Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pedestrian joy

A "pedestrian" is simply a walker, a person whose motility is accomplished on foot.

Why, then, has the adjectival form of the word come to connote dullness, disenchantment, boredom, tedium, monotony, uneventfulness?

I wasn't thinking of any of those connotations this morning when I wrote that my friend and I are looking forward to a "pedestrian" evening's entertainment at the ball-yard tonight, by contrast with last night's family film outing to Jurassic World at the cineplex. I just meant it would be less over-the-top, outlandish, loud, crazy, sophomoric... in other words, "pedestrian" in ways that signify sanity, solidity, maturity, and order. All good things.

Pedestrian has been unfairly maligned. It is my mission to rehabilitate it.

That's part of what I thought about during my morning walk.

Then I  thought some more about "On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings," James's classic plea for mutual recognition and respectful toleration of one another's respective inner lives. He notes the nature-reverie of a Wordsworth, and the crowd-ecstasy of a Whitman, and the cosmic expansiveness of a Tolstoy ("Then Peter cast his eyes upon the firmament, filled at that hour with myriads of stars. 'All that is mine,' he thought. 'All that is in me, is me!"), and gleans the message: no single "occasion," no specific and exclusive sort of "experience," is required for our happiness. "It all depends on the capacity of the soul to be grasped, to have its life-currents absorbed by what is given."

In other words, the pedestrian soul can soar too. He cites one of Emerson's reported flights of (subjectively) "perfect exhilaration," and then serves up one of my favorite paragraphs ever:
Life is always worth living, if one have such responsive sensibilities. But we of the highly educated classes (so called) have most of us got far, far away from Nature. We are trained to seek the choice, the rare, the exquisite exclusively, and to overlook the common. We are stuffed with abstract conceptions, and glib with verbalities and verbosities; and in the culture of these higher functions the peculiar sources of joy connected with our simpler functions often dry up, and we grow stone-blind and insensible to life's more elementary and general goods and joys.
So, in my dictionary "pedestrian" can also mean exhilarated, responsive, and joyous - like a night at the ballgame.

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