Stories and Traveltips

ID #5472

Less is More, David Wylde, formerly Rector of St Stithians College, Randburg, South Africa.

I must confess that I am not a good listener. I first became aware of this flaw during a performance appraisal years ago – an assessment which, at the time, I believed to be a stain on my character.  Only later did I realize that the assessor may equally well have been talking about almost everyone on the planet. For example, I can think of only one person, during my career, who struck me as being a good listener. Worse still, those who are good listeners don’t necessarily hear anything. So I am neither unique nor exceptional in this regard. In the words of a taciturn Vermont farmer who, commenting about a visitor from the big city, said: “Talked a lot”. “Didn’t say very much”.

My children all attended St Stithians College in Randburg so I attended its Founders Day celebrations for many years. Such celebrations were particularly memorable because of the exceptional speeches delivered – they always impressed with their intelligence, eloquence, humour, timing and impact. But mostly the impact of such speeches – they left one thoughtful about what had been said. Unfortunately however, with time, much of what was said has been forgotten.

However, attending one annual Easter rugby festival, I happened to be standing outside a hospitality tent with my three sons when David Wylde approached us. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, we stood quietly listening to my sons’ enthusiastic banter. After a while David turned to me, fixed me with a penetrating look and said: “Less is More”. Amused by his gentle rebuke, I laughed and we parted company. But the significance of what he had said did not sink in.

Like other speakers at Founders Day, David is a superb orator and is fond of quoting “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Unfortunately, David, the significance of such words did not sink in either. But occasionally – just occasionally mind you -- someone or something has been able to penetrate the shield we build  around ourselves. For example:

•    As a child I can remember sitting at the foot of my grandmother’s bed in Port Alfred listening to sermons by the late Reverend JB Webb and later Arthur Weston broadcast from the Commemoration Methodist Church in Grahamstown.

•    Reading the “Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway.

•    Later, when I first went to America, I remember reading the preamble to the United States Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776:    

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

•    Likewise I can clearly remember when I first read Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address -- I was standing at the foot of his statue in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

•    And more recently, when I read Lincoln’s letter, written to a widow from Massachusetts who lost all five of her sons during the American Civil War:

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A Lincoln.

Such beautiful words – simple, humble, honest and wise -- have enriched my life immeasurably. So all is not lost – there is hope for me yet! Perhaps, because of my own family history, I am struck by W. H. Auden’s poem:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

And the beauty of the King James Version of Psalm 23:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

David – you may have given up with attempts to civilize this particular Philistine. Certainly you would be justified feeling that way but I hope not. Instead let me reassure you -- I was driving though Port Elizabeth a few years ago and saw, in large letters, a quote from the Bible on a church notice board:

Be still, and know that I am God

Finally, and at long last, I understand. Less is indeed More. Thank you for not giving up on me.

Alan McIver
Dubai, May 2013

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Last update: 2014-03-17 02:15
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.13

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