Something Old, Something New

adult affection baby child
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Sadly, it seems to be in our nature that wherever we find a distinction between two entities, we almost invariably set them in opposition to one another. We hear of the battle of the sexes, of ongoing racial discrimination, of citizens divided down party lines. Battle, discriminate, divide. These are not passive words for merely identifying differences between each other, these are phrases suggesting fundamental opposition and inevitable hostile action.

If that is not enough, the tension is ratcheted up still further because we also happen to love and need each other. We are social beings, existing within families, communities, and nations, but all these conglomerations will result in our contrasts being awkwardly smashed together. To eradicate those that are different from us would only be self-destructive to our entire social ecosystem, but to preserve them will be a source of constant friction.

Of course this is the stuff that drama is made of! The very lifeblood of literature itself. I could quite easily dedicate an entire post to each of these human differences and explore how they relate to stories. Perhaps one day I will. For now, though, I want to focus on a very specific instance: that of the older generation in contrast to the newer.

I choose this subject because it has always with us and yet remains so rife with confusion and mixed feelings. We love our children and we love our parents. They truly are a part of us, and yet we constantly have fundamental disagreements as well. Why is that? Let’s take a look at some classic stories and see if they can’t shed any light on this phenomenon of humanity.

 

Youth)

First there are stories which are from the perspective of the rising generation trying to shake off the harmful traditions of the past. Surely there is no more famed example of this than Romeo and Juliet. Here the hate of the fathers is literally killing the children, stifling out all of the passion and energy that they burn with.

The parents in Shakespeare’s story seem to suggest that after a certain age we become set in our ways, and perhaps not for the better. Three-year-olds can be mortal enemies one moment, and then five minutes later all is forgiven and they are friends again. After a certain age setting aside old wounds doesn’t come so easily anymore, and blood feuds last forever.

Romeo and Juliet asks why should the children inherit the flaws and prejudices of their parents, though? It just grumbling that our parents are uncool, you understand, it’s that they are actually damaging us and we can do things better. In fact that is the pattern of the world. Our ancestors had slavery, they had terrible plagues, they had mass illiteracy. Humanity evolved past these limitations through the sequential improvements of one new generation after another. Now it’s the current youth’s turn to take it a step further. And if we can’t…well then maybe the poison is our only remaining choice, Romeo.

What is it that Romeo and Juliet tells us the rising generation wants? In a word: improvement.

 

Elder)

The older generation’s perspective, meanwhile, is often represented in stories as the elders steering the impetuous and naïve youth from their own self-destruction. There is an excellent example of this in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. Here the tenets of tradition are being challenged on a macro level by the world at large, and on the micro level by Topol’s three eldest daughters. These young women are choosing their hearts over duty, embracing foreign philosophies, and even rejecting the foundations of their faith.

It’s not the younger generation means to be hurtful, it’s just that they seem to take their way of life for granted. They do not see that that life is a precarious tower of blocks that will topple if too many pieces are removed. All of the elders’ cautions go unheeded, though, and their predictions come to tragic fruition when those same foreign philosophies and cultures drive them from their homes, booting them out like the traditions they were built on.

From this perspective slavery, the plague, and illiteracy may indeed have been overcome in the past, but these are not beasts that once slain can never return. If we aren’t careful, it is entirely possible that we’ll undo all those advances and revert to a lower form of life.

The older generation wants the younger one to acknowledge that they have hard-earned wisdom to offer. To accept that they accomplished some tremendous things, and did so without setting aside their morals and principles. It wants the children to use their foundation and build off of that. To not have to relearn the same lessons over and over.

What is it that the Fiddler on the Roof tells us the older generation wants? In a word: stability.

 

Something in Between)

So what is it? Are we shaking off the antiquated and dangerous methods of the past and becoming the smartest, strongest, kindest generation yet? Or are we trifling with relics we don’t understand, slipping into moral depravity, and sliding back towards the evilest generations yet?

In The Last Grasshopper I described how it was necessary for the previous generation to clear the way for the new, to leave a space for them to fill and iterate on. However I also made the point that the next generation sprouts only from the seeds that that previous generation planted. The story was meant to suggest there needs to be a harmony of both foundation and change.

Because in the end, as I suggested before, we really do depend on one another. We cannot exist without the previous generation and we cannot perpetuate our existence without the next. Stories most frequently tell of conflicts between two sides, one that is good and one that is bad. But in this we forget that what we more commonly see in this world is conflicts between members of the same good side.

The friction between our differences is not meant to drive us towards that conflict, but rather to refine each other into something mutually better. After all, neither of the two generations’ desires that we mentioned above, improvement or stability, are wrong desires to have. Both are worth pursuing, but if the pursuit of either is too reckless or too stringent, it will jeopardize the other. The trick is working together to find the right compromise by which both can be secured. It is a two-way street, but when both sides are able to fully appreciate the validity in the other, only then can they realize that they are able to work together for the improvement of all.

 

In my next story I wish to look more closely at this idea of two sides locked in a duality of opposing, yet needing, one another. Specifically I will give a scene of a father and a son in deepest moral conflict, and all because of their mutual love for one another. That piece will be up this next Thursday, I’ll see you then!

The Last Grasshopper

closeup photo of brown grasshopper
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Once the fields had been green and lush, covered by tall blades of grass rolling in the wind. Now they were scattered over only by the occasional dry stalks: brown, brittle and crackling under every chilly breeze. These remaining sentinels pointed up to skies that were overcast and perpetually stormy, a curtain of gray broken only by the occasional crack of lightning and thunder.

Across these fields’ shriveled husks there crawled a single warden, an old and weathered grasshopper. Of all the changes that it had experienced, it was this solitude that struck it as the most strange. For though it had been born in a time when the earth was still new, when flowers were in bloom and water was running, it had not witnessed any of this at the first. Instead it had been hatched within the ground, buried among the masses.

There the first life it had known had been dark and churning. The entire universe seemed a rolling, crawling mass. Its brothers and sisters were innumerable, swarming and pressing it, urging it to claw upwards, to chew through pod and earth, to climb until at last it burst out into the air and greeted its first sunrise.

Here at last it had stumbled upon the nature of its reality, to exist suspended between two great infinites. There was that of the never-ending depths beneath, the earth of its birth. There was that of the ongoing expanses above, the sky that it would dissipate into at the other end of life. Between those two extremes it would dwell: crawling, hopping, and flying, ever wavering between the two yet never fully belonging to either.

What it did belong to was the community. Each new day saw another geyser of small white nymphs like itself bubbling out from beneath the earth and crawling up to take their claim of the land. The ocean of greenery seemed endless, yet the appetite of their horde was relentless. They moved as a body from one field to another, ingesting and digesting, eating all that they could in a race to grow. And grow they did, first doubling in size, then tripling, then molting into a new form that could bear still more multiplications.

Perhaps if they had had a mind that could contemplate their nature, they might have considered the effects of eating this perishable food. For if the plant was alive as they had been, and if it could die and be consumed, and if that entity then became a part of their bodies and now defined them, then were they not consigning themselves to the same eventual fate? Perhaps had they found some immortal food that did not die in the eating of it, then they would have lived forever. But it was too late, they had eaten that fruit and now they bore the common curse of all the earth.

And death did, in fact, begin to manifest. Indeed, all that prevented them for overrunning the entire landscape was that now they were large enough to capture the attention of the birds, and the spiders, and the mantises, and all other manner of predatory life. So as they grew in mass, they diminished in numbers, such that an equilibrium was more or less maintained.

They were still legion, but with each following day they were lesser and lesser of a legion. By the time they approached full maturity and began to mate, their only remained enough to replace their initial numbers and thus not make any gains against nature’s balances. Here the grasshoppers found the beginning of their fulfillment, their great purpose to recreate themselves in new forms. Here was how they cheated nature and gained their immortality.

But that victory was momentary, and the world was already signalling a turning of the tides. For even as the grasshoppers planted their eggs in the soil, they were finding that the ground was colder and harder than it had been before. The loose moisture in it was beginning to freeze and the chill of the night seemed to persist longer into each new morning, suggesting soon it would overtake the days entirely in one eternal slumber.

In anticipation of that great sleep one grasshopper after another succumbed to the elements, curled up, and perished. In doing so their last duty to the next generation was being fulfilled: they were leaving a space in the world for their children to fill. Immortality was still the promise, but immortality only through death. Through incarnation.

Some fell when caught out in the cold. Others starved from the sparseness of food remaining. Others were simply too old and frail to support living any longer. Though when born in the spring they had defied numbering, yet they were finite. Numerically and mortally. As they entered late autumn they could be counted as no more than a thousand. A week later they were no more than a hundred. Before another week was spent there remained that only one.

That final grasshopper did not even know that it was the last of its kind, it simply was aware that it no longer encountered any others of its race. Of course every year saw a “last grasshopper,” by the nature of things some creature had to fill that role, and this year it happened to be this one. In some ways that may seem a momentous thing, yet it passed by each year with none to take any note of it. Perhaps that was fitting. Life began in heat and noise, but then tapered out in a long, slow decrescendo. There would be no loud crash to signal the end, only a muting into nothingness.

And yet not quite nothingness. For the seeds were already in the earth, and in time legions would rise again. None of that next generation would know of this, their nearest forebearer. This final grasshopper was a last strand, stretching from its edge of the infinite towards the other until it would break under the strain of that distance. The next year’s generation would not know of that past, yet they would still owe their entire existence to it.

The grasshopper raised its foreleg for another step, but its clawed foot failed to grasp the stalk, and instead it fell to the ground.

***

I really enjoyed writing out this piece. As I mentioned on Monday, the changing seasons has given me a lot of thoughts about the nature of existence, mortality, beginnings and endings, birth and death. It helped me to process and give closure to those sensations by just being able to find words that gave better definition to those ideas. It serves as an important lesson that we need to pause, take in the world, and then channel it through our imagination to create something new from that experience. I hope each one of us can live our days being inspired by all that richness which surrounds us.

Even as I concluded with this piece, though, it was already bringing up new thoughts and ideas that I still want to explore further. Specifically I want to take some time to linger on the idea of the passing of a torch. This is obviously a classic theme in stories, and there are many takes on the ideas of mentors, tradition, and old flame rekindling in a youthful disciple. Sometimes, though, this rite of passage does not occur so smoothly. On Monday we’ll speak some more about this concept, and I hope to see you then. In the meantime, have an excellent weekend!