I asked for strength that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for
but everything that I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered,
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.
I heard this poem while listening to The Writer’s Almanac on NPR a few weeks ago. I don’t know if it was the mood I was in or something else entirely, but I distinctly remembered feeling like this as a young college student on my own “merciless Midwestern plain.” I was, at once, feeling the familiar feelings of euphoria that ride along with the unknown and a new foreboding and trepidation, knowing that my own darlings will one day feel this way… Who will be there to offer them a timely flying lesson?
Over a tray of spent plates, I confessed
to the college president my plans to go East,
to New York, which I’d not really seen,
though it seemed the right place
for a sophomore as sullen and restless
as I had become on that merciless
Midwestern plain. He slowly stroked
a thick cup and described the nights
when, a theology teacher in Boston, he’d fly
a tiny plane alone out over the ocean,
each time pressing farther into the dark
until the last moment, when he’d turn
toward the coast’s bright spine, how he loved
the way the city glittered beneath him
as he glided gracefully toward it,
engine gasping, fuel needle dead on empty,
the way sweat dampened the back of his neck
when he climbed from the cockpit, giddy.
Buttoned up in my cardigan, young, willing
to lose everything, how could I see generosity
or warning? But now that I’m out here,
his advice comes so clear: fling yourself
farther, and a bit farther each time,
but darling, don’t drop.
from Eve’s Striptease
© University of Pittsburg Press.
On the way in to work this morning, I happened to catch Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac” where he highlighted the following poem. As an old (former) paper boy, I could instantly relate to the thoughts of Raymond Carver in “Happiness”:
So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.
This is one of my favorite things ever written. Gen. Douglas MacArthur wrote this prayer for his son.
A Prayer For My Son
Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.
Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of deeds; a son who will know Thee — and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.
Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail.
Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goals will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.
And after all these things are his, give him, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the meekness of true strength.
Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain.”
An absolute classic. I get a lot of comments on this, and if you enjoy it, then chances are good you’ll also appreciate this piece, called “Prayer of an Unknown Confederate Soldier.”