Confound not the distinctions of thy Life which Nature hath divided: that is, Youth, Adolescence, Manhood, and old Age, nor in these divided Periods, wherein thou art in a manner Four, conceive thy self as One. — Sir Thomas Browne
At various times in my life, I take a holiday to a small town where I was once a student. It is good, nay, it is sanctifying for a young man to visit the old places where he has lived; it is possible that if we forget where we have come from, we may just lose track on where we are headed. If we have lost track, it may just be that we have lost track because we have forgotten the lessons we learned along the way, and visiting those old places is a helpful reminder. Many a young boy grows up as I did, playing some modern version of Cowboys and Indians. In my own case, I ambled around the Kansas City cul-de-sac of my youth with a toy rifle, like some modern day Davey Crockett (I had the coon hat). The neighbor kids would join with their nineteenth-century steel pop-guns, and we would shoot our neighbors whose backyard joined my own but who certainly did not live in our cul-de-sac. They were the enemy. And this meant, in my mind, that they must be attacked because the princess was surely locked up in their house. So, when we would plan our attack, we all flew down to the wooded area behind my house and conspired.
I eventually moved from that neighborhood and did not return until I was much older. Much like visiting an old childhood playground, everything appeared much smaller and less significant. This is the great tragedy in growing older. Young boys live in a perpetual adventure. Anything can be a fort or a castle, even in an urban setting, though this is harder. Romance, for a young boy is not stale; it is that epic quest he enters to save his lady; it is the very opposite of what every modern feminist believes romance is, if they even believe romance at all. I do not, lest I am misunderstood, ever refer to romance in our modern, Nicholas Sparks, sense. I use the term in its original conception; I use it to refer to the romantic act that saves the princess because, yes, she can’t save herself; I use it in the sense of a god laying his life for men who cannot save themselves. And one of the great tragedies in life is that many men, if not all, grow up with romantic ideals and then throw them away when the world tells them all is meaningless. They are told that the only romance that exists is that between a man and a woman, or in our more twisted version, between a man and a man. But what gets lost in all of this is that romance spans much more than mere love stories written by bad writers who need different professions.
This past week I toured my old college campus. I spent two years of my life running around that campus, and much changes in a mere two years. I walked the campus with a friend who also attended, and we commented on all that changed since our last time there. But what is more interesting to me is not what has changed but what has remained. For I had not been there in three years, and the buffer was enough to make even the ordinary seem different, new even. The architecture was both the old, ugly architecture of my past and the new, beautiful architecture of my new, appreciative self. What once was a hall that I entered every day was a hall I was entering for the first time, even seeing it for the first time. It is a noble thing for a man to stand and gaze at a building for the first time and the one hundredth.
We then visited what is an old coffee-house near campus, a coffee-house where many a conversation was had and many a pipe was smoked. Much was changed since my last visit. Much for the good, though I couldn’t help but be slightly nostalgic for the old days. In those moments where I smoked with friends out on the back porch, I learned many a thing, explicitly and implicitly. Much of my present learning I now realize was being learned during those moments. But men are such slow, slow learners.
I believe one thing I implicitly learned from those days was a delight in the mysteries, in understanding how little we actually understand. We spoke of this on a theological level mostly, and I now understand that the mysteries must applied to mere man and those seemingly mundane and trifling aspects of life. But one of those theological mysteries, so often forgotten as life progresses, is the paradox that a man must lose his life if he wishes to find it. That is, a man who serves others engages in a romance deeper and more full of meaning than any Nicholas Sparks novel.*
As I was standing there in the coffee-house, ruminating on the past, my traveling companion and I were asked by an old friend of ours to help move a few things around. Jumping on our steeds, we obliged. We grabbed a large box meant for two, and I walked backwards as we grunted and hoisted it up stairs. The box merely needed to be “out of the way,” so we made our own way to an unlit backroom. We entered that room like two gallant knights; we entered that room, I say, too eagerly; some might say, and I would agree, that we entered that room in the quixotic fashion of two novice movers too pleased to be helping and not aware enough of the terrors awaiting. Alas! two men so long separated and detached from a life of romance, we entered that room unprepared. Had I visited that cul-de-sac of my youth, I may have been better prepared for what befell me. I would have expected a dragon or an evil knight. But as it was, I entered that room with the pride of a modern, back turned, expecting no difficulties and certainly no tragedies. And my fellow knight, eager to release his arms and back from the strain of the box, bulldozed his way into the room in similar fashion.
About halfway through the door, I felt it under my foot. My eyes grew wide with terror. No sound was made from whatever I stepped on, but I’m certain my companion, who couldn’t see it, could see the terror in my eyes. He could also see that I was slowly—I promise it happened in slow motion—beginning to lose my balance. As St. Peter slowly sank into the depths of that sea, so I sank—one leg giving, the other searching for balance, then both giving. Only I had no hand to save me, only the look of bewilderment in my companion’s eyes and a box which lay on my chest. Mass confusion followed, and the sound of “Woa, watch yer step” was heard, as I lay dying on top an open suitcase probably placed there by an evil magician.
“This never leaves this room,” I said as I stood up. We consoled ourselves that the adventure was complete, nevertheless. Shortly afterwards, our old friend—the Lord bless his soul!—spoke the words I will never forget: “Okay, this room needs cleaned. Everything out!” And we stumbled into another adventure.
Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written under the influence of Alexi Murdoch,
January 25, 2015
Transcribe by the Author,
With much mis-adventure,
January 25, 2015
Painting: "The Faithful Knight"
By Thomas Jones Barker,
Oil on canvas on plywood, n.d.
*Never have I, never will I, read Nicholas Sparks. The movies are torture enough, and I am ashamed I know that from experience.