Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This concept has been articulated in different ways since at least the third century B.C. in a Greek version. Margaret Wolfe Hungerford is widely credited for coining this exact phrase in the novel Molly Bawn in 1878. Her wording was more poetic than David Hume’s 1742 quote in an essay: “Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.” His line was likely better than earlier ones by Ben Franklin, Shakespeare, and John Lyly but they and others might disagree because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am less interested in pondering past evolution of the idea than a couple of other questions that come to mind. First of all, are we done refining the phraseology or is a better one yet to replace the Hungerford language? Will a saying like “Some eyes see ugliness as beauty” someday be more popular than Hungerford’s adage? Feel free to submit other candidates which I will publish as my own if they are really good. Secondly, is the concept a universal truth or just a polite way of insulting people who value something we do not like? Do we consider this definition of beauty a profound aspect of our humanity and a way to celebrate our diversity? Or is Hungerford’s turn of phrase just a clever way to denigrate someone else’s spouse, artwork, or dwelling place? I find great beauty in all my blog postings and especially this one but understand that other beholders might be total idiots.
When I was five years old while sitting in the back of the family car, I informed the driver (my Dad) and other passengers that I thought I knew everything last year but now I really did know everything. I was probably intoxicated with my new found skills in reading and arithmetic. My Dad laughed in a way that I knew I had said something more stupid than funny. My faux pas made quite an impression on me because I remember it 64 years later. You can only recall so many things about your year in Kindergarten and that is an odd moment to remember. I assume I was embarrassed about amusing people with my ignorance. But it did not teach me to think before I speak. More than six decades later, I know so much more stuff but awareness of my ignorance still grows with each passing year. And that is one more thing I have learned since Kindergarten.
For twenty years I played on a Men’s Slowpitch Softball team. I spent much of the time on the bench because I was the coach and I wanted to win. We were serious enough to play 106 games in the summer of 1990. One fellow who played only parts of three seasons made a lasting impression on me. Steve was a talented ballplayer who could play the key defensive position of shortstop. We were blessed at times with shortstops who had played the position in the minor leagues, college, and/or high school. We also had some very good athletes who were not cut out for shortstop but wanted to play it. I once relented and put one into a fairly meaningless game. It turned into a disaster. Opponents were regularly pulling balls into shortstop territory and grounders and line drives were getting booted all over the place. If our shortstop fielded a ball cleanly, he would throw it wildly to first. It was awkward because he was not the most popular player and his teammates were not enamored with my decision to let him play the coveted position. Between innings, I announced that Steve was going to switch positions with the battle weary shortstop. Steve turned to me and said something lighthearted to the effect that I was punishing him by sending him to his doom. He asked rhetorically, “Have you seen the rockets those guys have been smashing to short?” I remember being impressed that Steve was trying to give a soft landing to a teammate while others were thinking he got what he deserved. I periodically commit to displaying the type of empathy Steve modeled for me but too often miss the opportunities that flash by so quickly at unexpected times.
A tip for becoming a stronger and more efficient day hiker: Team up with someone who carries not only the Ten Essentials but also the Hundred Non Essentials. By relying on my hiking friend to be prepared, I have over the years been lightening my own load by discarding everything except a light jacket, liquids, and trail mix. I am currently plotting how to get my water bottles into his custom made pack because they are heavy. I could easily find opportunity to smuggle them in during his pre-hike rituals of chanting, dancing, and marking his territory. He would never notice them in there with his karaoke machine and bread making oven. The trick would be extracting my water when I needed it. Meanwhile, we are about as efficient as hikers can get. We move as one 139 year old hiker with no redundant supplies. We are well respected by some on the trail because the size of his pack indicates that we are on a month long trek. Others think we are living permanently in the woods and steer clear of us when we ask if President Bush won re-election. Unfortunately my hiker buddy has knees that are acting up and he is forced to think about carrying less. I have discouraged this idea based on the alternative fact that heavy loads strengthen the knees. As a back-up plan, I have recommended he discard either the outdated two volume Family Medical Guide or the fold up sofa. But he threatens to lighten his load by cutting me loose.
In the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, Calvin was famous for confronting his father with ever changing Dad Polls and Approval Ratings. The relative value of friends, family, business associates, neighbors, caregivers, and others can vary over time just like entities on a stock market index. When an acquaintance at a college party was laughing big at my son’s jokes, her stock rose rapidly into girlfriend range. Some people see their Personal Stock crash over betrayals like boyfriend stealing, backstabbing at work, or passing on confidential information. Other times stock can decrease slowly over time when people grow apart as their lives go in different directions. You could be someone’s bridesmaid but then she moves far away or ends up married to someone who does not get along with your husband. Occasionally during my life I have stumbled on a realization that certain people were not as enthralled with me as I believed. Maybe they only formed a business alliance, were just very good at being nice to everyone, or simply wearied of hearing my same stories over and over. Other times I have been pleasantly surprised when someone has touched me with a kindness or a string of them, all the more enduring when they are oblivious to the existence of their Poll Ratings. Some actions can have multiple impacts. Tell a large group about your vote for President and you will likely find your individual Approval Ratings going up and down in the gathering. Tell them you read Stamper’s Blog and many may decrease your personal Stock Value. But you will easily make up the difference with the incredible uptick Stamper will give to your Approval Rating. Not that Calvin or Stamper actually keep a real rating sheet in a drawer somewhere.
My wife and two grandchildren erupted into cheering and joyful screaming when I was edged out by a nine year old in a recent game of Sorry. Nobody cared who won as long as I lost. Universal pleasure at my defeat probably reflects the negative way I project to others. But I am not going to blog about my failings. I am more intrigued by a trend I have noticed in new board games. I am used to winners and losers in zero sum games that train us to be politicians. I noticed my sons were playing a game with spouses where the object was to get someone to the end of the Lewis and Clark Trail before everyone died. If no one survived, everyone lost. If someone survived, everyone could celebrate. Shortly thereafter, my youngest granddaughter introduced me to a game where we had to work together on our turns to get all the chicks back in the coop. We won or lost together. I guess this is a good trend as I have seen games of Risk, Diplomacy, and Hearts cause major family disruptions. I will probably get used to collaborative games just like I have adjusted to a world of computers and cell phones. I do not know if some initial nagging resistance is due to a) being set in my ways, b) feeling deprived of skills I developed in zero sum games, and/or c) a natural instinct I have when I am being manipulated. On the plus side for me, Blogs are not competitive competitions. So I was not eliminated in the first round.
When my Mother was very young, she and her younger brother were each given a coin to buy some penny candy. My Mom got a dime and Uncle Jim received a nickel. Since Jim’s coin was bigger, my Mom uncharacteristically put up a big fuss and was allowed to trade with Jim. I use the word “uncharacteristically” because this was apparently when she learned the value of not complaining every time life seems to throw you a curve ball. She remembered this lesson well and told the story on herself at appropriate times. We are often eager to complain about things even if we have no idea whether they are worth complaining about. Of course, I never learned anything from the story and probably complained about hearing it. I would have been much more impressed if someone had ended up with the whole fifteen cents. I pass it on here for others who are more high minded than me.
If you are interested in caving, you probably cannot get enough of underground caverns. I have done the tourist thing and been down in Mammoth Cave (twice), Carlsbad Cavern, Marvel Cave in Missouri, and maybe some others I have forgotten. Last Sunday, six of my family went to Luray Caverns in Virginia because the river rafting we were planning was considered too dangerous that day. It felt good to expose two grandchildren to their first caving experience, even the commercially crowded canned tour. A pool of water reflected the upper cave in a mirror image that gave apparent great additional depth to the cave. That was a spectacular image but as my son said at one point, “When you have seen one cave, you have seen them all.” I think that would be disputed by cavers and even spelunkers who would likely have disdain for tourists like us. Luray sold the kids colorful rocks that left stains as the heat and humidity above ground exposed that they were apparently spray painted. I could relate to those rocks. I have been spray painted throughout life by parents, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, doctors, and businesses. But bring me out of the cave and into the light of a day with a heat index of 100 degrees or more and my true cranky nature and lack of depth is easily exposed!
Last week my wife, my daughter-in-law, and I visited my aunt, Sister Anne, in a nursing home in Baltimore. She is also my Godmother and belongs to the religious order Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart (not to be confused with my younger sister Anne or cousin Sister Anne). My Godmother Sister Anne has always been such a hard worker, physically fit with healthy eating habits, and as independent as you can get in a religious order. So it seems strange to see her with a walker and needing so much care. Her vocation brings with it an accepting attitude for the challenges she faces. She retains her smile and cheery attitude but admits that she never thought the end of her life would be like this. She is not complaining about the loneliness of her forced retirement and idleness but is more surprised about it. I will make her look like a saint if I am lucky enough to get to age 90 like her. I never envision myself suddenly dying like some friends and family have done before me. But I also never think of myself incapacitated by long illness as others have been. So I wonder what exactly I think is going to happen to me. I recognize that I may not always be able to jog but I just figure I will cut back to walking. I think my Godmother is trying to gently tell me I am in for a big negative surprise one way or the other. Unfortunately I have not developed her coping mechanisms and when my time comes, I will be cranky and doing enough complaining for the both of us.
Congressman Doyle of Pennsylvania pointed out on television that the gridlock we so often face in the government was designed by our founding fathers. They instituted three branches of government with one branch divided into the House and Senate. Of course it would be difficult to get laws passed. But abuses under Kings and despots who could create law on personal whim was considered an affront to human rights. When our criminal system is criticized for letting guilty people go free, we forget the intention to incorporate the principle that it would be far better to let ten guilty people go free than to wrongly incarcerate one innocent person. These concepts were adopted by leaders observing and chafing under systems that deprived individuals of basic rights. The pendulum has apparently not swung too far in favor of the innocent according to the parade of people released from prison based on exculpating DNA evidence. And we have always had vitriol in our disagreements. Burr killed Hamilton in a duel. We fought a Civil War. We have had assassinations throughout American history. In every era, you can find published accounts of the worst type of personal insults being traded between political rivals. We like to believe a more civil past once existed but that is a fictional nostalgia. Basically the situation is normal and aptly described by the acronym SNAFU.