About Me

My photo

Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Monday, August 17, 2009

Laura Ingalls and the Lotos Eaters

Laura Ingalls
Photo from her estate collection

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

I grew up a devoted fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, she of the famous “Little House” books. Those cherished tomes chronicled the nomadic life of her pioneer family in the 1870s and 1880s.

The most remarkable element is the recounting of how hard their life was. Everyone worked, even the children; and not for wages, but for the sake of survival. They endured unbelievable privations, all without the safety net we take for granted.

The work was exhausting; their pleasures simple and few. And yet the family was bound by respect, honor, and love. Parents taught solid lessons of right and wrong, which the children took to heart. They learned from them the honor-bound promise to stand on their own two feet, never living off the hard work of others.

Their life provides a sobering comparison to the standards by which we live. Even the poorest among us live in houses that would have seemed palatial to the Ingalls family. A trip to our local grocery store or food pantry in the middle of winter would have left that pioneer family goggle-eyed. Electricity is delivered to our doorstep, as is water, the freshness and purity guaranteed. And despite our whining about health care, we no longer die from those diseases that ravaged entire towns back then..

Charles worked 160 acres with two horses and a plow. Up before dawn, he broke the ground, plowed the soil, and planted the seeds. He harvested by hand all that he could before the winter closed in. He cut and stacked acres of hay, fed and watered the livestock, and took odd jobs in the nearby towns as they came available, working until it was too dark to see. All by himself.

The Ingalls’ knew the value of education, sending the girls to school, and insisting on their studying hard each night by lamplight.

The Ingalls’ would be shocked at how comparatively easy our lives are. Today, we live in houses and apartments. While they’re not as grand as we would like, they’re mansions compared to anything the Ingalls’ lived in. We don’t have to hunt to survive. We don’t have to chop wood; just turn up the thermostat. We think 8 hours is a long workday, and we complain about working weekends.

But the one thing about our modern life that would likely shock Charles and Caroline Ingalls right down to their toes is our laziness.

The Ingalls’ and others of their day and time knew that a job was not a welfare program. Jobs existed because there was work to be done, and if the worker did not respond with the effort the employer was looking for, someone else would have that job the next day. Employment was not guaranteed by the government; it was guaranteed by productive work. Back then, living on the dole was considered shameful. Welfare has become, not the temporary leg up it was intended, but a heroic multi-generational way of life. People have forgotten how to work, or were never taught in the first place.

The Seductive Lotos Blossom
Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem entitled “The Lotos Eaters” sounds a dire warning to those of us who seek only comfort and ease. It chronicles a portion of the epic story “The Odyssey.” Sailors are drawn to an island where they discover a languid, peaceful existence. The inhabitants introduce the sailors to the lotos, a flowering plant that, when eaten, induces a feeling…

“…as if they have fallen into a deep sleep; they sit down upon the yellow sand of the island and can hardly perceive their fellow mariners speaking to them, hearing only the music of their heartbeat in their ears. They paint a picture of what it might be like to do nothing all day except sleep, dream, eat lotos, and watch the waves on the beach.
(From the website "Sparknotes.com")

The once-roving mariners even surrender their dreams of home, preferring to linger on this idyllic island.

Americans have become the Lotos Eaters.

By consuming the sweet taste of our modern lives, we have abandoned those things that really matter; education and work ethic. We are so bored that some of us require chemical stimulation to get through our empty days. We have surrendered to indolence.

We must also be prepared to resist the siren song of our contemporaries, those who sing of the glories of an indolent and meaningless life. When offered the delicate and seductive Lotos, we must refuse, turn our backs on the isle of eternal afternoon and bravely return to the harsh waves and storms of reality. It is the only way we can grow. It is the only way we can survive.

Our individual future and fate is solidly in our own hands. It takes courage to look in the mirror and say, “I am my biggest problem. Me, I can fix.” But that courage is there, deep inside us all, waiting to be tapped.

Life is not about the safe harbor. Life is about the journey.

Set sail; go forth…

And conquer.
Post a Comment