Experience with Emerson
“Life is not intellectual or critical, but sturdy. Its chief good is for well-mixed people who can enjoy what they find, without question… To fill the hour, – that is happiness, to fill the hour and leave no crevice for a repentance or an approval. We live on surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate on them.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Experience
Emerson was at the center of it all. If Concord was the center of the 19th century literary world, Emerson was the great influencer; the magnet that drew in talented writers, or inspired talented artists to push their own boundaries. Emerson and Thoreau, Emerson and Alcott, Emerson and Hawthorne, Emerson and French; always Emerson. The father of Transcendentalism, which promoted the inherent good in people and self-reliance over institutional control, Emerson continues to inspire and lead well beyond his time on earth. My own personal philosophy is deeply rooted in Transcendentalism. Emerson is the wise old sage who reaches out from beyond his grave with his Experience:
“Life is a mixture of power and form, and will not bear the least excess of either. To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.”
When I was in college I took a course which dove deep into Transcendentalism. I often wish I’d saved the notes from that class. I’m no scholar, and certainly not an expert in the philosophy. Emerson was a leading voice in Transcendentalism but not its only voice. Ultimately we all develop our own operating systems. My own is far from perfect, but firmly rooted in living in the moment and treating people with respect. These quotes I’m pulling out are from the yellowing pages of The Portable Emerson, a book I’ve had for a long time. I’ve never read the entire book, but dabble in it occasionally. Perhaps thats one of my flaws; too much of a generalist, dabbling instead of spending the time to dive deep. Conversely, I’ve done my best to live by the spirit of this philosophy even if I haven’t invested the time in fully comprehending it. But these words I know.
“Since our office is with moments, let us husband them. Five minutes today are worth as much to me as five minutes in the next millennium. Let us be poised, and wise, and our own, today. Let us treat the men and women well; treat them as if they were real; perhaps they are. Men live in their fancy, like drunkards whose hands are too soft and tremulous for successful labor. It is a tempest of fancies, and the only ballast I know is a respect for the present hour. Without any shadow of doubt, amidst this vertigo of shows and politics, I settle myself ever the firmer in the creed that we should not postpone and refer and wish, but do broad justice where we are, by whomsoever we deal with, accepting our actual companions and circumstances, however humble or odious, as the mystic officials to whom the universe has delegated its whole pleasure for us.”
Emerson wrote those words in the last millennium, I’m re-reading them in the next millennium. Many of us are bridges between the two. Born and living a portion of our lives in each millennium. The term itself is nothing but a man-made reference to a period of time. 1000 trips around the sun. Completely subjective, but meaningful nonetheless in the way that marking time is a gauge to indicate our progression through life. A reference point to those who lived before us, with us or after us. Ultimately we’re all going from here to there. Making the most of here before we get there is all we can do. And remember those who came before, honor those who are here with us now and leave the world a better place for those who come after us. Live a bit more like Emerson.