Long Will and the Fair Field of Folk

I just helped clear out my parents’ house in New Hampshire, and among the treasures I found were some columns I wrote for the Newton Graphic back in 1979.

All the clippings from my 20 years in journalism were destroyed in a house fire in 1996, so the only reason I have these columns is because my mom saved them.

One is called “Long Will’s vision of doing well,” and by golly it turns out I was a pretty good writer back then:

“Like the errant hermit Long Will many centuries ago, I was mesmerized recently by the sound of a little brook and I lay down beside it.

Back in the 14th century, Long Will fell asleep, or passed into a reverie, and saw a vision of the whole world, a ‘fair field of folk,’ guided by their ruler, Reason, and misguided by the seven deadly sins and lots of hypocritical friars and pardoners. But their goal was to ‘do well, do bet, do best.’

Long Will, dressed in hermit’s garb and circulating among men, pursued his quest in a long series of visions entitled Piers the Plowman, and each dream came to him in a different setting.

But it was the brook that made the soothing sound which first inspired his longing to take up his quest.

I myself did not fall asleep, but I passed into something of a reverie where the sound of the brook was all, or rather, it was the center of all my cares, concerns, aspirations and dreams.

All these things whirled around the sound of the brook in the dark dome of my weighted eyelids.

Yet the whole was not obscured by this gentle tumult. It was centered, each detail by its bearing on me, each universal principle by its action in the world I know.

How rarely we see that inner peace is close by us, eternal, ready when we are…

Long Will found the quest for ‘Do Well, Do Bet, Do Best” can become lost in a hopeless muddle of hypocrisy and empty seeming. His single-hearted longing could not find perfect realization in an imperfect world.

He left us a sort of map naming the landmarks he passed and the obstacles he encountered, but of course he left no prescription for fulfillment and that is why his simple visions ring true after more than 600 years.

The longing to do well has been in the human heart since before my friendly, bubbling brook began tumbling down the mountainside. And it still becomes muddled in the confusing appearances of the temporal world.

It cannot perfect the world, or even our lives on earth, but this longing, if we surrender to it, can bring us a measure of serenity, and, for a few moments now and then, a glimpse of the eternal.”