The Havamal is not a scripture, but a combination of a few items that were originally the province of bards and poets. Much of its advice is practical. Very practical. No other book of wise sayings is as practical as the Havamal. I can tell you that based on my personal experience.
Believe me, many a problem could be avoided and many a success be enjoyed by heeding some of its timeless wisdom. Having lived through some hard times and wild circumstances in my younger days, I can attest to their validity. And I have seen many come to grief by doing the very things against which the Havamal counsels.
Many of the quotes have parallels in our common language. For instance, the Havamal warns against “bandying words with fools.” An old expression in artillery is “Don’t play with the duds.” This is a case of double entendre. In artillery slang, dud can also mean a fool.
In view of the physical travails of the last dozen or so years, I have found myself somewhat limited. Things I used to do are not wise for me to do now. Having had open heart surgery ten months ago, I am having a slow time bouncing back. The spirit is willing, but the body is taking its time. I am not alone. There are many others also going through a medical situation.
How do we handle these changes? How do we mentally deal with physical limitation? How do we handle the change in our status? And what about that nagging feeling of being somehow less of a person because of it? Here are three verses from the Havamal that sum it up nicely:
69. All wretched is no man, | though never so sick;
Some from their sons have joy,
Some win it from kinsmen, | and some from their wealth,
And some from worthy works.
70. It is better to live | than to lie a corpse,
The live man catches the cow;
I saw flames rise | for the rich man’s pyre,
And before his door he lay dead.
71. The lame rides a horse, | the handless is herdsman,
The deaf in battle is bold;
The blind man is better | than one that is burned,
No good can come of a corpse.
No man is totally wretched, no matter how ill he feels, if there is something in which he takes joy. I understand that. Though I have been sidelined from some of my activities, I still find joy in many things. For me, there is my work at my American Legion Post and County, where I am chaplain. There is my writing and my hobby of making miniatures. Of course, my wife brings me much joy. I also enjoy trains. Learning is also a joy to me, be it science, military history, railroad stuff, graphics, etc.
How about you? What brings you joy? What delights you? Rare is the person who takes pleasure in nothing.
I learned long ago the joy of keeping interested. I had a great aunt who had been a school teacher in the days of one-room classrooms. She taught several grades at once. That is multitasking! She was in her eighties in the late Sixties and early Seventies and had gone blind. The woman was still interested in everything. Her two favorites were the space program and her favorite baseball team, the Mets. She was happy and enthusiastic. Her belief was that when you stop learning and stop being interested, you stop living. She was right.
Enthusiasm need not diminish because of physical ills. I am experiencing that every day.
The fact is that we can all do something. “Burning” was the way our Norse ancestors handled the remains of the dead. In today’s society, being buried would mean the same. You are not burned or buried if you are reading this. Take heart. As the French saying goes, “Where there is Life, there is hope.”
Everyone has something he or she can do. It might not be to the level of what was possible before the illness, but there is still something. Rare are those how are so ill as to be immobile. We can all learn new skills and ways to perform in spite of our physical limitations.
No person is utterly useless unless he chooses to be so!
We cannot allow our illnesses to define us. The physical problems are incidental to who we are. We live in spite of them. One of the ways people define themselves is by what they do.
You are still necessary. You are still useful. Though you might not be able to work up to the capacity of former times, you are still able to contribute to Life..
I am the first to admit that it can be hard to climb back from a setback. Indeed, I am physically struggling even now with the physical ins and outs of my surgery. However, we cannot give up on ourselves. No matter what it takes and how long it takes, we have to get back up. Granted that we might not be in the same shape as before, but at least we are up. I liken it to going through a tunnel. The way may be arduous, but if we persist we make it out the other side. We may not have everything with which we went into the tunnel. We might not be anywhere near the same shape, but at least we are through it. Once outside, we are free to go forward.
We have to get up after every setback. The alternative is not promising. I still think of a man I knew who let a setback define him thirty five years ago. Despite the help and encouragement of friends, he refused to pick himself up. He eventually became one of the bums at a park in that town. Even then, friends were willing to help. He refused. I read a story from that town back in 2012, and he was still on the bum. I knew him since kindergarten. So by all means, make the effort to rise again. As the Japanese say, “Fall seven times, get up eight!”
What can you do?
Something I learned years ago is of great value here. Over 30 years ago, I lost everything through a bad turn of finances. A couple years later, a different thing caused another setback. By the time of the second instance, I had already learned the lesson. Here it is::
1) What you had and what you lost are gone. They do not exist for you. They are no longer real. They are a memory.
2) What you want and what you think you need are a wish. They are at worst a dream, at best a hope. Either way, you do not have them. You cannot use them because they do not exist for you. They are your thoughts, not a thing .
3) What you have, no matter how great or small, is real for you. It exists. You can use it.
Instead of pining over lost good or waiting for a thing that may never arrive, start using what you have. If you use it, you may find it is more than enough to set you on your way. Do not hesitate.
Gratitude is an important attitude because to focuses us on the things we have. When we are grateful, we appreciate our good. When we appreciate it, we use it. Make a list of things for which you can be grateful. That can be the start of many a good thing.
If you are getting stuck, look at the obverse side of the coin. Consider those who have it far worse then you. No matter how bad you think you are, there are those far worse. Count your blessings and start using them.
Think of riding a bicycle. Where you look, there you go. Look towards what you have and what you can do and you find plenty. Do not look to what you cannot do and what you do not have. All you find there is lack and self-pity.
Get interested again. Start learning again. Dust off your old interests and look for those that still appeal to you. You can even find new interests. There are books and DVDs and cable shows for almost every interest that exists. Maybe it is cooking and baking, maybe it is whittling or model building. Maybe you like space or nature. Perhaps you enjoy classic science fiction. Maybe now is a good time to rediscover old hobbies. Get a train set and build a layout.* (Need help? Contact the local model railroad club.) Maybe you like slot cars. You can find a slot car set in HO, 1/32 or 1/24 to get you running. For those who enjoyed their old toy dollhouses, there is an adult hobby of making elegant dollhouses. You might want to take up a low-intensity sport like fishing or crabbing. Start playing music again. Visit museums and historic sites. Go to an aquarium. See a concert. Just do it!
Get interested. Learn and do. Remember, you are still useful. If your tasks are light duty, they still count. Every little task you do frees someone up to do his task. Because of you, twice as much gets done. Even if you are just babysitting the grandchildren, you are contributing.
Look for places to be useful, if you must.** Your life has not ended just because of a physical malady. Your capacity to act may be diminished, but you can still do something. Like the Havamal says, better a live man than a dead one.
One other thing. Learn to ask for help. If you really need assistance, accept it when offered. This is not charity. It is help. Allow others the honor of doing good. Those of us who are very independent find this difficult, especially when it involves duties that we handled on our own. Let someone else have the privilege of assisting you. I know how it feels. I felt guilty and lazy because I could not shovel snow any more and cannot cut down wood as in times past. Getting used to the fact that others might have to do it for me was difficult, at first. That is just one of the adjustments that had to be made. I can’t, they can, so I will let them.
A physical setback is not the end of life as you knew it. It is not the end of the world. You have to make adjustments, indeed. That does not make you useless or a burden. You still have things you can contribute. And you still have your interest in living. Make your life a masterpiece. You are an asset now, just as you would have been an asset back in the Viking Age. And that we have on good authority.
*Williams makes trains compatible with the old Postwar / MPC Lionel, and of the same great quality. If you decide to buy a set, go to one of their dealers rather than buying direct. Williams charges the full list price so as not to compete with its dealers. The dealers can and will offer you great discounts. The other good source of O / O27 trains is RMT Trains. They are also affordable and have that old-time quality. For more info on trains from a reliable source, try http://www.thortrains.net
**Veterans, you can be very useful. Join your local American Legion, VFW, Marine Corps League, DAV or JWV post. Spouses of veterans can join the Auxiliary. Contrary to the stereotype, these groups are not primarily drinking clubs. They are veterans service clubs who spend a lot of time and effort helping veterans and the community. Whatever little bit you can contribute helps, even if you are just manning the door at a Post fund raiser. (You can make a lot of friends doing that, too) The veterans’ organizations need people who are willing to get involved in their activities. Whatever you can do, large or small, will be appreciated.
Here are some of my other websites for those seeking a hobby that is not physically demanding:
Old fashioned toy soldiers and games – http://www.thortrains.net/armymen/ , http://www.thortrains.net/toysoldierart/
Military history and military miniatures (also has games and historical downloads and casting your own) – http://www.thortrains.net/milihistriot/index.html
Miniatures of all kinds, from tins to holiday figures – http://www.thortrains.net/minis/
Colorful, collectible tins – http://www.thortrains.net/tinworld/tincandex.html