It’s a gray skies snowy Sunday afternoon, the fireplace is turned on, Bull Durham is on the TV machine, and I’d rather play with POV-Ray, snooze or get back to reading Terry Pratchett‘s Going Postal than spend hours working on a blog post. Sunday should be a day of rest or, at least, of difference.
I’m not particularly stuck on Sundays; my Lutheran background programs me for Sundays, but there are other ways to keep a Sabbath.
I do think it’s important to observe one day a week that is tuned differently than your other days. I think it’s mentally and spiritually healthy to change your pace one day a week. Dedicating a day helps insure following the practice.
In the mid-60s, that prose poem, written by Max Ehrmann in 1927, experienced a round of popularity. It aligned very well with the Hippie Ethos of the day, and we took to it like hotcakes (or hash pipes). It was common to see it on posters and other printed material.
Famous dejay Les Crane (back when a “DJ,” disk jockey, was a guy on the radio) recorded it spoken over stirring music in the very early 70s, and it became a hit record (a “45″ back when that didn’t mean a gun or even a malt liquor).
Leonard Nimoy made a recording of it in 1967! (He called it Spock’s Thoughts.)
It was big is what I’m saying.
Given how the Information River flows so fast, wide and deep, I’m not surprised to find many younger people today have never heard of it. One goal I have with this blog is sharing nuggets of the past with a new audience that might find them worthwhile (or even just cool or fun).
But before I get to the poem, let me back up a bit. You might be wondering about the dead thousands, plus I want to say a bit more about the idea of taking a weekly Sabbath day.
I heard once that there are aspects of Jewish law and tradition where the purpose is mainly to serve as a reminder that the Jewish people are the chosen. I think reminders can be helpful. Such custom can serve to help define and provide structure to life.
For some it can be going to the gym or taking that walk or even that annual vacation. They have in common a no matter what aspect. There are always exclusions, but the bar should be very high. A good starting list is: open flames, flowing blood, auto accidents, and so forth.
Structure alone is known to be mentally helpful. Taking advantage of that structure to observe a Sabbath—I think—makes it incredibly helpful (to you). At its most basic level the idea is to take a day that honors your fundamentals, that reminds you of your true path.
For the non-religious, it could mean unplugging from the techno world or focusing on writing or music. I think it’s extremely helpful to see it as “getting away” or “unplugging” from the usual world. The world is noisy; we can all use a break.
I often don’t have the TV on at all on my Sabbath (which happens to be Sunday). If I do watch TV, I won’t watch anything violent or even slightly pornographic. Bull Durham is pretty much at the line. That all also applies to any web use. Some Sundays I unplug from the web, too (even email).
Comparing, on the one hand, the stresses and lacks and bad things in my life with my general level of usual happiness—and even frequent joy—I think I might be on to something.
Which brings me to the thousands dead. Yeah, okay, it was all CGI and special effects, but I couldn’t avoid once again noting the level of almost casual death in the most basic of entertainment. I’m not sure if Battleship and X-Men: First Class are exactly family fare (both are rated PG-13), but they’re certainly targeted at teens.
In Battleship, hundreds (if not thousands) die under alien attack. Not the stars, of course (not all of them, anyway), and probably no pets, but tons of faceless people die. [My own favorites aren't immune. I'm often struck by how many humans—sometimes a noticeable fraction of the population—die in Dr. Who episodes.]
In X-Men, lots of comic book death, some of which is quite gruesome. Magnetically forcing a quarter through the skull and brain of someone who can’t move made for a fairly horrific and prolonged bit of casual violence.
Janet Jackson accidentally (?) shows a nipple, and the whole country goes apeshit. (“OMG! We never knew she had nipples!!”) But brain salad surgery, hey, no problem, we’ll air that Sunday night sometime.
[I've been thinking about guns lately, but there's a part of me that feels you don't even get to have the conversation about "gun control" with me until you deal with this fucked up shit.]
Anyway, I had those movies on in the background last night (the latter mostly just because it was on after the former). I’d not seen Battleship, and the effects (of course) were spectacular. The alien weaponry was kind of clever, and it really is impressive to see what CGI can do these days.
It’s just kind of a shame about all the dying and stuff.
Yes, it’s true people died in our Earthquake and in our Towering Inferno, but it was done in a way that made it almost seem most of them miraculously made it out alive. And the effects weren’t as powerful, didn’t take you so thoroughly into the story, didn’t make the death so real, visceral, excitingly bloody.
Back then one death seemed to matter more. Now we’re just over-whelmed. Now it’s just another night at the movies or an episode of CSI.
On that note, let me take you back to a more gentle time, a time of vinyl records and transistor radios. A time when it almost seemed possible that, if we could all just calm down and get together, it would all work out. It was a time when it didn’t all seem so damned impossible. Without further ado, I give you:
Go placidly amidst the noise and 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 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 and 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 with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.
~Max Ehrmann, 1927
If you’ve never seen it before, I hope you enjoyed it. It’s one of my all-time most favorite things in the world! It’s one of my go-to pieces, a statement of ideals I try to follow.