Standing on Others’ Shoulders

Ronald - Seattle, Washington
Entered on November 12, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe learning from others is a good thing – standing on their shoulders if you will.

When I was young I tried making up things on my own. It always looked like fun to do. But the more I tried the less I produced. I couldn’t write creative stories. I couldn’t even make up good jokes. I couldn’t write poems. I couldn’t paint pretty pictures. I couldn’t compose songs.

Walking home from school one day I picked up a couple good looking rocks along the path as I was wont to do when it wasn’t raining. Later I learned they had pyrite in them that made them sparkle. That caught my eye. I liked having them around. I liked finding them and showing them to others. I also liked having an eye for picking up those little gems.

While I didn’t know it at the time, my rock-hounding was leading me down unexpected paths of literary creativity – somewhere I thought I’d never go. So now, rather than trying to dream up a good short story on my own, I find myself making constellations of stars from what others have written before me. I’ve come to learn that in previous generations this was called composing a florilegium – a beautiful arrangement of quotations designed to make a point hitherto unheard of.

I also liked the modesty in this work. When people would admire it, I could say how beautiful the gems were that made up my constellations that were not mine but borrowed from others. I liked standing on the shoulders of others. I liked rescuing from obscurity and oblivion sparkling stones from others, for others now to enjoy with me.

I’ve been spending my time being a literary rock-hound for some years now. I see my work as a Christian preacher as part of this, composing configurations of Bible verses in my Sunday sermons to share with others – like those rocks I found along the path on my way home from school years ago. I also see it in my writing on Martin Luther, Søren Kierkegaard and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Things they’ve written I’ve found along the path and picked up and treasured and shared with others.

Wittgenstein once wrote about our inability to describe everything we know, saying: “Describe the aroma of coffee. Why can’t it be done? Do we lack the words?” I’ve saved that precaution and let it sparkle on my table. So too words from Kierkegaard regarding enduring unpopularity for a good cause – “he stood alone, abandoned, in the designated pillory of special singularity.” And then from Luther I found these words that have sparkled for me ever since – “a Christian is uplifted in adversity, because he trusts God; he is downcast in prosperity, because he fears God.”

These, and many other words like them, have been the stars that have gone into the constellations I have spent my time composing. Looking at them I find the same joy I remember having on my way home from school kicking up rocks I would treasure and later share with others.