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564. The receptive (IV)

As a child, I had a cassette story of Robin Hood; in the final segment, Robin lies on his death bed and says to his companions, “Bury me where my arrow falls.” The frail Robin is handed his bow and fires an arrow from his bedside window into Sherwood Forest—the arrow lands in a glade, illuminated by a shaft of light. When Robin dies, Little John picks up his body in his arms and carries him to the glade—and he is buried there, eventually to be joined by Marian. Once a year, the stags cross the glade with the king’s hunt in pursuit.

This exemplifies the Ancient Greek concept Kairos—the idea that there is a “right time”, not just a chronological time, for an event to take place. Robin let his arrow find the right place for him to be buried; the bow acted as a divinatory tool, not an uncommon phenomenon in European legend—axes often played a similar role in the Norse tradition. Indeed, Kairos itself is inherently bound up to archery—it originally referred to the force necessary to penetrate a target; so Robin’s final act with his bow was in perfect accord with Kairos.

The conclusion to the story always left me in a twilight mood—there is no exultation to it, no heroism. This is where heroism ends. Robin pulls the bow and then the story is over—storybook closed, The End, and it will not be reopened. And surely it is impossible to revisit the storybook world after a certain point? You see, people cannot just go around shooting arrows about the place from their hospital beds—a storybook notion, an impractical notion.

The idea that you could be buried where your last arrow fell—as Fate decides—remains entirely possible, it is not a storybook notion at all; it is as real as ever. It is only adolescent cynicism and clever-silly rationalism that forbids it. If the Robin story were adapted by Family Guy—or Rick and Morty, which I have not seen but take to have the same outlook—then the cartoon Robin would fire his arrow from the window, after a deprecatory remark, and the arrow would sail through the air only to penetrate the neck of some passerby or to embed itself in a truck bound for Alaska. Drat.

It is in this way that Kairos is banished. The comedic objection to Robin’s last act masquerades as practicality. “Pf. Of course you can’t do that! You’d just hit some randomer or kill them, or it would get stuck in a van—or bounce off a window. Just be practical, go to the crematorium like everyone else—get those bones ground down and stored in a jar, the cemeteries are jam-packed these days…” I can even hear a Family Guy character, perhaps Brian the Dog, deliver this little nostrum—the sceptical sensible cartoon debunks the myth. You brush crumbled Doritos from your t-shirt and finish your Coca-Cola, run your hands though your straggly dandruff-flecked beard: “Yeah. Ha-ha, it would totally be like that. Stupid Robin Hood.”

This clever-silly haze that almost everyone lives within—supposedly practical and rational—conceals the fact that to fire an arrow from your bow to choose your burial place represents the utmost practicality. It is only rejected, covered over, because people—large teenagers—are too eager not to look childish and so mock reality with supposedly clever practical objections that are really deeply impractical. These objections are all for show, devised because they cannot stand the beauty and intensity in the act. It is only in the second childhood that you will see that all myths are true; in the interim, to impress others, we pretend that myths are not real—and we compose an ugly rationalism to support this view. The distorted view, needlessly complicated, arrives with adolescence and the need to invent a story, a logical story, to appear sophisticated—yet it has always been simple really.

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