Dickens begins A Tale of Two Cities with the brilliant rhetorical flourish of the opening paragraph:
“It was the best of times, it was 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. “
From its opening statement A Tale of Two Cities moves us through a world of paradox and contradiction. Dickens sees the need for revolution but recognizes the dangers of mass action. Like the romantics, he sees a new world and a new vision coming through the spiritual revolution of the individual.
We are currently in a time of paradox and contradiction as we face the historic Presidential election of 2016. Like Dickens, I’d like to make some noise today about what we can do to have our own personal and social individual revolution…
A Tale of Discontent
Rosemary came over for tea last week. A neighbor in her ninth decade whose husband died almost a year ago, she is bitter about the last eight years of caring for him through Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
As we enjoyed tea and cookies on the patio she shared the pain of her plight. I heard all about her financial woes, the need for selling her house, her own forgetfulness, her children’s concern, her anger about her life situation and her desire to have the anguish over.
She saw nothing in life to be thankful for. She saw nothing in life to smile about. She saw nothing in life about which to be joyful or grateful. No amount of curiosity on my part could trigger a spark of happiness. Most of us, upon questioning and reflecting, can find a peep of hope, a smile of recognition, or a touch of thanks. Not Rosemary.
Her dog Lucky came with her to play with Bentley and Beau during tea. Poor Lucky is old and blind, but she did fine maneuvering her way around the lawn furniture and fire pit. Her resilience and perseverance were present and there for Rosemary to see. But she missed it while in her own not-so- private victimitis. I felt an overwhelming sadness and helplessness when she parted, not receiving much of the caring and hope we wanted to send across the street with her.
A Tale of Bliss
About an hour later we saw Annie through the fence petting Bentley and Beau. I invited her over for tea. At 86, Annie had just finished her afternoon yoga routine. She walks every morning, does yoga in the afternoon and reads voraciously on the patio.
Two weeks ago she returned from a 5 week trip to Montreal with family and an exploration of southern Italy. She talked of the peace of the country villa, the joy of the seaside, her need for some alone time without the irritation of not being able to get it, and the inspiration of Italy.
We laughed with delight as we roamed the world of shared tales over tea. Annie spoke of her ex-husband’s infidelity – who knows how that wandered into our Dicken’s-like talk of humanity. The overwhelming sense of life I got from tea with Annie was her acceptance of life and her interest in learning from life and being at her best.
“…the best of times and…the worst of times…the season of Light and…the season of Darkness…” Rosemary and Annie, both in their eighties, both with years of experiences, but a single difference of being at your best, no matter what the circumstances, is what makes an individual revolution.
We could use an epoch of being at our best. We could use an epoch of learning from our mistakes and growing from our circumstances. We could leave behind Rosemary’s winter of discontent and embrace Annie’s spring of hope.
Your Individual Tale
Which tale do you prefer? Which action and attitude will you choose? Will you have your own revolution, confront your shadow and embrace your positive spirit of hope?
Our Country’s Tale
Will the United States choose individual revolutions by each of us coming out of this electoral season and moving into a season of Light, an epoch of individual best, and a spring of hope?