On The Other Hand: Seven Aphoristic Briefs on the Virtues

In his memoir Travels With Charley John Steinbeck writes: “We value virtue but do not discuss it. The honest bookkeeper, the faithful wife, the earnest scholar get little of our attention compared to the embezzler, the tramp, the cheat.”

I suspect he’s correct, especially these days. Virtue isn’t very hot. Do we really want to read (or see the movie version of) The Postman Always Rings Once? Or Single Indemnity? Because aren’t we now, each of us, unwilling extras in the frightening national reality show, waiting breathlessly for the latest offensive offense? For that Fifth Avenue gunshot or the racist rant or the newest and brightest Armageddon-edge brought on by the seemingly never-ending horror, the daily and oh-so-highly visible avian distribution of one or more of the Seven Deadly Septet? We’d prefer to look away. But then we might miss something.

The Virtues may feel, on first (or second or third) acquaintance, bland. Goody two-shoes. Nyah-nyah. And they are, actually, for most of us, difficult to live by, especially when there seems to be no need. Except when there is. And so, seven brief takes on the Saintly Seven.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. (1500 - 1550).  Prudence  Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/fdf53b40-63d4-0133-7314-00505686d14e

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. (1500 - 1550). Prudence Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/fdf53b40-63d4-0133-7314-00505686d14e


FAITH

The earth will be there

Beneath my feet

When I take my next step.

The sun will rise and

There will be a day

In which I breathe

And can

Reach out.

 

HOPE

The light around the corner

Is bright. And there will be

Friends with smiles

To greet me.

 

CHARITY

On the subway,

The Doo-Wop guys

Folded newspapers for rhythm

Harmony in their souls

Always end their bop with

“Smile, it won’t

Mess up your hair.”

 

FORTITUDE

After the knockdown

Getting up is never easy

Facing it is hard.

But sometimes

The answer is just

Doing

The next right thing.

 

JUSTICE

Stand whenever you are able.

Those scales need all the

Help they can get

Especially today

When telling the truth

Is an act of courage.

 

TEMPERANCE

Find that Golden Mean

Not too much

Not too little

Didn’t your Grandmother

Remind you:

“Enough is as good as a feast?”

 

PRUDENCE

Wisdom, judgment,

Looking before leaping,

Stopping to think,

Before acting.


Your parents may have told you “Virtue is its own reward.”  When you’re six, the phrase is pretty much a conundrum.  Now that I’m older, I’m still thinking.  I’ll let you know.