The Worth of a Man

Harvey Russell

I closely watched Harvey and his family as they celebrated his 80th birthday.  They spoke warmly of memories and sang his praises.  How nice, I thought, that they, at least, recognize his worth.  Harvey, though elderly and arguably past his prime, embodies an enormous wealth of tradition, strength, virtue, memory, and love.  Though a quiet obscurity to many, he is a hero to me, as recounted in my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  So many in western culture write off and even ridicule the elderly, seeing only weakness and faded glory. This fact I sorely lament.  We would do well to remember their strength, their sacrifice, their accomplishments, their contributions, their legacy, and their love.  Rather than relegated to the “old” category, implying uselessness, they should be lifted up as timeless mentors to be followed, learned from, cared for, and revered.  As you read this poem, ponder for yourself, What is the worth of an aged man and woman?  I hope your answer is bounteous.  Consider sharing your thoughts in a comment.

THE WORTH OF A MAN

What is the worth of a man
when his ears refuse to hear
and shrouds eclipse his sight,
when his back bends low
and his hands quiver,
when he forgets things large and small
and the young lose their scant patience
with his remembrances and his gait?

He has made whatever difference, whatever contribution,
he is going make.
If he hasn’t said it by now, it won’t be said.

So much counsel.
So much love.
So much poetry.
Unspoken.

He is a mere memory,
and fading at that.

That is what you think.
That is what so many think.

Remember when
he taught you to tame a fox and skin a weasel and splint a songbird’s wing?
Remember when
he bought you a thrift store bike and taught you to fix a flat?
Remember when
he slogged in from the smelter each day after dark, slimed with sweat and soot?
Remember when
you took turns tossing the ball to the family mutt?
Remember when
he told you how to treat a woman, with fidelity, with respect, with tenderness?
Remember when
he called you a numbskull for smoking behind the barn, and stomped the butt out?
Remember when
he carried you, and even sang, and even cried, when your body burned from fever?

But you do not remember.
You spurn the soul what made you.
You rush break-neck from your cradle to your own aged obsolescence.
Tomorrow, as you shuffle and stoop,
they will glance at you and ask,
What is the worth of a man?

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8 thoughts on “The Worth of a Man

  1. maggiepea

    You have a keen eye, Roger. As an artist, I have decided art is mainly remembering what it was we saw, the details that we like about the image we want to portray. As a writer, we must also remember the details, and in this poem (which I have gone back and read and reread) I am living the memories you have recalled about Harv’s life and woven them into a beautiful, timely poem to help those connected with Harv to REMEMBER.
    I felt tears fill my eyes as you talked about Harv crying over a child with fever (which I have heard this story told quite a few times about when Brandon came to death’s door with a very high fever). Harv prayed, fervently, crying out to Almighty God to return his boy back from that brink of no return. God heard that prayer and Brandon came back to him and his mother. I also loved the part of taming a fox, skinning a weasel, and splinting a song bird’s wing; yes even told in poetic language, those things did happen. You remembered so many little details then, with your artist’s memory, put them down on paper to jolt his loved ones’ memories. If I may add one more element to the many fine attributes you have recalled about Harv, one last one is he is a dichotomy, a mystery that I have not been able to quite figure out completely and have decided some things are not meant to be analyzed and contained into a word, even many words. When I hear that song, “The Leader of the Band” by Simon and Garfunkle, of course I think of Harv and, regretfully, have succumbed to the reality in a line “…and his heart was known to none.” His heart is very big and he has a love for man and animal alike but there are secret chambers in his heart that only he knows of. No teisting nor turning of the key will open them. Maybe this is why he connects so well with animals, maybe they alone understand those cryptic chambers and this is where “the call of the wild” stays inside an otherwise very open and transparent man. “And the elements were so mixed in him that all Nature would rise up and say this is a true man.” William Shakespeare

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