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Feather's Miscellany: Mutability

...Now that I’m an ageing seventy six year old, I’m discovering more and more change. Everything is farther away than it used to be. Distance has expanded. I used to go for a three-mile walk every day. Now I manage only half a mile with a stick and the gentle slope up to the church has become a hill. I stopped running anywhere years ago nor do I do press-ups any more. They’d find a corpse on the floor if I attempted them...

John Waddington-Feather muses on the inevitability of change.

“Naught may endure but mutability,” said Shelley, anticipating Charles Darwin a few years later. Shelley, an atheist, would probably have scotched all that’s written in “Genesis” about Creation and dismissed it, along with the rest of the Bible, out of hand; while Darwin’s “Origins of Species” shook the faith of many of his contemporary Christians, who were not educated in science as much as we are in our time.

Darwin himself appears to have lost his faith after the death of a much loved daughter. However, many Christians today accept Darwin’s theory of evolution as well as accepting the truths which lie behind “Genesis,” written thousands of years ago in an attempt to explain Creation before the advent of modern science. The two works are compatible: Darwin’s work deals with biological facts; the “Genesis” myth deals with truths, the first of which is that men and women did not create themselves or the universe, but were created by an infinitely greater Mind, a loving Creator God.

Now back to the quotation by Shelley. I think all that the poet is trying to say is anticipating Darwin a couple of decades later: “Nothing shall endure except change” – evolution? ‘Mutability’ sounds more grandiloquent than Darwin’s heavy prose. ‘Mutability’ runs more poetically off the tongue than ‘change’, doesn’t it?

The Roman poet Horace elaborates more fully on change:

“Be not too anxious for the few things life requires; youth flies rapidly past and beauty vanishes; while withered age puts to flight amorous play and gentle sleep. (How true!) The flowers of spring do not retain their bloom, nor does the ruddy sun always shine with the same lustre; why then, O man, do you always disquiet yourself with schemes which are far beyond your powers?”

In other words, Horace is saying simply accept change, but it’s not so simple as that. Now that I’m an ageing seventy six year old, I’m discovering more and more change. Everything is farther away than it used to be. Distance has expanded. I used to go for a three-mile walk every day. Now I manage only half a mile with a stick and the gentle slope up to the church has become a hill. I stopped running anywhere years ago nor do I do press-ups any more. They’d find a corpse on the floor if I attempted them. The steps to my bedroom grow steeper by the day; and once inside my bedroom I find socks are made tighter and trousers more difficult to put on; what’s more I’ll swear they use smaller print in the papers now, which need twice the amount of light to read them.

While pop music has become louder – especially from passing cars in town – people’s voices have become quieter. I’m constantly asking my wife what actors and presenters are saying on television; and were it not for the microphones they use in church I’d miss half the service – and all the sermon. People in authority have grown suddenly younger: my doctor and police men and women could be my children!

Strangest of all is that people of my own age seem much older than they used to be, that is if they’re still alive. More and more often I receive a shock when I meet someone I haven’t seen in years. The other day, I was sent a photo by e-mail of a friend I hadn’t seen for over fifty years and I didn’t recognise him. In fact, I barely recognise myself now. They don’t make mirrors like they used to any more.

John Waddington-Feather ©


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