Have you ever read a passage from a book and suddenly catapulted to thoughts unrelated to the story? In Chapter 40 of Moby Dick I read these lines:
OLD MANX SAILOR: I wonder whether those jolly lads bethink them of what they are dancing over. I'll dance over your grave, I will- that's the bitterest threat of your night-women, that beat head-winds round corners. O Christ! to think of the green navies and the green-skulled crews! Well, well; belike the whole world's a ball, as you scholars have it; and so 'tis right to make one ballroom of it. Dance on, lads, you're young; I was once
• The Old Manx sailor wonders if these young men ever think about the fact that they’re dancing over other sailors’ ocean graves, but he figures they might as well dance anyway.
With my mind enraptured with tall masts, billowing sails, titanic creatures and the salty deep, I began to ponder the line "Dance on, lads, you're young; I was once." Without warning I was contemplating the state of our world. I wondered at the dysfunction, the insanity of the current culture: Drag queen story hour, transgender bathrooms, human trafficking, and mass shootings. I wondered why a troubled person could legally walk up to any number of dispensing stations, remove a new hypodermic needle and inject themselves with heroine while it is prohibited and/or frowned upon to use a plastic straw or buy a sugar-laden Slurpee over the prescribed volume of 16oz. I wondered why we are more concerned with saving baby sea turtles than the untold thousands of precious baby children aborted every day.
Moby-Dick is not a new novel, it was written some 168 years ago. New isn't always better though, there's much to be said for those books in classic literature whose phraseology, inflection, and syntax stir and disquiet the soul in a way that gives us pause. They utter revelations with extraordinary nuance and subtlety. They remain forever true while all else seems to be expeditiously changing and unsure.
“It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”
–C.S. Lewis, “Introduction” in St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione Verbi Dei (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1944/1993),