“These are the times that try men’s souls.” So wrote Thomas Paine in The American Crisis. Indeed I feel at times that I am writing for the very sake of my own sanity. I find I can’t muster the energy needed to write as much of late because of my failure to separate the embracing of insanity by my fellow man from the part of my brain from which thoughts flow to my fingers and pen/keyboard. The blackness spills over the inner wall and I do not write for fear of offending anyone and everyone and appearing mad. Instead I wrap the madness as best I can in a parcel or knapsack and hand it off to God every night in the quiet afforded me while praying the psalms.
In the interim I’ve recently taken to reading from my copy of Aesop’s Fables. I do this from time to time when the world is ripping itself apart at an above normal veracity. I’ll read from The Odyssey or Iliad, The Aenid, the Lives of Plutarch, Beowulf or The Kalevala. Of course there are old friends Ratty, Mole and Toad of Toad Hall. Or I’ll find my way into Tolkien or Lewis, and while in Middle Earth or Narnia visiting someone’s home I’ll reach up to a shelf and find that even there in those worlds there is a dusty copy of Aesop’s Fables at the ready.
The Psalms are where I commune with God. Aesop is where I go to commune with common sense. Common sense is an admittedly much smaller entity than the Lord of the Universe (and is ever shrinking) but a place that we all need to visit nonetheless. God grant us common sense.
Take the fable that follows for instance. Read on, slowly, and I’ll see you once you’ve finished.
The Country Mouse and the City Mouse
A quiet, good, sensible Country Mouse once entertained an old playmate of his who had recently gone to the city to live.
Though his home was very modest and his life very ordinary, the Country Mouse had saved up in advance so that his dinner for his City Mouse friend would be a good one. He had put away some very nice peas and bacon, a fine dish of oatmeal, a bit of cheese, and for dessert a tasty morsel of ripe apple. When he and his friend sat down to nibble dinner, the Country Mouse didn’t eat any of this fine fare himself, but politely chewed away at an old wheat straw, so that the City friend would be sure to have enough.
When they had finished, the City Mouse leaned back and said, in a very superior way, “Old Pal, how can you bear to live in such a dismal hole as this? Nothing but woods, meadows, mountains and streams around you. Don’t you get bored with just the birds to listen to—no society, no bright worldly conversation? It must be awfully dull. Why don’t you come on up to the city with me tonight? I’ll show you how you can really live and have a grand time all the time.”
The quiet little Country Mouse hadn’t really thought much about it, because he had always been perfectly contented where he was, but he was willing to try anything that sounded so good.
So they set out that evening for the city and about midnight they crept into the large mansion where the City Mouse lived.
There had been a great party the day before and bits of food of all sorts were to be had for the picking.
That sat around on beautiful soft Persian rugs and nibbled a little of this and a little of that until the Country Mouse was pleasantly full and he began to think maybe his life was pretty dull down there in the country.
Just then there was a bang and a rattle that made them jump a mouse mile. The master of the house had come home and with him came two enormous dogs that barked and ran around, nearly scaring the life out of both the mice, who scurried for a place of safety.
“Thank you every so much,” said the Country Mouse to his City friend, “that was fine while it lasted, but as long as I am moving, I think I’ll just keep right on going until I reach my quiet, dull little hole back there in the country. A few dry peas will do me very well as long as I can enjoy them quietly and not have my appetite scared out of me. You are welcome to your exciting city life, I’ll take the country.” And he did.
The moral: It’s a wise mouse or person who has enough and is happy with it.
When do we have enough? How do we define enough?
I admit that in my life I have made a false idol of baseball, of books, of … stuff. We cram our minds, hearts and houses with stuff. And still we’re unhappy. Still we covet. When we covet we stretch ourselves to make more money so we can get more stuff. Or some take the easy way out and simply steal stuff from someone else. Or run down the other person because they don’t have enough of the right stuff like you do. How can they not want your stuff? You wouldn’t covet junk! It’s quality stuff!
Before I turn this into an old George Carlin routine (which was brilliant) I’ll step back.
When do you have enough? How do you define enough?
Enough of what?
Addendum: This fable brought to mind an old favorite of mine as performed by Nanci Griffith. When we were first married my wife and I left the urban life of eastern Nebraska and Omaha behind and moved six hours (and a time zone) west to live in a small, western Nebraska town with two stoplights and where the shops were closed on Sundays. The closest mall was over ninety minutes away. Some of our friends thought we were nuts. I used to listen to this song and smile to myself.
Ah but they’ve never seen the Northern Lights
They’ve never seen a hawk on the wing
They’ve never spent spring on the Great Divide
And they’ve never heard ole’ camp Cookie sing
Addendum #2: It seems I’ve written on the subject of “Enough” before in April 2011, though in a different context.