“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea,
Drink the wild air’s salubrity:
When the star Canope shines in May,
Shepherds are thankful and nations gay.
The music that can deepest reach,
And cure all ill, is cordial speech:
Mask thy wisdom with delight,
Toy with the bow, yet hit the white.
Of all wit’s uses, the main one
Is to live well with who has none.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Merlin’s Song
You see this Emerson poem abbreviated to an inspirational quote as “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild.” And yes, boiled down, he says these very words. But clearly so much more too (The quote above is an excerpt of the poem). Who can live in these times and not read the lines “The music that can deepest reach, And cure all ill, is cordial speech” without thinking he knew the path forward for all of us? Emerson lived in tumultuous times too, and published Merlin’s Song just two years after the end of the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He was a man familiar with conflict and the worst traits in mankind…. but also the best. Was there a better example than Abraham Lincoln himself?
Earlier today I saw a re-post from someone on Facebook – one of those I dare you to post this re-posts equivalent to chain mail. It was using a tragic event from 2011 as if it were current news, challenging us to forward it along. I started typing a reply to point out the age of the original event to correct this deliberate oversight that’s being bounced along the uninformed, when I caught myself and deleted the comment. An hour later I read Merlin’s Song with fresh eyes, and lingered on the last lines: “Of all wit’s uses, the main one Is to live well with who has none” and thought to myself, how often has someone lived well with my ignorance? More than I realize, I imagine. Believe me, I appreciate your patience as I continue to figure things out.
These times we live in – these are not the worst of times. Not yet anyway. We can still get this thing back on track. It starts with cordial speech, living well with those who might have a viewpoint that differs from our own, and taking care of our own souls with immersion in the natural world: living in the sunshine, swimming in the sea, drinking the wild, and lingering with the stars. And then rolling up our sleeves and cleaning up the mess. Find the moral high ground and behave like we belong there. We don’t have to be Merlin to figure this out.