Among the more enjoyable pleasures of reading Mansfield’s Book Of Manly Men  was the discussion of the life and personality of C.K. Chesteron. This name may be unfamiliar to many people, but as an inspiration to C.S. Lewis and many others, as well as a fantastically prolific writer of considerable wisdom and staggering productivity (something I suppose I can relate to), he is a man who deserves to be better appreciated and remembered by those of us who often unawares toil on in his footsteps without recognizing the influence that his thought and mindset has on our lives, or in how closely we may resemble him. I know that I myself find a great deal in Chesterton’s life and practice that mirrors my own life.
Let us make no mistake of it, G.K. Chesterton was an eccentric person. He was rotund, with a childlike sense of wonder at the world, a tendency to be disoriented and not very sure at all where he was supposed to be, a prolific writer with a gentle and self-effacing sense of humor, and someone whose tendency to reflect and muse on existence extended to any and all areas of life. He was clumsy and absent-minded, and had a deep love of the innocence of children as well as a delightfully odd sense of humor that included making up a fictional society for the encouragement of rain in England, which is almost like creating a society for the encouragement of rain in Portland, entirely unnecessary but also whimsical. As a whimsical person whose sense of wonder at life has also come at the price of disorientation and eccentricity, I can appreciate Chesterton’s quirkiness.
Among the interest I share with G.K. Chesterton without being aware of it is a strange fascination with pocket lint. Among Chesterton’s several thousand articles included one called “What I Found In My Pocket,” which was an examination of the (possible) meaning of pocket lint and other effluvia of life. Since childhood I too have pondered over the meaning of pocket lint, whether it was in my own pocket or in the lint trap of the dryers. I have looked at its color, its amount, and its consistency, and pondered over whether the feel of pocket lint in large quantities in a lint trap was similar to the shoddy clothing made for soldiers in the American Civil War. Until today, though, I have never written a blog entry about what I have found in my pocket, despite the fact that it is a subject that has crossed my mind a fair amount. In all fairness, though, I am absent-minded enough myself that I have found a lot more than pocket lint in my pockets, including half of a pair of gloves that someone bought for me a decade ago, receipts from long-forgotten gas station stops, or even the occasional poem or song lyrics or blog entry titles I have scratched on the back of some envelope. I suppose I am a bit eccentric myself, though I would like to think I am mostly harmlessly so.
Even more memorable than Chesterton’s shared fascination with pocket lint, though, is his skill in making witty epigrams, many of which are worthy of being remembered. Some of them are as follows:
“Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.”
“By experts in poverty, I do not mean sociologists, but poor men.”
“I believe in getting into hot water. I think it keeps you clean.”
“No man knows he is young while he is young.”
“There is no man really clever who has not found that he is stupid.”
“The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all.”
“Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”
“Do not free the camel of the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel.”
“People generally quarrel because they cannot argue.”
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”
“Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about the things in my pocket. But I found it would be too long; and the age of the great epics is past.”
As might be imagined, these are the sorts of quotes that I have lived my life by, as anyone who knows me could easily attest to. It is nice to know that my own eccentric but honest nature has at least a few people who have tread the same road, and well, living lives of honor and wonder, even if we do forget where we are supposed to be. Chesteron, of course, had a patient wife who received his many telegrams asking where he was supposed to be and responded graciously, knowing that the intellect and humor and gentleness of her husband came attached with a bit of a price, namely the price of a certain amount of absent-mindedness and bafflement. A man who puzzles over what he finds in his pocket, and muses about the little incidents and experiences of life, keeping alive some aspect of childhood, cannot be a man who entirely fits in in our mundane world. The price is worth it, though, to those who truly appreciate an odd and slightly askew view of life, and are prepared to deal with the inevitable inconveniences that result from being kindly and odd in a world that tends to hate what it cannot understand.