As I was cleaning out my desk at the Quad-City Times, I pulled from the edges of my computer monitor several Scotch-taped Post-it notes of sayings I gathered through the years.
The ones I pulled recently were just the latest in decades' worth of thoughts I have saved over the years, gluing them into my journals after they had done time on my desk.
• The sharp saw.
There was a wood-cutter who worked day after day, harder and harder, trying to cut more wood. He skipped breaks, he skipped lunch, but the harder he worked, the fewer trees he felled. He went to his boss. "How is it that day after day I am working harder and harder, but cutting down fewer and fewer trees?"
The reply: "Have you ever thought that you might need to stop and sharpen your saw?"
This was one of the principles of Stephen Covey's "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," a bestseller in 1989, and hot among leadership-management training seminars.
I've needed to re-read this more than once.
• Live life to the fullest.
I happened upon the following in high school; I don't know who it's from.
"I fear many things, but this first and foremost. That when I reach the end of my days, I will suddenly discover that I have never lived. So I must choose life and only life and at whatever risk. To let it wear out, to let it slip away by the mere passage of time is to choose nothingness."
I thought that was so insightful that I made it into a poster that, until a few years ago, hung in our living room.
• Responsibility to teach.
"In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught."
I have had this on my computer monitor for years. It has reminded me to keep writing about efforts in the Quad-Cities to help protect and renew our planet, to keep explaining why that is important and why it should be a concern of everyone.
The quote is from Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forestry engineer.
• The present.
Each day comes bearing its own gift.
I found these words printed on the front of a pot of flowers I received from our children for Mother's Day, and that's part of why they are so significant to me. Our children were a gift, and they remain so today. The people in my life are gifts. Good times are gifts.
(That's why they call it the present).
Of course, 'Desiderata'
If you are of retirement age, you probably remember "Desiderata," a prose poem written in the early 1920s by American writer Max Ehrmann that became widely known in 1971 — a time of macramé plant hangers and bell-bottom pants — when radio announcer and television talk show host Les Crane recorded it with music.
I will never forget catching the first lines coming from the radio in our family's farm house kitchen as I stood at the sink doing the dishes. I could tell right away, this was something different. I flew over to the radio, pressing my ear against the speaker.
"Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence," the voice said. "As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to 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 labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."
How can you not love that? Two phrases that return to time and again are those about comparing myself with others and fears born of fatigue and loneliness.
• What you can do.
As other people my age began excelling at bigger newspapers or more prestigious jobs, I ran across this: "Be kind and creative in the small circles of influence that are yours."
And that sustains me to this day.
• The dream never dies.
This comes from a speech delivered by U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy during the 1980 Democratic National Convention in New York City where he conceded to Jimmy Carter. It has been remembered by some as Kennedy's finest.
And I can hear former Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba proclaiming it to this day:
"For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."
• Nothing is ever lost.
Finally, there are these words from Helen Keller, a deaf-blind person who became an American author and disability rights advocate.
"What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes part of us."