A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Mothers, Nuns And Country Pie

Oh me, oh my/Love that country pie. BOB DYLAN Country Pie. (Bob Dylan performed this song continually as part of his 2000 concert repertoire in tribute to his mother, Beatrice (Beattie) Zimmerman, who died in January 2000.)
I inherited from my own mother a love of books, poetry, country churches and the countryside. Her commonplace book, which I rediscovered in my father's house the other day, is so redolent of her literary likes and loves, her beliefs and preferences. She almost seems to be speaking directly to me through it. She had a yen for a rather sentimental, nostalgic, Olde England - as exemplified in writers such as Walter de la Mare, Hilaire Belloc, Rudyard Kipling and G. K. Chesterton. She was also very heavily influenced by the popular Christian thought of people like C. S. Lewis, Michel Quoist and Jean Rees, and evangelists like Billy Graham. I have a strong memory of her as being a slightly detached and intensely spiritual being - almost aloof - and her quiet yet strong personality resonates deep within me still, and will always do so.
I found the much anthologized piece Desiderata in my mother's commonplace book. Although once thought to have been unearthed in Old Saint Paul's Church, Baltimore, in the 17th century, it's now known to have been composed by Max Ehrmann (1872-1945).
Go placidly amid the Noise and Haste, and remember what Peace there may be in Silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be; and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.
I also found in my mother's commonplace book the slightly less well known - but for my money more authentically sounding, even wiser, less pious, more knowing and drily humorous - 17th Century Nun's Prayer.
Lord. Thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older and will some day be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody's affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody: helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest Lord that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others' pains, but help me to endure them with patience.
I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessing cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.
Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a Saint - some of them are so hard to live with - but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so. Amen.
Now, is that not wonderful?


The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

I think this is just a wonderful post!

The older we get, the more we understand—and often appreciate—the gifts we receive from our parents. Your mother left you a real and valuable legacy, a love shared of many things, and now this priceless commonplace book. What a dear treasure.

I can't say I've ever read either of the pieces you quoted—certainly not the latter. But if there's anything I need to incorporate into my own life, in practically all it's aspects and admonitions, requests and insights, it's this Nun's Prayer.

Dear Lord, I see myself, my failings and increasing limitations, in almost every line! I am copying it forthwith onto the flyleaf of my own commonplace book, being meanwhile astonished how it nails me to the barn wall like the skin of a road-killed varmint.

Again, a fine post.

The Solitary Walker said...

And a fine and wonderful comment, Grizzled!

My parents - fallible like all of us (particularly my father) - left me a mixed and at times difficult emotional legacy (I'm sure a common theme to many) - but it's what we do with it, how we sort it, that matters...

Yes, that Nun's Prayer is absolutely, honestly, humorously right on the nail.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Sorting one's emotional legacy - and transforming it. My journey too ...

'Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a Saint ..' Love it!

Rachel Fox said...

I don't know either of these but enjoyed a lot of their content. I liked this bit
'As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.' Tricky but interesting.

Bella said...

Wonderful post indeed !

I have the Desiderata in a picture frame in my room but hadn't read it for sometime - I always enjoy reading it.
The second piece is an absolute treasure - as Grizzled is doing, I am putting it in my "commonplace book". It does hit the nail doesn't it - it's like the voice of a parent speaking to the rebellious and independence-seeking child...whilst reading it I felt myself rejecting the request to temper myself, but then the cleverly written and humourous follow-up sentences successfully won me over!


Loren said...

The Nun's Prayeris delightful!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Robert. Reading Desiderata reminded me of a piece i had in a drawer. I have just been and found it and thought you might like to read it, in the light of your recent loss.
After Death.
To me, the honour is sufficient of belonging to The Universe - such a great Universe and so great a Scheme of Things. Not even death can rob me of that honour. For nothing can alter the fact that I have lived; I have been I, if for ever so short a time. And when I am dead, the matter which composes my body is indestructable and eternal, so that come what may to my "soul", my dust will always be going on, each separate atom of me playing its separate part - I shall still have some sort of finger in the pie.
When I am dead you can boil me, drown me, burn me - but you cannot destroy me; my little atoms would merely deride such heavy vengeance. Death can do no more than kill you.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks everyone for these comments.

Rachel: 'As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.' Yes, it's a hard one, that. Impossible, in fact. (The phrase 'as far as possible' is the let-out.)

Thanks for the piece in your drawer, Weaver. The thing is, though, I may continue to 'exist' as stardust or atoms or something, but I really would miss so much EVERYTHING in the post-birth, pre-death world.

giggles said...

I have come to find you here through Jim at Riverdaze....

I am sorry for your loss....

And I just HAD to share the delight in the Nun's prayer.... I will be writing it somewheres else for myself to visit often. It is ...perfect!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Giggles, and welcome along!

That Nun's Prayer seems to have struck a chord with one and all. Could this mean, putting it delicately, that many of my readers are, um, no long in the first blush of youth?