The altitude of lowliness
There's a relationship between royalty and reality that will surprise some of us. I'm not thinking about Shakespeare's Henry V movng disguised among his lovely bullies on the eve of Agincourt -- nor even about England's Prince Andrew demonstrating that he was one of the boys of Canada's Lakefield College School. To stop viewing royalty and reality as polarised huamn conditions is to find something of the king and the commoner in each of us. But what implications rescue this image from comic opera?
I'm thinking of the link between respect and brotherliness. Genuine brotherlinesss is that commonality of being in which love has acquired the stature of respect. It all has to do with the dignity that we acknowledgein another's uniqueness. It is relationship as an ascendency of sharing -- yes, as equality of nobility, as an altitude of lowliness. . . . It is that authority of meekness that lets me see your thought soaring beneath the same blue sky that arches over mine.
Look at water. I love its stillnesses and its drama, its depths and its heights. When water pours in over some uneven surface, all irregularity is erased and one smooth level now commands our view. No disparity, no hierarchy. The level of our perception is both heightened and deepened. We peer beneath the new surface to find that differences are still retained, but within a dimension of whispering secrecy that they never had befored.
In the same way, the nobility indigenous to each of us unveils, in extraordinary detail, distinctions unnoticed by the unsearching, undistinguishing eye. And nature's democracy has a way of relating all such dear differences within one brotherhood of ideas. A kind of adhesion or symbiosis is going on beneath our noses.
One Sunday afternoon, sitting on a park bench while drawing together the threads of a talk I had been asked to give, I suddenly became aware of a much more intricate threading process. It involved my right knee. To my amazement, a miniature web had already been fashioned between the fine hairs on my knee and the armof the bench -- and along that web twelve microscopic spiders were animatedly commuting!
Whatever their purposing, who was I to determine just why I had been included in this enterprise? Some commonality of being surely existed here from which we all drew royally together. I continued writing. When the work was complete I made my decision. Gently I reoriented the web (together with its busy builders) , linking them all up again with the bench. There were both pathos and smiles here somewhere.
In a rare but characteristic observation -- characteristic of Emily Dickinson -- reality and royalty, unity and uniqueness, are brought exquisitely together with deceptive simplicity. She writes: The Pedigree of Honey Does not concern the Bee -- A Clover, any time, to him,
Is Aristocracy . . ."
Whether or not through nature's bee and spider, there is always that which both distinguishes and bestows in one generous activity. Perhaps, after all, children I have the best way of showing us this.
When Kristen, Stephen, and friends Emily and Christian invited me into their derelict "coal mine," I was being introduced to a disarming likeness between horror and humour -- all within the crawl space in the basement of my own home! Old trunks and boxes and all the miscellania of such places had been painstakingly arranged into curving tunnels to simulate the working of an abandoned coal mine.
After finally emerging hunched from such humbling, it was with no small concern that I learnt of the intention to invite young Emily's parents along to the "mine." Our neighbors love their children, but I wasn't so sure about their fellings for our crawl space. Before I could remonstrate, Emily was on the phone and within minutes her daddy was at the door. The rest of the family was "just behind," he assured me.
Emily's father, Michael, who is chairman of the classics department in a leading university, was being urged now by his little daughter onto his hands and knees and into the dusty dark beneath my house. There was no time for warnings. Outwardly, the professor is a mild man of few words. But his naturally solemn expression has a way of breaking up into smiles that have you thinking of Peter Sellers. He was unusually solemn when he crawled out of sight.
"Good fences make good neighbors," Robert Frost stresses: the poet said nothing about crawl spaces. Our neighbor emerges without comment. Like me, he has just crawled his way through shadows, to the accompaniment of recorded creaks and groans: a journey that exposed him to unpredictable cave-ins, scorpions and snakes (of the plstic variety), lids that flew open, and little hands that clutched invisibly. But now he is smiling at me -- and here is Peter Sellers again beckoning to wife and son and pointing insistently to the waiting dark of the "mine."
There's something of the cleric and the clown in Michael as well as king and commoner. Here is a man who, I feel sure, might be found sitting on a park bench, experiencing the same aesthetic shock of delight and humility on discovering hism knee part of the architectural plan of twelve tiny spiders!
Shelley saw it all as poetry, of course, -- as poetry that "defeats the cause which binds us to be subjected to the accident of surrounding impressions; [ poetry that] withdraws life's dark veil from before the scene of things. It equally creates for us a being within our being. . . ."
As I was saying, there's a relationship between royalty and reality that will surprise some of us.