The Place of Peace
HTHE rush, the turmoil, the hurry of moder * life are in everybody's mouth as a matter of complaint. " I have no time ' is the commonest of excuses. Reviews serve for books ; leading articles for political treatises ; lectures for investigation. More and more the attention ofmen and women is fastened on the superficial things of life ; small prizes of business success,petty crowns of social supremacy, momentary notoriety in the world of politics or of letters - for these things men and women toil, intrigue and strive. Their work must show immediate results, else it is regarded as failure ; the winningpost must always be in sight, to be passed by a swift brief effort with the roar of the applauding crowd hailing the winner. The solid reputation built up by years of strenuous work ; the patient toil that labours for a lifetime in a field wherein the harvest can only ripen long after the sower has passed out of sight ; the deliberate choice of a lofty ideal, too high to attract the average man, too great to be compassed in a lifetime - all these things are passed by with a shrug of good-natured contempt or a scowl of suspicion.
The spirit of the age is summed up by the words of the caustic Chinese sage of yore : "He looks at an egg, and expects to hear it crow." Nature is too slow for us, and we forget that what we gain in speed we lose in depth. But there are some in whose eyes this whirling dance of gnats m the sunlight is not the be-all and end-all of human life.
Some in whose hearts a whisper sometimes sounds softly, saying that all the seeming clash and rush is but as the struggle of shadows thrown upon a screen ; that social success, business triumph, pubhc admiration are but trivial things at best, bubbles floating down a tossing streamlet, and unworthy of the rivalries, the jealousies, the bitternesses their chase engenders. Has life no secret that does not lie on the surface ? no problem that is not solved in the stating ? no treasury that is not scattered on the highway ? An answer may be found without straying beyond the experience of every man and woman, and that answer hides within it a suggestion of the deeper truth that underlies it.
After a week or a month of hurried town-life, of small excitements, of striving for the little triumphs of social life, of the eagerness of petty hopes, the pain of petty disappointments, of the friction arising from the jarring of our selfish selves with other selves equally selfish ; after this, if we go far away from this hum and buzz of life into silent mountain solitudes where are sounding only the natural harmonies that seem to blend with rather than to break the silence - the rushing of the waterfall swollen by last night's rain, the rustle of the leaves under the timid feet of the hare, the whisper of the stream to the water-hen as she slips out of the reeds, the murmur of the eddy where it laps against the pebbles on the bank, the hum of the insects as they brush through the tangle of the grasses, the suck of the fish as they hang in the pool beneath the shade ; there, where the mind sinks into a calm, soothed by the touch of Nature far from man, what aspect have the follies, the exasperations, of the social whirl of work and play, seen through that atmosphere surcharged with peace ? What does it matter if in some small strife we failed or we succeeded ? What does it matter that we were slighted by one, praised by another ? We regain perspective by our distance from the whirlpool, by our isolation from its tossing waters, and v/e see how small a part these outer things should play in the true life of man. So distance in time as well as distance in space gives balanced judgment on the goods and ills of life.
We look back, after ten years have slipped away, at the trials, the Joys, the hopes, the disappointments of the time that then was, and we marvel why we spent so much of our life-energy on things so little worth. Even life's sharpest pains seems strangely unreal thus contemplated by a personality that has greatly changed. Our whole life was bound up in the life of another, and all of worth that it held for us seemed to dwell in the one beloved. We thought that our life was laid waste, our heart broken, when that one trust was betrayed.
But as time went on the wound healed and new flowers sprang up along our pathway, till to-day we can look back without a quiver on an agony that then well-nigh shattered life. Or we broke with a friend for a bitter word ; how foolish seem our anger and excitement, looking back over the ten years' gulf. Or we were madly delighted with a hardly-won success ; how trivial it looks, and how exaggerated our triumph, when we see It now In due proportion In the picture of our life ; then It filled our sky, now It Is but a point.