There we were in our hotel room in Prague—much more sophisticated and glamorous than the sort we’d have booked for ourselves, to be sure, thanks to the tour organizers—and I looked up and saw this through the curtains on our window:
You know, naturally, that since we were in Prague, any promise of romance and adventure was bound to be fulfilled and, indeed, surpassed. A holiday of any sort is not to be shunned, generally speaking. But when I find myself in a city so marvelously compounded of history, mystery, drama and delight as Prague, I feel from the first glimpse of its thousand towers that frisson, that lovely shiver, presaging wonderful things not yet imagined even by me in my most vivid dreams.
There are endless supplies of guides on How To do something-or-anything; I’m more concerned with How Not to Do It. Much of the how-to tutorials seem aimed more at giving us a gloss of respectability in the subject, a sort of facade of excellence, than actual, practical depth. Expertise is, obviously, a relative thing, after all. It’s not all that hard to be considered an expert in or at something that is very rare or an extremely new discovery or invention: lack of exposure guarantees that few can have mastery. A whole lot more, however, is skill or knowledge that takes a dedicated effort to master to any level of real expertise.
My greatest expertise, if I can be said to have any, is probably in the category of performing ‘filler’ duties in most of the activities I try. Work as I may, I’m not likely to become great at most, and I seldom find learning anything all that easily or swiftly done. Being naturally lazy, I’m even less often found pursuing new knowledge and skills with great rigor and vigor just for their own sakes. So at best, I tend to end somewhere in the middle of the pack. I like to think of myself as the necessary delineator between the great and the mediocre.
All silliness aside, this seems to me an age in which we, collectively, have lost our appreciation for true expertise. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I get the sense that somewhere between the assumption that a speedy dash through Wikipedia will provide all the wisdom we need on any topic and our fascination with outliers—finding the novelty of savants and overnight sensations far more exciting than hardworking earned-doctorate intelligence—and the sense of entitlement our privileged modern existence gives us, we lose touch with the value of elbow grease and passion.
I wasn’t born either brilliant or extraordinarily gifted, and I’m not ashamed of that. But it’d be a pity to go to my grave without having tried to improve on what few bits of intelligence and invention I do have. If I manage to do my best in the present and keep moving toward an elevated horizon, I may not change the world for the better by a single degree, but I will certainly have bettered myself and I might have the slightest chance of shedding a little light around me as I go.
Looks like I’d better get moving!
While the quiet of the evening draws its curtain on the noise
Day had clamored ’til its leaving, I will lie in calm and poise,
Gently as a bed of lilies bends in summer’s kindest breeze,
As the cat turns, curling, ’til he’s found his pose of greatest ease;
While the dusk falls, silent, deeper into night, my eyelids close
Heavily…I’m soon a sleeper in the stillest of repose…
Midnight finds me softly dreaming, all the day’s loud clatter gone,
‘Til birds chatter at the streaming light of the approaching dawn
While I lie in silent dozing where no sound comes breaking through,
All that shouted ceases, closing restive lips—and spirits, too,
Slip like shades and never flutter more than deepest sleeping sends
To the surface from the utter place of healing and amends;
I will rest here in the solace and the silence so supreme
Cadence at Evening
Slow as the settling of the sun
Upon the western shore and lees
Where nightingales call from the trees,
Watching the honeyed daylight run—
Slow as the shifting motes of time
That sift and spin in lamp-lit rays,
Fall lazily to dust and haze
And love, ineffably sublime—
Slow as the sleeping breath when dreams
Have ceased, and thought receded to
The farthest corners, shaded blue
To inky black, to flow in streams—
Slow as the silently locked door
Was, to admit all at the last
Where wonder waits that, long held fast,
Now pulls us inward evermore—
Battlements Better Breached
In the windows, down the rooftops, through the stonework of her walls,
All the shadows gone at midday, softly as an echo falls,
Whispered secrets came to haunt her, spoken like a jailer’s dream
Though the sun would flame and flourish and the loneliness extreme
Drove her near the brink of madness, still she boarded up her heart;
All the same, away with sadness! Every ending is the start
Of a different adventure—little did our lady know
That her fortress wouldn’t save her, with its brave protective show,
But when breached and doors thrown open, halls filled up with ringing song,
She’d be rescued by companions she’d been fearful of so long.
Hospitality and kindness, love and great companion friends
Altogether bring salvation: joy is where this story ends.
Every one of us is said to be, like a snowflake, incomparable and magically, perfectly unique. The parade we saw this summer passing below our balcony was a dazzling reminder of this truth: hundreds of marchers, players, riders, movers, shakers and dancers were in the four-hour parade that wound through the city streets, and hundreds of thousands lined the route, and even the groups dressed in matching costumes or uniforms were groups of wonderfully individual characters.Our privileged hotel perch, though, highlighted the even greater beauty of the masses. The acute angle of the early sun gave sharp and shapely shadows to everyone in the crowd, and every single one of those shadows was the same color–grey. The shadows, like the people, were of an infinitely varied range in shape and movement and each attached only to him who cast it, but every shadow darkened the area near its maker in just the same way as everybody else’s. We may be unlike each other in nearly endless ways, but in some ways we are still all truly alike. It was lovely to see our differences and our commonalities literally on parade.