Tuesday, February 11, 2014

the urchin -- nadir and apex

Once upon a time, a "street urchin" was a term used to describe a child who spent most of his or her time in the streets, often in the slums. The term had a neutral cast: An "urchin" was an unpleasant bit of the animal kingdom and was not something to be desired, but it was part of the animal kingdom.  A "street urchin" was a tatterdemalion -- "a dirty shabbily clothed urchin." A "street urchin" might or might not excite pity, depending on the class-consciousness of the user.

Whatever the case, an "urchin" was obviously not a critter held in high regard. I guess it was ugly and prickly and useless except to the extent it could be used to describe something undesirable. Street urchins were poor and dirty and nobody wanted to be poor and dirty. Poor and ugly ... a dreary combination.

Somehow, at some point, "urchins" were chosen to bear a downside linguistic role. An urchin was most certainly not Little Lord Fauntleroy.

But wait!

Urchins are simultaneously a delicacy. Just ask a Greek or Japanese gastronome and suddenly an urchin is elevated to ineffably scrumptious and wondrous heights. Consider the single line offered along the Internet highway: "Sea urchin is by far one of the most divine delicacies you can offer your guests in Greece." Urchin roe is prized and praised by any self-respecting specialist in eating.

From a dog to a deity and back again ... and all of it riding on a single word, a single entity: The "urchin," nadir and apex.

Sometimes I wonder whether there is a tipover point in efforts and accomplishments and ways of being -- a point at which wisdom abounds to such a degree that the only interesting thing left is ignorance and delusion; a point where there is so much wealth that the only thing that makes viable sense is poverty; a point where there are so many smarts that the only remaining allure is stupidity ... and vice versa.

Maybe it's like the old book title, "Been Down So Long It Feels Like Up to Me" except that the title might also read, "Been Up So Long It Feels Like Down to Me."

Is there a time when a poor man has no alternative but to assert his wealth or a wealthy man has no alternative but to see the poverty? Is there a time when what was "obvious" becomes "obscure" ... or vice versa? I'm talking about personal experience here, not moral posturings or fulminations.

When my father was young, butchers would throw away calves liver as an unworthy food. Check your local supermarket today. In Hawaii, the macadamia nut once relegated to the garbage heap is now a gourmet product.

Perhaps there is a point at which defending against enemies somehow misses the mark. Defending against anything may be quite a good idea, but in doing so, the picture remains incomplete. Greed, anger and ignorance deserve any wise (wo)man's most determined efforts. Evil is no joke. It is not some philosophical Tinker Toy. And yet too ...

Is defense a real answer? Or offense either?

I just wonder.

Perhaps there comes a point at which there is nothing to do but say, "welcome." The urchin's spines are painful. The roe is delicious.


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