It’s crazy the things that you remember from your childhood.
When I was a kid, I spent alot of time at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother – an incurable pack rat (due to a recessive gene I’m sure I inherited) – always had these interesting things around the house that
I’d ‘meddle’ with, keeping myself entertained for hours. One of them that I remember quite clearly was a little metal trashcan that she kept near her bedside. By itself, the trashcan was nothing remarkable, but what had me so enchanted with this dinged up little waste receptacle was the poem that was written on the side of it. While my grandmother was otherwise occupied around the house, I’d often climb into her bed and lay there with my head hanging over the edge, reading the poem over and over again, pondering the words, falling in love with the simple rhythmic quality of them as I recited them in my head, and quietly mouthing the poem’s title – which to me, seemed like it might have been some ancient incantation – Desiderata.
Of course, them were the days before the Internet, so I didn’t have any way of finding out what the word ‘Desiderata’ meant, but even as a kid, the meaning of the poem was clear to me. This was a simple set of words to live by, a way to remind oneself of what was important in life, to make sure that you didn’t forget what was really real.
I was having a conversation this past weekend with one of my friends and mentors, and, as we often do when we talk with each other about life and work, we both shared our feeling that there’s this sort of nagging question inside of each of us, “Are you living the life you’re supposed to?” Since turning 30, I’ve found myself asking that question more and more often, and being less and less satisfied that my answer to myself usually amounts to: “Well, yeah. I think so.”
And so it happened that this Monday morning, as I’m sitting in front of my work computer, slightly chagrined at the work week ahead, the question popped into my head again, but before I gave myself the same lackluster answer, the image of my grandma’s little trashcan wavered for a moment in my mind’s eye. I opened another browser window and typed in the search term ‘desiderata’. After reading the familiar words, I realized that, if my life were spent emulating just one lesson from the poem, then my answer to: “Are you living the life you’re supposed to?” would be a confident and satisfying, “Yes.”
Go placidly amid the noise and the 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 to 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 or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than 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 not this blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. 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. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams; it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.