“In times when we thought ourselves indolent, we have afterwards discovered that much was accomplished, and much was begun in us.“– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: Second Series, “Experience“ (and all subsequent quotes in this post)
I got lost in the headlines for a bit before writing today. Getting spun up in politics and pandemics and the bad behavior of others. It’s important to be aware, to have an informed opinion to fight the good fight. I suppose… but indignation doesn’t spark the creativity I aspire to. And so a return to Emerson was in order.
These are dark, wasted days if you choose to believe it. Alternatively, they’re the best, most productive days of our lifetimes. What do you prefer?
“Every ship is a romantic object, except that we sail in. Embark, and the romance quits our vessel and hangs on every other sail in the horizon. Our life looks trivial, and we shun to record it.”
Comparison is a bear. How we’ve spent the last year compared to someone else does us little good. I think of wasted opportunities and stop myself, for there’s no use going down that path. For all the madness of the last eleven months much was accomplished. Much is being accomplished. We might not see it just yet.
“Life itself 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. It is not the part of men, but of fanatics, or of mathematicians if you will, to say that the shortness of life considered, it is not worth caring whether for so short a duration we were sprawling in want or sitting high. Since our office is with moments, let us husband them. Five minutes of today are worth as much to me as five minutes in the next millennium. Let us be poised, and wise, and our own, today.”
I’ve used the quote above before in this blog. It’s a favorite and I’ll likely use it again. Emerson whispers persistently, for all who might listen. I return to it now and then to remind myself of the worth of this day. Of this hour. Of these next five minutes. What shall we do with them, that we might record as remarkable in these times?
“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 to the present hour.”
I began the day with headlines… a tempest of fancies designed to distract and provoke and draw us out of our own heads. But we all have our own ships to sail. There’s urgency in the moment, generational urgency, and we should support those who rise up to meet it. But focus on moving down your own path too. Respect the present hour. Emerson insists.