CHAPTER XV THE SOVEREIGN GRACES OF THE HOME-Woodmam
The home lies somewhere between the outer and the inner life of man and its life touches and is touched by both. It is one of the highways through which one passes from the inner to the outer life, the place, to change the figure, where the inner life is touched by the outer world and by it tested and searched and challenged. The place of the home in relation to the inner life is shown forth by the truth that nothing which the world can give balances the hurts and wounds one may suffer within the home. Yet such is the magic and mystery of the home that it can heal every wound, which the world without inflicts. It is in the home that the peace of the inner life most clearly reveals itself, that one's soul finds itself most nearly invulnerable to the wounds of the world without. Shakespeare is true to the facts, if facts they may be called, in his tremendous picture of the storm on the heath, which in its terror is less terrible than the storm in the home-life of the banished and broken Lear.
The relations of the home constitute a test which nearly every one of us must meet and unhappiest is he who is outside of their range. No school, no testing-place like that of the home! And it is well to bear in mind that no man greatly succeeds in life, who fails in his own home, not merely because the rewards of the world cannot compensate for the failure of home-life, but because no successes without save from utterly tragic failure him who has failed within the home!
Home may be heavenly in its harmonies or hellish in its discords. To maintain that the difference is the result of love or lovelessness in the home does not tell the whole story. Whether home is to be heaven or hell, wracked by discord or attuned to harmony, depends upon them that make it, all of them, yea, upon the all of all that make a home. One alone may mar a home, any one of its members, husband or wife, parent or child, brother or sister, though all together are needed to minister to its perfection.
And how are the harmonies to be achieved and the discords to be avoided? And the answer is,—through courtesy, consideration, comradeship,—all in turn, alike in the major and minor issues of life, going back to self-rule not self-will. Courtesy and consideration together constitute the chivalry of the home, courtesy its outer token, consideration its inner prompting. The chivalry of the home is a reminder, occasionally required by both parents and children, that courtesy is not a grace if reserved for and bestowed solely upon strangers. The man or child, who is a churl at home and limits his courtesy extra-murally, is not only a pitiable boor but a contemptible hypocrite.
And consideration is something more than courtesy, for the latter springs from it as both are rooted in the sympathy which is the origo et fons of comradeship. Consideration like an angel comes, moving the family members to think with and for others, not of themselves as pitilessly misunderstood but as capable of understanding others because possessed of the will to understand.
But there can be neither outward courtesy nor inmost consideration, least of all comradeship, unless there be the grace of avoidance of those temptations to selfishness, which more than all else blight the home by leading to conflict irrepressible and irreconcilable. Unselfishness in its higher or lower sense is the conditio sine qua non of the parental-filial relation, even as selfishness is deadly not only to those who are guilty of it but to those who needlessly endure it. For selfishness it is which more than all else converts the home into a prison, even a dungeon. Parents have the right to ask of children that they shall avoid the besetting sin of childhood, namely, selfishness, though usually the guilt of filial selfishness rests upon the head of parents who long suffer children to indulge in selfishness for the sake of parental indulgence. Fostering filial selfishness is ofttimes little more than a cheap and easy way of holding oneself up for self-approval and to filial commendation.
Nothing is more important than to teach children, especially the children of the privileged, the art of unselfishness unless it be for the parents of privileged children to practice it. The fact that many, many families in our days are of the one or two-children variety gives to the child a tremendous impact in the direction of self-centredness,—toward what I have elsewhere called an egocentric or "meocentric" world. If, however, as happens too commonly, children are treated by selfishly and idiotically indulgent parents during the years of childhood and adolescence as if every one of them were the center of the universe, it will little avail to cry out against the child's selfishness just because he or she has reached twenty. Other-centredness will not be substituted for self-centredness at twenty, however much parents may be dismayed, if during the first twenty years the perhaps native selfishness of the child have been ministered to in every imaginable way.
In order to deepen the spirit of filial unselfishness it is needful to give or rather to help children to have and to hold an aim bigger than themselves. Given unselfishness, the freedom from self-seeking and self-ministration and the presence of the will to minister and to forbear, that unselfishness which is the exclusive grace neither of parent nor of child, then comradeship, the hand-in-hand quest of life, become possible. Then and only then may parent and child become comrades, not fellow-boarders and roomers and hoarders, but fellow-travelers and sojourners alike along life's way. Without comradeship, whatever else there be, there can be no such thing as home. Comradeship shuts out the sense of possession, prevents the invasion of personality, averts alike parental tyranny and filial autocracy.
But comradeship is not to be achieved through the word of parents and children,—Go to, let us be comrades. For comradeship is that which grows out of the cumulative and united experience of parent and child, if these have so lived and so labored together that unconsciously and inevitably there come to pass the fellowship of life's pilgrimage in real togetherness, comrades with souls "utterly true forever and aye." No compulsion to sympathy and understanding and forbearance where the spirit of comradeship dwells! And such comradeship is unaffected by outward circumstance or by diversities of viewpoint or of educational opportunity or of worldly possession.
Perhaps comradeship ought to be stressed for a moment, viewing a tendency not quite uncommon to shelve parents, however politely, on the part of children once they imagine themselves to have become mature beings. Parental euthenasia can be practised or attempted in many and subtle ways. Sir William Osler's forty years as a limit,—of course the attribution is essentially fallacious,—fit into the notion of those children who are for an easy and if possible painless superannuation of lagging parents.
Needless to insist, comradeship means infinitely more than physical proximity. If children but knew how at last when they are grown and maturing, parents sometimes hunger for the companionship of son and daughter, these might be ready to give up some of their comrades whether first-rate or third-rate to satisfy the hunger of the parental heart for companionship with the child. True, it is, that parents must fit themselves throughout life for such comradeship, keeping their hearts young and their minds unclosed. But frequently the failure is due to the sheer selfishness of children, that selfishness which considers not nor forbears, which lightly misunderstands and unadvisedly rejects the parent as comrade on the way, though the parent-heart hunger and ache. Children should not require exhortation to the end that they remember parents are not feeders, clothiers, stewards, landlords, boarding-house keepers, and that in exceptional cases these continue to have the right to live after passing the Methuselah frontier of fifty or sixty.
One is polite in exchange of courteous word even with one's hotel clerk. Occasionally one confides in the mistress of a boarding-house. If children but knew the pain some parents feel in that attitude of children which reduces them in their own sight to the level of utterly negligible rooming-house keepers for strangers, they could not demean themselves as they do. This complaint has been voiced to me a number of times within recent years, alike by people of cultivation and by simple, untutored folk. In the former case, the filial silences are generally due to disagreements and misunderstanding. There is such a thing as the acceptance of hospitality on the part of children which compels certain reciprocal courtesies. When children for any reason are unable or unwilling to yield the elementary courtesies of the home, it is for them in all decency to decide whether they are justified in accepting its hospitality.
And comradeship must welcome not regret, nurture not stifle, the fine impatiences of youth, the eager, oft unconsidered, superb, at best resistless, idealisms of youth. Parents are not to mistake this finely impatient idealism for unreasoning impetuosity. They are to remember that, howsoever inconveniently and troublingly, youth represents the ungainsayable imperiousness of the future. Parental scoffing and cynicism are more chilling to the heart of youth than the world's derision. The world's scornful darts fall hurtless upon the shield of him, armed by parental hand for life's battle with the weapons of idealism. And in comradeship it is not enough for parents not to mock nor to be scornful of children's so-called impracticable ideals. Where these are not, parents must commend them by their own works rather than command them by their words. Comradeship always means the taking of counsel and not the giving of commands. But there can be no taking of counsel with youth at twenty if the parental habit have been one of command prior to that time. Twenty years of absolutism cannot suddenly be replaced by the democratic way of holding counsel.
Parents must be willing to forfeit all save honor in pressing upon youth the categorical and undeniable summons of the ideal. Parents must sometimes, ofttimes, be immovably firm, so firm as to be ready to lose the love of children rather than to sacrifice their self-respect. Men and women are not worthy of the dignity and glory of parenthood who lack the courage to brave the frown of a child, the strength to front a child's displeasure. Remembering that parents usually love their children not wisely but too well and that children love their parents wisely but not too well, let the gentleness of parents be lifted up and hallowed by firmness and the firmness of children be hallowed and glorified by gentleness.
If anything the case is still harder for the uneducated or slightly educated parents of children, who have been enabled to tread the highway of education. It seems indecent on the part of these to treat parents in contemptuous fashion, sitting at table with them but never exchanging a word of converse. Even when children have virtually attained the heights of omniscience, it is well for them to remember that earth's greatest are not too proud to hold converse with the lowliest, and that one's education is measured not by the number of languages one speaks but by the fineness of spirit that shines through one's speech, however ungrammatical and one's acts however unveneered. Comradeship is not to be bought by parents, neither can it be bribed by children. It must not mean the forfeiture of standards. The comradeship that it not suffered to hold the target ever higher is not comradeship but compromise. The comradeship that dare not press higher standards is not comradeship. The comradeship that fears to urge the ennobling ideal is not comradeship but concession.
I have before me as I write a letter or a fragment of a letter written by a young sergeant of the French army to his parents ere he fared forth in early August, 1914, to Lorraine,—a youth of promise on the eve of fulfilment. These are his words, unread until after his death in the following month, which he gloriously met, fighting to the end against the overwhelming numbers to which he refused to surrender. "Be sustained by the contemplation of the beautiful which you cannot fail to love, and which brings you to the eternal principle to which our soul returns.... It is not they who pass for whom we must mourn. I desire but one thing, that I may have a death worthy of the life of my admirable and truly loved father." No conflict here but perfect concord, the concord of a perfect comradeship. The father a distinguished servant of his country in war and peace, the mother a seeker after God and the highest, had been as his comrades, going just a little before and teaching him how to live and toil and hope. He dared all and fell with peace in his heart and faith in his unconquered soul that all was well, that the comradeship of earth would merge at last in the comradeship eternal.
The Prophet was right: "And he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers." For the Messiah is born when the hearts of parents and children are turned to each other in reverence and selflessness. For then it is that the home is brought nearer to the presence of God and that clashing and conflict end—when, in the word of a noble teacher of our generation, it is remembered that "the child is itself a gift, first to parents out of the infinite, then by them to the eternal."