Nec Tamen Consumebatur
Bill Long 2/28/05
A Poem for a Son
I was asked to contribute "up to 100 words" for an advertisement or commendation for my son in the brochure at his 2005 graduation from South Salem (OR) High School. Will is a quiet and unassuming person, whose brilliance and quick wit are matched by his steady commitment to study, jogging and a good game of poker with his guy friends. He is in the long period of silence now, between the time of application to the elite colleges in the East and hearing whether or not he will be accepted. I feel nothing but positive thoughts for my son as he begins to shape his life. He has established some excellent habits; he is also blessed with a calm manner that should endear him to professors and future employers alike.
After thinking about what I might want to write for this commendation, I decided to compose a poem, concluding with the title words of this essay. The words, which may be translated "and not consumed," are taken from Exodus 3:2 in a 1579 Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible by two Protestant scholars. In the Exodus passage Moses is watching the flocks of Jethro, his father-in-law, when he sees an arresting sight--a bush is burning "but not consumed." In the Vulgate we have different Latin words (et non conbureretur) but the same meaning. These words, nec tamen consumebatur, are emblazoned over the meeting hall of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) in Edinburgh. They are suggestive to me because they stress that life in this world ought to be driven by great effort (burning) but effort apportioned so that one is "not consumed." Thinking of this image, of how we can be burning but not consumed, then led me to compose the following poem:
With virtuous skill and diligent care
You finish your high school's rite
Relax with joy; then kindle anew
The flame that burns so bright
NEC TAMEN CONSUMEBATUR
In thinking about Will and his progress to date, there are three things for which I especially want to commend him. First, Will has learned the correlation between hard work and academic recognition. This isn't as obvious a lesson as might appear at first. I think that many students feel that nothing they do can bring them better grades or increased understanding--it is all a matter of chance whether they do well. However Will now knows that his output in study is regularly rewarded. It is a good lesson to learn early in life--that success is not simply a matter of chance or luck, but that it somehow relates to what you know, too.
Second, Will has impressed me with his grasp of languages ancient and modern. Unfortunately, Salem (and Oregon generally) doesn't offer a steady diet of Latin in hardly any high school, though Will had a year of Latin as a sophomore at West Salem HS. He did very well, and I think he has the skills and mind to learn classical languages--to be a virtuoso with classical languages like some are virtuosi with musical instruments. He may never pursue this, since his mid-range goal is to land a job in a NYC financial institution of some visibility and clout. But still a father's heart can hope.
Finally, Will has learned how to relax and to put his school and athletic work into a greater context of living a balanced life. He knows personal discipline, and takes care of his body and mind. I think he will be a very popular student in college, and will be an frequent invitee at poker tournaments where more than the $10 high school limit is on the table.
From 1993-2002 Will and I traveled together every summer for a few weeks and most winters for at least a week. We saw American cities East and West, stayed in hotels big and small, and visited historical sites, baseball parks, civil war battlefields, natural wonders and amusement parks all over the country. I consider it a privilege to have spent so many good hours with my son. I do not feel I have much more to teach him, though I plan faithfully to follow what he does wherever he goes. My life has been immeasurably enriched by knowing Will.
As I wish Will well for the next step of his life, I do so with a profound sense that parenting, for me, was more of a trusteeship than anything else. I felt that I held temporary authority over Will "in trust" for the rest of the world. Now he is about ready to attain his majority (he actually turned 18 yesterday), and the terms of my trusteeship are almost over. But I can give him one last poem, and I send him my love as he explores the good and big world before him.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long