Friday, August 14, 2015

Lente, lente

My freshman year of college, I took Latin. It was a tiny class -- four students -- and met in the professor's office. One boy had been in my fifth grade "gifted" class, where he conducted a yearlong investigation into the Loch Ness Monster. At eighteen, he read a lot of Tolkien and was fluent in the language of elves. We were both branching out.

Despite some vague idea that Latin would "come in handy," I was doing it for my own reasons. In my rural state college, a sense of lofty intellectual endeavor was hard to come by. Our professor was out of central casting -- an absent-minded gesticulator in a Fair Isle sweater -- and there was something satisfying about parsing Latin verbs at 8:30 a.m. It felt like school. 

We read Cicero, Tertullian, Ovid, Horace, Bede. Today I could not tell you the first thing about Latin grammar, but something of its rhythm -- the sound of the pithy aphorism -- stayed with me.

Abyssus abyssum invocat. 
(Deep calls to deep.)

Veritas odium paret.
(Truth creates hatred.)

Tarde venientibus ossa. 
(For those who come late, only the bones.) (Modern equivalent: You snooze, you lose.)

And one of my favorites;

Lente, lente currite noctis equi!
(Run slowly, slowly, horses of the night!)

* * * * 

For a long time after I graduated college, my actions seemed -- even to me -- to be of very little consequence. I could change jobs or move, go out or stay in, master the ancient Japanese tea ceremony or stay in bed all day with a tabloid and a bag of chips, with no discernible effect on anyone or anything.

Life was a weightless, dreamlike drift from one thing to the next. I was free to make snap decisions and act on any passing whim. Who cared?

All that changed when my son was born. From that day on, every life decision was important. Things were not going so well, and the motto I seized upon was "Lente, lente": No sudden moves. Or as Carl Jung put it:"Hurry is not of the devil; hurry is the devil."

The other day I was discussing this philosophy with Dave.

"I prefer tiny, incremental changes over a long period of time," I explained.

"That sounds like the frog in the boiling water," he remarked, "where the heat gets turned up so slowly, it doesn't realize it's being cooked."

"Yes," I agreed. "I want to be that frog."

(Image: "Sousse mosaic stud farm detail 01" by Ad Meskens - own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)