I woke up this morning thinking about King Arthur. This is not really that unusual. I think about Arthur a lot. I have a bookshelf with at least 30 books on Arthurian romance and Grail literature. I have been to England 10 times and most of those trips have spent at least a portion of the time visiting historical sites connected with the subject.
I’m not sure. Or maybe, more accurately, there are many reasons. At it’s basest level, the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable, as well as Lancelot and his affair with Arthur’s queen Guinevere, is about three people who love each and, in the end, this is their undoing. Tipped off by his illegitimate son, Mordred, Arthur had to charge his wife with adultery and treason and condemn her to death because of her infidelity with Lancelot. This is one version of the story made popular by T.H. White in the novel Once and Future King which formed the basis for the Broadway musical Camelot. As Arthur had hoped, Guinevere is rescued by Lancelot just before her execution. And as they ride off, Arthur is torn between the loss of them both and his relief that his wife will not die by his order. There is a wonderful line (can’t remember if its in the play or the novel) where Lancelot suggests, before all this goes down, that they just run away together from Camelot. Guinevere replies, “How can you do that to the man we both love?” That line never fails to bring a tear to my eye. To me it is riddled with meanings of duty, respect and despair.
There is another line that affects me the same way. It is in the New Testament and is spoken by Jesus to his disciples near the end of his mission. He tells them, “This is my last commandment to you. Love one another as I have loved you.”
To me these are profound statements. They are about altuistic love more than romantic love. I also believe it is the sort of love that becomes more important as one grows older. It is expressed in this statement: “You have made a difference in my life.”
Some time ago a friend told me that there are two questions that everyone asks on their death bed: Was I love? Did I make a difference?
There is a long quotation on what constitutes success that is often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson and towards the end of the list it says, “To know that at least one person has breathed easier because you have existed.”
So maybe that’s why King Arthur intrudes on my thoughts so often. At the deepest level, stories of King Arthur and his knights are about people who wanted to make a difference. Not in their own lives but in the lives of those who depended on them. Certainly there have been times when just the thought of that line spoken by Guinevere has made me realize what is really important in my life and has turned my attention otuside my own head if only for a moment.