Sunday, February 2, 2014

Skimming Stones

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.

Indeed.  We all understand this particular truth.

We know that time well spent with family and friends is more valuable than days in pursuit of wealth.

We know the chance to be with our children is finite and slipping away as they grow.

These are tough choices to insert into our lives perhaps, but the valuation itself is simple math.  True?

The author, J.R.R. Tolkien, had a personal culture behind his Hobbit themes. His grandson Simon Tolkien wrote, "My first recollection of my grandfather is like this: I'm four or five and I'm really scared. He is huge, with a great roar in his voice, and he's coming to get me. I am just about to cry when I see the twinkle in his bright eyes, and realise it's all just fun."

"As an only child," his grandson writes, "I was left very much to my own devices and spent vast amounts of time reading everything I could get my hands on. I first read The Lord Of The Rings when I was nine, and from then on it was my favourite book."

"For me the test of a good book was whether it could transport me body and soul out of the here and now into a magical new world, and The Lord Of The Rings certainly did that. After I finished reading it, I read it again and all the time I plagued my grandfather with endless obscure questions about Middle Earth. What went on in the lands to the East of Mordor? Who were the four other wizards to whom my grandfather alluded? Where were they and what were they doing? I wanted everything to be filled in. My poor grandfather. He did his best. Despite being an old man, he was endlessly patient in answering my questions."

"I vividly remember going to church with him in Bournemouth. He was a devout Roman Catholic and it was soon after the Church had changed the liturgy from Latin to English. My grandfather obviously didn't agree with this and made all the responses very loudly in Latin while the rest of the congregation answered in English. I found the whole experience quite excruciating, but my grandfather was oblivious. He simply had to do what he believed to be right."

"My grandfather was incredibly adept at skimming stones," Simon tells us. "He could make them leap nine or ten times. Perhaps he just had a good eye for the flat ones."
"The sea was warm and inviting in the summer but in the winter the guests would stay wrapped up in the hotel. I still have a letter from my grandfather in which he describes 'a dark afternoon in which great slow waves came silently out of the mist and curled over like oily sea beasts'."

"My grandfather had the knack of being able to talk to a child without seeming like a voice coming from on high."
"He spent a great deal of time with me and his love and kindness helped me through difficult times. ... My mother would put me on the train at Oxford and I would somehow arrive at the other end ... . My grandfather understood how much of an adventure these journeys of mine were. ...  he wrote to me describing a solo train journey that he took all the way from Birmingham to Torquay when he was ten and how it made him feel 'rather grand'."

Rather grand, indeed.

The social psychologist Eric Fromm offers us a comparison between "having" and "being".  He suggests our modern society has changed over the years and become quite materialistic, preferring to "have" rather than "be".  Our productive economy beginning with the industrial revolution has offered the great promise of unlimited happiness, freedom, and material abundance. One might feel that there would be unlimited production and hence unlimited consumption. That great promise failed, of course. 

Materialism seems to feed on itself with those most thoroughly consumed being the primary beneficiaries (or victims).  So, our society nowadays has deviated from its early developmental path. The materialistic nature of people "having" has been more thoroughly developed in our culture than "being". 

A cursory review of popular media, today's replacement for study and inquiry, shows "having" to be the centerpiece.  If we think about it and talk it through, we're aware that our attention would be more profitably spent on "being" rather than the "having". Fromm's premise - this is the truth we know which luxury and plenty allow us to ignore. 

The point of "being" is the more important, of course, as everyone is mortal.  The "having" of possessions becomes progressively more unimportant as the years go by, progressively less satisfying. And as we're uncomfortably aware, the only part which will cross over to the life after death will be what the person actually was on the inside.

So, back to 'skimming stones' with your grandchild, perhaps, and telling stories and encouraging the virtues of character and right thinking. Perhaps that is the more human choice.