Familiarity (July 11)


“That song is best esteemed with which our ears are most acquainted” (William Byrd).

THERE IS A WONDERFUL DELIGHT THAT COMES FROM THINGS THAT HAVE GROWN FAMILIAR. New things are delightful too, of course, but with new things, it takes a while to get to know all of their nooks and crannies so that we can enjoy them fully. In the case of familiar things, however, knowing them well allows us to enjoy them at a deeper and richer level. For example, I’ve enjoyed many books the first time I read them, but I wouldn’t take anything for the great books that have become familiar to me. Each time I read them again, I love them even more. I “get” things that could never have been appreciated on the first (or even the second or third) reading.

To my way of thinking, there is a down-home kind of goodness that attaches itself to familiar things. E. B. White, who was a master at describing ordinary, everyday things, said, “Familiarity is the thing — the sense of belonging.” Even with inanimate objects, there is a rich sense of rightness in handling things that we’ve grown accustomed to through long usage. This morning, I fried my breakfast bacon and eggs in my favorite cast-iron skillet. I’ve used it thousands of times. I know every little scratch on its surface. Its handle fits my hand as if it were made for it. And while a new skillet might have its own attractions, it would take a long time to love it as I love this old one. As Shelley said, “Familiar acts are beautiful through love.”

It’s tempting to let our eyes roam here, there, and everywhere in a never-satisfied quest for the extraordinary. But while it’s good to be excited by the new from time to time, most of our attention needs to be paid to the familiar. Let’s not despise or overlook the value of the commonplace things in our lives: all the objects, the events, the places, and the people who are well known to us. I’ve been around a little bit, and I can tell you, there is nothing in this world any better than “the old familiar faces” (Charles Lamb). Familiarity need not breed contempt — in the grateful heart, it can breed great contentment.

“I embrace the common, I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low. Give me insight into today, and you may have the antique and future worlds. What would we really know the meaning of? The meal in the firkin; the milk in the pan; the ballad in the street; the news of the boat” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

Gary Henry – WordPoints.com

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