Desiderata: Words of wisdom for all ages

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All of us need reminders from time to time on how to get through a bad day or a rough patch in life. There are old, common tips for those bad days: Count to 10 before responding to anyone, or gripe to a friend who cares, then remind yourself that no matter what happens, soon this day will be over.

But sometimes we need something with a bit more depth, a little something to hold on to.

I was about 15 when I discovered various writings that could soothe the soul. All of the Psalms and much of the Corinthians became a great balm to my aching spirit, and then somehow I stumbled across the great and yet simple writing of Max Erhmann.

His simple, starkly beautiful Desiderata was written somewhere around 1920, and yet, as only great writing can do, it transcends all 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 perennial as the grass.

Take kindly to 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 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 & broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

I saved up my nickels and dimes and bought this piece of writing on a poster and hung it on my bedroom wall when I was about 16. I read it over and over as I tried hard to triumph through the demanding days of high school combined with farm work, enjoying the happy accomplishments as well as bomb-diving lows that make up adolescent life.

I hadn’t thought of this writing for a very long time, but seeing a young person struggling with some of the tough stuff that life throws at any and all of us made me go in search of this.

Life can humble or hurt, anger or antagonize, puff an ego, dash our desires. Sometimes it helps to have something in black and white to help sort it all out. Knowing this was written so long ago is somehow comforting in itself.

This is a piece of writing that is worth sharing.

I strongly believe it really never stops being our job to look out for those struggling through pain, confusion, doubt, fatigue, loneliness, bullying. Sometimes just the right words, placed on paper, can help make sense of what seems totally senseless.

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

One Comment

  1. Glenna Russell says:

    The column “Words of Wisdom for all Ages” arrived at one of the mentioned – bad days/rough patch in life. I wanted to let you know how beneficial those words of the Desiderata and your reminder that sometimes – just the right words can help. Thank you for printing the writing in it’s entirety. Young people and older alike are constantly being bombarded by negative people, bullies and even loved ones who are not functioning with the highest level of integrity. You are right. The fact that it has been around for over 90 years makes it more comforting. Thank you.

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