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Worldly Ways and Byways (chapter 40)

2006-07-09 20:43

  CHAPTER     40- Introspection *

  THE close of a year must bring even to the careless and the least  inclined toward self-inspection, an hour of thoughtfulness, a desire to  glance back across the past, and set one's mental house in order, before  starting out on another stage of the journey for that none too distant  bourne toward which we all are moving.

  * December thirty-first,     .  Our minds are like solitary dwellers in a vast residence, whom habit  has accustomed to live in a few only of the countless chambers around  them. We have collected from other parts of our lives mental furniture and  bric-a-brac that time and association have endeared to us, have installed  these meagre belongings convenient to our hand, and contrived an  entrance giving facile access to our living-rooms, avoiding the effort of a  long detour through the echoing corridors and disused salons behind. No  acquaintances, and but few friends, penetrate into the private chambers of  our thoughts. We set aside a common room for the reception of visitors,  making it as cheerful as circumstances will allow and take care that the  conversation therein rarely turns on any subject more personal than the  view from the windows or the prophecies of the barometer.

  In the old-fashioned brick palace at Kensington, a little suite of rooms  is carefully guarded from the public gaze, swept, garnished and tended as  though the occupants of long ago were hourly expected to return. The  early years of England's aged sovereign were passed in these simple  apartments and by her orders they have been kept unchanged, the furniture  and decorations remaining to-day as when she inhabited them. In one  corner, is assembled a group of dolls, dressed in the quaint finery of     .  A set of miniature cooking utensils stands near by. A child's scrap-books  and color-boxes lie on the tables. In one sunny chamber stands the little  white-draped bed where the heiress to the greatest crown on earth dreamed  her childish dreams, and from which she was hastily aroused one June  morning to be saluted as Queen. So homelike and livable an air pervades  the place, that one almost expects to see the lonely little girl of seventy  years ago playing about the unpretending chambers.

  Affection for the past and a reverence for the memory of the dead have  caused the royal wife and mother to preserve with the same care souvenirs  of her passage in other royal residences. The apartments that sheltered the  first happy months of her wedded life, the rooms where she knew the joys  and anxieties of maternity, have become for her consecrated sanctuaries,  where the widowed, broken old lady comes on certain anniversaries to  evoke the unforgotten past, to meditate and to pray.

  Who, as the year is drawing to its close, does not open in memory  some such sacred portal, and sit down in the familiar rooms to live over  again the old hopes and fears, thrilling anew with the joys and temptations  of other days? Yet, each year these pilgrimages into the past must become  more and more lonely journeys; the friends whom we can take by the hand  and lead back to our old homes become fewer with each decade. It would  be a useless sacrilege to force some listless acquaintance to accompany us.  He would not hear the voices that call to us, or see the loved faces that  people the silent passages, and would wonder what attraction we could  find in the stuffy, old-fashioned quarters.

  Many people have such a dislike for any mental privacy that they pass  their lives in public, or surrounded only by sporting trophies and games.  Some enjoy living in their pantries, composing for themselves succulent  dishes, and interested in the doings of the servants, their companions.  Others have turned their salons into nurseries, or feel a predilection for the  stable and the dog-kennels. Such people soon weary of their surroundings,  and move constantly, destroying, when they leave old quarters, all the  objects they had collected.

  The men and women who have thus curtailed their belongings are,  however, quite contented with themselves. No doubts ever harass them as  to the commodity or appropriateness of their lodgements and look with  pity and contempt on friends who remain faithful to old habitations. The  drawback to a migratory existence, however, is the fact that, as a French  saying has put it, CEUX QUI SE REFUSENT LES PENSEES  SERIEUSES TOMBENT DANS LES IDEES NOIRES. These people are  surprised to find as the years go by that the futile amusements to which  they have devoted themselves do not fill to their satisfaction all the hours

  of a lifetime. Having provided no books nor learned to practise any art, the  time hangs heavily on their hands. They dare not look forward into the  future, so blank and cheerless does it appear. The past is even more  distasteful to them. So, to fill the void in their hearts, they hurry out into  the crowd as a refuge from their own thoughts.

  Happy those who care to revisit old abodes, childhood's remote wing,  and the moonlit porches where they knew the rapture of a first-love  whisper. Who can enter the chapel where their dead lie, and feel no blush  of self-reproach, nor burning consciousness of broken faith nor wasted  opportunities? The new year will bring to them as near an approach to  perfect happiness as can be attained in life's journey. The fortunate mortals  are rare who can, without a heartache or regret, pass through their disused  and abandoned dwellings; who dare to open every door and enter all the  silent rooms; who do not hurry shudderingly by some obscure corners, and  return with a sigh of relief to the cheerful sunlight and murmurs of the  present.

  Sleepless midnight hours come inevitably to each of us, when the  creaking gates of subterranean passages far down in our consciousness  open of themselves, and ghostly inhabitants steal out of awful vaults and  force us to look again into their faces and touch their unhealed wounds. An  old lady whose cheerfulness under a hundred griefs and tribulations was a  marvel and an example, once told a man who had come to her for counsel  in a moment of bitter trouble, that she had derived comfort when  difficulties loomed big around her by writing down all her cares and  worries, making a list of the subjects that harassed her, and had always  found that, when reduced to material written words, the dimensions of her  troubles were astonishingly diminished. She recommended her procedure  to the troubled youth, and prophesied that his anxieties would dwindle  away in the clear atmosphere of pen and paper.

  Introspection, the deliberate unlatching of closed wickets, has the same  effect of stealing away the bitterness from thoughts that, if left in the  gloom of semi-oblivion, will grow until they overshadow a whole life. It is  better to follow the example of England's pure Queen, visiting on certain  anniversaries our secret places and holding communion with the past, for

  it is by such scrutiny only


  Those who have courage to perform thoroughly this task will come  out from the silent chambers purified and chastened, more lenient to the  faults and shortcomings of others, and better fitted to take up cheerfully  the burdens of a new year.

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