Wendy Videlock, "Bane"

Things mean things. Getting older is frustration that it’s hard to convey that meaning.

Wendy Videlock, "Bane"

Though this Word is true evermore, yet men are as unable to understand it when they hear it for the first time as before they have heard it at all. For, though all things come to pass in accordance with this Word, men seem as if they had no experience of them…

Heraclitus, from Fragment 1

Things mean things. Getting older is frustration that it’s hard to convey that meaning.

Frustration which could well up and surface when dealing, say, with young people. One has to stop and think about what makes one’s reactions different. An example: They weren’t there for the event; weren’t awash in the media our generation knows by heart; couldn’t possibly understand the anger we had at being betrayed.

That example is purposely generic. There’s much I don’t understand or do well, but I try to ask if my emotions and experiences make sense to other people.

However, trying to explain that things mean things to some my age or older—this is sometimes impossible. Precisely because they know in their own way, they don’t know. An extreme example of this: a friend going through a rough divorce confided in another I know well. That other person prided themselves on saying over and over again to “get over it,” as if they were giving actual support and advice.  Yeah, I'm aware they can seem incapable of understanding that anyone else has feelings, but this still stunned me. Though all things come to pass in accordance with this Word, men seem as if they had no experience of them.


“Cursed / with agility” drops with finality.

What requires agility? Dancing beautifully. Avoiding obstacles, sinks into awkwardness. Intricate patterns of flying. Even powering through obstacles—agility allows a combination of speed and mass to have effect.

How could agility possibly be a curse? “Full of strength and laced / with fragility” is a clue that isn’t a clue. Yes, agility hides fatal weaknesses. But again, it makes strength a possibility in the first place. If we accept that agility is a trade-off, how could it possibly be a curse? We describe spectacularly agile displays as graceful.

Bane (from Poetry)
Wendy Videlock

Full of strength and laced
with fragility:

the thoroughbred,
the hummingbird,
and all things
with agility.


“The thoroughbred, / the hummingbird.” One takes over racecourses, leaving human beings in awe. “Agile” almost feels too weak a word. There’s amazement that a creature can do what it does, get to breakneck speeds and demonstrate control of itself the whole time. A miracle it allows a rider a harness even for a moment.

Horses in classical literature are treated as a combination of the beastly and the godly. Think of Centaurs—uncontrolled desire as a force demanding whatever can stop it. Maybe it can be outwitted, maybe it succumbs to something still more brutal, but a simple reckoning puts you in a demonic realm.

Close horse race
Photo by Noah Silliman / Unsplash

I imagine there’s a twist to this. Aristotle places man between beast and god, but he might as well put horses in the same position. Does a horse do justice to its nature when it allows itself to be tamed? Horses may not be any less rational than we are: they certainly share our temperament.

A thoroughbred’s agility is a complicated matter, touching on conceptions of divinity, rationality, and freedom.


“The hummingbird” does not take over racecourses. It visits thousands of flowers a day, eating a combination of bugs and nectar. You could say it races from sweet to sweet, with hollow bones allowing for levitation. This might be another image of divinity. Perhaps the hummingbird feeds on ambrosia, “not bread."

The idea of the hummingbird has me thinking about perfect gardens. Perfect places, where we have everything we want at hand. Our thirst for the perfect home, spending days, weeks, months and years watching every home renovation show and learning the hard way that drywall has other plans than ours.

Hummingbirds wear their fragility and lightness. It’s weird speaking of them as part of a higher vision because people are apt to think them inconsequential. In truth, our vision is at fault. We are in awe of the racehorse until an accident. Agility makes fragility that much worse, enabling the speed which creates a crash like no other. It takes stunning ignorance and defiant unwillingness to ignore a gruesome injury and what that might mean for one’s outlook, but humanity’s capacity for denial is its defining trait.

Photo by James Wainscoat / Unsplash

The fragility of the hummingbird is trickier to speak about. Flowers, sweetness, and light abound. The situation is not perpetual, but how is this not a good life? The problem is that it is the only life. The image of the horse speaks to ambition, but the opposite of ambition isn’t simply being unambitious. It is residing in a realm where ambition couldn’t even be conceived.


So. “Cursed / with agility.”

“All things / cursed / with agility.”

Denial isn’t just one thing. I tend to think “if I can just get this person to see one thing differently, then X, Y, and Z must change.” That’s true to some degree, but that’s because of their openness to change, their hidden willingness to see much more differently.

But if they’re not open or willing, then denial is a series of ever elaborate, self-reinforcing barriers. They ultimately prove an impossible fight. Denial is an act of the will—you can go as long as you want denying things. Plenty of people do this up until the moment of their death.

The thoroughbred and the hummingbird are nothing compared to how quickly and deftly we’ll bring useless, insensitive, cruel ideas to bear on a situation. Our agility strikes fast, not letting us admit there was even a problem, let alone anything was wrong.

That’s how I’m inclined to take “Cursed / with agility.” We know there’s something we don’t know, and we know we don’t want to know it. This last part of the fragment of Heraclitus—to be fair, a bit out of context—deserves the last word: Though all things come to pass in accordance with this Word, men seem as if they had no experience of them.