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Category: Blog

A few weeks ago in a fit of overweening vanity I assembled all of the blogs I had written for www.niebuhrgathering.com  into a book.  As a rational restraint on my vanity, the print run was one copy. 

The process of assembling, formatting, etc., was, however, salutary.  I didn’t keep a precise count, but in those blogs I mentioned MANY times that I felt a sense of urgency about getting through the list of family history projects which I had set myself to complete.

It is true.  I do feel urgency.  But seeing the repeated reference to this feeling in material written for public consumption left me uncomfortable.  Age is having its toll, to be sure, on both body and mind, but surely I did not need to inflict my concern in that regard on any chance reader?

Rather than apologizing for my feeling I want to delve into what is going on.  Yes, I’m getting old.  Yes, with age has come a lengthening list of acute and chronic health issues.

Tennyson’s Ulysses has given me the words to express my emotional conundrum.

I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end.
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

It seems, not for the first time, that a poet has expressed more powerfully than I could, what I feel:

How dull it is to pause, to make an end.
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!

Working on family histories gives me the feeling of shining in use, rather than rusting unburnished.  I recall my beloved mother-in-law talking about not feeling useful, and my quoting to her a passage from Carolyn Heilbrun’s book The Last Gift of Time, to the effect that the use of the elderly is to demonstrate to younger people that there comes a time when the tempestuous times of youth and middle years are ended and a state of calm and serenity is achieved, all storms passed.

           But that doesn’t feel to me like enough. There has to be something more than just serenity, and for now at least it feels that the something should be productivity, in some form.

The books I produce, in which I make the lives of the family past and present accessible to the young of the family, may not even be read by the young.  That doesn’t seem to be relevant.  But  there might be someone, a great-grandchild perhaps, in the next century, who will feel as I do about the value of making the past accessible.  That is a feeling I have had myself about material which came to my hands from almost two centuries ago, written by my great-grandfather.  Making it and similar material from all sources accessible is worthwhile, and I do not in consequence rust unburnished.

And then there was my paternal grandmother who said to me when I was a child,

Count that day lost whose low descending sun

Views from thy hand no worthy action done.

I have no attribution for that couplet.  Wikipedia says the author is anonymous.  Too bad.  This too captures my feeling, that every day there must be something accomplished which does not have to be repeated tomorrow.  That is, something which moves my life forward day by day, not just living through the same day over and over.

            The feeling of urgency arises from the sense that I waste more and more days as time goes on, living the same day over and over rather than moving forward.  Clearly I am not ready to seek that achievement of serenity praised by Heilbrun.  So I will go on writing.

                                                                                          Roberta Rivett