Tuesday, 28 September 2021

The old must make way for what's new

I WAS recently given a rather beautiful book entitled Lost Words. Apparently some words, many of them associated with the natural world, are being dropped from new editions of children’s dictionaries on the premise that children no longer use them or indeed need to know them.

It’s an illustrated book which, through art and poetry, explores some of these words and aims to evoke some sense of the beauty both of the object and the language used to describe them. There are illustrations and poems about an acorn, a hare, a newt and so on.

It seems unconscionable to me to think that these words are considered unnecessary and this was the motivation of the authors — to keep alive the “lost words” for future generations.

I wonder what else has been lost in recent years, what might have been removed from our common knowledge and parlance?

You may have seen Facebook posts such as “press ‘like’ if you remember this” with a picture of a once popular children’s television character or an ice lolly or suchlike.

When I see posts like this I wonder what is at work in us. Was it because when we were younger, full of hope and a certain innocence, that a favourite programme or the promise of an ice lolly became the highlight of our week?

It’s not really correct though to say that these things are lost to us because they remain in our memory and contribute to who we are in the present. We are surely the sum of all our experiences, all that we’ve learned and indeed unlearned. This means that what is intrinsic to our being and our sense of who we are will be different in every generation. History may, as they say, repeat itself but we will each experience and live it in a way that is unique.

So where does that get us? Well, I think it comes down to discerning what is important, what needs to be preserved and what can be laid aside to make way for the fresh and the new.

It’s about knowing when to let the next generation play their part, when to let the younger person have their input and influence and maybe take the lead.

It is certainly part of our faith tradition that we must not hang on to the old just because it has served us well in the past.

Jesus teaches about this when he speaks about not mending a tear in an old garment with new cloth because it will pull away from the worn cloth and make the tear worse and not putting new wine into old wineskins which would break, causing the new wine to be lost.

We can all think that we know what it must be preserved — and acorns and hares may well be in that category — but we need to also recognise where holding on to the old gets in the way of the new and thereby deprives others of what should rightfully be their time.

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