Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

Quantifying Existence

So, I pinched the ‘wee scoops’ idea from TS Eliot. It turns out he and I weren’t the only ones thinking about “measuring” life.

I was reorganising a bookcase today and was blowing the dust from a lot of old books, and this one leapt out at me.

20120116-075500 PM.jpg

Smacked on the nose by the concept of eternity, I considered reading it. Then I thought it would probably just irritate me. I prejudicially suspected that it would be a smug holier-than-how-to. With a flash of irony, I thought I would smugly just guess what was in it, if I were writing it.

First thought is along the lines of:

“All men are like grass and their glory is that of the flowers in the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall – but the Word of the Lord stands for ever.” – from Isaiah, I think.

If we measure our lives, we can measure them as a notional three-score-years and ten, give or take several decades… in some directions… We can decide what a short life is, what a long life is, what a good life is, what a bad life is. If we measure our lives, even if we live to be 100, against the history of time up until now, we can see Isaiah’s point about being “like grass”. If we take time and look beyond that into eternity, our lives seem shorter and shorter.

But they aren’t of course. They are the same length. It’s all perspective.

With smallness, on a grand scale, we start getting neurotic about significance. So, the next bible bit that floats to mind is about the sparrows –

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows”

Matther 10: 29-31

Despite the whole fleeting, grass thing, life is significant and valuable.

The next bit is about the businessman in the parable – who thinks he will get up the next day and go somewhere and do things – but then, he wakes up dead (metaphorically), to find his soul had been required of him in the night – the take-home point being that we don’t know anything – we do not own tomorrow – all we have is now.

Unlike Jesus:

Hebrews 13 vs 8
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever

So, we are in time, we are changing or dead – in flux and with consequences.

In “Back to the Future”, “Sliding Doors” and many other movies, I am sure, we see what would happen had different decisions been made – we see parallel possible futures. But in real life, we have Frost’s road diverging – and roads less travelled and all that. We only have the present and the present has an effect on the future. There is no ‘control’ experiment in life, there is only what happened. We change things just by being here and any change can be major.

I was watching that “Who do you think you are?” show and the person had been born in England. Centuries before their ancestor had been going from Poland to America or something – but there was a storm and they ended up unable to cross tha Atlantic. If there hadn’t been the storm, the ancestors’ genes would never have resulted in that person being born. Just like me – if a certain soldier hadn’t been killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill, his widow would never have married my ancestor and … there would be no me! Unthinkable!… kind of…

So, I’m back to feeling like grass –

I feel some Whitman coming on – where he tries to come up with an answer to misery and futility:

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;

That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse

So, even though we are like grass, we get a bite at the cherry, we get to contribute a verse.

And the verse I now have to contribute is putting the children to bed.

Which will be eternally significant.

Whether I think so or not.


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6 thoughts on “Quantifying Existence

  1. The part that you touched on about “Who do you think you are” can get humbling when you think of certain situations which were the sole factor in your branch of the family existing either through hardship or luck. Small decisions which in the long run make significant changes in the course of a family trajectory. The phrase that we do not own tomorrow is a sobering one.

  2. theotheri on said:

    I love this post! Especially your point that “With smallness, on a grand scale, we start getting neurotic about significance. So, the next bible bit that floats to mind is about the sparrows -”

    We each think we are so very important, that we are so special that we MUST consider something superbly significant and memorable that will change history for ever.

    And we are important. We are uniquely special. The problem is that we so often measure importance in such trivial ways. Are you more significant if you are buried in Westminster with a plaque or even an entire effigy? Are we more significant if our names are included in history books? if we’re “celebrities”? etc.

    Anyway, a beautiful post.

    And now to do something eternally significant. Like put the groceries away.

    Thank you.

    • Celebrity? Pah!
      I think the cult of celebrity is wrong, wrong, wrong… especially these days where fame is so random.
      Fame is so unappealing, but so many people find it appealing. I find it appalling… Oh no, I might have to write a poem “Appealling and Appalling”…

      Thanks for liking the post 🙂

  3. Grass

    Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
    Shovel them under and let me work–
    I am the grass; I cover all.

    And pile them high at Gettysburg
    And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
    Shovel them under and let me work.
    Two years, ten years, and the passengers ask the conductor:
    What place is this?
    Where are we now?

    I am the grass.
    Let me work.

    Carl Sandburg

  4. Thanks – this echoes “The Tollund Man” by Seamus Heaney for me.

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