by Mike Pyatt
Feet propped upon the desk. Time for reflection. A brief respite from the rigors of life. Is it a way of life? A calling? Or less? Nineteenth Century French romanticist poet, and novelist, Victor Hugo, who wrote Les Miserables, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, wrote, “To rove about, musing, that is to say loitering, is, for a philosopher, a good way to spend life.” He confirms that loitering isn’t merely a physical act, or the absence of action. It’s often a state of mind. The term, primarily pejorative, isn’t common in our vernacular. Yesteryear, it was routine in retail establishments, prominently posting a sign, “No loitering!” In some locales such comportment may be prohibited by ordinance, or have the full force of the law with a monetary fine, compulsory free ride to the edge of town, or a complimentary night’s lodging in the local hoosegow. Webster defines it, “to linger in an aimless way, spending time idly, without purpose.” German philosopher Von Goethe captured its essence, with a warning label, “Lose the day loitering, twill be the same tomorrow, and the rest more dilatory.” A nineteenth century term, albeit not an endearing, was a “lay about.” “A loafer, bum, or lazy; reluctant to move.” Today, objects of such disdain identify themselves as “cultural drifters.”
Years ago, in the pre-CVS/Walgreen era, the local drugstore was a hub for neighborhood shoppers. Often run by a part-time pharmacist, and would-be curmudgeon, rarely overly fond of youthful browsers. He prided himself in offering an array of sundry items, magazines and comic books, augmented by a full-service soda fountain. Strategically posted was a “No Loitering” sign above the magazines, comic books, and emblazoned on the wall above the soda fountain. Those words were foreign to kids. Parents translated, “Kids, don’t read the magazines or comic books; and you’d better buy something when you sit at this soda counter.” Undesirables. This pre-dated Hillary Clinton’s “deplorable” tag.
Formerly, and to a lesser degree contemporarily, anti-loitering policies are designed to discourage and reduce the number of “undesirables” and indolent from “just hanging around” places of commerce, protecting private and public interests from beggars, panhandlers or worse. New York City’s former Mayor, Rudy Giuliani dramatically reduced crime, by enforcing ordinances already on the books, getting them off of public streets and thoroughfares. The actual cost of loitering to commerce and taxpayer is inestimable. Loitering has mutated into burgeoning, sprawling homeless compounds, blighting major metropolitan cities, draining limited city coffers and straining resources. Clearing street corners now requires a bulldozer.
More debilitating and pervasive than physical, momentary or serial loitering, is internal loitering. Cobwebs in the soul. One can be gainfully employed, highly compensated, yet experience a life devoid of lasting purpose or meaning. Just marking time. Loitering doesn’t occur only on a street corner or park bench. How many loiter in church? Catering to our own interest, with minds fixed on ignoble things, going through the motions, relying on reflex tendencies. A purposeful life pivots upon the premise that we must know why we occupy space on planet earth. Is it just to make a living? It eclipses perseverance in life’s ebb and flow. Admittedly, it’s no easy task escaping the shackles of banality and convention. T.S. Eliot wrote, “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” God determines outcomes, our ally in just, righteous and noble efforts. We’re not created for a reclusive, monastic existence, shielded from risk or reward.
Few will leave the indelible mark of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, who risked their property, family, and some, their own existence to challenge the tyrannic British Monarch. However, one can make a contribution on a plane proportional to one’s own reach. One may confine one’s self to a labor of love requiring a life of relentless pursuit, or an idea that transforms a field of endeavor, such as Curie, Pasteur, Salk, Booker T. Washington, or Martin Cooper, our modern-day cell phone inventor. Invest in those who routinely cast a shadow upon our path. Our choices are nearly innumerable. The prestigious Jefferson Award is truly an honor at the national and local level. How about as an incorruptible politician? Defend the unborn, widows and orphans. Conduct a Bible study. Cast a lifeline to the helpless. Storm the gates of heaven, and engage a prayer partner, leaving an indelible mark on a solitary life. The youthful may consider a career in the military ranks, or the “Thin Blue line.” Resist self-aggrandizement and pretense. Leave that to Tinsel Town. Inoculate one’s self from the ubiquitous “affluenza” outbreak.
Not many possess the lofty lyrical talent or prolific pen of a Dante, Eliot, Faulkner, Frost, Longfellow, Shakespeare, or Wordsworth. However, that shouldn’t hinder anyone’s relentless pursuit of our sphere of influence using our God-given resources. It’ll demand a conscious, determined resolve to resist the unsubstantial mirage of chasing personal peace at any cost, revealing the ever present enmity between our innate self-serving tendency, and responding to a higher calling. A short poem, attributed to Benjamin Franklin, Mr. Meant-To, says, “Mr. Meant-To has a comrade, And his name is Didn’t Do; Have you ever chanced to meet them? Did they ever call on you.” It concludes, “Don’t be haunted by the ghost of Might-Have-Been.” Opportunities are endless. Not one’s earthly pilgrimage. Before his untimely death in 1747, at age 29, missionary to the Housatonic Indians, Yale trained, David Brained declared, “Oh, that I may never loiter on my heavenly journey.” Can we do less?
What could be more grievous than having etched on one’s headstone, “He(She) Loitered Through Life?” Pretense, pomposity, and inanity, in the end, dupes only the pretender, pompous, and inane. Some protest, “No talent!” Willingness demands none. Beware! We’re entering the “No loitering zone.” What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org