“There is a valley in south England remote from ambition and from fear…”
Hilaire Belloc, ‘The Mowing of a Field’

Reading a Belloc essay aloud is one of my favorite things to do with students in my home—or in this case around a bonfire. Such readings were very formative for me when I was an undergraduate. They are a simple and profound way to spend rich time together. Such times of plenitude (as I like to call them) are the stuff of memory; more importantly, they are the stuff of life.

In this essay Belloc relates the wonderful experience of returning to the home of his youth. “Whatever veil is thrown by a longing recollection had not intensified nor even made more mysterious the beauty of that happy ground; not in my very dreams of morning had I, in exile, seen it more beloved or more rare.”

Memory has a powerful and irreplaceable role in life. “Happy memories” go a long way in making for ongoing happiness. However, life is now; and the true role of memory is not to take us back, but to enable the past to inform the present. There is something a little odd when a vacation spot is advertised as where “to make memories.” We’re not seeking memories; we seek life.

Yet at the same time, especially as a parent or teacher, I do want to enact something that will be worthy of remembering. Such experiences can form the soul and give a taste for things that matter. In this way, preserved through memory, times of plenitude remain with us, giving compass and direction.

Such times cannot simply be snapped into existence or fabricated. We cannot pay a planner to make them happen. But we can be intentional about them, by attending to two “c’s”: character and context. Times of plenitude are never far away when persons of a certain character seek out contexts of a certain kind.

Character refers to where our heart is; the person of good character consistently sets his heart on things that matter. Belloc refers to a valley remote from ambition. Ambition here seems to mean a condition common today: a heart set on things that, perhaps not bad in themselves, are passing and less important, as opposed to things that really matter.

Context is a set of conditions in our life, many of which are in our control. Belloc refers to a valley remote from ambition. Immediately one imagines a context with characteristics ranging from natural features such as fields and hay, to cultural features such as work habits and eating practices. These things matter.

Times of plenitude often arise unexpectedly, and they are always a gift. But they do not arise randomly, as though removed from our choices and cultivation. Such rich times, being a taste of something profound that can elude us, are always also a fore-taste, a promise of something yet to come. For those who seek it.

Belloc writes, “And…the good vision of the place, which I had kept so many years, left me and was replaced by its better reality. ‘Here,’ I said to myself, ‘is a symbol of what some say is reserved for the soul: pleasure of a kind which cannot be imagined save in a moment when at last it is attained.’”

Indeed, reality is always better. It is better than we imagined, or remembered, or even hoped. Our challenge is to learn to receive it and to enact it.

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), born of a French father and English mother, was a poet, historian, and essayist. This quote is from a great little essay in one of his most delightful collections of essays, The Hills and the Sea.

 

Related reading:

 

Become A LifeCraft Member

Become a LifeCraft Member and gain access to our online courses and exclusive content. It's FREE of charge. Period.

If you join as a contributing member, you will help make this content available to an increasing audience. Your financial assistance enables me to spend more time in this work. I thank you in advance.

Join the LifeCraft community today and get access to:

  • Man of the Household (Course)
  • Woman of the Household (Course)
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE:
Manners: One Major Reason Why

Manners: One Major Reason Why

“These people will also discover the seemingly insignificant conventions their predecessors have destroyed. Things like this: When it is proper for the young to be silent in front of their elders, when they should make way for them or stand up in their presence....”...

read more
The Gift in One Man’s Death

The Gift in One Man’s Death

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, Who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my native land! Sir Walter Scott Damian P. Fedoryka, my wife’s father, passed from this life early in the morning July 26, 2022. His life, and his death, can teach me how to...

read more
Dinner at Home: The Key Ingredient

Dinner at Home: The Key Ingredient

“When you coming home, dad?” “I don't know when” But we'll get together then You know we’ll have a good time then. Cat’s in the Cradle, song by Harry Chapin I wonder how many children—and let’s talk about households with the father in it —have the kind of time and...

read more

Pin It on Pinterest