6 Unburned Pieces of The Mind
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20050921

Making Haste, But Slowly

Tonight I’m sitting in bed reacquainting myself with Robert Frost while listening to The Great Guitar Concertos played by John Williams. My cat has snuggled itself between my legs as I go about flipping pages and taking notes. It’s been sometime since I’ve last read his poems, but as I do so, I am struck by how his words say more to me now than they did when I first read them in my early days of college:

And dreaming as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.
Perhaps this is the essence of getting older, the simple realization that truths about life are more easily recognizable because of the many days of living we have put behind us. In our youth, such truths about the human condition have to be analyzed and mulled about, but even then we still don’t always get it. I know I didn’t, but when you have so many days in front of you, what’s there to get? In our youth we are busy conjuring forth, shaping and living our dreams. Sometimes we succeed; sometimes we don’t. Sometimes because of those mysterious invariables that get tossed in, as Frost so eloquently describes, we become conflicted in our sense of purpose and are compelled to make a choice between two separate paths:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood . . .

Before I met my ex-wife, I was one traveler going down one road. I was a poet. And even though I had modest success with my writing published in several small press magazines--and with numerous readings in bookstores and libraries--I struggled with my words. I struggled hard because often times I’d stumble into areas I had little experience with. I learned that without experience of a day fully lived, you cannot create context, and without context, even though your words may be wrapped in a sheath of metaphor and rhyme, your words are void of compassion. When I look back on my earlier writings, I see that I wrote plenty about people. Frost, however, did not write about people. Instead he created people who lived their lives and told their stories:

Over back where they speak of life as staying
(“You couldn’t call it living, for it ain’t”)
There was an old, old house renewed with paint,
And in it a piano loudly playing.

Earlier this evening my son had called. Tomorrow morning he will be on a flight from Houston, Texas to Fort Benning, Georgia to begin his boot camp training in the Army. I could tell he’s excited, but I also sensed a bit of melancholy in his voice. As we were talking, we started to reminisce about his childhood days--the bike rides and hikes we used to take, the time spent just hanging out with each other in his room while he worked on his computer or played his guitar—when suddenly we both stopped talking. The two of us became lost in a long pause. After a few minutes, we found our words back to the present moment and wished each other well. “I’ll write you and give you my address as soon as I get settled in,” he said. “Don’t worry. I know the training won’t be easy, but I’ve been preparing myself for what to expect, and I know I’ll do well.” And with that we said goodbye. While talking with him, I found myself amused by his sense of hurriedness to get going with his future, to put his dreams into play. It reminded me of how I felt when I was his age, of how impatient I could be when “now” felt like forever. Today, though, my new motto in life seems to be festina lente. “Make haste, but slowly.”

It is good to listen to Williams play Vivaldi while reading Frost, to feel as if you are in their company, their music and words soothing and cajoling as they enliven you with their spirit. My cat wakes from its nap and then steps up into a long stretch, topped with a cavernous yawn. I give it a pat on the head and pick up my books from the bed. The moon is bright through my window, and so I leave the shade up. I once heard it said that life is just a continuous 365-day journey around the sun. What matters is how you enjoy the trip. So far, in spite of the delays and backtracking, I seem to be enjoying mine just fine.

By S. L. Cunningham