Changes in Time and Place

Times, they are a-changin’
Nothin’ I can do about it now

To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the Palm of your Hand,
And Eternity in an Hour.

– William Blake: Auguries of Innocence.

I read blogs and articles and books which provide lots of information, yet there is always a little niggling thought lurking in the back of my mind: What does this have to do with my life? Here? Now? Objectively, I know it all does effect me, but it seems to be at arm’s length, almost abstract and I’ll always feel this way until I am personally the person unemployed, foreclosed, wounded, PTSD’d, imprisoned, etc. On the other hand, the biggest thing on my mind on a given day might be juggling work and two doctors’ appointments, which are important to me but register only a shrug to the other seven billion people on the planet.

Life is full of changes, some public, some private.
There is a middle ground between the public and the private, a way to personalize the general and generalize the personal.
As I think and write, I try, with varying degrees of success, to achieve the required sense of perspective, to remain aware that in the final analysis we are each insignificant but at the same time so is everything else. It is our participation that gives meaning to our world. (If that seems an arbitrary judgment on my part, sobeit. Who’s writing this anyway?). We seldom have that perspective consciously and rarely “see the World in a Grain of Sand” because we’re too busy getting that damn sand out of our shoe so we can keep walking, usually aimlessly.

When I was four years old, I was sent to a pre-school – they called it ‘nursery school’ in those days. Every morning I set out, walking about 3/4 mile. It says a good deal about changing times that no one thought it inappropriate to send a 4-year-old off by himself and expect him to get to school and back, crossing the highway and avoiding vehicles. One morning, as I made my way up the unpaved street toward school, I spotted an unusual insect in middle of the road.
I remember squatting down to watch as it was attacked by a bunch of ants. (It also says a lot about the times that I wasn’t run over or yelled at by a passing driver). Eventually the ants won or the bug escaped or my interest waned and I went on my way, only to discover the teacher quite upset. When I hadn’t arrived at the expected time, she called my home. My grandmother said I’d left as usual and promptly called my mother at her office. I got to school just as they were about to launch a search-and-rescue party. I naturally caught hell from my mother. I could vaguely understand why she might have been upset, but since I’d always been a pretty independent cuss and too naive to be afraid of anything (Hey, I was only four!), I rather resented her lack of confidence in me. The only person who seemed to understand at all was granny. She understood little boys and she understood that the middle of the road was as good a place as any to “see the World in a Grain of Sand”. Looking back, I pity anyone who hasn’t done something like that, because it means they never had a real childhood, never experienced the world directly instead of through the medium of the media, filtered through adult [mis]perceptions. Children, particularly pre-school children, are human in a way that is lost as they grow up, simply because culture imposes an artificial, arbitrary and often questionable designation of importance or unimportance on so much of the world around us.

When I was 20, I found myself in the military, stationed at the Presidio of Monterey, CA. At the time, I was investigating religions and philosophies, reading extensively and doing the mental exercises typical of trying to figure out What It’s All About. (When I later returned to college, I was spared the usual sophomoric discussions because I’d already had them arguing with myself). One of my nightly walks took me from the Presidio to a USN installation several miles away. As I strolled along, my mind was simultaneously holding two incompatible ‘truths’. “X is true” and “Y is true” and “X and Y are mutually contradictory”. In the event, the truth or falsity of the ideas really didn’t matter. What mattered was that my mental gears moved faster and more frantically to resolve the paradox until they eventually ‘jammed’ and thinking came to an abrupt halt. I cannot say that perception stopped, but the filtering of it, the categorizing, rationalizing, cataloguing and examination of it ceased. Contemplating a paradox is one of the practices of Zen Buddhism and I can tell you it can produce a mental state outside our cultural envelope. In this completely foreign state of mind, I walked back to the Presidio. It wasn’t until I reached my barracks that the overwhelming familiarity of having arrived at a destination ‘brought me to my senses’. (And there’s a term ripe for redefinition). I did not remember a single thing about the walk back or the world outside my mind during the hour or so it took me to get back to the Presidio, yet I had crossed many busy, noisy, well-lit, high-traffic steets. The experience taught me two things: I only need a miniscule part of my mind/awareness to navigate the physical world around me; and I really can “hold Infinity in an Hour”.

There are transitions in life from one situation and its appropriate mindset to a different situation. It is at such thresholds that we may be able to skake free of old habits, like a dog shaking off the rain, and view the world with fresh eyes, forgetting what wasn’t worth remembering in the first place and remembering things we should never have forgotten. In the next two or three weeks, I will find myself unemployed and unemployable for the first time in over 60 years. As you can imagine, it represents a major change in not only my day-to-day activity, but in my view of myself and my relationship to the world. With a little bit of luck, I hope to take advantage of the opportunity to adjust my mental habits toward experiencing the world more directly, less culturally.
I want to again “see the World in a Grain of Sand” and “hold Eternity in an Hour”.

11 Replies to “Changes in Time and Place”

  1. Delightful to read Blake here tonight, a verse I have loved since the age of 18. As with the other commenters, all the very best in your new stage of life. I am preparing for a major change myself over the next week.

    1. Hmmm, tell. 🙂 Blake is also one of my favorites, I was cleaning out an old purse a while back and found that snippet in an old wallet.

      All the best steeleweed, I’m sure your garden will be waiting for you. 🙂

  2. If you are becoming unemployed involuntarily, I wish you all the best. If you still want or need to work, it will likely be very very difficult to find meaningful work. On the other hand, if you have the wherewithal to not work and retire early or work only enough to get medical insurance or to pay the bills, you may find this to be the most creative time of your life. Age has a way of focusing our minds and throwing off those things that were never important in the first place. The very best to you.

    1. Appreciate the good wishes – thank you all.

      I’m a master at what I do, but that’s like being the world’s finest maker of purple yak-hair buggywhips – in the age of the automobile.
      Aside from that, even the rare job openings will be closed by ageism – no one is likely to hire a 75-year-old techie, at least for anything beyond saying, “Welcome to Walmart”. We are better off than many and while money is always useful, I’ve been gravitating toward pursuits that are not cash-focused; weaving, cheesemaking, foodscaping, cooking/baking, writing fiction & poetry. Unemployment in this case may be a blessing in disguise, as it pushes me into a life more meaningful and satisfying than manipulating bits and bytes.
      It also gives me more time to get closer to the next three generations of family.

      1. Best wishes on things to come. If a free, unsolicited suggestion isn’t too presumptuous (well, yeah, I know it is, but I lack self control), don’t forget that many nonprofits and advocacy groups desperately need the odd techie fix. Volunteer, and the more astute among them will worship you.

        On quotations — one of the purposes to which I put my e-reader was to load it with poetry. Pulling out the bound, heavy collected works was enough of a hindrance to keep me from reading much. And short poems make good diversion when you’re waiting say in a doctor’s office. Last Friday, I finished a complete rereading of The Songs of Innocence and Experience. I wonder why we’re all having Blake moments now.

      2. Cooking! Great! We need an Agonist recipe page – thoughtful, tasty, healthy

        My wife was raised by her British mom. As a result, I cook for self defense;) but it’s such a positive change – I’m full accountable for the results.

      3. Ah. A man of my own heart. Some turn work into money. I excel at turning money into work.

        Gardening/canning, milking/cheese-making, writing, Leah’s pottery, raising and training horses….

        This “retired” business can get tiring.

  3. It is amazing the independence we were allowed “back in the day.” I watched Hitchcock last night, about the making of “Psycho.” I recalled deciding see the movie, riding my bike downtown to the theater, and paying my $1.00 or whatever and enjoying every moment of it…alone. No big deal when I mentioned it to my parents. That wouldn’t work now for too many children. Crime is down a good bit but we’re more paranoid about it than ever. Hence, many grow up focusing on a devotion to studies, sports, or video games. This creates a tidy universe but it’s not the broader world you’re talking about, one that offers so much but is viewed as a hazardous zone, just a step away from one of those alerts.

    I wish you well in your upcoming creative space!

    1. Independence? From the age of about 8, I would take my .22 rifle, hunting knife, canteen, some fish hooks & line and a blanket and head into the hills for a week or so. Lived on trout, rabbits & berries; learned to stalk deer & elk and Rocky Mountain sheep; discovered the joy of watching bears play and spent hours watching beaver, birds and prairie dogs.
      Nobody got concerned until I was two or three days overdue to be home.
      We greatly underestimate what our children can do and be. When we limit their world, we limit them.

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