Frogs, Oxen and Long Spoons

The word “inured” usually refers to one having accepted something unpleasant: being habituated, toughened, hardened, etc. I’m impressed with the ways in which so many of us are becoming accustomed to the restrictions of the coronavirus. I wonder, are we becoming inured?

The dictionary proposes that the opposites of inured are words like weakened, enfeebled, burnt-out. Are there only two options: inured or enfeebled? If so, inured would be surely my choice.

In the happy, long-ago days when I lived with my husband on Protection Island at the edge of the ocean, I swam several times a day in good weather and tried to extend the swimming season late into the fall. One year I was determined to swim until the end of November. My husband encouraged me by recounting the tale of Milo of Croton who was a great hero in 16th century Greece. According to the story, Milo built up his strength by carrying a calf on his shoulders every day until it became an ox. Every day, as he grew sturdier, he became inured to the task.

I quit my daily swims midway into November, but I think I was wiser than Milo who, later in life and overly proud of his strength, attempted to tear a tree apart until his hands became caught in the tree. He was then surprised and devoured by a pack of wolves.

Know when to quit and always treat trees with respect was my takeaway message from that story.

The other fable that comes to mind for me these days is the one about the frog who is placed in a pot of cold water which is gradually heated. Unable to detect the gradually increasing heat, the frog relaxes and is slowly cooked to death. Neither of these stories offer appealing choices at this time of Covid. Is that all there is?

But no, I remembered the parable of The Long Spoon. This story explains that in hell people gather around a pot of delicious stew but, because the handles of their spoons are longer than their arms, they cannot bring the stew to their mouths and thus are starved to death. In heaven, people learn to reach out, share, and feed one another, and they thrive happily together.

These old fables are instructive. It’s good to be inured and strengthened, but we don’t want to get too comfortable when things heat up around us. Whatever stresses we’re feeling these days, many of us are in the presence of abundance. If we accept our interdependence and learn to help each other out and to share, we’ll get through these trying times.

As Minister Dix has often pointed out, we’re all in this together.

And we need to be all in.

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