Over the last fifteen years, I have written close to 200 “Looking Back” columns. The title of every one of them, up to now, has begun with the word “My.” But it’s not good to be too rigid, so this time is different, and I have changed the “My” to “Our.”
As I wrote last month, I am no philosopher. I am no biblical expert either, though I have read much of both the Old and New Testaments. I particularly like the Book of Ecclesiastes and have from time to time reminded the Pianist that “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong” (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Whenever I do so, she asks, “Who is it to?”
This part of the Old Testament contains other remarkable observations that challenge how we look at the world, and at life. For example, according to the wise person (or persons, as some believe) who went by the pseudonym Ecclesiastes, “it is better to enter a house of mourning than a house of feasting.” Now that’s something to think about as we approach the feast of Thanksgiving during a pandemic that has created over 240,000 American houses of mourning. And, regrettably, this is “a time to refrain,” not a “time to embrace.”
The Book also tells us that there is “a time to mourn” but also “a time to dance.” Even if one of these activities may be “better” than the other, fortunately there is time for both. And while there is “a time to weep,” there is also “a time to laugh.” So, Mr. Ecclesiastes, whoever he was, is not a complete spoilsport.
Some of the sayings are quite practical and down to earth. I like “a time to keep and a time to throw away,” although truth be told I have some difficulty with the latter. Not that I’m a hoarder, but I do tend to hang on to stuff and still have some clothes I started wearing back in the last century. Fortunately, most foods and medicines have expiration dates, so some decisions are out of my hands.
Then there’s “a time to be silent and a time to speak.” I’m not so good at the first part of that one either. One way I try and deal with that shortcoming is by using my left thumb and forefinger to pinch my lips and hold them together. It sounds silly, but it works.
If some of these biblical quotes sound familiar, it may be because you are have read the Old Testament. Or it may be that you are remembering the 1965 song “Turn! Turn! Turn,” sung by the Byrds. Pete Seeger usually came up with his own lyrics, as he did in “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “If I Had a Hammer,” but in this particular case he cribbed from the Bible, which has no copyright protection. The “Turn” song made it to Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
Speaking of Pete Seeger, another song he didn’t write (Woodie Guthrie did), but that he sang more than anyone, has been rambling around in my head for the last week. “This land is your land, this land is my land … This land was made for you and me.”
Ecclesiastes’ words can be understood in different ways, but what I see and hear in them is both wisdom and a degree of optimism. He believed, as I do, that there is “a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”
This piece is not about “Looking Back.” I’m looking ahead, and I can think of no better way to end this post-election column than with two of the most important activities “under heaven”—there is “a time to build,” and there is “a time to heal.”
Joseph D. Steinfield lives in Keene and Jaffrey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2020