Saturday, May 12, 2012


I was driving one day around the neighbourhood. When something glittery caught my eye. Down the block it seems we have new folks moving in. The couple must be somewhere in their mid-60's or something like that and they were both busy cleaning up the landscape and putting up bold gold letters onto their fence that spelled... D E S I D E R A T A!

You have to be kidding me! A true-blue quarter storm, age of Aquarius couple? They must have decided it is their life statement, I mean, to have it plastered on your front lawn for everyone to see and take notice!

I seldom do a double-take (particularly when I am behind the wheel) but the visual I saw immediately transported me back to the memory of my Literature class where I remember being forced to read the poem again and again; cull the best insights from each line by this Professor whom we believed to must have been Hitler's wife in her past life!

Well of course the words just echoed in my hollow head, with hardly any meaning. I would love to discuss it now, yeah, bring it! Today, I know what the message is. What it has always been. 

Back then, it was torture to hear her screech at every attempt at a profound insight from me or my classmates. We were pretty lame to say the least. Honestly, at 14, "placid" was not even in my vocabulary of significant words to live by.

Unless aided by what we currently call today as 'medicinal herbs', how would you expect average teenage girls who are barely starting to manage with hormones without breaking out into massive acne attacks, to relate with such esoteric, moving lines, such as:

At my best then, I just knew that the word itself must be LATIN. Literally translated, it means, "desirable things". Desirable? How could chocolates and men not be included? Or just plain vanilla and chocolates? It was just way beyond my comprehension.

Couple of years later, when I chanced upon this prose poetry by Max Ehrmann, the words begun to breathe. And this time, I didn't need an Eva Braun to scream in my face to think and delve deeply into my soul for a meaning. I gave the words their meaning and somewhere along the way I realized I must have grown up.

I have no doubt that whilst DESIDERATA was, once upon a time, a mantra, a philosophy or a devotion (that time when people believed in making love and not war; that life is about taking things in stride and making time to smell the roses; each individual is intrinsically good; heroism and magnanimity is commonplace, respect and humility is a norm, and that the world is a happy place to be born in); today, this very moment, the memory of my Literature class has become more real and more apt. The words in the poem have lost their capacity to move people's hearts and our souls cringe at the possibility of being touched by it. Such tragedy. I would hate to admit this to "Eva" but when I saw the word proudly displayed on that wall, I just had to read it again.

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 or 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 labours 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.

And I made a mental note to myself, perhaps one of these days, it will be nice to meet up with the new neighbours. I underscored the note with "listen" for they must be wise in their years, just as boldly as they declared their Life's philosophy.