“Oh, grassy glades! oh, ever vernal endless landscapes in the soul; in ye, — though long parched by the dead drought of the earthy life, — in ye, men yet may roll, like young horses in new morning clover; and for some few fleeting moments, feel the cool dew of the life immortal on them. Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause: — through infancy’s unconscious spell, boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolescence’ doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? In what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary? Where is the foundling’s father hidden? Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it.” - Herman Melville
I am not generally one for drinking away my sorrows, but I was driven to try last week - and not just because it was raining outdoors and gloomy in. November 13 was a sad anniversary for me; one toasted with B&B and a PG Netflix movie. Of late, my “pondering repose of If” more closely resembles a heavy mental lumber through the deck of memories – more ponderous than pondering. The focus of my attention devoted to pondering of “If” has narrowed its beam light a dying flashlight down the damp basement steps to replace a fuse. Last week, I was so sad I would have traded my tickets to the moon for a couple of metaphorical C batteries and a pair of shoes with insulated soles.
So, to cheer myself up (this was before the B&B) I tried to think of a funny joke. Hmmm….
One of the funniest jokes in the world, to me, has always been: Why do elephants drink? Why? To forget. Now, to appreciate why the answer to this riddle was so hilarious when I was 10, you need to know the precursor cliché about elephants never forgetting. So, the joke has built-in nod-and-wink to those of us clever enough (like I was at 10) to know the secret handshake to decode this shibboleth of a joke. It’s even funnier as I age and begin to consider how hard it must be for an elephant to actually drink enough to get drunk, given its body weight.
Melville totally captures a bleak time when the earth has been long parched by the dead drought of earthy life. And I totally relate to his comparison of this soul-deep inborn longing to return to the cool dew in the Garden of Eden as it was before snakes invaded. The halting and stumbling progress of our lives toward some imagined “If” is, Melville seems to say, is a journey with an end shrouded in riddles like a dilemma, inside an enigma, wrapped in bacon. Like a hilarious riddle but with the punch line we don’t quite get until we die.
If I had a dollar for every time I wandered from “… doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of "If". If only I had a dollar. If only. Fifty cents. I'd be richer than Oprah.
If. But. But it’s sunny today. Today at least, I get a brief remission in the symptoms of my seasonal affective disorder. If only it would stay this way.