I was caused to introspect today, in part because I finished a book that I have been reading for the last week or so. I usually read just before going to sleep, but the author captured my imagination so much last night that I had to finish the book today. It was a tough read; about 300 pages after the 230 I had already put away. I am an inveterate reader; I have been since I was a child. Of the books that I have in my library, I think that it is safe to say that I have read 95% of them. There is something wonderful about watching another mind work until, of course, the story becomes so fascinating that the read becomes vicarious living, as did the final half of this book.
I write as well as read. I think that some people have concluded that I write because I love the sound of my fingers pattering away on my keyboard. Hence, both the length and the unintelligibly of my pieces. The truth is that I think that I have meaningful things to say, perhaps even unique things to say, and I wish to preserve them. I started out by producing reference books. I did many of these. After composing my 1200-page doctoral dissertation, I began a project of research that ended up as an eleven-volume glossary of J.R.R. Tolkien's invented languages. Since I could not remember for very long any one of the entries, I put each linguistic element into a computer file and eventual printed them all off. The main set of seven volumes can be found in libraries all over the world, even though there are less than 200 copies of the work. It is a wonderful thing to walk into a major library where my books are prominently displayed and recognize them for what they are.
I compilied other reference works after that, having to do with my professional pursuits. Again, there was a relatively small audience, but it tickled me every time I walked into a room where one of these rare volumes was shelved.
I have written poems and short stories, some of which have actually seen the light of day, published by people other than myself. I am grateful when editors have understood and valued my take on a notion. I have delivered papers in conferences throughout the United States, in Canada, and Great Britain, many of which have been published by appreciative audiences and societies. A Google of my full name will produced a list referencing about half of what I have done during the past fifty years. The results of this sort of search will produce a six to ten-page printout. I have thought myself fortunate to have lived in a day where I can write about blood diseases, art, music, and scriptures and have those ruminations be accessed by hundreds of people located in more than fifty nations around the world. It is easy to get just a little giddy thinking about the potential. However, my reading today snapped my emotional chain just a little.
Joseph Fort Newton, a prominent Mason, has stated,
"Time is a river and books are boats. Many volumes start down that stream, only to be wrecked and lost beyond recall in its sands. Only a few, a very few, endure the testings of time and live to bless the ages following. Tonight we are met to pay homage to the greatest of all books--the one enduring Book which has traveled down to us from the far past, freighted with the richest treasure that ever any book has brought to humanity. What a sight it is to see five hundred men gathered about an open Bible- -how typical of the spirit and genius of Masonry, its great and simple faith and its benign ministry to mankind."
I read a portion of this quote in Dan Brown's latest novel "The Lost Symbol", the book that I finished today. Dan only quoted the first three sentences in Newton's opening paragraph and was intent on making a point just a little different from that of its author. I thought that it was important that you feel the spirit of the original. I am not a Mason, but I know a great deal about its history. I have had close friends who were Masons, others who were members of the Eastern Star, DeMolay, and Job's Daughters. They invariably have been good people with high standards in their dealings with their fellow men. All of these observations about Freemasonry, however, constitute an unavoidable aside.... Pardon me for that.
After reading John Fort Newton's quote in Brown's book, I think that I had a bit of a reality check. I projected myself fifty years into the future. Which, if any, of my scribblings will remain among the children of men? Some of my works are nicely bound, but I am afraid that they will not endure the ravages of time. Time and again I have been reminded of this fact and yet I am inclined to forget it. I cannot bear the reality. In the end, the ruminations and philosophies of men, mine included, will fade on brittle paper, crumble and fall away into the elements from whence they come. Who in this world would see to the copying of anything that I have written? I have concluded that probably no one in their right mind would do so.
If my writing will not endure beyond a generation, what will be the significance of my life, the things that I have learned for myself, ideas that I wished to instill in the hearts and minds of other? I would like to believe that they are worthwhile, that I am worthwhile, that every sentient being on this planet is worthwhile. I have concluded that there is only one thing that can be done. I have shared as a parent; I have taught as a teacher. These I have done with joy; I may still do so in the venues left to me. If I have done well, something of myself has been imparted, one candle lighting another, that candle perhaps eventually igniting the wicks of hundreds of other candles. The only mortal legacy that we have to offer is a little point of light, a solitary life, one flickering flame that with a little effort can be the means of driving the darkness from this lost and fallen world.