Today's Elderblogger Laugh
Elders and Seniors

“It is Meet and Right So To Do”

category_bug_ageism.gif QUESTION: What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three legs in the evening?

It is a riddle we all learned in childhood and although I can’t prove it, I think I recall that this particular riddle can be traced to the ancient Greeks. It is, of course, redolent of Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season…” and the ignorant ageists among us – those who do their best to keep elders out of the mainstream because they think we are stupid and boring – should be reminded that each era of life has its reasons to be.

A couple of mornings ago, Ollie the cat woke me again when it was still dark, 3:30AM. I could have gone back to sleep, but there was a pleasing, cool breeze through the screen door which beckoned me outside to sit on the deck.

It was a surprise to discover there are stars in the sky here in Portland, Maine. I’d almost forgotten about them during 37 years in Manhattan where only Venus is visible and not often. The stars here are not as profuse as in the wilds of upstate New York, where I once had a weekend house, but enough to remind an old city girl that there’s more to nightlife than flashing neon.

I tracked what must have been a satellite – too high to be an airplane - as it raced across the black night. I’d never seen one before.

In the dark, there wasn’t much else to look at and I've forgotten the arrangement of the constellations and their locations, so I settled my mind on the breeze – its rustling in the trees, how it felt on my face and ruffled my hair. How it tugged lightly at the hem of my summer dressing gown, tickling my ankles.

This deck attached to my new home is a revelation for me. Years ago, when I wanted a break from what I was doing, I smoked a cigarette. Now I sit on my deck for a short while half a dozen times a day or maybe more, and I find myself attending more closely than since earliest childhood to what is going on around me.

When, in adulthood, we are on career track, chasing success, raising children, accumulating stuff, filling every moment of the day with “doing” until we drop into bed exhausted, there isn’t time to smell the roses. That is as the second season of life should be. (I’ll leave arguments that we have taken midlife busy-ness too an extreme for another day.) With past gardens, I was too much in a hurry to pause; just get the watering done before leaving for work or rushing off to an evening soiree.

But slowing down comes naturally in elderhood. Forces internal and external nudge us to overcome the cultural pressure to be busy. Activities that no longer seem as important as they once did gradually fall away and a quietude settles upon us.

Now there is time for the breeze, the smell of the sea, the swaying of the tree branches, the call of the birds. To watch a bee flit from flower to flower. A spider diligently building her web. How prettily a fallen petal dances, like a ballerina, as the wind pushes it across the floor of the deck.

Plants, like cats and children, know deep inside how to be themselves. When I turn a pot, the leaves soon rearrange themselves to face the sun. When I water them, their whole being perks up; they almost smile and say “aaahhhh.”

The geraniums, the large, next-door, lilac bush whose top branches reach into my deck, the ivy stretching for a place to cling – each, I am seeing for the first time, is a universe unto itself: flowers and leaves, like their counterpart fauna, are born, live oh so gloriously and die as they must, to make room for more individuals. But the universe, the plant, continues and thrives through the generations of its green and gaudy progeny.

Although I have forgotten what it references, there is a sentence somewhere in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer I have always liked: “It is meet and right so to do.” It is meet and right that elders should have time to discover such things as I have written of today and I think that cannot be done without the stillness of body we are granted in old age which begets this new fullness of mind.

So next time you see an old man who seems so bored and boring is his wheelchair, or an old woman who appears to have fallen asleep on a park bench, remember that it is their season of quietude and they are learning new things they had no time for when they were merely adults. Perhaps, if you ask politely, they will tell you what those things are.

[NOTE: On the off-chance there is someone reading this who does not know the riddle, the answer is mankind, who crawls in childhood, walks upright in adulthood, and uses a cane in elderhood.]


This is really beautifullly written, Ronni! How wonderful that you can see that stars and have a deck and flowers to enjoy in your new home.

This is beautiful, Ronni. I am so happy for you and these pleasures you describe. You deserve this time in your life. And it feels good to realize that we all do ... thank you.

[By the way, I think this age-old riddle comes from Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles. The riddle of the Sphinx when Oedipus arrives in Thebes.]

Thanks for your observations, and for reminding me of one of my favorite poems:


Long afterward, Oedipus, old and blinded, walked the roads. He smelled a familiar smell. It was the Sphinx. Oedipus said, "I want to ask you one question. Why didn't I recognize my mother?" "You gave the wrong answer," said the Sphinx. "But that was what made everything possible," said Oedipus. "No," she said. "When I asked, What walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening, you answered, Man. You didn't say anything about woman." "When you say Man," said Oedipus, "you include women too. Everyone knows that." She said, "That’s what you think."

Muriel Rukeyser, 1973.

I am so glad you moved to Portland; in NYC you didn't seem to have these important slow, thoughtful, observational moments in the present. They are good aren't they?

Thanks for the little note at the bottom. I couldn't remember the answer - did I ever know it? LOL?

A very rich post to start my day, thank you, darlin'.

The phrase to which you referred, "It is meet and right so to do..." from the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer, is the introduction to the communion service, which begins with the priest saying, "Lift up your hearts to the Lord." The response is, "We lift them up unto the Lord." "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God." "It is meet and right so to do."

And that seems to be exactly what you were doing as you sat there on your deck, reaching out from your heart to celebrate the wonders of a night sky. It seems true, as we grow older, that we find more time to connect to the Source of all creation and reflect on the many gifts that have been bestowed upon us. May you be blessed with many more such precious moments in your new life!


Since the move your writing has taken on an almost spiritual quality that seems to reveal your deep contentment in where you are and who you are.

Ahem. A bit O.T.T. here perhaps, but here we go :

The First Prayer Book of Edward VI, which was authorised for use from Pentecost (9th June) 1549 has the following :

The Lorde by with you.
Answere. And with thy spirite.
Priest. Lift up your heartes.
Answere. We lift them up unto the Lorde.
Priest. Let us geue thankes to our Lorde God.
Answere. It is mete and right so to do.
The Priest. It is very mete, righte, and our boûden dutie . . .

(NB. The û is incorrect as it should be a tilda, not a circumflex, but my Character Map doesn't seem to have that character.)

The above is a a translation of the old Roman Canon which probably came to England with St. Augustine (says "Proctor and Frere")

Dominus vobiscum
Et cum spiritu tuo.
Sursum corda.
Habemus ad Dominum.
Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro.
Dignum et justum est.

So, it has been around for a bit !

All I can say is thank you...sometimes I forget to stop and allow myself to stop and just enjoy being alive...I am so programmed to think I have to always be accomplishing something. I, too have a new deck and I find myself out there often breathing in the world around me.

Yes, I just looked it up too. It's still called the Sursum Corda and in modern English it is

B) Sursum Corda.

Then shall the Presbyter say, The Lord be with you.
Answer. And with thy spirit.
Presbyter. Lift up your hearts.
Answer. We lift them up unto the Lord.
Presbyter. Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.
Answer. It is meet and right so to do.

It's wonderful that you did not just roll over and try to go back to sleep, but instead lived in the moment.

It makes me think of the quote from the 13th century mystic poet Rumi: "The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don't go back to sleep."

There is something very special about the wee morning hours. At times have thought I'd like to rearrange my life's time schedule so I could always be up then.

Your writing conveys so eloquently the well-deserved pleasure and contentment you are finally experiencing.

Thanks for providing the answer to the riddle as it didn't sound familiar as one I heard in my childhood.

I especially liked the poetic quotes provided by Elizabeth and Annie.

Just loved this post. You look like you've reached the right place.

Hello from England.

What a great entry Ronnie.

I live in a very small village and one of the joys for me is now taking time to look at the stars. Watching the mama birds teach their babies to eat from my bird feeder. I had my hubby put it right in front of the window that I look out from my comfy chair. I love being older and being able to take the time to smell the roses and other things.

Hi Ronnie, This was another great post. I am a really big fan of yours and check your site almost every day. Anyway, just as in several other situations you left me thinking about the piece long after having closed down my computer. In this case it got me particularly interested in finding out the original source for the riddle. As Tamarika said already it is indeed the Riddle of the Sphynx which when answered correctly made Oedipus king at Thebes. But Tamarika is not actually right about a minor point; it isn't quoted in "Oedipus Rex" rather it is only alluded to. Sophocles must have figured that his readers would already have known the riddle and its answer so he didn't even bother putting it in his play. At least, that's what it seems to me. But where is the actual riddle to be found and in what ancient text(s)can it be seen today? Frankly not being a classics scholar I didn't even know where to begin. But now I think I have the answer. If anyone is interested the only remaining textual citations I can find are to (much) later works than "Oedipus Rex." I found that, at least in Greek, only Diodorus Siculus's "Library of History" (4.64.4) and Appollodorus's "The Library" (3.52-55) include it with the answer. The former is circa 1st Century BC, the latter older at circa 2nd Century BC, too. Both are available in the Loeb classics series published by Harvard Univ. Press and available in most larger libraries if you want to check me. Again, thanks for your thoughts on all these ELDER subjects. I always look forward to your thoughts on things. Perry

The source of your riddle - I am sure you know by now - is that of the Sphinx. In Greek mythology, it is from the story of Oedipus. Oedipus answers the puzzle, and the Sphinx kills herself. I'm sure there is a Jungian archtype somewhere in there.

More to the point, I also have found myself occasionally a child again. As a kid, I used to observe nature up close and personal - to look closely at the web of the spider, to follow the trail of ants, to observe the squirrels and leaves of the trees. Only recently have I granted myself the time and serenity to do this again.

However, I had to start studying the wisdom of the buddhists to get to that point. My niece introduced me to the practice to calm my life down. Now, I turn to the insights daily. Not skilled at it. Still practicing.

So, my message to you is that you are not aging. You are just becoming more awake in your world.

Wow - all your research on that riddle and the Book of Common Prayer quote is terrific to have.

If I ever knew the first was the Riddle of the Sphinx, it was erased from my memory long ago, and I cannot count the number of times - over decades - I have run across literary references to it (unanswered, as though we should all know it by name) and intended to one day look up.

Thank you all for enlightening me so.

Ronni, I so much enjoyed this discussion on 'quietude' and the very special gratuity of 'quietude' compensation I had while reading it.

"mete" not meet!!! (if you want it right). :)

I read this on my second day of retirement and feel that I was led here by the Holy Spirit as I had just googled " It is meet and right so to do" I have been running to fast for to long. I pray that all is still well for you as you posted this so long ago.

Musing on meet right and so to do, found your post just now. My reverie had started with possible ways to end a 'penny drop' which all others could do and I could not. Their landings were with style and grace, yet I just landed on my face.
And coming past majority, I joy in my survival: seeing as how 'I'VE stuck the three point landing' and love my late arrival ... on the porch.
'Mete' Track mete. Bounds.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)