I was over at a friend’s house – for a meeting of one of my two children’s literature reading groups, in fact – where I saw her framed copy of “Desiderata.” (“Desiderata” is a Latin word meaning “things to be desired.”) I’d seen it before, but I’d never read more than the first few lines, and I was struck by the soundness of the suggestions.
I always thought Desiderata was an inscription in an old churchyard, but it was actually written by Max Ehrmann in 1927. This bit of information detracts from its mystique somewhat, but it’s still an interesting list.
1. Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.
2. As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
3. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
4. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; for they are vexations to the spirit.
5. If you compare yourself with others you may become bitter or vain, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
6. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
7. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
8. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery; but let this not blind you to what virtue there is.
9. Be yourself. [There it is, yet again, my First Commandment: Be Gretchen]
10. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.
11. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
12. 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.
13. Beyond a wholesome discipline be gentle with yourself.
14. 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.
15. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
16. And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, be at peace with your soul. With all its shame, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
17. Be cheerful.
18. Strive to be happy.
Speaking of inscriptions found (or not) in churchyards, here’s my own favorite gravestone inscription:
Remember, friends, as you pass by,
As you are now so once was I.
As I am now, so you must be.
Prepare yourself to follow me.
Which item do you find most important in your own life?