What to Make of a Diminished Thing

Written by John Paul Carter on July 30, 2012

Our frequent guest columnist, John Paul Carter, an ordained minister who writes for the Weatherford (Texas) Democrat, cites both Robert Frost and Alfred, Lord Tennyson, as he tackles the tough subject of growing old. 

Among creatures “both great and small,” the poet Robert Frost seemed to have the greatest affection for birds. A good example is his tribute to “The Oven Bird,” a woodland warbler who builds its covered nest (which resembles a Dutch oven) on the ground. To the poet’s ear, the Ovenbird’s distinctive song heralds the waning of the seasons and makes a pertinent query:

The question that he frames in all but words

Is what to make of a diminished thing.

It’s easier to sing in the early stages of life when things are on the upswing – when life seems to stretch out endlessly before us. But it takes a special bird with a different song to sing when things are winding down and the season is changing, as in…

…the close of a bountiful peach harvest,

…the shrinking of a beloved village and congregation,

…our children leaving after a long anticipated visit,

…declining energy, endurance, and health,

…the loss of loved ones and friends,

…the evolving of a world we once knew.

What shall we make of our diminished things?

Is it possible in the midst of grief to give thanks for what is fading away and allow those “diminished things” to become a foundation for the future? As the clutter and busyness subside, might we find our heart’s delight? Could we develop long neglected gifts? Could less become more?

Could we discover that the bridge between the land of the living and the land of the dead is love? Might we become more aware of opportunities to share the blessings that have been ours? Could we find a depth in life that we were too busy to plumb before? Could we grow to trust God rather than His gifts?

For this stage of life, Alfred, Lord Tennyson gives a good answer to the Ovenbird’s probing question, “What to make of a diminished thing?”

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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