Aristotle - the golden mean. Moral behavior is the mean between two extremes - at one end is excess, at the other deficiency. Find a moderate position between those two extremes, and you will be acting morally.
Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), a detail of The School of Athens, a fresco by Raphael.
“In other words, lie?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say.
“Martha! I’m surprised at you.”
“Why?” I ask. “The universe isn’t always truthful. Nature certainly isn’t. What about camouflage, isn’t that a lie of sorts? There are no absolutes; not many, anyway. A white lie told for a good purpose can be a good thing.”
I rattle on, dimly aware that I’m reciting a script I’ve heard before. “Black/white, good/bad, truth/lie. There're two extremes at the end of every pole. The trick is to find the Golden Mean, the middle way. That's what the Greeks did."
Idly, I gaze out the car window as we pass Walgreen's on the way to CVS to pick up my prescription. My eyes stray left, to the lawn in front of the Catholic Church. I wonder when they made that rock garden in the shape of a rosary around St. Mary's statue. I never noticed it before. Oh well, the building and grounds have changed since I was a girl.
As I add one last punctuation mark to my mini discourse about the Greeks, I'm aware of having left the absolutes of the Roman Church far behind. Talking about the Golden Mean, I suppose I sound like the long lapsed Catholic I am. No surprise. Daddy was a lapsed Catholic too.
Feeling a little self conscious now, I'm ready to wrap it up. "Sometimes it's okay to shade the truth," I finish. "Brutal honesty can be a fault."
Then, still riding in the car, my voice trails off, and for a moment, I can see Daddy sitting, legs crossed, in his old maple rocking chair on Ditman Lane; from across a deep chasm, I seem to hear his voice. “So Martha," he concludes, "it's best to take the middle path in all things, find the Golden Mean."
Bob breaks the spell. “Martha, that’s too deep,” he says and laughs.
He says it as a joke, but there’s an undertone of seriousness to his voice. He’s right. It is serious. The words that have just tumbled out of my mouth are not mine. They're Daddy's. When I was a little girl, Daddy always talked to me about serious things and I was glad he did.
As we pull into the CVS parking lot, I can't help but laugh a little at myself. I’ve been channeling Daddy. Again.
How old was I when I sat on the couch in the kitchen, watching Daddy smoke his pipe, and listening to him tell me about the ancient Greek philosophers and their Golden Mean? No more than ten, certainly. Maybe not even that.
At age 65, I catch myself channeling both of my parents, more and more often. Sometimes, I feel an expression flit across my face, my mouth and jaw set in a particular aspect, and, without even looking in the mirror, I sense Mother making her familiar presence known through me again.
On other occasions, a piece of music will drift through the air, and the electric jolt of neurons firing in spontaneous and joyful combustion are, I sense, a peculiar species of intellectual and sensory delight I will always share with Daddy.
And sometimes, I hear myself repeating one or both of their words, almost verbatim, like today.
I suspect we humans are not so much individuals as amalgams of every ancestor who’s ever walked the earth. Not only my mother and father, but all of my progenitors, are alive in me today. The joys and travails of their flesh, minds and spirits are all collected, transcribed and passed down through their and my common DNA
No man is an island. We’re all a part of the evolutionary and experiential mains. The inhabitants of the past are not past, but always and forevermore present in the living just as you and I shall be in successive generations.
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Be Well and Good Luck,