I’ve long been a fan of the pithy proverb that contains truth in 20 words or less. Perhaps my love for the short and to-the-point adage came from my Grandmother Brown, who was known to say things such as, “The graveyard is full of people who thought the world couldn’t get along without them.”
I admit I might have heard that particular one when she thought I was getting too big for my britches.
To capture some of my favorite sayings without having to write an entire blog post about them, I created a feature on More to Come that I labeled More to Consider. (Clever, huh?) Every other week or so I update these quick bursts of truth. This section of the website is easiest to see on a laptop, where it resides near the top of the right hand column. But most people read my posts from their phones, where you have to scroll almost to the bottom before finding the saying for the week. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of the more recent ones, with little or no additional comment.
As this is posted, the current iteration of More to Consider is from one of my favorite authors, Rebecca Solnit.
“Difficulty is always a school, though learning is optional.”
Before Solnit’s quote made it to the top of the queue, I featured a line from President John F. Kennedy, which seemed appropriate for the Thanksgiving holiday season.
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
In November, I also called on a historical figure—First Lady (and First Mother) Abigail Adams—for a reminder that we learn through difficulties, which seemed as appropriate a lesson in 2019 as it did in 1780, when she wrote to her son, the future president John Quincy Adams.
“The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues.”
Far from Abigail Adams in place and time, but on the same train of thought, was Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez. I posted his inspirational comment, which he credits to his mother, made after his team—against great odds and through a season of upheavals—won the National League championship (and then the World Series championship) in baseball.
“Bumpy roads often lead to beautiful places.”
Martinez isn’t the first baseball player/manager to make an appearance in More to Consider. I called on the great Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige in August of this year for the following:
“Ain’t no man can avoid being born average, but there ain’t no man got to be common.”
Good songwriters are masters of the pithy hook, and I’ve been known to succumb to their talents at times. Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Joe Ely—known collectively as The Flatlanders—hit the nail on the head with,
“It’s the fearless who love and the loveless who fear.”
There’s a lot of truth for our times in that line.
There have been several instances where I’ve used the More to Consider space to highlight my love of reading and writing. First, this gem from Annie Dillard:
“Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading—that is a good life.”
And then this bit of advice from writer Colum McCann:
“On occasion we write a sentence that isn’t, in fact, correct, but it sings. And the question is: Would you rather be the ornithologist or the bird?”
And finally, from the late Toni Morrison:
“A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.”
My grandmother made it clear that complaining wasn’t allowed in her house. That may be why this George Bernard Shaw quote resonated with me the first time I saw it.
“The true joy in life is to be a force of fortune instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
I’ll end with my favorite saying from Grandmother Brown, which I heard on more than one occasion. It seems especially appropriate for this time in our nation’s history. Change and progress require hard work, and cynics often want to avoid the responsibility of that work. Change and progress also require hope, and as I’ve written before, “hope demands things that despair does not.” Hope is risky. But hope is also in love with success.
We need to remember that our country’s values and ultimate success “rests on the habit of holding our fellow citizens in thoughtful regard not because they are exceptional (or famous, or beautiful, or rich) but simply because they are our fellow citizens.” And, we need to understand that “What joins the Americans one to another is not a common nationality, language, race, or ancestry (all of which testify to the burdens of the past) but rather their complicity in a shared work of the imagination.”
As we look ahead to 2020, and all the work to be done to get our country back on the right track, we could do worse than to keep Grandmother Brown’s words in mind:
“Make yourself useful as well as ornamental.”
Have a wonderful holiday week.
More to come…
Installment #18 of The Gap Year Chronicles.