“Old King Cole was a merry old soul,
And a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe, and he called for his bowl,
And he called for his fiddlers three.
Every fiddler he had a fiddle,
And a very fine fiddle had he;
Oh there’s none so rare, as can compare,
With King Cole and his fiddlers three.”
In the first grade I was cast in an elementary rendition of “Old King Cole.” I wasn’t the King, but a counselor to the King responding to the Old King’s bellowing calls for bowls, pipes, and fiddlers. I eloquently made the case for the servants of the King to fetch these entertainments and distractions to satisfy the desires of our benevolent monarch’s merry soul. I waved my arms convincingly, or so I was told, pacing with just the right amount of emotion and my words with appropriate elocution moved my audience to applause. This was my first experience in learning that the applause of others is guaranteed when you get the rehearsed lines right, and that the spotlight rewards those who play the role well and execute according to script. But sadly, most of this life is lived outside the spotlight, where there is little applause and few to witness the performance.
Lost is a space occupied. It isn’t absent others, but is filled with people coming, going, and standing still. These people say things like “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” To which I respond “Yes! Hard to believe it’s February.” They nod and continue walking. Occasionally someone will ask “How are you?” I’m never sure if they really want me to tell them. I’m not sure I’m capable of telling anyone “How I am.” Is anyone? Do any of us really know how we are doing? Are we privy to the motivations that occupy our thoughts, or do we mindlessly walk along the path put in front of us by the algorithms of culture, geography, time? Constructs which constrict us to living according to the script given to us at birth. A script to which we can neither contribute nor alter. At best we can only trade it for another script and suffer through attempting to catch up on memorizing the new lines. It feels false. It feels as if all these roles were designed for someone else far more talented than me.
Lost is a space unoccupied. Eventually we all stand there alone. Others walk past, perhaps missing us but for a moment and then someone resorts to cliché, because words are inadequate. “Life goes on” they say, because they are committed to finding another to fill your role with no guarantee that the next person is any different than the last. We are all the same. We all say silly words, engage in inadequate redundancies, and indulge in playful distractions because we can’t fathom what it means to be alone. We are clothed and ashamed because we dare not walk naked and unashamed. Life gives us no invitation to improvise.
What I wouldn’t give to have the power of Old King Cole. To call for a bowl filled with joy to satisfy the hunger that relentlessly bites at the soul. I would summon a pipe to inhale the smoke of aged tobacco, reflecting on a life well lived as my children and grandchildren play at my feet. I imagine them seeking out my wisdom and knowledge and being entertained by my experiences as it is the one advantage age has over youth. I would dance awkwardly to the music of fiddlers. I would clap, smile, and jump without regret. I would forget myself in those moments and undo all the harm I have caused.
“Oh there’s none so rare, as can compare,
With King Cole”
But I wasn’t cast in that role. I’m the King’s counselor and not the King. I can call for others to serve and I can direct them with my voice, but I lack the agency of the King and the talents of the fiddlers, I have neither bowl nor pipe. I am the emissary, the ambassador, the Herald. Always the Herald, even though lately I feel like the Jester.
“Hear ye! Hear Ye!”