Freebird

Three cultural references that define my day today.  Why?

As Williiam Ernest Henley says in his poem “Invictus”  we are all captains of our own souls.  Modern life offers us greater freedom than man experienced at any time in the past.  At the same time we are prisoners of consumerism and materialism.  In short we are all free and we are all prisoners, and we all have the power to choose to be free or caged by our environment.  Ah, the tyranny of choice!

First reference is from Lynard Skynard and is the eponymous song:  Freebird

Second reference is a novella that has fallen out of fashion recently, but is due a return any day now:  Jonathan Livingstone Seagull  It was also made into a film with a soundtrack by Neil Diamond that was very popular in its day.

Third is the poem below.

Caged Bird; by Maya Angelou
A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Choices

In our lives we face many choices.  Some we get right, some we get wrong.  What defines us is how we deal with the negative outcomes.  Do I play victim, or do I accept responsibility for my choice, embrace it and move on?

There are many types of choices.  Some of them we claim are not a choice at all.  This is especially useful if you want to play victim in your life.  “I had no real choice” is a great excuse.

Hobsons Choice

Thomas Hobson (1544-1631)was the operator of a livery stable in Cambridge, England. When asked for a horse to hire, Hobson would bring the customer a single option, the next horse in his rotation. The customer’s “choice” was then essentially “to take it or leave it,” in other words no choice at all.  Or was it?  Hobson’s Choice is still a choice.  In “The Godfather” Hobsons Choice is represented by the statment “The Don made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”

Achilles Choice

In Homer’s Iliad, the Greek hero Achilles tells the embassy that wants him to return to the battle against the Trojans that he has been given an important choice in his life.

“My mother, the goddess Thetis of the silver feet, has told me that
a dual-fate carries me until the day of my death.
If I remain here and wage war against the city of Troy,
I will never survive to go home, but my fame will be immortal.
Yet if I leave here to return to my dear homeland,
I shall have no noble fame, but my life will be long
and the end of death will not reach me quickly.” (Iliad 9.410-416)

Achilles choice is a great dinner party ice breaker.  Which would you choose, a long, content but unremarkable life, or to go out in a blaze of glory and be remembered forever?

Sophie’s Choice

Another choice we face might be termed as “the lesser of two evils”.  In the Odyssey the hero must choose to travel nearer Scylla or Charybdis, each a potential killer.  In the movie “Sophie’s Choice” the heroine must choose to keep either her son or her daughter as she enters Auschwitz camp.  Failure to choose results in both being taken away.  So she chooses, and let’s face it, it is not a choice that you can NOT regret.  We often call such a situation being “between a rock and a hard place” or being “between the devil and the deep blue sea.”

The latter, I believe is from sailing lore.  The “devil” is the longest seam on a wooden ship.  If it needed to be caulked when underway the caulker was suspended in a very difficult position!

Mortons Fork

A specious piece of reasoning where contradictory arguments lead to the same (unpleasant) conclusion. It is said to originate with the collecting of taxes by John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury in the late 15th century.  He visited lords with his entourage, and they could either plead poverty, and entertain him modestly, or they could try to win him over with their generosity and hospitality.  He held that a man living modestly must be saving money and could therefore afford taxes, whereas if he was living extravagantly then he was obviously rich and could still afford them.  We might also call this choice “being on the horns of a dilemma.”

Lawyers often try to impale a witness or defendant on a Mortons Fork.  My favourite is a question phrased such as “Stop evading the question, answer the court with a Yes or a NO, do you still beat your wife?”

So we face some difficult choices in life, and ultimately the real choice we face is how to deal with the aftermath.  Do you moan and wail or do you shrug your shoulders, brush off the dirt and get back on the horse?

One Art; by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel.
None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.