Time is Scarce

But I will offer a quote which I have been mulling over from G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy as well as some of my mullings.

“No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world and enough of a Christian to die to it?”

Simultaneous fanatical pessimism and fanatical optimism… the words do not, in themselves, communicate what is intended, but Chesterton manages to redefine them enough for me, I think, to understand what he means. I’ve spent a lot of my life darting around people I know like a crazed sheepdog, nipping their heels when they move too far towards extremes of optimism and pessimism. I’ve done this partly because I am an insufferable “fixer” who has a hard time staying out of other people’s business (I am working on this), but I have also done it because I have experienced one side of that dangerous equation and witnessed the results of the other.

But for all this, I have long been aware that there is a good kind of balance and a bad kind. Before I read this passage of Chesteron’s, I did not have a good way to express what I mean.  He opened a new avenue of thought to me.

A bland medium breeds complacency,  resignation, and inaction. I do not want that kind of balance for myself or for others. I do not want to race around myself, or around my friends and family, nipping heels until the person is afraid to move. I want the balance that is stability, but that also propels us forward into action. I want the balance that burns, changes and grows.

When I was in Canada recently, a man walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls. He had one of those long poles used for balance. This strikes me as an apt metaphor in some ways. When I need to balance, I have two options. Either I can stand still or crawl. When I spread my arms out to their full length and try to walk I am not very stable and I am apt to fall.  A puff of wind or a slight miscalculation can send me reeling because I am trying to balance within reasonable limits. The long pole, projecting far beyond normal human reach, gives a person the ability to balance while walking forward. The pole is a balance between extremes. True balance, in this sense, is not an absence of extremes but a coexistence. This means that my entire life must be an epic balancing act which propels me forward, not static inaction in an attempt to maintain equilibrium.

Maintaining opposing extremes within myself is akin to playing with fire (I love fire).  Extremes are dangerous, but then a lack of extremes is equally dangerous.  If I shift my grip too far towards one end of the pole, I will topple, just as I would lose my balance without the aid of the pole. Constant vigilance is needed. I pray to God to help me not slip to one extreme while leaving the other behind. That sort of thing happens all the time, and the results make my hair stand up. I know myself too well to doubt that I can easily slip, with disastrous consequences, and yet I feel that this seeming-paradox is the safest, most healthy course. Irony is ever with me and I am not blind to the irony of my belief that the safest place to be looks, from the outside, so dangerous.

Like all metaphors, this one only goes so far. As usual, I am left wondering how much questions like this can be communicated through words. The above makes sense to me in the same way balancing makes sense to me. At first it was instinctual, and only now am I coming to understand the forces at work. I know enough to say that I know very little. I hope, in time, to know more.

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About jubilare

Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

12 responses to “Time is Scarce

  • palecorbie

    I’ve been a somewhat self-aware Knight in Sour Armour since I was about 16 and I can only agree that the most lethal thing would be to stop entirely…my two pence here would be that the balance is also in the quantity of thought directed to things – to me, if ‘evil’ is anything it is a species of apathy, to know of and not care for harm done, yet to trace consequences of any action beyond reason would bring one to a grinding halt.

    Ever read any Paul Coelho? He can be opaque at times and at others rubs my fur the wrong way like Lewis does, but these latter rambles remind me a little of the “feel” of his work…

    • jubilare

      I was a Knight in Sour Armor too, for a long time before I met you and after, as you probably noticed. I cannot claim that title anymore, though I still respect it and still retain some of the qualities. Joy (how I wish there was a word for it with more impact… it should shake bones like a gunshot, and at the same time soothe like a pre-storm wind) has effectively shattered my armor. My view of the universe has shifted, as has my point of balance. Whatever the balance, though, it should allow if not encourage motion.

      I agree with what you say of thought and apathy.

      Nay, I have not. I’ve heard of him, though.

      • palecorbie

        Joy is a very strong thing, though in my experience as fleeting as willow blooms in the scheme of things, likewise dispersing to the wind soon after.

        I liked the former part of his most famous work, The Alchemist, but his other stuff’s often more interesting. See if you can get hold of The Witch of Portabello somewhere.

        • jubilare

          I used to think the exact same thing, until in my late twenties I experienced the thing I now use the word for. If “joy” is fleeting, then it isn’t the thing I mean. You use the word as most people seem to, and as I used to, to talk about a powerful emotion. Perhaps it is a flicker of the thing I mean, when it sparks in a person but doesn’t kindle, I don’t know for sure. But when I say “Joy,” (I capitalize it so as to differentiate it from the more common usage) I mean something that relies on my own state of being or circumstances as much as the sunrise. It ebbs and flows, but even in my darkest moments it has not yet left me. If it were less powerful, less permanent, I would still be a knight in sour armor, but the fact that something like Joy exists changes my whole understanding of everything. For most of my life so far I would not have believed someone if they had told me this, even if they were someone I trusted. But Joy is no more an emotion than breathing.

          Mushroom Witch? What is it about?

          • palecorbie

            No…I do know what you mean, and I didn’t think it was a state that would end when I felt it…but I only have a thin layer of love of my country now where the stuff used to dwell – not that I mean to discourage, merely to caution. Perhaps with a loose hold and a firm belief it can be held forever the way such love can. [shrug]

            Mushrooms? Many people describing different angles (Rashomon-style) of a charismatic woman who wasn’t afraid to talk magic in the modern world, set subsequent to her violent death.

          • jubilare

            I wonder, but time alone can tell. This is not the first time my perception has shifted, requiring a shift in balance. I do not expect it to be the last time, either. I am worried about you, though, as you probably know. You may be balancing, but at present seem scarce able to move.

            Portabello is what we call a kind of mushroom. Hmm…

  • mjschneider

    When I was in Canada recently, a man walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls. He had one of those long poles used for balance. This strikes me as an apt metaphor in some ways. When I need to balance, I have two options. Either I can stand still or crawl. When I spread my arms out to their full length and try to walk I am not very stable and I am apt to fall. A puff of wind or a slight miscalculation can send me reeling because I am trying to balance within reasonable limits. The long pole, projecting far beyond normal human reach, gives a person the ability to balance while walking forward. The pole is a balance between extremes. True balance, in this sense, is not an absence of extremes but a coexistence. This means that my entire life must be an epic balancing act which propels me forward, not static inaction in an attempt to maintain equilibrium.

    This is brilliant. An excellent way to make a perennially relevant point.

    • jubilare

      I’m truly glad it works for you. Metaphors are iffy things, but I have a hard time conveying my thoughts without them. This one was pretty much handed to me on a platter. :)

  • jubilare

    Reblogged this on jubilare and commented:

    She liiiiives!
    Update on Jubilare: I have, for a month now, been working only one job. I am financially poorer, but richer in pretty much every other way now. It’s great!
    I have been absent here because, after over a year of working 2 jobs, I was worn out. Since then it’s been because I am playing catch-up on things, and my MonsterMuse has been ferociously active. Spring is here, I have crocus and my favorite variety of daffodils. I have planted sweet-peas, radishes and turnips. I am in good health, and so, thank God, is the rest of my family.

    The fly in my ointment is that I miss this blog, and everyone who reads it, and all the blogs I read. I need to ease back in slowly, though, so that I don’t over exert myself. So, for a while, I will be re-blogging old posts from when I first started rambling here. It does me good to backtrack, sometimes, and reconsider things I’ve said in the past. And I hope you all will enjoy the wandering, too.

  • stephencwinter

    I am so glad that you live! And thank you for reblogging this reflection on Chesterton. In many ways it is typical of him and it is what makes him so attractive. Every time I read him it is as if he has just burst into the room speaking at the top of his voice. Everyone else in the room has no choice but to listen! I love his both/and kind of balance. Don’t be one thing or another. Hate the world enough to want to change it. Love it enough to think it is worth changing. As someone wisely put it, a saint is one who has a wild desire for the beatitude of the other. A good thought in Lent in the preparation for meditation on Christ’s Passion and the Resurrection. Blessings be upon you!

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