Higher Living Reflections

Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, 

         Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray; 

Along the cool sequester’d vale of life 

         They kept the noiseless tenor of their way. 

Was it in high school or college I first read Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”? Memory fails, but it became etched in my memory’s recesses.

The poem can be read on a couple levels. Primarily, it’s an elegy, a lament about the many who spent their lives in obscurity without having had the opportunity to live an accomplished life most likely because they weren’t born into privilege. Thus, they didn’t experience…

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, / And all that beauty, all that wealth, e’er gave

Those lines resonate today in a culture in which enough is never enough.

The other level the poem can be read is a meditation on the solitude and serenity of the pastoral life.

The first line, read as a stand-alone, speaks to it:

            Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, 

That resonates today in this frenzied, maddening world of vehicle and media blaring noise. The hubbub, the din, the swirling chaos that passes for the good life. Helter-skelter, get it done, and get going on the next project already begun that now demands attention.

Thus, the yearning to escape the ignoble strife of the busy, swarming society constantly on the go but going nowhere. But, can it be done? Can one lose him/herself in, surrender him/herself to an un-madding life?

Last summer, I made a wondrous cross-country road trip, wondrous in all aspects save one. Upon return, I wrote a column for the Clear Creek Courant, which included this anecdote:

“My journey continued eventually toward Virginia where I committed a major faux pas by following my car GPS rather than my friend’s instructions to take the back roads to his place outside of Washington D.C. I found myself in the thick of the D.C. beltway traffic, which served an enlightening purpose despite its withering assault on my psyche.

“I watched my fellow humans well-encased and protected in private personnel carriers, mostly singly occupied like mine, inching and crawling turtle-like. I decided I was the only smart driver on I-495 and others were the problem. Of course, my neighboring drivers had concluded the same about me, that I was the idiot, the one causing the nightmare.

“How could any human do this, I wondered? How could anyone maintain his/her sanity and humanity under such mind-numbing conditions? I concluded they couldn’t, that only by dehumanizing others, could one survive.

“As I sat, inched, crawled, and sat again, taking two and half hours to cover 30 miles, the root of our national dis-ease dawned on me. It’s neither immigration, same-sex marriage, the increasing disparity in wealth, nor any other social-political issue. It’s soul-crushing rush-hour traffic.”

A cemetery is not likely the usual place one visits to escape modern madness or to find a place of solitude for reflection and meditation. But it offers a refuge as well as serving as a subtle reminder about living life to the fullest, pursuing dreams while one can, but making time to detach from the ignoble strife of the madding crowd. For as Gray notes, when it’s said and done, even…

The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

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