The English writer William Wordsworth (1770–1850), in his pastoral poem The Oak and The Broom, wrote the following lines:
I know, and I have known it long;
Frail is the bond by which we hold
Our being, whether young or old,
Wise, foolish, weak, or strong.
Disasters, do the best we can,
Will reach both great and small;
And he is oft the wisest man,
Who is not wise at all.
The speaker in this poem is a broom plant, which is responding to the taunts of the nearby oak tree that had mocked it for the apparent frailty of its form and for providing wayward shepherd boys with a soft bed on which to sleep. The broom plant’s reply highlighted the joy it found in interacting with the insects, birds and animals with whom it shared each season throughout the year. It looked for these joy-filled snatches among the challenges of the larger changes brought by each passing season in its world, be it the heat of summer, the frost of winter, the energy of springtime or the slowing of autumn. By the end of that poem it was the broom which remained, as the oak in its unbending pride had fallen before the sudden onslaught of a winter storm.
Solomon, a wiser man than any in his day, urged all who would listen to find something positive in their lives wherever that life would lead. “So I commend the enjoyment of life,” he says in Ecclesiastes chapter 8 verse 15 (NIV), “because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.”
Some days that joy may not dominate. Some days life may seem futile, an endless repetition of the same routine lived amid the same walls echoing the same sounds from the lives of those nearby. Focusing on this highlights the futility and the pain of living, making it hard to see the subtly of the blessings that are still there in life. Amid that cycle there is still the opportunity to touch and to try a smile, to hold a hand or share a memory, listen to a distant bird or smell a scented leaf or flower.
Seeking the joy of the day will not make its challenges any less serious or any less real. But blessings and joy can exist at the same time as misfortune and sorrow. Finding joy among the little things may not remove the sense of struggle, but it will help to ease that burden. Sharing a hug changes the view – and how large is a hug, really? Warmth from the sun, or the colour of an autumn leaf, can both awaken memories to distract from the present, or simply bring pleasure to the moment.
The little broom plant and King Solomon both faced their lives with a certainty that they would find each day something to enjoy and both found it.
In what little thing will you find joy today?
– Stuart Muir, Pastoral Care and Community Services Manager, Corporate Services