If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Sunday 20 January 2013
Read gnomica 1-250 here!
Treaties are like roses and young girls – they last while they last.
Charles de Gaulle (22 Nov 1890 – 9 Nov 1970)
I would like to change this statement just slightly, and in doing so I shall not seriously affect its general import. Thus, for ‘treaties’ I would write ‘promises’. This minor emendation will render the sentiment more broadly applicable and, without doing violence to the essential notion, move us beyond a context necessarily limited to military matters. And, after all, since a ‘treaty’ is, like ‘promise’, a species subsumed under the genus ‘commitment’, it is itself a very cousin to ‘promise’ itself.
For in so many areas of life and relationships a promise is probably foremost to be characterized by the fleeting nature of its existence: here one brief, beautiful moment, a thing of serene appeal, and then, aging into hasty and permanent senescence, lasting no longer but, evanescent, gone forever.
It is not difficult to illustrate the point to which this once important French politician gave such lovely expression. Begin – it being the season of resolutions about new ways to do old things – with self.
How many times, in total sincerity and with impeccable rectitude, has she promised herself that she will no longer buy anything but necessities with those credit cards of hers already perilously approaching maxed-out status? How many times has she avoided violating that promise to herself by some subtle semantic legerdemain of expanding the meaning of ‘necessities’ – just this once … and maybe just one more time after that?
How many times, with similarly rigorous intent, has she made a promise to herself that this spring she will not watch those time-wasting television programs on Thursday evenings that blow off several hours of study time that she can ill afford to abandon? And about the second Thursday in January, or surely by the third Thursday, the need for study that once seemed such an immutable imperative has snuck out the door and died in the snow.
How many times has that sober solemn promise — so very seriously cemented in distant January’s resolve — that she lose a given number of pounds by the end of June melted away not like her fat but like the dreary snow of spring and exposed the emptiness of a geography both exterior and interior?
Well, a violation of any one of these three familiar kinds of promises from among hundreds of possibles is to be sure venial, not a matter great consequence in the larger scheme of the universe, and, unlike a treaty broken, will in all likelihood hurt – if at all — only the author of those splendid resolutions.
And then there are the promises we make not to ourselves but to others – private ‘treaties’ if you will — and breaching those (as most of us have done) does have its consequences.
And then of course there are the ‘real’ treaties, the disregard of which surely is a serious business, serious for many – many who had nothing to do with designing or signing them.
And I remind myself that this is not a viable excuse when I break a promise to myself that I made, I alone, willingly and with full knowledge of what I was up to.
It is an unhappy fact that one at times disappoints oneself.