Beyond “the Pail”

I must beg the indulgence the grammarians and the history buffs among my readers.  I know very well that the proper term is “Beyond the Pale”.

A “pail” is a metal bucket.  “The Pale” is something else entirely.

The roots of the term go back at least as far as the 14th Century.  In those times a “pale” was what we would think of now as a “fence post” or even a “picket”.  Essentially, a pale was a white stake, driven into the ground to form a border.  Over time, that definition grew and “pale” went from meaning a single post, to an entire fence, and then finally it came to encompass the area contained within that fence.

Ireland Beyond The PaleSpecifically, “Beyond the Pale” refers to that area outside of the city of Dublin, during the English occupation.  The area “Within the Pale” was considered to be cultured and respectable.  English society dominated, and the people behaved appropriately, following the rules of polite society like good little citizens.

In other words: everyone did what they were told.

Beyond the Pale and outside the range of the Crown’s ready authority, things were not always quite so ordered.  Folks might act against the agreed upon societal norms.  People from Beyond the Pale were seen as little more than simple bumpkins, too uneducated to understand the many personal benefits of upright, civil society.

So why then, did I entitle this piece, “Beyond the Pail”?

Because, after a sting of miserably hot days, I woke up this Sunday morning to a beautiful light rain and temperatures that were flirting with the upper 60’s F.  Having the day off from work, I felt compelled to skip my normal, hurried breakfast, and embarked instead, on a pleasant stroll through my neighborhood.

A refreshing breeze, a glowering sky, and the feel of cool raindrops on my brow, have been known to inspire strange and sometimes rebellious thoughts in my mind.

On this morning, as I wandered through the gentle patter of an unexpected summer shower, the thought that came to me was this…,


Imagine that as a child, you were given a bucket.  At first, the bucket was empty and you carried it around with you at ease, hardly remembering that you had it at all.  Over time, however, you started to add to it.  Your tiny hands grasp at a favorite new toy and a single drop of water plinks down against the dry metal bottom of the pail.  Your new clothes, your games, your books, your friends…,





Now we have a layer of water at the bottom.  We can hear it sloshing around when we move, and our elders warn us, ever so gently, to be careful.  We wouldn’t want any spill over the sides.  The water is precious and should never go to waste!

And so we hold our buckets a little more tightly, and we go on about out lives.

We grow up.  We become serious.  We learn the rules.

Along the way we will go to school, get a job, buy some stuff, land a better job, buy yet more stuff, and eventually find a mate, because that is what we are supposed to do.

And still —trickle-trickle-trickle— we are always adding to that bucket.

Now it has become heavy, the strain of it, a constant burden.  The handle bites deeply into the flesh of our hands and our arms begin to ache with the weight of it.  Yet, we couldn’t think of setting it down, even for a moment.  We’ve gathered too much to risk spilling any of it now!  Desperate, we clutch the bucket to ourselves, holding it against our chests with our arms wrapped around its cold, tin shell.

Eventually, the bucket is filled nearly to the brim and we must take every step with great care.  We nearly stumble and grit our teeth in frustration as precious water sloshes over the rim.  The uncomfortable damp of loss spreads downward through our clothes, mixing with the sweat of our labor.

We glance upward for a moment, to see if the others have noticed our slip.

Until now, most of our attention has been focused downward, upon our own wavering reflection and the ever decreasing distance between the waters edge and the curled metal lip which retains it.

And now?  Looking up, beyond the pail, we see everyone else, our neighbors, our friends and family, all of them struggling with their own buckets, desperate to not lose a single drop of what belongs to them.


We live in an age where the greatest focus is on the self.

We work as many hours as possible so that we can afford our creature comforts, which mostly sit unused while we work to afford still more.  When we have finished our eating and our buying and find that we have money left over we deem it “disposable income” and spend it on the things that we don’t really need, but want anyway.

Old Tin BucketWe fill our buckets while others go thirsty, while the world burns down around us, and we excuse our own greed by saying that “those people” should have worked harder.  We could point them out, easily enough, the lazy ones, and the unlucky, who want little more than to take what is ours.

No, that would be impolite.

Also, these buckets are quite heavy and we need both hands to carry them.

Or maybe we could do something different, something unexpected.

Perhaps, just for a change, we could put our buckets down and rest our weary backs for a moment.  It might actually do us some good to get away from our own reflections for a while, to actually look at the people and the world around us.

Would it hurt to think a little less about what we “want” as opposed to what others “need”?

Does anyone have a dipper for these buckets?
Did they hand those out as well and we just forgot about them?

What if we shared what we have collected with our brothers and sisters and what if they shared with us; would we even need the damn buckets anymore?

Can you imagine, just for a moment, what would happen if we just heaved all of it into the air (the water – not the buckets), just gave it all back and let it rain down, watering the Earth around us?  I wonder what miracles we could grow?


These are the thoughts I entertain, while walking in the rain on a cool summer morning.

I only wish I hadn’t been alone out there.

The streets I walked were deserted.

I suppose my neighbors were taking an easy morning in the comfort of their homes, or attending their various Sunday morning services.

I can’t help but think that we might all be better off if more of them had been out on the street, sharing the simple joy of a rainy morning and the view of the world outside the rim of their buckets and beyond the pale.


Filed under Culture, Ireland, Modern Life, Philosophy, Spiritual Journey

2 responses to “Beyond “the Pail”

  1. Excellent post. I suspect many people do not know how to walk in the rain, or they are afraid they will melt.

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