"O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven
Keep me in temper: I would not be mad!"
Shakespeare, King Lear
We saw Laurence Olivier's King Lear last night. Simply the best performance ever. Thanks, Netflix. But, how to describe the play?
Permit me to digress. According to Wikipedia: “When Lisa and Homer discuss the language to use in his first review Homer attempts to augment nouns with 'groin-grabbingly'. Lisa offers the word 'transcendent' to which Homer replies, 'What about groin-grabbingly transcendent?'”
Sir Laurence's portrayal of a powerful king losing his mind, of navigating dysfunctional family relations and betrayal is best described using Homer's timeless phrase. And to those who say The Simpson's is low-brow, I say 'Good day sir!'
Which got me thinking about other experiences where the term is apt. Upon serious consideration, between loads of wash yesterday, I sat outside, warmed by the late winter sunshine, cleaning herbs for soup. I came up with this idea.
That expression also perfectly describes certain instances in one's life where great change is afoot. Such turns along the Road of Life are typically approached way too fast, making it feel like one is a passenger in a sports car careening down a steep mountain road, driven by a suicidal madman, and pursued by screaming daemons of age.
At such times, we struggle to retain compos mentis while navigating handbrake turns: dangerous, dramatic and, life-changing. Once such turns are in the rear-view mirror and the death-defying theatrics are over, the moments are recalled as “groin-grabbingly transcendent”. Surviving handbreak turns provide us with moments of such clarity, albeit tinged with a kind of life-flashing-before-your-eyes panic, that ordinary life becomes once more relatively peaceful and bearable.
At such times, I think it helps to think of what King Lear said. I would like not to become mad. Handbreak turns are sometimes required to keep on the right road, and I think they can sometimes help us to stay sane and temperate.