Em’rald figure in the hall
Bids me forward through the pall.
Cycles shifting old to new
Though the sight is not askew.
Vision narrowed by dark straits
Kens not past the lies and hate.
“Lift thine eyes and drop to knee;
I have much to show to thee.”
Sometimes remembering the outstanding actions or words of another is the best way to reconnect both heart and mind to the inexhaustible well of inner strength. So doing allows you to put matters into perspective, to gain either altitude or distance from the challenge you face or the problem with which you are wrestling.
William George Jordan provided one such example in his meditations on courage and I am honored and delighted to share it with you today:
Courage is no gaily-decked joyous craft to skim the summer seas when waves are sun-warmed; it is the sturdy life-boat that rides the angry waters when skies are dark. The lives of some men are a constant struggle, hopeless but for their courage. For fourteen years Robert Louis Stevenson had not a day’s health. When the use of his right hand failed him, his left hand assumed the burden of writing; when he could not use either hand to hold the pen, he dictated; when he could not speak, he still dictated, but by means of the deaf and dumb alphabet. His fine spirit defied the limitations of the body; there was no moan, no twinge of pain, no voice of protest, no obtrusion of self crept into the sunlit pages of his prose or verse. He gave the world his sweetness and his strength, the perfume from the crushed flowers of his struggle and sorrow, the honey of his triumph, not the sting of his mighty effort.
When you are down, unsure of yourself, wondering if you have what it takes to get the job done, remember this story.
You can overcome. More importantly, your victory will inspire others to find the courage to greet the world with renewed vigor.
Before you go, here’s a parting gift:
“To Dr. Hake” by Robert Louis Stevenson
In the beloved hour that ushers day, In the pure dew, under the breaking grey, One bird, ere yet the woodland quires awake, With brief reveille summons all the brake: Chirp, chirp, it goes; nor waits and answer long; And that small signal fills the grove with song.
Thus on my pipe I breathed a strain or two; It was scarce music, but ‘twas all I knew. It was not music, for I lacked the art, Yet what but frozen music filled my heart?
Chirp, chirp, I went on, nor hoped a nobler strain; But heaven decreed I should not pipe in vain, For, lo! not far from there, in secret dale, All silent, sat an ancient nightingale. My sparrow notes he heard; thereat awoke; And with a tide of song his silence broke.
I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.
You have been mine before,—
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow’s soar
Your neck turn’d so,
Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.
Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time’s eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
In death’s despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?
You were born with an empty book before you. Your life quickly began filling its pages, the pages become chapters and before you knew it your little notebook transformed into a novel that told the tale of another of humanity’s grains of sand.
The chapters of life are a fascinating thing to me. While Rosetti was likely speaking of the death known as “physical death” (the kind that ends in a grave), I have to wonder if he wasn’t speaking to the chapters of life as well.
One life can be divided up in so many ways. Childhood and adulthood. Educational years, working years, retirement years. All can be seen as chapters in a book.
When you’ve moved from chapter to chapter in life, have you found some strings of continuity? Are there persistent themes that appear and reappear with comforting or at times alarming consistency, times where you say to yourself as Rosetti put it: “Has this been thus before?”
Threads of success as well as failure weave through life in a predictable fashion until the pattern is broken, one way or the other. You can succeed where you’ve failed in the past and you can fail where success was previously the norm. As such, it is important to take note when you do succeed and take heed when you fail. Both will offer important clues as to how to be a greater success in the next chapter of your life.
You cannot learn about who you are or what successes will be wrought through you from a book. There is no manual. You may glean bits and pieces of advice from here and there, but ultimately the story you tell has to emerge in and through you.
There is no doubt that we live in a tough world. It is not ideal. No one had an ideal upbringing. We’ve all had our bumps and bruises and we each have the scars – physical, mental and emotional – to show for it.
Just as you should never scratch a mosquito bite, you are wise not to dwell on the irritants in your life – past or present. Ask yourself instead, “What can I do – here and now, based on what I know and what resources I have at my command – to handle this situation successfully?” Doing anything else is not only a waste of time, it will likely result in further bloodshed and scarring.
Creative thinking and timely action is your lifeblood. Forego either or both and you will add sad stories to a subsequently less successful chapter in your life. There are far more tales of woe in the history of man than there are bright examples of success and victory.