I used to prepare for each high school morning visually scanning Kipling’s famous poem, “If-”. I wish I would have drawn deeper wisdom from it at a younger age. But, hindsight is 20/20 and the present is the best time to instill habits I wish were already established.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
What I Iove about Kipling’s advice is that he encourages character that preserves through the darkest hour and thrives when fortune makes life easy. I have friends I greatly admire and respect who do this well. They believe the best about people and situations, but never break a sweat when their hopes are seemingly destroyed. In a word, they are grounded.
My great grandmother was also grounded. She had a burning perseverance about her. Her stories about NYC, the Great Depression, WW1, WW2, parenting, etc were less about her experience through life’s gantlets and more about the wonder of seeing life miraculously work itself out.
Each time we were together, either just the two of us or the entire extended family, it felt like she saw who I was, heard me, and valued me; I always believed she loved me. I also never remember her acting out of spite or a degenerate heart. I think her ever-present love for people and her persevering charisma are intimately linked. She was free to love people deeply because she feared nothing life brought her way. We celebrated the end of her full life in April 2015.