A horseshoe nail…

Horse's eye

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

That old rhyme has a lot to say. It is usually interpreted as being an admonition to pay attention to the small details from which cascade larger events and possibilities. The implication is that if a small thing is overlooked through lack of attention or laziness, then we may wreak havoc with the outcome of whatever we attempt… either individually or in the larger arena of life.

I thought of this rhyme after a comment was made about the pointlessness of an individual life. It reminded me of conversations with my sons when they were younger, where we established that without their presence in the world, it would not just be my life, but the whole of existence that would be changed. Ineradicably altered. What if we are the horseshoe nail?

I remember discussing with them the effects of their subtraction from existence. All the ‘what ifs’ that shower from that point of erasure. If they were not, then perhaps ten generations in the future the man who changes the fate of the planet would not be born, the cure for cancer not found… how can we tell? The branches of any family tree spread wide and in only a few generations its scions may be far from the original root. Were any one of us subtracted from the great mosaic of life it would not only change the world now, but for all the future yet to come.

Which is all very well, and theoretically interesting, but that doesn’t help the person sitting alone, day after day and wondering why they cling to a life that may seem to be without meaning.

Yet who can know how much difference a single life may make? We don’t always know how our friends really feel, as most have a public face that can hide a great deal and the word of affection, that bit of care, might be more meaningful that we can see. We cannot tell if a casual word of praise or encouragement, a much-needed shoulder or a friendly smile may change the day for another. Nor can we know how hard that day has been, or how many other hard days have preceded it… how tired, lonely, desperate or despairing a stranger may feel. There is no feedback, no report card that says, ‘you saved a life today’… yet it may be true. We can never know.

Even the apparently negative actions of others may be the catalyst for change, the tipping point that galvanises us to address injustice, learn empathy and compassion… so many possibilities flower from each moment and each life and we gather our own lives from that garden.

The life we share is a shared life, the actions of each of us cascade like a domino race across the face of time. Every life has its place, its purpose and its value. Even if we cannot always see it.

45 thoughts on “A horseshoe nail…

  1. Going with the analogy of people being nails in a horseshoe: I have to wonder how many of those nails were removed by the evils men do (such as genocide). Would we have had a cure for cancer 1000 years ago? Or perhaps we did, and it burned in the fires of the library at Alexandria.

    Instead of losing a nail, we continually shoot ourselves in the foot.

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  2. I think you are quite right, Sue. I know that poem from Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I am reading a book currently called Anthem by Ayn Rand which discusses a world where there is no individuality at all. Frightening.

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  3. A thoughtful reminder, Sue. Each of us has a purpose and we’ll never know exactly how important we are in the scheme of life. Each has value, including non-human lives as well.

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  4. Thought provoking Sue. It is something that we were discussing the other day in relation to not having children, despite our best intentions. That is a bond that leaves its mark, in some cases perhaps not as positive as it might be, but it leaves a physical legacy with part of ourselves living on through the generations. That was brought home to me when we took my mother to a small village cemetery in Northern France. At the back was a walled area where 40 British soldiers had been buried including my grandfather who died on November 2nd 1918, just 9 days before peace, having served all through the war on the front line. He was 31 years old, and my mother had been just over a year old when he was killed. 80 years later we laid a wreath on the grave of a man that none of us had ever met but who had touched all our lives. Without him we would not have existed. It would be lovely to think that somewhere he knew that his daughter had four children, five grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren to date. It was a very emotional moment that I will always remember. xx

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    1. I can imagine how emotional that must have been, Sally. As a child, I remember being walked through the local cemetery, beig shown the graves of family members by my great-grandfather.. He told me their stories, going back to the beginning of the nineteenth century. He too is buried there now. And all of us are just links in a chain that stretches into an unknowable future.

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  5. I’ve always venerated life, partly because I’ve always been a glass half full person, but mostly because my life has been safe and happy. Yet despite that, as I started reading this post, I felt a door open in my mind, because I’d never thought of the value of a single life in those terms before. Suddenly, courtesy and the odd smile are not just about me, and how I think life should be lived. They have value for others. Sorry, I’m having trouble expressing the /outwardness/ I suddenly feel.

    Thank you.

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    1. I know what you mean, Meeks. ‘Life’ is a gift we share with every living creature, from a horse to a daisy… but tevery single one of them has its place within the whole…and without each one of them, the whole would be wholly different.

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  6. I ate up every word here. I hadn’t heard that rhyme in such a long time, and it’s so true and important that I wonder why it almost disappeared. I’m going to tweet this post and hope others will remember its message. Plus, after posting my blog late last night, and now reading your post here, I realize we were on the “same page,” so to speak. Each life matters in ways intricate and simple. We ARE, and we are connected with all.

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  7. It’s funny the value we put on experiences and people who come by purpose or accident into our lives. I have been going through some dreadful challenges this last couple of years, and it has definitely left its mark on me. But the other day I rose up out of the ashes and am doing what I can to keep moving forward with people who care nothing for any of us who are seniors even though we have gotten them where they are with their millions. They have lost their sense of others being important in the universe, but their day is coming when they are going to answer for those of us who have less than they do. People do end up getting justice for the acts they do, and it is important to remember that we really don’t know what challenges everyone else is facing in this world. Not even those horrible people.

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