finger writes; and having writ moves on/ Nor all the Piety nor Wit/ shall lure it back to cancel half a line/ nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.” I have always interpreted that to mean that what is done is done; what is said is said. We cannot undo that which we or anyone has said or done. Engage brain before opening mouth. Think twice before taking action. Are these the ways of the coward or are they the wise man’s methods? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to think that we have the answers to those questions? Then again, we must ask, would we want that kind of knowledge? How would we use such vast understanding? Would we have the Wisdom of Solomon or the greed of dictators? As I approach middle age – when compared to a ripened forest, of course – I begin to reflect on such dangerous and, some might call them pernicious thoughts.

“For want of a nail, a shoe was lost; For want of a shoe, the horse was lost; for want of a horse, the rider was lost; for want of a rider the battle was lost; for want of a battle, the kingdom was lost; And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” Throughout history, it’s been the “nails” that have determined the direction of the world. In many cases we may compare the nail to the moving finger. If Washington hadn’t pushed on to Trenton; if Napoleon and Hitler hadn’t thought so little of Russian winters; if the Japanese hadn’t attacked Pearl Harbor; if, if, if, if. There have been so many ‘if’s’ in our own brief lifetimes, it’s sometimes fun to imagine what the alternative outcomes might have been. As horrible as the thought might be, what if Bill Gates or Steve Jobs parents decided they couldn’t afford a child and abortions had been performed. How technologically would our world have been deprived? Would others have come to take their place? I have no idea. Certainly, we could carry that hypothesis all the way back to the invention of fire and the wheel if we were so inclined…by the way, did anyone ever get the name of those two guys; you know, the fire and the wheel guys; they were pretty neat!

There are so many people out there who are both the Moving Fingers and the “nails.’ Most of us – I guess I’m talking about most of you who are younger now – don’t have a clue as to how great you are; of the wonder that lies within you. My father-in-law saw the invention of the telephone and of the automobile. He even saw the early beginnings of commercial aviation. I’ve watched man land on the moon and today I have a cell phone that has more power than the computers that sent Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on their journey. I’ve seen from a distance more wars than I ever hoped to see. Hell, I’ve even seen Jerry Springer and Geraldo Rivera and there’s a combination I could have done without. I’ve lived through the age of 78’s, 45,s, and eight-tracks (look it up). I find it inconceivable that there are not people out there right now who cannot or will not try to make life better for all of mankind. I hope you’re one of them.

I mentioned that Khayyam had given me two quatrains. The second one is as follows: “Here, with a loaf of bread beneath the bough/A flask of wine, a book of verse– and thou/ beside me singing in the wilderness…/and wilderness is paradise enow.” I’m a great believer in soul mates; I’m a great believer in food and my own kind of wine; I’m a great believer in music to soothe and calm the thinking processes; and, quite frankly, I’ve always done my best thinking in the wilderness, whether that wilderness has been the shore of a lonely beach in the winter or the woods during the golden autumn days of New England.

I’m making a request of you, dear reader. Our world – not our country, but our world – is in trouble. We have, it appears, stopped being capable of loving our fellow man. By loving, I don’t mean the act of physical love; we have stopped caring. We seem to kill with greater ease; we seem more willing to let “them” get away with their drugs and their murders and their greed. Thomas Jefferson said that the tree of Liberty must be refreshed now and then by the blood of patriots and tyrants. When a community closes ranks to deter the police from investigating a child’s murder, that is a sin; When drug cartels kill innocent civilians and nothing is done about it, that is a sin; when corporate leaders take money that belongs to the people who work for them, that is a sin. When politicians become so polarized in this, the most advanced society on earth, that we suffer a gridlock that not inhibits, but prohibits forward movement, it’s a sin; when guns are easier to get that fireworks, that’s a sin. We have so many sins in this country and around this world, I’m surprised the planet still exists.

It will take us well over a century to bring the world to a place of peace. In fact, it may never happen. You have the opportunity to make a new beginning; a new beginning in your life and how you affect the lives of others. To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what this world can do for you; ask what you can do for this world.

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