Words are powerful. The right set of words at just the right moment can alter someone’s life tremendously, for good or for ill. At a low moment in our lives, an inspirational passage from someone we respect can give us the strength we need to push on. Conversely, the wrong message at a point where we’re the most vulnerable can be enough to shatter us, twisting us into something we had never intended to become, nor desired to be.
During my Junior High (or Middle School, as some people call it) graduation ceremony, they sent us off with a poem: The classic “Footprints in the Sand” (of which its authorship is currently in dispute):
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”Footprints in the Sand
It being a Roman Catholic school that I had attended, it’s no surprise that they would have chosen such a poem with religious overtones. But the message was clear: There are days that are going to suck, but fret not for you will not be alone.
Although it doesn’t do a good job of empowering people and letting them know that they have everything they need to make a go of it as they go forth in their various adventures, it’s a nice, hopeful message to send young kids off onto the next phase of their lives with, I suppose.
However, I recently was exposed to Desiderata by Max Ehrmann and I really wish that this was the one they had chosen to gift us instead:
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 vexatious 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 this not 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.Desiderata by Max Ehrmann ©1927
“Desiderata” means “things that are desired” and it was written by Ehrmann “because it counsels those virtues [he] felt most in need of.”
Every single word that Ehrmann wrote is as true today as it was 90 years ago. It took me about three decades to figure the above stuff out on my own. I can only imagine how far I’d be along in life if I had been taught this stuff earlier. I wonder the same thing about other people I know too.
Anyway, Desiderata is now my new favourite piece of prose. It’s good stuff. And if this is your first time encountering this set of words, I hope it can help you out too.