Sunday, January 23, 2011

What goes on four legs in the morning? Or...thoughts on death and baby's first steps

The ancient sphinx used to sit on its haunches outside Thebes twirling a bone between its teeth and waiting for travelers to pass under her long, winged shadow. Those who were unfortunate enough to cross her path were forced to answer a riddle, and those who failed to provide an acceptable answer were eaten, end of discussion--literally.


The riddle goes like this...

What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?
Apparently, until Oedipus came along, the sphinx had, with this one sad riddle, lived nicely on a steady diet of not-so-clever Grecians, or, as I like to think of it, incredulous Grecians who didn't like the premise of the riddle to begin with and who refused to participate on principle and ended up dying for a set of convictions that would have made any 21st century PhD in English proud?

I mean, really, is it fair to expect a Grecian traveler to surmise that "morning, noon, and evening" are metaphors, especially when they're staring down the business end of winged cat-bird with a woman's face and a well-documented taste for human flesh, her breath wreaking of falafel, man sweat, and sandal leather?

No. It's not. But what really bugs me is that this scene is the most famous riddle scene in all of Western literature (I honestly can't think of any others, can you?), and the riddle is...well...lame.

Still, its what I thought of yesterday when I took this video:

video

I said something to the QB about how we all start and end life in the same way, and I thought to myself about how a child's first steps are charged with hope and anticipation and excitement (and dad and mom speaking in rather silly voices), and how none of that accompanies the slow, hobbled, steps of an old woman maneuvering her walker around the edge of her single-size bed that sits tucked in the corner of her care-center-studio-apartment like some over-sized pharmaceutical tablet--her frail hips one false-step away from cracking like a spent robin egg lying in the grass underfoot.

The first step and the last, life's genesis and its coda--this is what they mean when they say life can flash before your eyes--that I can see my ailing grandmothers in the sweet steps of my youngest child, and that in both images, I ultimately see myself.

3 comments:

Cristi said...

Hooray for Ian! If they have a running match, Kimball will win. If they have a wrestling match, Ian will most definitely win. :-) Go, Ian!

Lu said...

Hooray for babies! Hooray, hooray! Go, Ian! That was pretty cute. Kimball is anxiously awaiting the day that he and can run around like lunatics in your backyard together (and so are we!).

sherri.reid said...

Oh my gosh he is so cute! Joey! You always make me think about things when I read what you write. I love you all! --Sherri