Category Archives: metaphor
A few dead flies will make even the best perfume stink. In the same way, a little foolishness can ruin much wisdom and honor. —Ecclesiastes 10:1
I used the expression during a family game of euchre on our summer vacation at the cottage. I had a good hand, and I took the first four of five tricks. But on the last one my daughter snuck in there with a higher card to deprive me of the extra point. “Ah, you were the fly in my ointment,” I said.
“What did you say?” my son asked.
“I said that she was the fly in my ointment.”
“I thought that’s what you said. What does that mean?”
“Have you never heard that expression before?”
I turned to my daughter, “Have you?”
Her boyfriend was in the room? “Have you?”
“No.” He looked mystified.
I started to wonder if I’d been saying something wrong over the years, or if the expression was one of those unique to the Ottawa Valley where I grew up. The Valley has many quaint but not universally shared expressions. I turned to my husband, “Have you heard of that?” He nodded that he had. Phew, I thought. I’m not losing my mind!
“What does it mean?” my son asked again.
I thought it would have been obvious, but apparently not. I said, “Well, it’s the dark spot in something that is otherwise perfect, or a damaging element in something that is otherwise healing. One small thing that harms a big good thing, or is just plain annoying.”
“That makes no sense. How could a fly get in the ointment anyway? It’s in a tube,” my daughter said.
Ah ha! We’d hit the stumbling block. People of my generation can envision a vat or tub of ointment with a dark fly in the light colour, buy in the mind’s eye of people my daughter’s age, ointment comes only in a tube.
“At the time the expression came to be ointment came in pots or tubs,” I said. “Picture a container of white ointment with a dark fly in it.”
“But why would you care if you had a fly in your ointment?” my daughter insisted.
Why do I care if there’s a fly in my ointment? Because a little foolishness can ruin much wisdom and honour, and there is foolishness going on right now that is ruining much wisdom and honour.
I know the negative thoughts and actions taking place all around us these days don’t represent the thoughts and actions of most people, but they’re flies in the ointment. Those few people who say them, think them, act on them make life stink to high heaven for all of us. The dark spots in an otherwise happy world, the damaging elements in an otherwise healing world, the small stains blemish the big picture.
Out damned spot!
I started them off with a character and a general setting and then we took turns with each person around the circle adding new characters, scenes and twists to the story. Plot development by plot development the story unfolded.
Often the ideas that other people came up with surprised us. We’d think to ourselves, “I didn’t see THAT coming.”
At a particularly challenging point in the story, one girl appeared stumped for ideas. She jokingly said, “The end.” But she quickly brushed that aside. “No, no, no,” she said. She gave the matter more thought and came up with an idea.
Sometimes we tried to think ahead so when our turn came we’d be ready. But then the person ahead of us would send the story off in a whole different unexpected direction. We’d have to adapt and think again.
Usually we’d panic a little when our turn arrived. We’d think, “Oh no. What am I going to say?” Once we set the panic aside, an answer always came.
We talked about all this after. We talked about how:
- Life, like our story, is full of surprises. How often do we say, “I didn’t see that coming!”
- It’s good to plan ahead but we need to be ready when things go off in a whole different direction. Be open and ready to respond to whatever comes.
- Sometimes we want to give up. But carrying on is always more satisfying.
- Panic paralyzes. Calm produces.
- Working together is way more fun and interesting than puzzling through it on our own.
From this we can remind ourselves not to be surprised by the weird, unexpected plot developments in our lives and to be ready for anything. We can find the determination to never give up, not to panic, and to find some friends to make it interesting.
Have fun living your story.
“. . . the shortest distance between a human being and truth is a story.'” —Anthony De Mello
Perhaps there’s a simple explanation for our society’s current fascination with zombies: We are living with them right now. Something to think about anyway, according to the moderator of the United Church of Canada, Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell.
At our Easter service on Sunday, the minister at my church brought to our attention a podcast interview with our moderator. During an Illuminate Faith interview, Cantwell was asked by a participant at a youth forum what she would bring to a zombie apocalypse.
I can’t imagine she could have been prepared for a question like that, so I give her kudos for providing the best spontaneous answer to an unexpected question I think I’ve ever heard.
“I think we’re in a zombie apocalypse,” she said.
She described zombies as beings who appear alive but who are kind of dead. The “walking dead” can be . . “anything that sucks the hope and the life out of us . . .”
Cantwell suggests we can find walking deadness in ourselves and on the streets.
I’ve seen it in myself. Have you? I can think of a few people who live almost exclusively in walking deadness. Can you?
The zombies that surround us “drag us into the illusion that life is miserable, that the world is falling apart . . .” and they “suck others into their living deadness.”
And what does Cantwell bring to the apocalypse? Stories.
Zombies, she says, “believe in the power of death as stronger than the power of life and of love,” and stories refute that belief. Stories of compassion and faith feed energy and life back into ourselves and our streets.
Cantwell made her observations in the context of our Christian Easter—a story that involves missing corpses and life after death—but I think they apply to all people in all places at all times. Stories of compassion and faith don’t eliminate the reality of death for all people in all places at all times, but they do feed energy and life back into those people.
“. . . even when death does its worst, God’s got another chapter.” —Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell
Listen to the full Illuminate Faith podcast here: http://illumin8faith.com/files/archive-april-2017.html
Adults yammered on and on around a little boy about 3 years old. He grew bored. Squirmed. Squiggled. Stretched out on the floor.
To entertain him, I handed him a sheet of paper with a maze printed on it. Happy to have any distraction he sat up and began to trace the path as if meditating with a finger labyrinth. The boy’s finger made its way over the printed paths with delightful disregard for lines that might be in the way. After blowing through any number of twists and turns that might have blocked progress, his finger reached the end. The boy raised his arms in victory.
“I did it!” he proclaimed.
“Yes, you did,” I affirmed.
Who was I to dampen his enthusiasm? Why tell him that crossing lines isn’t always that easy? Why burden a child with the idea that some lines are best left uncrossed and sometimes it’s hard to figure out which ones.
Better to let him savour his accomplishment. Better to send him out into the world ready to obliterate barriers blocking his path. Better to equip him to cross the many lines there are that need to be erased. Better to encourage than discourage.
He’ll figure it out.
And the adults yammered on.
I recently read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. The woman behind The Order of the Good Death gives readers an interesting perspective on the life/death experience (if you don’t mind some occasional gory passages).
In her book Doughty references a 1961 paper in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology that outlines seven reasons why humans fear dying. The paper suggests that fear of death arises from concerns about
- Grief caused to relatives and friends
- Plans and projects that coming to an end
- The process of dying being painful
- The end of being able to enjoy life experiences
- No longer being able to care for dependants
- What will happen if there is life after death
- What will happen to the body after death
To that list I would add my own personal concern: my house needs a thorough cleaning and things are a little disorganized. I don’t want to leave a mess behind for others to clean up. I know I’m not alone in that: an acquaintance told me she never leaves her house without making sure the kitchen is clean and the beds are made, in case something happens to her when she’s out.
In Europe and North America we don’t like to talk about death. We are “death phobic,” as The Order of the Good Death describes it, which makes it all the more difficult for us when the inevitable happens. Regardless of which of those seven fears resonates most clearly with any one person—and I suspect it’s different for everyone—death comes to us all one way or another.
People in Latin America have a more open approach. Beginning on November 1, El día de los muertos (The Day of the Dead) is a two-day celebration that recognizes death as a natural and necessary process and part of the human experience. During El día de los muertos, the dead share in the celebrations, eating, drinking and being merry with their loved ones.
“. . . let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die.” —Isaiah 22:13
Today I will eat, drink and be merry with some departed loved ones—after I clean the bathrooms.
“The one who rides the tiger can never get off.” —Chinese proverb
What does that ancient wisdom mean to you? After I stumbled upon the proverb recently I found different interpretations.
1.Once you decide to tackle a powerful challenge, you can never give up.
Very few people choose to “ride the tiger,” or take on powerful challenges. Why would they, when a comfy life without peril is an option? Most people choose paths with multiple outlets, and contingency plans. Safe, but not very interesting. Those who do step up to the fierce and noble animal must do so knowing that they are in for a wild ride that they must see through to the end.
2. If you connect yourself with something dangerous, it will attack you if you decide to disengage.
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,” Michael Corleone says in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. We need to choose our companions carefully, because the dangerous ones don’t want us to stop the wild ride. Wrong associations, drugs, bad business deals, and many other choices entrap us. They are a tiger that allows petting at first but once mounted shows its fangs.
3. Once you set yourself on the path of enlightenment, you will not be able to stop.
“One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions,” Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr wrote. He wasn’t referring to spiritual growth but it applies, because once a person opens up to enlightening ideas, they can never go back to the way life was before.
4. People often set off on paths that lead them to get trapped by their own wants, desires or prejudices.
Life can eat us alive. The title, position, status, or persona we have built may choke us, but we refuse to relinquish it.We may take on more and more until we are overloaded and incapacitated. We refuse to stop or escape, making us a prisoner of our own keeping.
5. Society is addicted to technologies and science.
We rely on our fume-spewing automobiles. Could we imagine life without our power-depended gadgets? Each scientific advancement brings the need for more science to solve a new problems born out of the new technology, in an endless quest for utopia.
That’s a wide variety of interpretations for sure, and all apt in their own way. What does riding the tiger mean to you?