I have favorite columnists, as many do. I read them and most often agree with them. This past weekend, my wife and I returned from an idyllic weekend out of town. As I thought of the week ahead, I was confronted with the suicide of Mr. Epstein, the massive flooding in India and the question of whether Gov. Blagojevich should be pardoned by the president. The weight of the world seemed to descend on me again.
Then I turned to the editorial pages of the Chicago Tribune and read two columnists: John Kass, and my favorite, Mary Schmich. Kass dealt with the possible release of our former governor, and Mary dealt with the present “noise” of the world and how to cope. Both did so with poetry.
I have loved poetry since high school. I have written poems for eulogies I have given for close friends. I read classical poetry from time to time. But it took these two columnists to bring me back to two poems I had read but forgotten: “If,” by Rudyard Kipling, and “Desiderata” by Indiana native Max Ehrmann.
As I read these two columns, I decided to dig up those two older classics and see if either gave me some comfort. Both are quite different. “If” has a rhyming scheme, and “Desiderata” is what is called free verse and has no rhyming pattern. It matters not, as both convey the intended messages.
“If” is the description of the more perfect man. It calls on a man to rise above his own self-interest and egoism and to accept fault, criticism and defaming for the good of the individual. I only would hope our president would take the time to read this poem and take in the deep meaning from a poem written more than 100 years ago. Some of lines are as follows:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming you.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue
Or walk with Kings- nor lose the common touch.
Ours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.
And-which is more- you’ll be a man, my son!
Then, I turned to Mary Schmich and “Desiderata”:
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter.
For there are always greater and lesser persons than yourself.
With these meaningful words, can we not resolve our differences, pull together rather than apart and mend the many fences that have been torn asunder these past two-and-a-half years? Listen to the ages. The battle between the not-so-fortunate and the rich elite must be reconciled. We must show compassion and understanding toward all sides. As Robert Kennedy surmised many years ago,
“The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages: the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our elected official … it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Thanks to you, Mary and John and Robert Kennedy, for some good old fashioned encouragement and advice to our leaders today. It helped me feel a bit better about my country.