Columbus, Ohio USA
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Advice From Dr. Seuss
By Tom Thomson
July/August 2014 Issue
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To the merriment of the creationists, it must be admitted that not a solitary soul knows for sure how the Earth was formed. I close my eyes and try to picture a cosmic event of such colossal magnitude, but my imagination falters, falls on its face.
It is difficult enough for me to imagine the coupling of my own parents and my resulting birth, so how can I expect to visualize the creation of universes, stars, and solar systems?
I look out from the Earth at the stars and everything seems reassuringly in place. The dark starlit sky is elegant and serene, a fantastic backdrop for the drama of humanity, a piece of stage magic capable of conjuring up gods and goddesses, not to speak of mammals and birds, dragons, scorpions, and a whole menagerie of other creatures.
Except for the occasional meteor that disintegrates with a whisper or stifled murmur, sidereal space is soundless, emitting not so much as the squeak of a celestial hinge. It is all illusion, and I am a sitting duck, a babe in the woods, my ingenuousness intact.
In my imagination, I fly back 6,000 years to the Euphrates Valley, gawk with the best of the stargazers and wizards. But, then, I pull up short. “You can’t kid a kidder,” I once heard my mother say to the manager of a supermarket. She was taking something back, something or other that she wasn’t satisfied with and she wanted her money refunded. That’s the way I am. I keep taking things back. It’s ingrained, inherited, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
It’s difficult enough consoling myself with the thought that the earth is a mere speck revolving around a third-rate star and that I am but one of over 7 billion fidgety and uneasy inhabitants on this sphere, stuck here, looking up and out.
I’m reminded of the woman Annie Dillard quotes in her book Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek. “Seems like we were just set down here,” she remarked, “and don’t nobody know why.” I can relate to that.
Yet, I don’t want to be like the middle-aged woman I saw one summer day walking down the street talking to herself. Every now and then she would stop in her tracks, wave her arms, and stare directly up at the sun. I mean, for ten or fifteen seconds at a time.
“Don’t think I don’t know you’re up there,” she shouted. “Ol’ Devil, I know you’re up there in your city of flame.”
Then she would walk a little farther, stop again, stare directly at the sun, and continue her harangue. “Devil, I know you’re up there! You can’t fool me!”
I walked up to her and said, “Lady, you shouldn’t stare at the sun like that. You’ll go blind.”
It was as if I wasn’t there, hadn’t said a word. She continued down the street, stopping every now and then, repeating her
performance. I shudder at the physical harm she was doing to herself, destroying her eyes and, probably, her brain.
But, then, I shake off these kinds of memories, try to pull myself together. In spite of unanswered questions, I know that everything is all right for the simple reason that I care and, as a bonus, I have love in my heart. It is the same love that lures me to the endless night sky. It is the love that enables me to talk to the stars and the moon. The same love that makes the world go round. That, and the fact that I sometimes wear a hat with a blue jay feather stuck in the band. And, I whistle a lot.
So I go through life, whistling in the dark, halfway contented that I am doing the best I can, halfway discontented that I am not doing nearly enough. Sometimes, in a peculiarly perverse way, like so many of my brethren, I rejoice at the shroud of mystery and ignorance that clouds the human experience and distorts the world about us into man-made images of self-acclaim.
Then, every once in a while, I come across true genius and the self-depreciating words of a truly great man. I read an article about Theodore Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, and how he was once awarded an honorary degree by Lake Forest College. They asked him to give a formal speech befitting the occasion.
“No,” he replied, “I won’t do that, but I will say a few words on the spur of the moment.” He kept his promise, and the
appreciative audience gave him a standing ovation when he was through. Here’s what he said:
My uncle ordered popovers
from the restaurant’s bill of fare.
And, when they were served,
he regarded them
with a penetrating stare.
Then he spoke great Words of Wisdom
as he sat there on that chair:
“To eat these things, said my uncle,
you must exercise great care.
You may swallow down what’s solid,
you must spit out the air!”
as you partake of the world’s bill of fare,
that’s darn good advice to follow.
Do a lot of spitting out the hot air,
And be careful what you swallow.
What a wonderful message that is, especially in this day of pompous politicians and cardboard corporate bigwigs with their pious prescriptions for what ails the world. And, to my mind, the last few lines of the poem provide a reliable antidote to the even more obnoxious spin doctors and their hocus-pocus, hoopla, and hogwash.
I’m reminded of George Orwell’s 1984 where pumped-up militaristic propaganda gives the boot to truth and decency.
So let’s hear it for Dr. Seuss!
Tom Thomson, founder of the Gazette, wrote this essay a number of years before his retirement. He’s acquired quite a few feathers in his cap since then, and at 90-years-old is still doing the best that he can.
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