The contemplative hour

What better preoccupation on a drizzling Sunday afternoon than to square oneself! The ordination of life  – putting it in order – affords its own elevation not entirely dissimilar from the process by which individuals are consecrated in various religious rites and ceremonies. The object is perhaps not as dynamic as an understanding of ethics, spirituality and humanity but it legitimizes one’s life by strengthening the fibres that insinuate our being. Clearly while there is a metaphysical world of untold dimension there is also an inescapably blunt but equally wholesome foundation beneath us all. Straightening the corners, overlooking the trifling debris and dust gives a bigger picture, one which clarifies and expounds.

When for example I glance upon my past I see my late parents as the gate posts on the land or the moorings by the sea, bastions from which I have wandered and drifted but who nonetheless remain constantly in sight as remote though lingering guides to me. It is the privilege of the elderly to reflect upon the outcome of their production.  For some naturally it surrounds first and foremost their children – and, if they are further blessed, their grandchildren.  For those of us who haven’t a claim to progeny or other natural lineage, ours is instead a focus upon education, training, trade, calling and profession. It is a legacy and consequence of its own but which hopefully has proven to be of some credit to others. I long ago learned to admire both the trades and the professions. Unique though they are, the consanguinity is undeniable, each having remarkable talent and specificity. Nor is it an accident that upon the tools of the craftsman the design, structure and construction of improvement arises. As heady as law may be for some it is nonetheless rooted in well defined and demonstrable terms. The very fact that René Descartes felt obliged to begin his discovery of the source of knowledge by the admission “Cogito ergo sum” speaks to the critical scope of investigation, beginning at the beginning and progressing by the most finite steps. It helps in the brief assessment of one’s career to have the advantage of retrospect, nature’s moss upon the past, leaving only the obvious ups and downs. The work of the artist is not to be overlooked.  The ethereal import of art is as consequential and as long-lasting as whatever the trades or professions accomplish.

From these two corners – family and career – my square progresses to another, not what my parents have done for me or what I have done for others but rather what I have done for myself.  The rude element of life is that the Universe is ultimately personal.  How often has it been said that we see in others what we see in ourselves, that criticism is the best autobiography, that one must first know oneself? This corner of the square isn’t about selfishness, rather about knowing the homegrown detail, not only recognizing it but as importantly learning to live with it. What purpose is there to disguise oneself – either from others or oneself? The transition from fabrication to perfection is not the answer.  Some things simply will never change, not them, not us; we’ve got to learn to live with ourselves in the world that exists. To delay the submission only protracts the pain of the ropes that pull us apart. It is often an inconvenient settlement but it propels the objective to the next corner of the square.  As fundamental as we are, as rigid as our sinews have become within and upon us, do not forget the gate posts and the moorings, the products of our personal engineering and lifetime focus. There is no costume, building, fame or furnishing which can conceal the natural appearance of oneself. Nor, by the way, do others have any facility to do otherwise. We’re all mired in the reality that is ours. Rather than purport to escape or redesign it, the only alternative is to confess it.

The ordination is almost complete! To square oneself it remains only to point in the direction of the next vector.


It matters not whate’er your lot or what your task may be,
One duty there remains for you, one duty stands for me.
Be you a doctor skilled and wise, or do your work for wage,
A laborer upon the street, an artist on the stage;
One glory still awaits for you, one honor that is fair,
To have men say as you pass by: “That Fellow’s on the Square.”

Ah, here’s a phrase that stands for much, tis good old English, too;
It means that men have confidence in everything you do.
It means that what you have earned, and that you’ve done your best,
And when you go to sleep at night, untroubled you may rest.
It means that conscience is your guide, and honor is your care;
There is no greater praise that this: “That Fellow’s on the Square.”

And when I die I would not wish a lengthy epitaph;
I do not want a headstone large, carved with fulsome chaff.
Pick out no single deed of mine, if such a deed there be,
To ‘grave upon my monument, for those who come to see.
Just this one phrase of all I choose, to show my life was fair:
“Here sleepeth now a Fellow who was always on the Square.”