By Dan Ford

The wise old man came for Sunday lunch at the Tavern. He is as thin as a wafer but eats like a Sumo wrestler. He exploited the buffet with gusto. “You must have been hungry,” I observed. “I noticed that myself,” he replied with a chuckle. After lunch, we rocked on the front porch and talked about a great range and mixture of topics.

My mountain bicycle stays on the porch and he wanted to know all about it, from the disc brakes to the 21-speed derailleurs. He said he judged it to be a well-balanced machine that required good balance from a rider. “Have you ever wrecked it,” he wanted to know. “Just one time, at a dead standstill,” I replied. “I had stopped at the bottom of the great hill that rises from Pioneer Cemetery when I attempted to mount the vehicle against gravity and gravity won.” We laughed about that a good while until he lit on the topic of balance.

“You know, Dan, Horace, the first Century rhetorician believed in balance in speaking and writing. The old Roman wrote that all artful communication must be dulcet et utile, meaning sweet and useful; we would say entertaining and enlightening. And, those two elements, Horace wrote, must be kept in balance. If the scale tips too far in the direction of entertainment, the communication seems trivial and inconsequential. On the other hand, if the communication works too hard at enlightenment, it gets boring and loses the audience’s attention. So, balance makes the writing or speaking both fun and pithy.”

The wise old man gratefully received the hot tea my wife brought out. Providing crocheted lap robes because of the dropping temperature, she joined us on the porch. She said, “What was that about balance?” The wise old man said, “You know, Mrs. Ford, I work on a donkey and goat ranch near Ruston and I have a couple of gelding donkeys I plow with down there. Their names are Check and Balance. Check is the absent-minded one, not always knowing and obeying gee, haw, whoa and back up. Balance, however, is obedient, but not as strong and hardy as Check. Between the two of them, we get the job done, though it sometimes takes considerable negotiation.”

“Makes me proud to be an American,” my wife joked. The wise old man laughed so heartily that he jostled his tea. Then he said, “Thank God for checks and balances in our government. Lady Justice requires it. You know, that statue, in ancient iterations, had a sword in the hand not occupied with the fulcrum and scales. It was pointed down to the Ten Commandments, the very place our formalized sense of justice comes from. Though Justice is blind, she is poised to protect the law. That is balance in itself: peace is the goal, but justice must be protected.

“Wow,” my wife said, “you are always a welcome visitor. How did you get here today?” I rode the train and took a taxi. I’ve been down in Denton with my girlfriend. I lead a balanced life, and she keeps me in check.”

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