“To Err is Human…

…to forgive divine.” I thought of this quote yesterday, which was written by my historical soulmate, Alexander Pope. I know; perhaps we wouldn’t be soulmates if we met in person. But as that won’t happen on this side of the veil (time travel not being a reality), I can maintain my romantic notion.

This quote comes from his Essay on Criticism, published in 1711. I know this is hard for moderns to wrap their minds around, but essays didn’t used to be the five-paragraph atrocities that are taught in school these days. This particular essay was done as a long-form poem composed of heroic couplets. Can you imagine turning that into a sophomore English class? Education went downhill precipitously over the course of the twentieth and slid right into the garbage heap of the twenty-first century, and I conjecture that part of the problem was the rejection of traditional forms of essays, such as poems. Once these forms and structures are thrown out, what do you have left? I know teachers try to elicit cohesive groups of thoughts from their students, but when the students don’t even know what a heroic couplet is, how can anything cohesive be expected?

Losing traditions was not, however, what this post was about. Losing minds, yes. Well, there is also the loss of minds that comes along with the loss of traditions. But again, that was not the point. The point is that, as much as humans try to dot all their I’s and cross all their T’s, they still make errors because it is human to err, as Pope declared several hundred years ago. I tend to be very hard on myself when I make errors. Generally, I believe I will have to give up my human card and allow the floor to swallow me up when I make them, when the opposite occurs instead. Not that I would like to make them just to keep being a human being. That would be silly.

It’s been a hard few days. It’s been a hard few weeks and months, too. My life has dramatically shifted in so many ways in the last few months, culminating in my traffic accident, which has wrecked my ability (for now) to exercise. And as I haven’t replaced my accordion, it has wrecked my ability to play my instrument. That isn’t to mention writing my books. That is gone from my life for now because I have jobs I need to complete that predate my new fulltime job — and so I am completely strapped for time. I don’t know why I’m obsessive about accomplishing and moving and doing, but remove my long list of pursuits, and I have little ability to cope. I’m not complaining as much as I’m setting the stage for why I was consumed with abject misery yesterday. The cherry on top was that I became a self-martyr because I made a mistake on something I had done at work. Nobody else had said anything; it was all my own self-flagellations I was bleeding over.

And then a voice of reason reached down from heaven and asked me what else I was miserable and fretting over. Huh? Why was God asking me this? By the way, when I say God, it is merely my perception that this was an authoritative voice outside myself — that is, God. But if so, why was he asking me to dwell on further misery? And then he provided the answer: multiple people have made work errors recently that have cost me both time and money. In addition, the traffic accident was not my fault. You aren’t the only one who makes errors, the voice told me. In other words, the world of martyrdom doesn’t revolve around me. Then the Alexander Pope line ran through my head, and I was consoled because it shifted the world back into perspective.

Maybe Pope is my historical soulmate, and he was looking down from heaven and shaking his head. Maybe he did ask God if he could remind me of the line from his poem to aid me in my distress. Yes, I’m still allowed my romantic notions, which aren’t that romantic if you believe in life after death. Pope, you see, was a Catholic, and Catholics are not materialistic believers. They truly believe in life after death. That is why they ask long-dead saints to pray for them. While Alexander Pope has never been bestowed with the capital “S” saint status, he was a small “s” saint — and why can’t a small “s” saint carry our petitions to God?

I’m better now, less despondent. I actually do attribute it to the reminder from one of my favorite poets. I will offer the full stanza below, just so you can get an idea of where this oft quoted line comes from. This particular poem has a number of oft quoted lines, but it’s far too long to provide the whole essay here. You will have to seek it out on your own.

And while self-love each jealous writer rules,

Contending wits become the sport of fools:

But still the worst with most regret commend,

For each ill author is as bad a friend.

To what base ends, and by what abject ways,

Are mortals urg’d through sacred lust of praise!

Ah ne’er so dire a thirst of glory boast,

Nor in the critic let the man be lost!

Good nature and good sense must ever join;

To err is human; to forgive, divine.

Alexander Pope

Ouch! The entire poem is harsh in this way, and yet apropos and consoling at the same time. Thank you, God, for inspiring Mr. Pope. Let him know he has helped me, if you would.

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