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- Their Yesterdays - 5/34 -

Occupation is the very life of Life. As nature abhors a vacuum so life abhors idleness. To _be_ is to be occupied. Even though one spend his days in seeking selfish pleasures still must he occupy himself to live, for the need of something to do is most imperative upon those who strive hardest to do nothing. As life and the deeds of men are born in dreams so life itself is Occupation. A man _is_ the thing he does. What the body is to the spirit; what the word is to the thought; what the sunshine is to the sun; Occupation is to Dreams. One of the Thirteen Truly Great Things of Life is Occupation.

From the cherry tree in the upper corner of the garden near the hedge, the cherries had long ago been gathered. The pair of brown birds had reared their children and were beginning to talk with their neighbors and kinfolk about their winter home in the south. In the orchard on the hill back of the house, the late fruit was hanging, full ripe, upon the bending boughs. From the brow of the hill, where the man had sat that afternoon when, for the first time, he faced Life and knew that he was a man, the fields from which the ripened grain had been cut lay in the distance, great bars and blocks and patches of golden yellow, among the still green pastures and meadows and the soft brown strips of the fall plowing. In the woods, the squirrels were beginning to take stock of the year's nut crop and to make their estimates for the winter's need, preparing, the while, their storehouses to receive the precious hoard. And over that new mound in the cemetery, the grass fairies had woven a coverlid thick and firm and fine as though, in sweet pity of its yellow nakedness, they would shield it from the winds that already had in them a hint that summer's reign was past.

But all this was far, very far, from where, in his small bare room, the man crouched frightened and dismayed. The rush and roar of the crowded trains on the elevated road outside his window shook the casement with impatient fury. The rumbling thunder of the heavily loaded subway trains jarred the walls of the building. The rattle and whirr of the overflowing surface cars rose sharply above the hum and din of the city streets. To the man who asked only a chance, only a place, only room to stand and something--anything--to do, it was maddening. A blind, impotent, fury took possession of him. He clenched his fists and cursed aloud.

But the great, crowded, world heeded his curses as little as it noticed him and he fell again into the silence of his hopelessness.

Out from the sheltered place of his dreams the man had come into the busy world of deeds--into the world where those who, like himself, had dreamed, were putting their dreams into action. Out from the years of his boyhood he had come into the years of his manhood--out from the scenes of his Yesterdays into the scenes of his to-days.

For weeks, with his young strength stirring mightily within him and his rich, red, blood hot in his veins, he had been crying out to the world: "Make way for me. Give me a place that I may work out my dreams. Give me something to do." For weeks, he had been trying to convince the world that it needed him. But the busy, happy, world--the idle, dreaming, world--the discontented, sullen, world--was not so easily convinced. His young strength and his red blood did not seem to count for as much as they should. His confidence and his courage did not seem to impress. His high rank in the boyhood world did not entitle him to a like position among men. His graduating address had made no stir in the world of thought. His athletic record had caused no comment in the world of industry. His coming did not disturb the world of commerce.

A few he found who wrought with all the vigor and enthusiasm of their dreaming. These said: "What have you done that we should make room for you? Prove yourself first then come to us." Many he saw who had wearied of the game and were dreaming new dreams. These said: "We ourselves are without Occupation. There are not places enough for all. Stand aside and give us room." Many others there were who, with dreams forgotten, labored as dull cattle, goaded by brute necessity, with no vision, no purpose, no hope, to make of their toil a blessing. And these laughed at him with vicious laughter, saying: "Why should anyone want anything to do?"

So the man in those days saw his dreams going from him--saw his bright visions growing dim. So he came to feel that his young strength was of no value; that his red blood was worthless; that his courage was vain. So his confidence was shaken; his faith was weakened; his hope grew faint. He came to feel that the things that he had dreamed were already all wrought out--that there were no more great works to be done--that all that could be done was being accomplished--that in all the world there was nothing more for a man to do. Disappointed, discouraged, disheartened, weary and alone, he told himself that he had come too late--that in all the world there was nothing more for a man to do.

He did not look out upon the world, now, as a conquering emperor, confident in his armed strength, might look over the field of a coming battle. He did not dream, now, of victories, of honors, and renown. He did not, now, see himself a savior of the world. The world had stretched this man also upon the cross that it has always ready for such as he.

It was not the man's pressing need that hurt him so--gladly he would have suffered for his dreams. It was not for privation and hardships that he cared--proudly he would have endured those for his dreams. Nor was it loneliness and neglect that made him afraid--he was willing to work out his dreams alone. That which sent him cowering like a wounded, wild thing to his room was this: he felt that his strength, his courage, his willingness, his purpose, were as nothing in the world. That which frightened him with dreadful fear was this: he felt that his dreams were going from him. That for which he cared was this: he felt that he was too late. This was the cross upon which the world stretched him--the cross of enforced idleness--the cross of _nothing to do_.

It is not strange that in his lonely suffering the man sought to escape by the only way open to him--the way that led to his Yesterdays. There was a welcome for him there. There was a place for him. He was wanted there. There his life was held of value. It is not at all strange that he went back. As one flees from a desolate, burning, desert waste, to a land of shady groves and fruitful gardens, of cool waters and companionable friends, so this man fled from his days that were into his days that were gone--so he went back into his Yesterdays.

It may have been the soft dusk of the twilight hour that did it: or it may have been the loneliness of his heart: or, perhaps, it was the picture he found in his trunk as he searched among his few things trying to decide what next he should take to the pawn shop. Whatever it was that brought it about, the man was a boy again in the boyhood world of his Yesterdays.

And it happened that the day in his Yesterdays to which the man went back was one of those days when the boy could find nothing to do. Every game that he had ever played was played out. Every source of amusement he had exhausted. There was in all his boyhood world nothing, nothing, for him to do.

The orchard was not a trackless forest inhabited by fierce, wild beasts; nor an enchanted wood with lords and ladies imprisoned in the trees; it was only an orchard--a commonplace old orchard--nothing more. Indians and robbers were stupid creatures of no importance whatever. There were no fairies, no giants, no soldiers left in the boyhood world. The rail fence war horse refused to charge. The apple tree ship was a wreck on the rocks of discontent. The hay had all been cut and stored away in the barn. The excitement and fun of the grain harvesting was over and the big stacks were waiting the threshers. It was not time for fall apple picking and the cider mill, nor to gather the corn, nor to go nutting. There was nothing, nothing, to do.

The boy's father was busy with some sort of work in the shop and told his little son not to bother. The hired man was doing something to the barnyard fence and told the boy to get out of the way. A carpenter was repairing the roof of the house and the long ladder looked inviting enough, but, the instant the boy's head appeared above the eaves, the man shouted for him to get down and to run and play. Even the new red calf refused to notice him but continued its selfish, absorbing, occupation with wobbly legs braced wide and tail wagging supreme indifference. His very dog had deserted him and had gone away somewhere on business of his own, apparently forgetting the needs of his master. And mother--mother too was busy, as busy as could be with sweeping and dusting and baking and mending and no end of things that must be done.

But somehow mother's work could always wait. At least it could wait long enough for her to look lovingly down into the troubled, discontented, little face while she listened to the plaintive whine: "There's nothin' at all to do. Mamma, tell me--tell me something to do."

Poor little boy in the Yesterdays! Quickly mother's arm went around him. Lovingly she drew him close. And mother's work waited still as she considered the serious problem. There was no feeling of not being wanted in the boy's heart then. As he looked up at her he felt already renewed hope and quickening interest.

Then mother's face brightened, in a way that mother faces do, and the boy's eyes began to shine in eager anticipation. What should he do? Why mother knew the very thing of course. It was the best--the very best--the most interesting thing in all the world for a boy to do. He should build a house for the little girl who lived next door.

Out under the lilac bushes he should build it, in a pretty corner of the yard, where mother, from her window, every now and then, could look out to see how well he was doing and help, perhaps, with careful suggestions. Mother herself would ask the carpenter man for some clean, new boards, some shingles and some nails. And it would all be a secret, between just mother and the boy, until the house was finished and ready and then he should go and bring the little girl and they would see how surprised and glad she would be.

It was wondrous magic those mothers worked in the Yesterdays. In a twinkle, for the boy who could find nothing to do, the world was changed. In a twinkle, there was nothing in all the world worth doing save this one thing--to build a house for the little girl next door.

With might and main he planned and toiled and toiled and planned; building and rebuilding and rebuilding yet again. He cut his fingers and pounded his thumb and stuck his hands full of slivers and minded it not at all so absorbed was he in this best of all Occupations.

But keep it secret! First there was father's smiling face close beside mother's at the window. Then the hired man chanced to pass and paused a moment to make admiring comment. And, later, the carpenter man came around the corner of the house and, when he saw, offered a bit of professional advice and voluntarily contributed another board. Even the boy's dog, as though he had heard the news that the very birds were discussing so freely in the tree tops, came hurrying home to manifest his interest. Keep it secret! How _could_ the boy keep it secret! But the little girl did not know. Until he was almost ready

Their Yesterdays - 5/34

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