Some of us who reach a certain age become convinced we've seen, read, or heard just about everything--at least everything of any importance. Then along comes a bit of impressive wisdom that had completely escaped our notice.
That happened to me last weekend. As a part of the prelude to a talk by a local Rabbi at my church, a program coordinator read part of the poem "Desiderata" by Max Ehrmann. A fellow geezer stopped me after the program and asked if I had heard of Desiderata. I said no, and he said, "We ought to check it out, that reading was wonderful." So I did.
The background was interesting. Ehrmann was a lawyer and poet who lived in
He wrote Desiderata in 1927, but only circulated copies locally and the poem
was largely unknown during his lifetime. Because a clergyman in New York included it in
an array of writings he mislabeled, some who did learn of it thought it was centuries-old
philosophy. When Adlai Stevenson, an Illinois
politician who unsuccessfully ran for president of the United States
against Dwight Eisenhower, died in 1965 a copy of the poem was found on a night
stand beside his bed. We are told that Desiderata then became hugely popular
with counter-culture people in the late 60s and early 70s.
It seems reasonable that I would have heard of any bit of philosophy that was "hugely popular" for a decade or more during prime years of my lifetime. However, I definitely was not part of any counter-culture movement and also have never been much of a fan of poetry. I thus missed inspiring advice on what is desirable for those striving to live a good life, and some powerful words of hope during trying times. I think it is worth sharing:
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons then yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own 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.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
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