Waiting and waiting…. for Godot and the future to unfold.

It’s been six or seven years since I saw Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen  in Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot in London. I don’t quite remember now what I thought of the play at the time (though I did like it). As I skim and review its lines for this post, it occurs to me that much of the double-entendre may have been missed in the viewing, now caught in the reading. For sure, there is one thing that I did not seize upon when I saw the play–the singular concept of waiting. Recent events have me thinking about how much of the present is lost to waiting for some event yet to occur. And, with that thought, I returned to the play script to see if there was a message there missed by me during my first exposure to it.

In the last 24 hours,  during  conversations with a handful of people fairly close to me, the following were being awaited:   word from a college admissions office, commitment from a venture capitalist, a reply a text after a first date, bar exam results, a grant award, a layoff notice and the arrival of a newborn. But what really struck me was how the present was being forfeited to the wait. In the words of Estragon, recoiling before Pozzo,  “That’s to say . . . you understand . . . the dusk . . . the strain . . . waiting . . .” Every person, without exception,  was straining under the pressure of the wait.

Where there was once capacity in “slower moving times” to enjoy the present, knowing the future would unfold in the eventuality, the present seems to have been lost to anticipation, forfeited to the wait. My grandmother used to say: “Everything comes to those who wait.” We were conditioned to think of waiting as something possibly to be valued. But now,  like Estragon and Vladimir,  people are waiting–day after day,  with blind obedience to some messenger from the future, that commands, it will come and they should agonizingly wait for it.

Please don’t think that this perspective comes from some Polly Anna of a writer who herself has nothing looming in the future. Indeed my future holds a ball that will drop, which while not my own, is nevertheless heavy and sad and will affect me deeply. But living in the present, for me means not waiting agonizingly for Godot to come by the tree near where I reside–but to go out and about, living  life.  Perhaps I will bump into my Godot as I bumble along –and by bumble I mean take it by the tail and whirl it as hard and fast as I can.  As for waiting for this or that, I will deal with whatever it is…no sooner than I have to, no later than I am required to.

And, yes there I go ending another sentence with a preposition.

 

 

The Observation Effect: The Fear of Not Filtering

Its been sometime since I published this blog. Mind you, not for lack of thoughts and ideas I was willing to share, but more due to the discovery that my blog was likely being monitored by litigants with an interest in  generating inferences where none were intended.  I have decided to blog again, this time influenced, to a greater or lesser extent, by a recognition that it might be read by a more diverse spectrum of readers than I had originally anticipated.

You might think, don’t all writers, especially those who publicly publish their work expect to be observed? And do not authors expect to have their writings criticized?  All that is true, but at least this former trial lawyer oftentimes tempers speech through a courtroom lens. On a fairly regular basis I query myself: “How would this sound in a trial transcript?” Or, “What kind of cross examination would this comment generate?  And, “How would I rebut the inferences from this or that remark?”

Familiar with how words may come to haunt someone, many people, I think, reachdoubleslit1 a point where commentary is more and more measured– mindful of how one’s words might be construed in an entirely unrelated context, years from when they were originally uttered. At work is a sort of personal  iteration of the “observation effect” alluded to by quantum scientists–considering what one wants to say (the particle), observing the two slits ahead (what you mean and what someone else might construe you to mean) and the “interference”–your inner voice modifying the words and modifying  the thought process that generated them–resulting in the original thought differently (and more safely) expressed.

Politicians engage in this process fairly regularly. And, those politicos who don’t, probably should.  When I read my grandfather’s travel diaries, he often “broke the fourth wall” and addressed the next generation of readers directly with comments like, “Your grandmother looked beautiful tonight.” His descriptives were careful and measured, in a way one might not expect of a “diary.” He was masterful at filtering. Now, nearly thirty years later, his words, so carefully constructed, are what is left for the next generation who barely knew him, if at all.

My own return to blogging was spurred by a reader who recently reached out hoping that the failure to post this last year was not due to any misfortune. So touched was I, that I decided to resume writing,  with some modest filtering.

But, I wonder whether  in this age of fact-checking and instant and meticulous googling, coupled with fear of not-filtering,  will we lose grasp of the genuine? Will the process of change, growth and progress be inhibited by the apprehension that one’s unfiltered words will return to haunt them?

Will we not be able to trace a writer’s or public speaker’s transitions of thought over time, as we do the evolution of the artist or composer? Will the time come when we all filter, out of necessity, abandoning the spontaneous and mud-luscious in this puddle-cummings_quote_spring2
wonderful world?

I am reminded of what a senior judge once counseled when I could not overcome opposing counsel’s recurring objection to my leading examination of a witness: “Say this, ‘And then what…'”?

Happy Vernal Equinox. Glad to be back.

 

 

 

 

 

Human Rights: To say is not to do.

Lately my work has taken me to examining the roots of some basic human rights concepts, among them, freedoms–freedom of assembly, freedom of speech–freedom to be the person you are, to explore your passions, and express yourself in the myriad of ways that humans do, without arbitrary restraint.

What strikes me is how basic the concept of freedom is, and how far back efforts by persons, leaders or political movements have gone to restrict it. My readings have late are focused on  the ancient Persian Empire in the days of Cyrus and Darius. Then, and even  before in the glory days of Babylonia, the concept of freedom, represented in the cuneiform word or phrase “ama-gi” found expression.

It is said that the word and concept of freedom first appears in written form when the new king, upon ama-giinvestiture (or thereafter, as an annual gracious ritual) would grant a form of amnesty to young males in servitude for unpaid taxes to the king, granting them “ama-gi” –permission to “return to mother.” The phrase eventually evolved into the concept of one being set “free,” thus, the very early iteration of freedom as we know it today.

What is striking about working in human rights in this century is the utter failure of modern day leaders to recognize freedom as an entitlement, an essential part of humanity–something individuals have sought and valued for  thousands of years.  As far back as we can tell, people eschewed servitude and honored those who saved them from it.

Assuming that many of today’s leaders are literate and have some basic understanding of history, leads one to wonder if they aren’t truly delusional, somehow believing that eventually they will escape the fate that all human kind faces:  Dust.  Perhaps they have never visited a museum and found themselves in the company of a “great” Pharaoh resting in a temperature controlled glass case being  gawked at by the masses–and those were the good guys.

Climbing the hill to get the world to recognize basic human rights is presumably  a challenge that was met long ago, now embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).   Incredibly, in 2014 with several thousand years of civilized societies under our belt, there is  still an inordinately large number of persons who dictate to others what they can or should do with their lives, following an agenda that eschews every morsel of basic  human rights as we know it.

One would have thought that with all the technological and scientific advances, collective mankind would have figured out a mechanism to identify and remove those who  fail to honor basic human rights. Quite the opposite. In fact, there are wolves among those charged with guarding the hen house. Consider carefully the countries which have been selected as caretakers of human rights by selection to the UN Human Rights Council.

Were Klout  to give  the  Universal Declaration of Human Rights a score,  it would be low, very low.  If the document  is to be anything more than words on paper paying lip service to an aspiration, there have to be real consequences to those who derogate it.  To that end, there is some encouragement in the fact that a petition is currently in circulation that calls for the  removal from the United Nations Human Rights Council to say is not to docertain countries with dismal human rights records.

To those who stand up to tyranny, your voices are being heard. Do not give up. You are asking for nothing less than to live the precious few years we all have on this planet as the human being, with all your frailties and strengths, motivated by the hope of leaving a mark or legacy on the planet that represents the best humanity has to offer. We are with you. Your struggle is our struggle.  And to those working in the human rights arena be guided by this:  To say is not to do.

About Inspirational Quotes

 

sight of the shore blog quote

When one thinks “Inspirational quotes” an image of sunrises or sunsets, waves washing upon a shore come to mind, with particularly succinct pieces of wisdom nestled in the scene as if writ by the hands of the almighty.  In the “old days” these made their way into posters that decorated dorm rooms. Now they find their way into facebook updates encouraging you to “share” when they show up in one’s newsfeed.

Among those oft quoted (usually, but not always, men) are such notables as Twain, Churchill and Einstein. The best inspirational quotes, however, I think are those that have withstood the test of time. In this category, the winner by far are the “Chinese Proverbs.”  These are two of my favorites:

Those who say it cannot be done
should not interrupt those who are doing it.

Talk doesn’t cook rice… four words that really say it all.

In the early days of my having founded an organization that was going to be heavily dependent upon inspiring individuals to reach deep into their pockets and donate,  I embarked on the exercise to find that inspirational phrase that was so visceral as to trigger the reader  to volunteer to head off to Africa or, better yet, write a check.  There were also times when the going was so tough, I turned to the Chinese proverbs for a bit of inspirational lift from periodic disappointments. rocky sea blog

Blog 1 Quote

I know many of you are intellectuals, scholarly and tend not to find too much literary merit in a quote or anything that in ten words or less takes the place of reading the book. To you I suggest that in life there are sometimes complexities that require something very straightforward and utterly simple, to plug a hole in life’s dike. In those moments, I have looked to the wisdom of one of history’s innovators, leaders or authors for inspirational lift.

never give in blogA blog is by its very nature the epitome of sharing, and the author assumes, correctly or incorrectly, that the information shared is interesting, worthwhile, funny, instructional or maybe even  inspirational. The quotes pictured here were most assuringly  not authored by me but they were among those that did in fact inspire me. As an aside, I think you will agree that in wrapping them in pictures from my phone I have managed to create several images that would fit nicely into the genre of cheesy poster art, not to mention, fare well in any competition matched against your every day Facebook fodder. 

What’s it all about Alfie?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I never paid much attention to the lyrics of this song past the second line, but find myself on not infrequent occasions muttering or humming the tune’s first lines. If you need a refresher…here’s how it starts:

What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give…

There are those among us who have a difficult time giving ourselves permission to become completely absorbed in the day to day trivialities of life. You know who you are. You’re the ones who when you leave work, joining the throngs of people in mass exit heading home towards parking lots or public transit, wonder if it isn’t reminiscent of the ants we marvel at in summer, all marching along in concert to support the colony.

You are the ones who have conversations with yourself, while trying to convince a colleague, group or client of the value of a particular course of action and the long and short term beneficial consequences.

You are the one who, while walking down the street curiously observing your fellow man, queries yourself if you are indeed the only one thinking about, “what its all about,”– for you are sure everyone seems quite absorbed in the task of getting somewhere, going somewhere, doing something, none of which  include being perplexed about their state of being.

Do you sometimes think, in 50 years most of the people I’m looking at will not be on this planet and wonder if this thought has occurred to them? I do, with more regularity than I’d like to admit, and in those moments, this e e cummings’ quote comes to mind:

little man
(in a hurry
full of an
important worry)
halt stop forget relax

wait

How apropos is it then, that as I write, this ad appears in my inbox, imploring me to get the “big picture” into my life. I chuckle. For some the “big picture” refers to a  large screen TV, nothing more, nothing less.

big picture2So today, I leave you with this: try a little Socratic scrutiny in your life. What’s your deal?  How do you see “the big picture?”  If it is true that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and I do believe that is the case, then consider  periodically pressing your personal pause button.  Purvey the landscape of your life, the people in it that you value, the values that you espouse and consider whether they are all in sync.

If after reading this you happen to pass me on the street, no need to say hello, just nod. I’ll get it. Despite all the warnings my kids give me about not making eye contact with strangers, I’m likely to return the nod with a deeply satisfying, but polite and appropriately reserved smile.    So, go ahead, make my day.

The Essence of The Christmas Tree

It has been written that for Hegel “essence” describes “how you come to the Notion, to the “key” to understanding something which, once arrived at, is the basis for all analysis of and “logical thinking” about the thing.”  For Kant, it was the thing “in and of itself.” After 40 years on the planet in contemplation and study of essence, being and rose colored glasses, I believe I managed to arriveOld Saybrook-20131224-00715 at understanding the concept when conjuring up of the christmas tree pictured here. The tree did it. It got me there–to understanding the essence of being.

The Back Story:
Work and other preoccupations kept me from having the opportunity to fulfill the annual ritual of wandering deep in the tree farm to find that perfect Concolor tree, with long lemony scented needles (which almost never shed). There are strict parameters to trees in my home:  not too tall, not too short– recognizing that the measure of small is anything that is shorter than I.

This year the ritual did not happen. There would be no  tree in our living room this Christmas. On Christmas eve with children traveling far to come home, the negative gravitas of that decision  began to weigh heavily. By noon on Christmas eve, when the first installment of visitors left, my options were reducing exponentially with each passing hour, possibly in direct inverse proportion to my anxiety over the decision.  We headed out to survey the options. The two local nurseries were, not surprisingly, out of trees. I wasn’t disappointed. I saw those trees loaded on trucks from Canada in August. I did not want one of those.

Art is important to me and every home since my first had few blank walls. On her first visit to our home years ago, a neighbor remarked “this place looks like a museum.”  I have an aversion for crowded public places. For this reason I have always enjoyed having a handsomely populated home library and well adorned walls. This indulgence is one that suits my idiosyncrasies concerning libraries and museums. Which brings me to the large blank wall in my small living room.

treeAdmittedly I had some inspiration. Somewhere along the way I managed to collect an image of a two dimensional tree made of twigs. It apparently struck me as I saved it to my hard drive. Now I was facing a blank wall, only a two hours remaining before the first child arrived home, and a fireplace mantel, that while out of the ordinary beautiful, was not  a substitute home for Christmas presents accustomed to sitting under a tree.  We were in the car, and though I ruefully glanced at  the  empty tree lot,  I proceeded on to CVS resolved to pick up two dozen clear “hooks” and convert an empty wall into a “tree.”  A  few minutes later, I was pulling into the driveway, threw the car into park,  scrambled into the wooded area adjoining the driveway to gather a half dozen long boughs that had been cut from a downed tree the winter before.

I laid them out on the living room floor—imagined the configuration that would best approximate a  “tree,” marked where my partner needed to make the trim cuts, grabbed the box of “favorite odds” ornaments from the attic and a string of lights. A large star-fish topped off the work which was assembled with the help of dark brown English twine  brought back from one of my London jaunts that I knew at the time, would someday come in handy. That day had arrived, and sooner than I thought.

The base was formed by (an empty) beautifully wrapped square box which was soon joined by the other presents. I plugged in the string of lights and there it was: The Christmas Tree, and really, a fairly perfect tree too.

Later in the evening  I sat with my daughter in the living room gazing at “the tree.” My analysis: it provided the function of “housing” the gifts below. The lights twinkled. The oddity of the ornaments, all favorites for one reason or another, allowed me to savor each one in a way the traditional tree did not. An early gift from my daughter of an ornament made by trafficking victims from NOMI, an organization that serves victims of trafficking was added to it—and fit in perfectly. It meant something–a gift from a child that recognized her mom’s work and something that was important to me. The Starfish atop it was personal too—starfish have always been in our Christmas trees, a symbol of our life these last many years living near the water. It was balanced. It was beguiling. I had managed to capture the essence of The Christmas Tree, without having one—and that I suppose is what Hegel and Kant were all about—capturing the essence.

I was startled. For the first time I had a truly deep sense of the essence of a thing, which was more amorphous than I had ever imagined and yet more real than anything I could have envisioned.  That assortment of sticks from the woods, strategically placed and ordinarily combined, generated a spot where we would sit, smile, giggle, share and realize in a very real and deep way, what this holiday is really all about.  

 

No presents please.

no-gift-imageMy grandparents reached a stage in their later years when they often said at Christmas or on birthdays: “Don’t buy us anything.” They didn’t offer more. They didn’t suggest substitutes nor did they feel the need to explain. Being on the giving end of that mandate was unpleasant. Giving them gifts made us feel good. Their not wanting gifts was discouraging, to say the least. What we didn’t comprehend was that we were gift enough…our accomplishments and our companionship. I finally get it. They derived pleasure, as I am beginning to, from our just (to borrow a phrase from Jerzy Kosinski) “Being There.”  Being There is the gift I want from those close to me and Being Here in the moment is the gift I give to myself.

The journey to this place was pretzel like–it was a journey that truly is only recognizable in retrospect, that is “through the rear view mirror.” It is a state of mind that you can achieve, but cannot map. You can only hope to land at this spot, but planning the journey in a way that guarantees you will, well that’s something else. Not much different from the measure of the parameters of obscenity, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Potter,  I can only offer that while I can’t explain how one gets to this place “I know it when I see it.”

That’s about as lofty as things will get here today. For, having arrived at this state of mind that does not require my fighting traffic, pushing my way through crowds in stores at any hour of the day or night, no matter the enticement or otherwise being in “go” mode, the following is a list of things and holiday messages that I’m finding particularly irksome–and in some instances, downright problematic this week:

Hollywood Messaging:
1) Being committed to work and high caliber performance (male or female) must necessarily involve short changing family–and if you don’t have a family, your work is a likely culprit. 2) Life in New England or other backwoods country locale (=good) is preferred  to life in New York or other urban area (= bad). 3) Hard working type A’s probably don’t believe in Santa Claus and are, no surprise, often found on the naughty list. Additional faulty personal traits that tag along  include lacking true Christmas spirit and understanding what, in Charlie Brown’s words, “Christmas is all about.” This list could actually benefit from an entire blog, but you get the gist.

Commercial Enterprises Changing Roman Calendar:
Friday, Saturday, Sunday–the names of the week date back hundreds of years. Sure, there’s a favorite I have of “Over the hump Wednesday”–but that’s a prepositional phrase–falling far short of the current trend towards adding  adjectival descriptives to the days of the week that in effect become  name changers.

The Friday after Thanksgiving is no longer,  as in “Do you have to work on the day after Thanksgiving?”  but is now:  Black Friday. What was for some a welcome day off from work, generating one of the only fourdayweekends in American working life, has been transformed into a day when everyone bears a piece of the responsibility for turning the economy around, signalling recovery and the harbinger of hope for the year ahead. Opt out of being part of that message at your peril for being labeled downright unpatriotic.

If you thought that skipping Friday was a simple way of avoiding falling into that commercial trap, special thanks to American Express for naming Saturday “Small Business Saturday.”  Just when you patted yourself on the back for staying away from the big box stores on Black Friday, your guilt can only now be assuaged by visiting the mom and pop stores and “shopping small.” You don’t want to be seen as a Scrooge, do you?  Lastly, lest you believe you have outsmarted every effort to draw you into the shopping melee, on Cyber Monday when you return to work your inbox and every website you visit will bombard you with promises of the bestprices, steepestdiscounts, todayonly lastchances to shop for those special people on your list.

In what world that you or I may have ever conceived would spending the weekend listening to music, reading and writing be viewed as excessively sedentary downright unpatriotic pursuits? In what world could reading about the comet that managed to escape capture by the sun or contemplating from my window the lone swan who swimming  back and forth without his/her now missing spouse not hold  a candle  to running around saving the economy through endless shopping?  In what world could reminding your fingers and brain that you once played Rachmaninoff’s Prelude and can again, ever be mentioned in the same breath as an admonition that includes the words”staying home and sitting around?”

Something is amiss.

For a long time now I have enjoyed these lines by notsofamous poet, Hugh Prather from his book “Notes To Myself”:

“Ideas are clean. They soar in the serene supernal. I can take them out and look at them, they fit in books, they lead me down that narrow way. And in the morning they are there. Ideas are straight. But the world is round, and a messy mortal is my friend. Come walk with me in the mud.”

And by that, I don’t mean let’s head out to the mall and check out the sales.

Innovation tempered by Empiricism: Life atop the elephant teetering on the back of a tortoise

elephant on tortoise“There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that which is lost by not trying.”

That particular quote didn’t grab my attention in college philosophy studies, but sneaked up on me  in the dialogue of an about-to-have-his-contract-cancelled Santa in a syrupy Hallmark made for TV Christmas movie.  Confronted by his side kick elf-pal, filled with doubt about their ability to pass the test that will seal the fate of  Santa’s role in Christmas, “Santa” in the persona of a prep school janitor utters the words: “There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that which is lost by not trying.”

All the  merry ho ho ho deck the halls spirit in the world didn’t delude me into believing that some Hollywood writer, who likely never celebrated Christmas,  was responsible for the genius of that thought. A quick google proved me correct: Sir Francis Bacon, Statesman and Philosopher (1561-1626).

Which leads us here:  There is a substantial body of really astute observations about life that precede your and my arrival on the planet. Why then, apart from finding them in Wikipedia and brainy quotes (and Hallmark Christmas movies), are we determined to ignore the import of age-old thought, paying no attention, or rather making no room for, ancient wisdom in our time?  If these observations have managed to weather  the last several hundred years—something tells me they have earned the honor of being elevated into present day conversation, all the time and at every level.  Don’t want to engage in arms talks? Take some advice from Francis Bacon: Fail trying.  Think peace in the Middle East is impossible to achieve? Try Ben Franklin:  “There never was a good war or a bad peace.” (Sometimes beauty lies in the simplicity of it all.)

This week Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was in the news. The Harrisburg’s Patriot and Union newspaper issued an apology for an editorial written in 1863 that said of  President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

“We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.”

The fact that the author ended the blast with a preposition should have been a big clue that what preceded was hogwash. Alas, last week, some 150 years later, the paper issued an apology, saying:

Seven score and ten years ago, the forefathers of this media institution brought forth to its audience a judgment so flawed, so tainted by hubris, so lacking in the perspective history would bring, that it cannot remain unaddressed in our archives

Relevant to our discussion here is the fact that seldom discussed about Abraham Lincoln’s now famous address is that it recognized something about human nature which was true then and now, when he said, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.”

Though he erred in thinking  his words would be soon forgotten, Lincoln recognized that the nature of the human condition was its preoccupation with all things present. He was wrong about how history would treat that particular speech, but his insight into human nature was spot-on.

Fast forward. (An expression that itself promises to have a very short shelf-life). The buzz-word-of-the-day is:  “innovation.” Pick a topic, technology, industry and philanthropy—everyone wants to see and hear how what you do, what you’ve made, how your proposals and projects are innovative, new and cutting edge. Everyone is reaching out for that latest newest idea—for the next “tried and succeeded” story…which takes us back to the unlikely source of the quote which started this piece:

“There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that which is lost by not trying.”

Bacon recognized the value of innovation—and the honorable distinction between  having tried and lost, versus not having tried at all.  So it might be said without too much of a stretch, that the challenge to innovate is Baconian inspired.  But Bacon was an empiricist and if asked, I bet he’d have agreed with the sentiments expressed by Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address.  If  “trying”  were to succeed to any degree, it needed to be informed by the successes, failures, trials, errors, bravery, sacrifices and wisdom of the past.  Make no doubt about it, I am on that innovation bandwagon and am securely buckled in my seat. But like Bacon and others, I don’t flatter myself with the thought that anything I do, innovative or not, cannot be improved by respect for and deference to those who tried, failed and succeeded before me.

If life on earth be Hume’s elephant upon which we sit, teetering on the back of one or more tortoises, then I will want to be mindful of all the tortoises upon whom the success of this elephant’s journey depends.

On the Inertia of Being Overwhelmed

A poet I hold dear (ee cummings) wrote: “I am abnormally fond of that precision which creates movement.”

Why does it takes so little to confound, confuse and perplex most people?

How on earth can a bosses’ unkind word, an acquaintance’s slight, a looming deadline, an overly large agenda, an unconsciously tight timetable, a lousy husband, disappointing child, any younameit–generate the sort of angst that results in debilitating anxiety? It’s a forest and trees situation. People are lost in the forest.  They have lost sight of (or never had) a mapped out journey.  Finding themselves confronted by a sea of trees, with no discernible way out they are thus overwhelmed.  Some of you may say that this perspective is a Polly Anna perspective (for those born after 1950, look her up).  First, yes, it can be viewed through that lens. But be sure of this, the theory espoused here has had  a host of opportunities in my own world to be put through the rigors of serious testing. It is Pollyannic  because I take  the view  that the earth shattering things in life generally do not appear in the guise of miscreant relatives, spouses, bosses,  neighbors or events but in the contemplation of  things that threaten it (life) or threaten to alter it considerably.

While some may say this is a doomsday approach, in fact it is quite the opposite. If, for example, you believe that an asteroid might crush the planet and reduce those who survive to life as it may have been thousands of years ago (doomsday for sure)–and therefore measure all crises by that stick, you are apt not to get seriously overwhelmed by life’s every day distresses. Perhaps the preoccupation with things that seem big is part of humankind’s way of coping and passing time. As Virgil said: “Sed fugit interea, fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore”, translated: “But meanwhile it flees: time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail.”

For those for whom the process of deciphering between what matters and what will pass I offer this: The fix for nearly every man-made obstacle or crisis is: time. If time will heal the wound, if time will present and ultimately demonstrate one’s ability to emerge from a crisis or problem then, in fact, the crisis at hand is not only not overwhelming it can be said to be a “mere”— as in, merely a momentary setback, merely a condition (and likely temporary in the large scheme of things). If the passage of time, in your lifetime, will not fix the problem. If it will not present ways to overcome the obstacle. If there are no options or work-arounds, the odds are the problem is indeed an overwhelming one, of the sort that demands your full attention and justifies worry (but likely will still not benefit from inaction.)

Echoing this theme is poet  Robert Frost in his poem: The Road Not Taken. Note this advisory: he did not mean to say when he “took the one less traveled by”–that the unconventional way of life is the preferred, not to be regretted option.  Read carefully, he opted for a road that seemed “equally worn” but that the odds were, he wouldn’t be getting back there, to try the other avenue anytime soon.  Whichever road he chose was the one would therefore a make a difference in the end. His “road not taken” was a Rubicon of sorts, a cross-roads, a life altering choice. The unspoken word in Frost’s poem was the fact that he had choices. We all have choices. What I am suggesting is that life be viewed in terms of having to choose between being mired in a state of overwhelmed and anything else. There is almost always a choice, only the inertia of being overwhelmed prevents people from exercising it.

A lawyer doesn’t get half so many chances as one would want to quote poets, but there are two narratives offered by a poet that I have found compelling. The poet (ee cummings)  offers, if not a solution, insight into overcoming the IOBO (Inertia of being overwhelmed) in the form of two  introductions to two different poetry compilations. The title of the first publication is:  Is 5. The quote from the forward:

Ineluctable preoccupation with The Verb gives a poet one priceless advantage: whereas nonmakers must
content themselves with the merely undeniable fact that two times two is four, he rejoices in a purely irresistible truth (to be found,
in abbreviated costume, upon the title page of the present volume).” 

If you missed the title…return to the sentence above which provides you with the title of the collection. Ok, too tired?   Is 5…as in 2 x 2 = 5. When you read this remember your elementary school grammar lessons: verbs are action words. Overcoming the inertia of being overwhelmed requires: action.

The second insight comes from Cummings’ introduction to his Collected Poems and reads:

“-it’s no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. Mostpeople have less in common with ourselves than
the squarerootofminusone[1]. You and I are human beings:mostpeople are snobs. Take the matter of being born. What does being born
mean to mostpeople? Catastrophe unmitigated. Socialrevolution. The cultured aristocrat yanked out of his hyperexclusively ultra voluptuous
superpalazzo,and dumped into an incredibly vulgar detentioncamp swarming with every conceivable species of undesirable organism.
Mostpeople fancy a guaranteed birthproof safetysuit of nondestructible selflessness. If mostpeople were to be born twice they’d improbably
call it dying- you and I are not snobs. We can never be born enough. We are human beings; for whom birth is a supremely
welcome mystery, the mystery of growing: the mystery which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves. You and I wear
the dangerous looseness of doom and find it becoming. Life, for eternal us, is now; and now is much too busy being a little more
than everything to seem anything, catastrophic included.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself:  “[N]ow is much too busy being a little more than everything to seem anything, catastrophic included.”

There you have it.


[1] Forgot your calculus? Square root of minus one = i