The Standing Place (Extra post for Side View’s Challenge)

In many British towns of note, there is a building devoted to the British Legion.

A charity which supports the armed forces past and present, encouraging remembrance and comradeship, the Royal British Legion is there in our town, a large red brick focal point for the men who have defended our shores.

It is a well known Standing Place.

Yes: outside the Legion men stand around and watch the world go by  in a small town. It is a comfortable kind of happiness.

This standing, this watching the world go by, it seems to come more easily with age. Young people do not often have standing places. They scurry from place to place and time to time. They do not often stand and stare, or carefully observe the small detail which best distinguishes the living from the dead.

When the word ‘stage ‘ first came to be, sometime in the thirteenth century, it was born of a vulgar latin word : staticum. The standing place.

And two wildly different polarisations of it were subsequently born. First, stage, that showy, Dionysian theatricality which takes place on a flat platform above the rabble. A stage lifts a tiny sliver of life above the melee and holds it in the limelight, artfully scripted and meticulously crafted. Is it reality? Is it real life reflected?

In the same way that our perceptions are refracted through a prism, it is. The stage might be called pretend-life, yet how does it draw our deepest fears and desires into the light, unless it represents what it draws out?

The second meaning is more a matter of degree. A stage is a single step in an ongoing process.

Thus every recipe has stages, each of which holds its own challenges. The whipping of the eggs, the folding of the sugar, the slow inexorable heating, all are vital but separate stages in the creation of the perfect meringue.

It is on the lips of the morose Jaques, in As You Like It, that Shakespeare draws the two meanings back together again after nearly four hundred splintered years.

All the world’s a stage, he says. And all the men and women merely players.

Life is a theatrical thing, he says. But he harps back to the different steps in life through which a man might pass.

Ah, Jaques. His stages of man are dour and joyless, though expressed with such persuasive artistry that our mind fills with pictures:  from a “whining school-boy, with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school” to the old sixth-stage man, for whom the hose of a young man would be far too roomy for his “shrunk shank”.

Jaques adopts his own standing place, and watches life, and draws his sour conclusions.

Yet we have all stood in a standing place, and watched.

A lifetime ago, it seems, I left the Cornish holiday cottage where I was staying and walked in a storm to the cliffs which frowned in purple half-light and barred the way to the waves which rose up like great giants to lash them.

That was a standing place. I know, as I look back. I looked and I decided that place would be mine to live in, one day. And eventually, it was, though it proved very costly.

And now I can feel a standing-place beckoning. But I’m afraid to look.

For Jaques was not all talk. There are stages in life which are a little cruel, and I will not stare them in the face just yet.

All the world is a standing place. And all the men and women in it bit parts: walk-ons for four score years and ten. One man in his time plays many parts.

But in the end, it’s all one.

Written in response to Side View’s Weekend Theme: All the World’s a stage, which you can find here


25 thoughts on “The Standing Place (Extra post for Side View’s Challenge)

    1. Oh, I expect there are others, Myfanwy. There are always standing, or sitting places. Teens by the bus stop or ladies on benches. Writing this has made me vow to look for the standing places from now on!

      1. I chatted with a neighbour earlier today when I went on my ‘eyes down’ walk.. It was outside her gate. Maybe we will cultivate the activity and IT will become a standing place 😉

  1. We have many standing places in Charleston area, some of the best are on the beaches with historic forts and cannons around to remind us if the follies of war and men’s foolishness. Other places are small parks and communities where one can walk, sit or stand and just appreciate being part of something.

  2. A fascinating contrast you touched on but didn’t pursue is that some stages are for the players, while others are for an audience. One has a stage for watching the world go by, or another for performing a leading role.
    Still, you had enough threads on your loom, and the pattern of the weave has come out as beautifully as always.

    1. You’re right, of course; one could turn this into a very long essay, Col: the contrasts are startling, and all from the same root. So much to talk about, and only a lifetime to discuss it. How will we ever fit it in?

  3. This thoughtful post reminds me of the end (and the beginning, of course) of the W H Davies poem that stuck in my mind when one of those whining schoolboys:

    “… A poor life this if, full of care, / We have no time to stand and stare.”

  4. Beautiful post, Kate!

    As we flow through life, the roles we play change and flex and bend us . . . even when we are standing in the wings, refusing to take center stage. 😉

  5. Brilliant, I had to read it twice just because it fits so well with me at present. My stage is changing and I must find my place, centre stage or in the wings, I don’t yet know.

  6. I don’t know whether I’m in a standing place or a holding pattern. Your post has started me thinking, though, about making some changes. Thanks for the catalyst.

  7. The French description of our photography courses is that very word – ” les stages”. Funnily enough I find that my “standing place” resides in my head and doesn’t involve inertia. Maybe I’ve mistake “standing” for day dreaming..

    1. Well, I can read it 🙂 You put it well, Cindy. The trick, I suppose, is to be unlike Jaques, who persists in seeing the dark we must all see sometimes. Rather, when a dog’s ears make us laugh, we can laugh, and acknowledge life has joyous , if brief, standing places too.

  8. Ah, Kate, I have been thinking about you and wondering about how all the changes, and all the stages are coming along. You will perform as you need to, and life will keep on keeping on, slightly changed, or monumentally shifted. Warmest thoughts, and hugs.
    Also, on out morning dawdle today I saw a group of people standing in a most unlikey standing spot- perhaps, like nvofelt, it was just at somebody’s gate 🙂

  9. I really liked this post, Kate, but the end made me a little sad and made me wonder if everything is alright with you. I hope you and your nearest and dearest are all well. Best wishes.

  10. Pretty deep “stuff” today, Kate. I feel very mindful of life stages these days. I’m both watching and participating. Observing the struggles of aging parents, participating in the joys of grandchildren, and caught in the middle of conflicting emotions that bounce all around from moment to moment. And yet, that is MY stage right now. And about the time I think I have adjusted to this stage, it will undoubtedly shift. This was a lovely pensive read. Debra

  11. Standing places are what I look for when I travel Kate, to just stand or perhaps sit and stare and absorb the reality that we are all strangely similar. You are right, I never had time to do that when i was younger!

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