Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In the Dust of a Little Chair

Perhaps one of my favorite poets is Eugene Field.  As a 19th century American writer, he found his niche after traveling many roads in writing children's poems.  One of his most famous works is "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" which is one of our nightly readings.  There are two reasons that I can think of as to why his work resonates with me: 1- these were the poems that were read to me as a child; 2- his talent is in taking a larger narrative and writing it in a way that a child can understand.

He died at the age of 45 leaving behind a strong legacy of published work.  My favorite poem is "Little Boy Blue" (also known as "Dog and Soldier" to my son) which captures the feelings of loss he experienced upon the death of one of his children.  While this is one experience that I pray never to encounter, his words allow me the insight to cherish everyday I have with my child.

by: Eugene Field (1850-1895)
      HE little toy dog is covered with dust,
      But sturdy and staunch he stands;
      And the little toy soldier is red with rust,
      And his musket moulds in his hands.
      Time was when the little toy dog was new,
      And the soldier was passing fair;
      And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
      Kissed them and put them there.
      "Now, don't you go till I come," he said,
      "And don't you make any noise!"
      So, toddling off to his trundle-bed,
      He dreamt of the pretty toys;
      And, as he was dreaming, an angel song
      Awakened our Little Boy Blue--
      Oh! the years are many, the years are long,
      But the little toy friends are true!
      Ay, faithful to Little Boy Blue they stand,
      Each in the same old place,
      Awaiting the touch of a little hand,
      The smile of a little face;
      And they wonder, as waiting the long years through
      In the dust of that little chair,
      What has become of our Little Boy Blue,
      Since he kissed them and put them there.

Pretty, right?  The delicate nature of this prose tells of the great love we all have for those close to us.  As with everything in life, the more I read this poem, the more I understand it on different levels.  Upon closer reading, I find that the real sadness of this poem is not found in the loss of a child but in the loss of a dream.

How many of us have had a special wish or goal that was dear to our hearts only to have it whisked away by some other force?  Have we loved an idea or possibility so much that when it was gone we stayed in place waiting for it to return?  I know that I have.  The "ruts" of my life have come from when I think that something I lost is going to come back to me.  Whether this lost item is love, a job, an apology, schooling, a friend or even just a reward for hard work, the real sadness isn't in the loss of the object, but in the waiting for its return.

Let me be clear about something-- I am not advocating for a person to "get over" the loss of a child or loved one, for that is a tragedy that I cannot fathom.  I assert that we must not allow the dust of life to settle on us while waiting for the arrival of something that is gone.  I know that I have lost many years of my life thinking that someone else would discover my talents; I have lost many hours/days/weeks/months in anger thinking that someone else would apologize for what they said or did to me.  I have lost time sitting in that proverbial chair dreaming of the good-old-days, and I can never get that time back.

Shake off the dust and climb down from the chair!  We cannot go back, but we can determine our future.  You see, the real sadness found in "Little Boy Blue" isn't in the description of sorrow felt by the dog and soldier but in their abandonment of their own lives.

I submit that it is never too late, we are never too old, and the time is never better than right now to live.