My Psalm 105
Dragoons in Our Lives
In the late 1500’s across Europe, soldiers fighting on horseback carrying a short musket became known by the name of their weapon. These dragoons, the weapon not the soldier, were a bit inaccurate and the horses ridden by the soldiers were also often simple farm horses, not powerful beasts of battle. However lacking both the animal and musket might have been, the dragoon platoons served well their purpose of distracting the enemy and providing a screen for the main part of the army to which they were attached. Today dragoons retain the name but their mode of transportation has become motorized vehicles or helicopters.
Toy dragoons have long been found in the toy box. In describing childhood, Ralph Waldo Emerson made note of them. “The child with his sweet pranks, the fool of his senses, commanded by every sight and sound, without any power to compare and rank his sensations, abandoned to a whistle or a painted chip, to a lead dragoon, or a gingerbread dog, individualizing everything, generalizing nothing, delighted with every new thing, lies down at night overpowered by the fatigue, which this day of continual pretty madness has incurred. But Nature has answered her purpose with the curly, dimpled lunatic. She has tasked every faculty, and has secured the symmetrical growth of the bodily frame, by all these attitudes and exertions–an end of the first importance, which could not be trusted to any care less perfect than her own.”
He might have also been referring to life itself as a dragoon, though. Recently I received a quote on social media about how we evolve into our goodness and purpose in life. Someone commented that perhaps we are born to that goodness, move away from it, and then spend the rest of our lives trying to regain and return to it. Certainly many spiritual and religious beliefs would uphold both statements.
So what do we use as our dragoon musket in life? Does our faith protect us? Do we use it to defend us? Does it merely complicate things for us? There are those pockets of the faithful known as monks or nuns who are excellent examples of daily living their faith. However, it must be noted that they lead sheltered lives and are, by fact of that, less likely to fall prey to the temptations of the active world, the world outside their communes and monasteries.
Dragoon platoons were not known for treating their enemies kindly. In fact, the word became a verb meaning to punish, to constrain, to force into submission or compliance especially by violent measures. There are those times when life seems to dragoon us. The dragoons of old became part of the larger cavalry unit, especially as horses became more prevalent in their use by armies before mechanized transportation was available. Where are our personal cavalries when we feel threatened? What gives us protection against those incidents Emerson described as pretty madness. When life seems to generalize everything and individualize nothing, when society’s need for homogenous overpowers one by the fatigue of living, what do we use as our dragoon when we feel we have been dragooned?
My dragoon, my weapon of protection and strength, are my toes. Yep, you read that correctly. Not a typo; not a mistake; not a missed translation. I said my toes – those five digits on the end of my feet. I happen to posses the prettiest toes on the planet. Okay – maybe I don’t. They look nothing like anyone in my immediate family or cousins’ feet, although science says that the shape of everything on our body comes from some genetic recipe. Obviously someone in my family at some point had toes like mine; that person, however, remains a mystery. The thing is, I like my toes. In all honesty, there really is nothing remarkable about them. I just happen to like them. I think they are adorable. They do their job helping me maintain an upright balance but they also give me protection against the world. My belief in having the cutest toes on earth makes my head rise a little higher and my posture a little straighter. I walk into a room confident because …. I happen to have the cutest toes on earth!
I link my toes to my faith. After all, until a single man can go out into the vast nothingness of the remotest desert on the planet or lock himself into a cubby on the International Space Station away from all possible tools and create a human being – one person with no help from any other thing, until man is capable of asexual reproduction, I have to give credit for my toes and their ancestral cuteness to a Higher Power, God, Allah, Yahweh, Great Spirit, etc. So really, while my toes are an east manifestation that I can feel, see, and occasionally trip over, my dragoon is really my faith in my creation and the Creator.
Almost one hundred years after Charles Darwin and his theories of gene selection and reproduction, William Harris explored the concept of genetic altruism. Harris’ Rule, as it is known, states that the negative effect of an altruistic behavior or the cost (represented by “C”) has to be less than the positive effect on kin (the benefit or “B”), weighted by the coefficient of relatedness (“R”) of the individuals. Mathematically, it reads rB>C. Actually this can be applied to any scenario in which individuals affect the fitness of each other. Walking into a room of strangers or executives might make one defensive or perhaps lead to an attitude of arrogance. However, I tend to walk into such a situation able to offer a friendly smile because the smile doesn’t seem to me to be costing anything. I am able to feel good, armed with my dragoon knowledge of my adorably, cute toes!
Now of course that is a very simplistic and somewhat humorous example of being nice, of being altruistic and yet…is it really? If we were really, truly confident in our faith, if our beliefs strengthened us, why would we need to be rude to each other, spreading gossip, back-stab verbally one another? Defining the benefits and cost Harris spoke of can be difficult. Nevertheless, we cannot overlook that what is good for one is often good for all.
Altruism helps the planet. Selfishness and greed profit only in the short term and do not offer a future. We need to all find our own set of toes, that thing that is particularly good about ourselves and keep it in our minds. Then, no matter the situation, we know we have value. Cooperative effort is the best protection against an unknown future there is and when we live our beliefs, then caring and kindness will guarantee a brighter future for all of us.
My Psalm 105
O Maker, Creator of all, Guardian of all,
We need to renew our beings.
We need to renew our living.
The light of the day is our path.
The peace of the night our reward.
The earth is ours to enjoy.
The cost of living is love.
Wrap us in your love, O Great Spirit.
The benefit of cooperation leads to grace.
Breathe into our beings your grace.
Help us go forward secure in your presence and our being.
Let us sing the joy of creation, O God.
Let us dance together in celebration for our being.