Perhaps I’ve told you this story before. I have told it so often. But, it does bear repeating I suppose….
There are certain moments in our lives that have a significant impact and will forever shape our destinies like perhaps the birth of your first child, the achievement of a college degree, or the attainment of an important goal. Some of these moments may even appear out of the blue on days which seem quite inconsequential to our existence. This is the story of one of those moments in my own life. It is a true story.
I am not a great writer. However, if I am able to effectively convey this positive message to you, the reader, then it will be worth all the effort.
I can remember it like it was yesterday. It occurred nearly 20 years ago when I was in my mid-20s. America was at war in the Middle East. I was a military spouse and my husband was deployed to Iraq. Also, through some great fortune or twist of fate, I had landed a Department of Defense Government Service Level 7 job south of Washington D.C. Although the title sounds quite auspicious, I assure you that I was merely a secretary. However, I worked for two important people.
They were military Colonels and engineers, highly intelligent and dedicated to their roles. My tasks were simple really. Once or twice a week, they would travel to the Pentagon to report their management of military building projects at bases all over the world. I would arrange their travel plans. Also, I was responsible for maintaining accurately their reports on these construction plans. One large and detailed report I worked on daily was called the War report.
One day, I royally screwed up the War report. We had a meeting and it was noted. I was publicly reprimanded. After all, I worked for the military. Admittedly, I fully deserved the reprimand considering the importance of the document. I endured the discipline in silence but my cheeks got real flush and later, I broke out in hives. It was the first and only time in my life that I broke out in hives.
The next couple of days, I worked diligently at my desk and tried not to mess up again. But, I was pretty quiet and feeling bad. On top of that, I was itchy and I was considering leaving the job.
The other Colonel called me in to his office politely. I rose from my desk and walked over there. He asked me to shut the door to his office and to “Please take a seat.” He remained seated at his desk and I sat down across from him and well,… kept my eyes down a bit.
He didn’t say anything at first. Perhaps he was looking for the right way to approach a conversation. I had assumed he wanted to talk about travel arrangements. He was leaving the very next day for D.C.
We didn’t share much in common, him and I, except our work perhaps. He was much older. He was male. I was female. He was African-American and I was Caucasian. The list of differences could probably go on and on.
Eventually, he motioned to the wall to his left and I looked over at the wall. On the wall were many military decorations that had been awarded to him through his 20+ years of service to the country. Some of them were quite large and prestigious looking. He waited for a moment, then he pointed to a small white piece of paper, handwritten, and framed under glass with just a plain small gold frame around it. It was placed at the center of the wall and seemed unimportant compared to the other items. In fact, I had sorta skipped over it as I had looked at the other awards.
He said, “That one is the most important.” He remained pointing at the little framed paper.
Then he motioned for me to go and look at the item. I got up from my chair and wandered over to the wall. It was a poem, a little poem copied down. The title read The Desiderata and it said it was written by some guy named Max Ehrmann, some guy I had never heard of.
He told me, “Read it.” That’s all he simply said. I stood there at that wall for a while and really read the poem, word for word. When, I finished the last portion of the poem where it read, you are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here.
Well, I felt better and as I finished up the final section, I admit I got a little teary-eyed.
I sat back down across from him. We both looked at each other. He was a man of few words and he only really spoke when he had something important to say.
He said, “Go back and just do the best you can. That’s all you can do.”
In hindsight, that was probably about one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me whether he realized his impact or not. He didn’t have to help me but he did in his own unique and wise way. Perhaps this small story seems unimportant to you but it would go on to influence my future.
This poem has a special place in my heart because of that moment. Years later, I would buy a copy of it and I gave it to my children. I read it to them. Years later, I would tell someone here or there about the story. Years later, whenever I was down and out…I would read this poem and feel comforted and hopeful. Whenever I felt unworthy or not valued by others, I would remember the line about the child of the universe.
You have a right to be here.
And years later, today, I write this story to you with the intention that it will inspire you as well. The last few words of the poem are “Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” This is something as I grow older, that I firmly do believe in regarding attitude determining altitude.
I encourage you to take a moment and read The Desiderata. This world, despite all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, is still a beautiful place.