A lost opportunity that maybe wasn’t lost after all in Daydreaming on the Porch

  • March 24, 2021, 7:03 a.m.
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About three years ago I had an unusual experience. I won’t say it was all for nothing because it was beneficial overall, and I learned a few things about myself. Nevertheless, it was unsettling. It was perhaps one of those missed opportunities to share what some of your deepest beliefs are, and what your guiding light in life has been.

I was walking in my favorite park. I don’t recall what time of year it was, which is too bad, because that park is the place I can most vividly experience all four seasons, mainly because it has a large garden and is somewhat like an arboretum in that it has such a variety of old oak trees and many other kinds of trees.

I was approached out of the blue by a bearded young man, who later told me he was 23. Being the cautious type that I am, I started to back away and began looking for escape avenue. I really didn’t feel like dealing with a homeless person asking me for help. Looking back now, I sort of cringe with guilt because I know I have to confront those situations in a kinder, more upfront way. But that is, alas one of my weaknesses. Like most people I don’t want to be bothered. “Leave me be, will ya?”

But this young man was not homeless, apparently, and was not seeking money. He said he was going around asking older people what the secret of a good life was; in other words, what lessons life had taught me?

Needless to say I was was taken aback and momentarily speechless. This had certainly never happened to me before. I think I must have mumbled or stammered for a minute or so, mouthing a few empty platitudes, searching awkwardly for some little gem of wisdom he could take away from the encounter and later record in his journal or notebook. I was trying to keep up some sort of conversation with him because he seemed so earnest and genuinely interested in what I might say to him. How odd, I was thinking. What’s the ulterior motive here? Am I perhaps in some sort of danger and don’t realize it?

Finally, and I have no idea what made me think of this, but I suddenly remembered a line in that famous poem by the English romantic poet, John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” I told him, “…beauty is truth, truth beauty.”

How I elaborated, or didn’t, on those famous lines, I don’t at all remember. Literary critics and scholars, and average mortals alike, have spent almost three centuries trying to decipher and interpret the poem. In preparation for this essay, I’ve read it twice and listened to it being read aloud. Although I am more cognizant of what the poem and this particular line mean than when I was an undergraduate English major in the early 1970s, I still dont know quite what to make if it. I love some of Keats’ other poems and odes, but I always related more deeply to the metaphysical Nature poetry of William Wordsworth.

I might have said to the young man that by learning and then knowing what is truly beautiful, whether in our fellow human beings, or in Nature, we can discover the truth about God, life and why we are here. Then we will come to know what love is in its deepest meaning.

I wish I had been able to tell him those exact words. But I’ve had time to think about this tonight.

For now, I can’t remember or know what I said to him other than those four words. But I guess that doesn’t really matter. Those few words might have been enough.

Shortly afterward, I told him I had to be going, when it was obvious he would have sat down on a nearby bench with me and had a long conversation if I had taken the time to do so. But it all still seemed a bit odd and I couldn’t seem to think of much to say, so I left.

A week or so later I saw this same young man seated on a bench at another park closer to where I live, and where I also take walks. He seemed deep in conversation with a man older then me. I passed by and looked at him, but he didn’t look up nor would he probably have recognized me. But again, I don’t know the answer to that either.

How would you have reacted? What might you have said to him if he had asked you what you had learned in your many years of life of life. He was just starting out.

“Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats

Last updated March 24, 2021

*_* March 24, 2021

Have a good day

Oswego *_* ⋅ March 24, 2021

Thank you!

woman in the moon March 24, 2021

I wonder if he compiled the answers he got and if he thought he'd gained some wisdom.
I don't know what I'd answer. I wish I did know.

Oswego woman in the moon ⋅ March 24, 2021

I wonder also. The incident was at least three years ago, and the memory if it has remained with me, as you can see from what I wrote.

Jinn March 24, 2021

I don’t know if I agree with Keats. Truth is not always beautiful. It can be devastating and ugly . Painful. Truth can be subjective. What is true for me is not necessarily true for you . Beauty is subjective as well. It sounds good though :-) Very poetic. Keats was good at language ( poetry ) but as a person he was a cad :-( A wastrel and a cheater. :-)
I am sure what each of us thinks contributes to a good life varies widely. For me it’s appreciating the love of my family , having a home, reading, gardening , the relationship I have with my pets and friends ( although I seem to be in short supply of RL friends these days . 😢) I Realize now that I don’t need riches; just enough to live comfortably. I value my good health ( discounting my spine woes ). I wish I was more widely travelled but I am not and doubt I will ever be now , but I explore those places in books and that is ok too . I have gone through a lot of grief and stress while trying to sort my values. I would not want to do it over . I wish I could tell my 20 year old self to do better than I did , but you live and hopefully you learn.

Oswego Jinn ⋅ March 24, 2021

Beautifully expressed. I really want to save this to read again. What you said here would have been a good answer to his question. But again, I only remember that quote by Keats for some odd reason. It alone holds sway in that particular memory chamber of mine because, unfortunately, I didn't write down an account of the encounter. That one I definitely should have recorded.

As for Keats, he has complex biography and lived only a short life. He died at 25. I don’t recall the particulars of his behavior because the sublime words of his poetry, achieved at such a young age, take precedence in my memory. I can’t even imagine what he would have achieved had he lived longer.

Truth and beauty as I see it from the poem are ideals, not the full range of what truth is because it is such a maleable snd subjective term in these days of “truthiness.” 😌

Jinn Oswego ⋅ March 25, 2021


Marg March 24, 2021

I’m not sure what I’d have made of that - I think I would have been a bit cynical and thought there was some scam afoot to be honest! Such a shame we think things like that now when it could well have been genuine.

A Pedestrian Wandering Marg ⋅ March 24, 2021

Sadly, my thoughts are the same.

Oswego Marg ⋅ March 24, 2021

We definitely are on the same page. It seemed a bit surreal to me. The entire time I’m thinking, “What’s he after?” I was so unprepared, who wouldn’t be? I guess my reaction was only human, not the most fitting, but I did take time to talk to him. At the time I felt bad that I couldn’t or wouldn’t take more time to better compose some thoughts, but it just didn’t feel right.

Marg Oswego ⋅ March 25, 2021

Well those gut feelings are there for a reason! And it was a heavy question to be asked out of the blue to be fair :)

A Pedestrian Wandering March 24, 2021

I hope the young man is learning something from the exercise, which, seems noble now, in the telling.

Oswego A Pedestrian Wandering ⋅ March 24, 2021

I think he must have realized he sure wasn’t obtaining wisdom from his peers.

ConnieK March 24, 2021

You would appreciate Wordsworth's "Ode: Intimations of immortality", I think.

My personal take on his question? I believe the meaning of life is strengthening the generation that follows. We are meant to find our passion and then use it to make the world better. In doing so, we find our own happiness. JMO

Oswego ConnieK ⋅ March 24, 2021

A really excellent response. That encounter continually leads me to think hard about what I find most important in life and what I believe.

“Intimations” is one of my favorite poems. I’ve read it quite a few times, but now that you mention it, the time may be right to revisit it.

Telstar March 25, 2021

Interesting experience.

I tend to be suspicious though. I'd probably have thought that he was going to try to sell me life insurance........... at best.

Oswego Telstar ⋅ March 25, 2021

Lol. Yeah... But I think he was a genuine pilgrim. He just caught me off guard. I was no way prepared for that. Now I’m definitely prepared.

Lady of the Bann March 25, 2021

Oh yes, the meaning of life question again. I agree with other noters that I too would have distrusted his motives. That is something that life has taught us, unfortunately. Mothers told us ‘don’t talk to strangers ‘. But on my solo cruise group profile I have the quote, ‘a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet’.
In life, we have to rely on our instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, listen. Dont allow anyone to make us uncomfortable or control us.
This has me remembering how I felt yesterday when a stranger spoke to me. I was in the wine section of the supermarket I go to. They had a 25% off if you buy 6 or more bottles. My good wine club supply was getting low so I had gone in to get some. He spoke to me first about the wine prices getting very high, my delivery wine is usually about £10 a bottle and the supermarket ones I was looking at were about £6 and then had the 25% off so I was happy enough, He pointed to a couple and asked if I had tried them but he wasn’t lifting any to buy. Then his conversation seemed to get more personal, do I live in the town? where am I from? and I got the feeling he was hitting on me. I continued my search for an Australian Shiraz and he gave up. I may have even sighed at his questions. I don’t know if I was right in my assessment, I will never know,but I do know I started to feel uncomfortable.

Oswego Lady of the Bann ⋅ March 25, 2021

You were right to feel uncomfortable in that situation. The guy should mind his own business and leave strangers alone.

We do have to trust our instincts. The young man I encountered threw a wrench in trust-my-instincts meter I rely on. I was flummoxed.

Kristi1971 March 25, 2021

Each minute, each hour, each day is a gift. We do not know what the future will bring. We do not know how long we will be on this Earth. Make the most of each day, and be sure to tell those that you love that you love them. You don't know if it will be the last chance you get.

Oswego Kristi1971 ⋅ March 25, 2021

Eloquently expressed. This really says it all! 😌

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