There is much hardship in the world. I direct this to disadvantaged people in particular. While the physical privation may not be as acute for those of us currently on the other side of fortuity, there is no assurance that any one of us will escape similar or worse difficulty. I have personally seen a young lawyer from a reputed “good “ family in the exclusive Village of Rockcliffe Park descend within a matter of a year from an awakening solicitor to an addlepated idiot. By complete coincidence months following our legal encounter on opposite sides of a commercial transaction, as I was walking on Rideau Street in downtown Ottawa where I had a condominium apartment, the young lawyer passed me. He did not acknowledge me. He was shabbily dressed. He was talking to himself. He kept circling his hands on either side of his head. I subsequently heard (perhaps through his former clients) that the young chap had completely decomposed.
Rockcliffe Park was founded by Thomas Keefer, in 1864, in accordance with the principles of the Picturesque tradition. The preservation of the natural landscape with roads lined with mature trees and curving around a varied topography, its rocky outcroppings and its lake and pond, as well as strong landscaping of individual properties, are all key to the Picturesque quality of the Village. The motto on the village coat-of-arms is “Inter Arboribus Floremus” – amidst the trees we flourish.
Nor is this unfortunate incident singular. A long-standing friend of mine is now confined to an alcoholic recovery institution. I have friends far younger than I who are no longer whinnying among us. Still others have faced cancer, car accidents, embezzlement and personal ruin. And this is quite apart from the devastation of collapsed relationships and relentless litigation surrounding unparalleled accusations. One wonders how people manage to confront such assault without entire evaporation!
This was my unenviable state of mind while cycling this morning along the former B&O railway line which runs through our small town. I don’t say remorseful reflection achieves anything; but it stabilizes me. We sometimes overlook the utter lack of substance in our present realm of perception. While I prefer to do something winning for those whose lives attach to more than the seat of a bicycle, I can at the least invoke whatever is required to strengthen my better appreciation of my own circumstance.
The aim is most emphatically not mutuality of discomfort. Rather it is the willingness to embrace recognition. There is nothing wrong with accomplishment or luck; but it puts one in far better stead to confront the inadequacy suffered by others. Obviously it is a chilling rendition of life yet it dolefully reminds us that things ain’t all that bad.
Several days ago we cycled along the same route. The pathway – which I can best describe as fine gravel above the solid limestone ground below – had just been raked. In that moment I understood that everything about me requires maintenance. As a former freeholder I have ample acquaintance with maintenance and repair. I saw in an instant the detail of the raking. The lines of the rake were like an artistic addition to the pathway. But somebody had to have done it. It didn’t just happen. Who could have done it?
Then I caught a glimpse of the lovely ancient homes nearby. The words “maintenance and repair” again percolated. I reflected that those greystone structures, including remote English country mansions, ultimately risk the same deterioration as do we. I mused that the construction and design of them was commendable but never irreplaceable. I may have even thought to include the pyramids in that latter slur.
Oddly it was not a mournful object which prompted me in this idle self-absorption. It is just another feature of what I regard as the incremental removal from the material world – including the immediate and very practical reduction of material consumption. One must first expand devotion to the more cerebral element of life. In truth I find myself progressively adopting the Frank Sinatra allusion to the fine wine metaphor; that is, a smug satisfaction with life’s liqueurs.