Let’s begin with William Wordsworth, specifically his familiar sonnet The World is Too Much With Us:
The world is too much with us; late and soon
Getting and spending we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
Composed in 1802, the poem is Wordsworth’s rifle shot in iambic pentameter at the Industrial Revolution and mankind’s obsession with decadent materialism and its total disregard for Nature, always spelled with a capital “N.” It’s a fatalistic assessment that despairs our inability to get in touch with nature in order to make spiritual progress. Now hold that thought…
…And add to it, Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane’s classic rock anthem from the late 1960s, White Rabbit. It’s one long crescendo that includes these lines:
And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall…
This, of course, brings us, to our old friend the March Hare, Lewis Carroll’s slightly dotty rabbit who is always consulting his watch because he is perpetually late for Wonderland’s on-going tea party. In the classic Disney telling of the tale, he’s the one who’s goes rushing by, worrying:
“I’m late! I’m late!
For a very important date.
No time to say, Hello! Goodbye!
I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!”
Still with me? Is this going somewhere?
Here’s my point: I think we all might be feeling a little like the March Hare these days or maybe like my friend’s dog Sabre who loves to chase his tail. We’re desperately trying to make sense of a world gone haywire. A global pandemic, climate chaos, political schisms—these days, everything just seems out of sync. We’re caught up in Wordsworth’s rued world, one that’s far “too much with us,” one in which we’re perpetually late to the tea party and the end just seems inevitable: we know we’re going to fall. Is there any way out of this?
I think so. We need to take better care of ourselves. As busy as we are, we need to make time to breathe. Last week, after the chores were done, my wife looked at me and said, “Let’s take our books and go to our little beach.” So we threw two folding chairs, our towels, and a couple of tumblers of ice tea in the car, and headed off to a Bay-side spot we know about twenty-five minutes away. The place was deserted. It was a bright sunny day with just a baby’s breath of breeze. For a few hours we sat quietly together. Maybe we dozed or maybe we just watched the September sun sparkling on the water. In the distance, a little sailboat made gentle headway, not really going anywhere, just at one with the blue water. An eagle flew by. I walked the shoreline. But for the lapping of the tiny waves against the shore, there was complete and utter stillness. For a moment, time ground to a halt: we had no tea party to attend, no rabbits to chase.
When we returned home, my wife said to me, “I feel like I’ve been on a two-week vacation. We should do that more often.” And she was right.
Self care is important; even a little can go a long way. There’s a lot going on out there; it’s all-too-easy to lose sight of what’s really important. Like Wordsworth, we need to “glimpse something to make (us) less forlorn.” We spend far too much time worrying about what is and not enough time thinking about what could be. We can do better.
I started with William Wordsworth but I want to end with Mary Ann Evans, aka George Eliot, a magnificent novelist of the Victorian era. Here’s her advice:
It’s never too late to become the person you might have been.
Think about that.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown, MD. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com