I don’t remember exactly why we were made to memorize it, apart from the fact that it was graded. I didn’t see the sense in the exercise, although now I’d like to think that we were being prepared for the harshness of life waiting us a few years later. I must admit though, the idea of being “a child of the universe” seemed like a magical thing, and “going placidly amid the noise and haste” while remembering “what peace there may be in silence” made me believe that I was on the right track with my introversion and social awkwardness. (Which also reminds me now how Ecclesiastes 7:4–“The heart of the wise is in a house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in a house of pleasure”–made me believe that being dour and glum was a good thing, because hey, wisdom is equals to being sad! Oh, the things Sunday school teaches you.)
Today I won’t be able to recite the whole poem by heart, but at times when I feel like the world is about to collapse/implode/become destroyed by apocalyptic fire and sulfur, I Google the lines from the poem to calm me down and console me with the optimistic thought that things will be okay.
This part especially makes me feel good:
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.“
“Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.”
Which reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s “If”, which I think is a great guide to adults wading through the confusing path of life:
“ If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son! “
Growing up, I used to think life will unfold in one big answer to all the major questions you used to have when you were a kid. But there are more questions that will require answers; there are more knots that you will need to unravel. And it’s okay, even when it’s not always okay: we’re all in this together, trying to figure things out.