John Milton wrote his blank verse on the fall of man, Paradise Lost, in ten books from about 1658 to 1663. Some scholars believe that earlier passages were written in his youth, and the remainder interrupted by the English Civil War. Why? Was it a change in style from early years to a more mature perspective? I can relate to that.
In retrospect, my youthful attempts at writing made me wince. But I forgave myself for being young and unschooled in a thing that came naturally. The ability of my mother and aunts to relate detailed family lore convinced me that I, too, must be the reincarnation of our ancient Irish sennachies, ready with the Merlin of my time—the computer— to record each precious nugget of knowledge and creativity. However, I soon learned that being reborn into a new time meant, “Get with it, kid. Nobody accepts poetry or prose in ten rambling books anymore!”
With this cold water showered on my literary efforts, I knew enough to know I didn’t know enough. So, I read about writing, took creative writing classes, joined writers’ groups and associations. What did I learn? That I still had, and have, more to learn. Albert Einstein was right: “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”
So, it falls to those who can learn, to find ways for the less fortunate develop to the best of their abilities. In Luke, the Bible tells us that Jesus said, “Those to whom much is given, much will be required.” This is where my soapbox on writing merges with my pulpit on social conscience.
I think back to the 1960s when an imperfect man, John F. Kennedy, made a perfectly altruistic statement, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” It was a time of bright hopes for the future, and those words guided my teaching career.
Where is that bright hope today? Are we at the brink of losing paradise again? As did Charles Dickens in his time, I cannot help thinking of our time:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. (~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, Book the First, Chapter 1)
Back on the soapbox: Is this not an intriguing hook to reel in the reader? It’s one of my favorites. It made me hang on for the ride like Captain Ahab tangled in his own harpoon line. Why did Dickens speak of his time as both wise and foolish, as one of enlightenment and mental darkness, of hope and despair? His words foreshadow how the conditions of the period affected society as revealed in his novel.
You might like to read or reread this Dickens tale. Spoiler Alert: the best of times and worst of times refers to the fact that the ruling classes of both England and France then were woefully out of touch with the common people and very mistakenly believed the status quo would glide on forever. Sound familiar?
We need to think with less selfishness and more selflessness. Not only does charity begin at home—so does a change in society’s priorities. Start with your own social interactions. Lead by example, then demand the same of all public servants from the smallest mayoralty in the nation all the way up the chain to the United States Congress and the White House.
Let us not lose Paradise again. Vigilance is the price of our freedoms, our paradise.
Keep learning. Keep writing. Make your words count for the better. Be able to say of your actions and your writing, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…” as did Sydney Carton in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.