Just Enoughs

I can have been no more than six when it came home to me that it was very nice to be just sick enough to have my mother smooth my wrists and hold her great cold crystal beads against my small hot brows, and presently feed me ‘ lammie-baa-broth-with-rice-in-it.’ In fact, the phrase ' just sick enough to have lammie-baa-broth ’ became the symbol of a mild paradise, not to be overworked, yet most desirable.

Since then I have been unconsciously collecting ‘just enoughs’ until I have a goodly assemblage, familiar to everyone in their homely mingling of pains and pleasures.

How excellent it is to be just cold enough at three A.M. to want another blanket over you; to pull it dozily yet snugly around your chin, and to feel new spots in the cool sheets growing warm and amiable to your seeking tentacles! Or to be just hot enough, on a May-day tramp, to cast your sweater over your shoulder and to step out gayly with the wind feeling its way up your sleeve and the sun drawing warm patterns on your back!

Then to be just hungry enough to find a dry antique of a sandwich food for Olympians, and just thirsty enough to dream for three miles of the best and coldest spring, sure to come; to turn in, just tired enough to purr and ache, at the end of the road and the day!

These are joys well-known, and celebrated by all professional Open-Roaders, like Stevenson or David Grayson; but there are others more homely and more miscellaneous: just dirty enough to enjoy getting clean; just poor enough to feel the adventure, as Charles and Mary Lamb did, of a new pair of shoes or a new book of poetry; just fashionable enough to feel superior to both the thoroughly stylish and the thoroughly dowdy; just unconventional enough to scorn the pose of upper Fifth Avenue as well as of Greenwich Village; just lonely enough to dream and to enjoy one’s loneliness for half a day.

So one could go on forever. It is plain that my ideal is simply that of the Little Bear. His porridge, you remember, Goldilocks found neither too hot, nor too cold, but just hot enough; his bed not too hard or too soft, but just right.

I cannot help thinking that, either by temperament or by voluntary growth in grace, the Little Bear and Goldilocks are patterns for certain of my acquaintance, who, never willing to accept the Doctrine of the Mean (is there such a doctrine?), go miserable all their lives. They can see no good in being a little bit sick, a little bit hungry, a little bit poor, a little bit lonely. Therefore they find no good in anything; for life deals out her little bits with a generous hand, no matter how sparing she may be of her wholes.

But I cannot preach to such uneasy idealists, being well aware that my own standard of just enough may not tally at all with theirs. For instance, who shall say when another is just dirty enough to enjoy getting clean? The tramp who boils his stolen potatoes over a fire on the railway ties, and sleeps in a vagabond box-car, would need to be finely seasoned and pickled before he would dream of the least pleasure in a white tubful of hot water; while the grand dame of the shell-pink cheeks and old point lace would shudder should a smut of soot plant itself on her dainty old nose, or her ivory fingers dally a moment in a greasy dish-pan.

So, when it comes to greater things than dirt, I cannot tell other people that because I choose the very least of Fame, next to the least of Fortune, and, be it admitted, a great deal of Love, they must content themselves with the same. If one thinks that just enough means, not only the intimate and precious things that all normal creatures long for, but world-wide celebrity, and a dozen palaces to live in, and a hundred servants to run his remotest bidding, how can I deny him? Perhaps, even when he was Goldilocks’s size, he never would have liked being just sick enough to be fed lammie-baa-broth, and to feel cold crystals on his eyes, or just poor enough to scrimp and screw six months to buy some superfluous childish luxury — a real fountain-pen, may be, or a real trout rod!

Perhaps he would say that I have mean ambitions and uncivilized scantiness of desires. That is not true. I want all that is coming to me, and more; but on the road, there are all those pleasant just enoughs to give me joy. If I should get to heaven and find that I could never get tired enough by running around those golden streets and flying over that glassy sea to feel my wings ache and purr like a foot asleep, I think I should drop down below. One could surely find odd jobs enough there to get tired on.

But — I had better not try that, for it is understood that nothing down there is like the Little Bear’s porridge. In fact, the very soul of hell is that it has no just enoughs anywhere. Hell is Idealism turned topsy-turvy.

So I will ask of heaven only that it make no error to the other extreme. There must be some night there, some poverty, some sickness, some hunger. But not too much.

How desperately afraid we are, after all, of absolute perfection! How natural it was that Adam and Eve could not have borne the perfect garden any longer without hating it and each other!

One can almost argue, in this mood, that the Old Serpent, who was more subtle than all the other beasts that God had made, was just bad enough!