A course I am taking in Canadian Literature has brought me a useful quote in describing the tendency of Canadian people to be moderate. In fact, as I write, I think the poem we studied previous to this immigrant woman’s epistolary volume also makes that point. In any case, here is what Catharine Parr Trail an immigrant woman had to say:
“Children should be taught to appreciate the devoted love that has induced their parents to overcome the natural reluctance felt by all persons to quit for ever the land of their forefathers, the scenes of their earliest and happiest days, and to become aliens and wanderers in a distant country, – to form new ties and new friends, and begin, as it were, life’s toilsome march anew, that their children may be placed in a situation in which, by industry and activity, the substantial comforts of life may be permanently obtained, and a landed property handed down to them, and their children after them.”
I italicised that one part about the substantial comforts of life being permanently obtained because I hear that resonating in my own Chinese experience, and would venture to say that this is not just the tendency of parents who emigrate/immigrate, but the tendency of most parents in this world in general. My parents grew up in an economically challenged circumstance, and their parents before them even more so. (In fact, poverty would be the word.) It is great sacrifice on their parts to labour and give us what they did not have.
On a side note, since I am also taking a course on the Biblical and Classical backgrounds to English literature, you can see here a clear longing for some sort of Abrahamic promise: parents like Traill want to have a land that they can hand down to their children, and their children after them. And Traill does call Canada the “land of milk and honey” at one point. Then, of course, it becomes clear that the kingdom of heaven is the promise, and it helps to see that the promised land may perhaps not be land in any literal sense. How characteristic of milk and honey and substantially comfortable might ‘Canaan’ be today? Perhaps it will never be. (And… if I were writing this in any essays for this class my professor would tear me apart for assuming a Christian worldview.)
What are the ramifications of pursuing the permanent obtainment of the substantial comforts of life? You become a proponent of status quo. And when that happens, you don’t just enjoy status quo in these substantial comforts of life – I think one must begin to desire status quo in everything else: relationships, location, job, role in life… etc. Furthermore, I think one must begin to tolerate status quo even in the things which should be changed, like other people’s poverty in any and all senses: physical, moral, spiritual. By tolerate, I don’t mean whether you are able to sleep at night – I think you should still get some sleep even if you know injustice is happening hourly / minutely. What I mean by tolerate is to not do everything you can do about something.
Ah, I constantly fight this desire for security in the way Catherine Parr Traill phrases it. I would like to know that the substantial comforts of my life will be permanently and securely obtained. I am not sure to what extent this is a healthy or unhealthy spiritual perspective, in light of eternity. That is my question. You take nothing with you, you know. However, it also appears that we are meant to enjoy some degree of security: people do have families, or get married, or live in the same place, or manage their property well and have savings.
In any case, here is the last bit of Thomas Cary’s poem, Abram’s Plains:
The fleecy clouds, deep-fring’d with blushing red,
Calm on the soul, mild as their lustre, shed.
True emblem of life’s happy middle scene,
Where neither glare nor gloom once intervene:
Beneath the blaze of mad ambition’s fire,
Yet above want, where all our joys expire.
There easy labour keeps the soul serene,
Nor rais’d by vanity nor sunk by spleen;
Life’s clear smooth stream unruffled gently flows,
Nor one rude breeze to hurt its quiet blows.
That happy middle scene of moderation is not really very appealing, as much as he praises a life of clear smooth unruffled gentle flowing. Sure, it is beneath the blaze of mad ambition and above want (and I hate the feeling of hunger), but it also seems below the exhilaration of fear and trusting and above the deep joy of loss, where you realise you really have more than you thought you had. Easy labour could keep the soul serene, or it could bore it to death. A life of no dynamism, just pure ‘serenity’.
How Buddhist a sentiment.