Friday, August 11, 2017

Friday Ramble - Tattered

This week's word comes to us from the Middle English tater and the old Norse tǫturr meaning rag or shred, and both words are cognate with the old English tætteca meaning more or less the same. Almost every culture on the planet possesses something like it - Low German has its tater, Old High German has zaeter, and the Icelandic form is töturr.  Originally, the word was a noun, but tatter seldom makes an appearance in modern parlance, and we cling to the past participle form with its implied verb. I have always been fond of the 16th century noun tatterdemalion, used to describe a person in raggedy clothing, someone who is unkempt, shabby and "down at the heels".

To be tattered is to be frayed and dilapidated, threadbare, all patches and blowing scraps,  worn and attenuated from long and honorable use in the service of life. That makes this week's word conceptual kin to wabi sabi (侘寂), the timeless Japanese aesthetic centered around notions of simplicity, transience and impermanence or mujo (無常).

Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic in embracing three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is ever finished, and nothing is perfect. Paradoxically, that which is tattered, transient, imperfect and incomplete is beautiful in its own way, resting easy in its natural state and suchness or tathātā.  There's the old koan of life popping up again and insisting that we work out its elemental truth. If I ever needed reminders, I have been on the receiving end of many in recent months as we worked our way through endless visits to doctors, cancer clinics and hospitals. And so it goes, we are all walking, talking, breathing haiku, here only for seventeen syllables, three lines.

It would be difficult to imagine anything lovelier than the White Admiral who came into our garden a few days ago. She danced and fluttered her way around in the sunlight, and there was joy in every movement of her faded and tattered wings. How can one fly in such a dilapidated state, let alone dance? She did, and when she came lightly to rest among the pines, she was perfect in every way. If I could have held the lady in my arms, I would have done just that - this frayed and tattered (but contented nevertheless) female was very glad to see her.


Barbara Rogers said...

Oh lovely, and now I can add "tatermalion" to my thought vocab, if not my language. I do love the wabi sabi concept. Thank you for your sharing here.

Wendi said...

Beautiful, Cate. Thanks. :)

Riognach said...

I do love your essays. I always come away form them with a different viewpoint and gratitude. You have such a gift, and we are so lucky that you share it with us. Thank you.