Most people outside of our families and a few friends don’t know about the exotic and far-off destination we chose for our honeymoon in December of 1973. We carefully looked over all our options, thought long and hard and chose… Williamsburg! Becky had visited there several times with her family as a child: I had never been there except for one field trip to Jamestown for the colony’s celebration of 350 years in the same location. The term for 350 years of anything is sesquarcentennial (or, if you prefer, the semiseptcentennial, which is easier to say). The founding was 350 long years ago. I was telling my students one time about this journey, and they wanted to know if I knew John Smith and Pocahontas personally. I told them I did know Shakespeare but that I would not lower myself to consort with lowly colonists. Anyhow, this was my first trip to the ‘Burg as William and Mary students call it (they have many other names for local phenomena, including “tourons,” a clever word formation which combines “tourist” and “moron.” A young friend once told us that during a class in the Wren Building some nice people who probably don’t get out much came into the room, and after the class ended, asked if the students and professor were actors putting on a demonstration of what life was like at the college. At least they waited until class was over to ask their question, as misguided as it was. Also, William and Mary students call the intersection of Routes 5 and 60 at the eastern end of campus“Confusion Corner. Just sit there and watch traffic try to sort itself out for about five minutes and you’ll see what I mean).
But I digress, as usual. The point to this (pun intended) is that while we were there we bought a kitchen tool which has in the intervening years has grown in fame and glory whenever stories are told at Pampered Chef parties all over the world. We call it, simply, “the Williamsburg Knife.” This sharp as a, uh, knife implement is a Sabatier, a French chef’s knife used by gourmet cooks there and elsewhere. What we thought we’d do with an such an extravagance is beyond me, but it has been one of the best purchases we ever made, right up there with the 1978 Impala we bought when Amy was four months old and on which she learned to drive sixteen years later. We finally donated it to a church staff member in about 1998, for a service life of twenty years. I would say they don’t make ‘em like that any more, but the truth of the matter is that they make them better than that, unless you’re an antique car buff, in which case they don’t make them like that any more at all, which is, after all, the working definition of the “antique” part of “antique car.”
This knife is in great shape. Carbon steel is durable (it’s also used in swords) and I couldn’t find how long one would last in use before it is whittled away to nothing, but apparently it would take a long long time. My mom had a paring knife that was warn down so that it looked like a stiletto. I suspected she used it on spy missions, but she would never admit to that.
Some things endure and some are ephemeral. (I’ve noticed this.) Our knife has to do with serving quietly for a long time and not losing one’s edge. We know so many people like that, people who continue to do what is right and good and fair. They make this world a better place, and I am privileged to know them. (You know who you are.)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the great English Victorian poet, wrote these lines near the end of his life in “Ulysses”:
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life!…
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence,…
And vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought…
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices.
Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die…
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
I pray that we do not stay in the knife drawer, but remain burnished and “shine in use.”