One fine, foggy morning not long ago, I visited a nonscheduled ruin off the beaten path in a semi-formal investigation of how “common folk” lived through the historical period. As I surveyed what was left of the Croft-styled, three-room cottage of which local records indicate goes back to at least the 1600s, I couldn’t help but reflect on those who once called these ruins home. Four hundred years can pack a lot of lifetimes into a place and with them, heaps of joy and sorrow as deep as the stones that piled high along the walls. For many of us, human life plays between the two like the pendulum of a clock, a continuous back and forth that comes to rest on a high or low only to swing back again; but it is between these highs and lows where we live most our life. What exists in between is the “daily grind” of making a living and maintaining or pursuing relationships, all of which go through a body that gets older; though there is a memory of youth, it is far-off, distant, like a face of a friend whose details can no longer be recollected.
Those who once lived here are gone now. I am a stranger to them, more so than they to me, for at least I have a few broken bits that point to the lives they once lived. As I sift through their past, I realise I am sifting through what was once their present, a life that was as important to them as mine is to me and this draws me closer to a profound realisation. I live a life not different from theirs, a life that swings on the pendulum between highs and lows, between moments of joy and pangs of sorrow. Still, I can only glimpse how they lived, not how they thought.
I find a flat stone to sit upon, taking in the quietude of the woods around me. A pheasant’s squawk from the farmer’s field nearby breaks the silence like a fish breaking the surface of a still water, but only for a moment for the silence rushes back to fill the hole and I am once again pondering lives lived. In honesty, it is my own life to which I seek answers and my presence here at these ruins is in some way a yearning to ask the ones who lived here before to help me unravel the mystery. Is there more than the pendulum? Is there more than to swing back and forth between the opposites?
I spy a hand cut nail between the crevice of two stones; rusted and bent, it holds a timeless beauty in its irregularities and reflects the simple elegance of the blacksmith. What started as a piece of cold iron took shape in the blacksmith’s fire, his hammer shaping and reshaping until a nail was revealed. Like for those who passed this way before, perhaps the pendulum does not have to be our destination. Perhaps the mediocrity of our lives has become a kind of security blanket; we have become afraid to let the fires of life reshape us into something more. We have become accustomed to a life of mediocrity where only the moments of joy and sorrow tell us we are alive.
What if we simply let go of the pendulum we have inadvertently come to see as our life? What then becomes of us? Like the fledgling bird that trusts its wings, perhaps all we have to do is jump.