The butterfly lands carefully enough on nature’s midpoints. What an art. Lately I’ve been alert to the word “enough,” probably because now its common use rarely balances in the middle. It lacks the hard consonants of other well-worn words like iconic and complicit. Yet, when spoken, the word often finds itself at one extreme or the other. Writers warn us of not enough sleep, fiber, or mindfulness. Pundits cry “enough is enough” of deceptions, polluters, or accumulated wealth.
The Brothers Grimm display both ends of the spectrum in “The Fisherman and His Wife.” As we would expect in a fairy tale there are the shared elements of an enchanted nobleman, magic wishes, and moral reckoning.
The fisherman snares a flounder, a bewitched prince, who bargains for his release by promising to fulfill wishes. The man may be content, but his wife covets a cottage instead of a hovel and a castle instead of a cottage. The man pleads, “Isn’t the cottage good enough?” He returns to the fish again and again as his wife’s desires escalate: to be King, Emperor, Pope, and God. The last wish becomes too much—even for a cooperative fish—and thus the couple find themselves back in the hovel. From one end of the “enough” spectrum to the other.
Turning to Merriam Webster for the meaning of the word “enough,” I find no extreme synonyms or phrasing, but simply a statement about a degree or quantity that satisfies, that suffices.
Over forty years ago, I studied the primary documents of St. Francis of Assisi at St. Bonaventure University. Of all the prayers of Francis, my favorite is “The Praises of God,” an exhilarating catalog of the Creator’s beauty and goodness. And then, when I least expect it, comes this acclamation:
“You, [God] are moderation,
You are all our riches unto sufficiency.”
Francis of Assisi will never be considered a moderate saint. He is the saint of extremes, able to cup in his hands both a wounded bird and the miraculous stigmata. Yet, there also exists the Francis of the middle ground, caught between earth and heaven, a poor man with an extravagant heart praising a God of the Golden Mean.
The virtue of moderation does not find its origin in a Catholic saint, but In a Greek philosopher. Aristotle’s writings on “The Golden Mean” define that priceless midpoint: not too little, not too much, but just right. Gold with its connotations of splendor and possible excess seems a poorly chosen color to define balance, but that is what Aristotle maintains.
Edith Hall’s newly released Aristotle’s Way offers a clear rationale for following an ancient wisdom. Aristotle’s shining middle way is where I find expression for the right amount of indifference and arrogance, cowardice and courage. At this moment, the book serves as a relevant examination of conscience.
Teeter tottering between withdrawal and outrage, I’d like to experiment with an in-between space far from tipping points. Maybe for a day or two I could balance myself on The Golden Mean. Or better yet, be a butterfly. Should be easy enough to rest long enough and feed just enough—before I catapult once more into the fray.