Three days to see
All of us have read thrilling stories in which the hero had only a limited and specified time to live. Sometimes it was as long as a year; sometimes as short as twenty-four hours. But always we were interested in discovering just how the doomed man chose to spend his last days or his last hours. I speak, of course, of free men who have a choice, not condemned criminals whose sphere of activities is strictly confined.
Such stories set us thinking, wondering what we should do under similar circumstances. What events, what experiences, what associations should we crowd into those last hours as mortal beings? What happiness should we find in reviewing the past, what regrets?
Sometimes I have thought it would be an excellent rule to live each day as if we should die tomorrow. Such an attitude would emphasize sharply the values of life. We should live each day with a gentleness, a vigor, and a keenness of appreciation which are often lost when time stretches before us in the constant panorama of more days and months and years to come. There are those, of course, who would adopt the motto of "Eat, drink, and be merry," but most people would be punished by the certainty of death.
Most of us take life for granted. We know that one day we must die, but usually we picture that day as far in the future. When we are in good health, death is all but unimaginable. We seldom think of it. The days stretch out endlessly. So we go about our petty tasks, hardly aware of our listless attitude toward life.
The same listlessness , I am afraid, characterizes the use of all our faculties and senses. Only the deaf appreciate hearing, only the blind realize the blessings that lie in sight. Particularly does this observation apply to those who have lost sight and hearing in adult life. But those who have never suffered loss of sight or hearing damage seldom make the fullest use of these blessed faculties. Their eyes and ears take in all sights and sounds hazily, without concentration and with little appreciation.It is the same old story of not being grateful for what we have until we lose it, of not being conscious of health until we are ill.
I have often thought it would be a blessing if each human being were stricken blind and deaf for a few days at some time during his early adult life. Darkness would make him more appreciative of sight; silence would tech him the joys of sound.
Now and then I have tested my seeing friends to discover what they see. Recently I was visited by a very good friend who had just returned from a long walk in the woods, and I
asked her what she had observed. "Nothing in particular, " she replied. I might have been incredulous had I not been accustomed to such responses, for long ago I became convinced that the seeing see little
How was it possible, I asked myself, to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing worthy of note? I who cannot see find hundreds of things to interest me through mere touch. I feel the delicate symmetry of a leaf. I pass my hands lovingly about the smooth skin of a silver birch, or the rough, shaggy bark of a pine. In the spring I touch the branches of trees hopefully in search of a bud, the first sign of awakening Nature after her winter's sleep. I feel the delightful texture of a flower, and discover its remarkable folds; and something of the miracle of Nature is revealed to me. Occasionally, if I am very fortunate, I place my hand gently on a small tree and feel the happy quiver of a bird in full song. I am delighted to have the cool waters of a brook rush through my open fingers. To me a thick carpet of pine needles or soft grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug. To me the colorful seasons are a thrilling and unending drama, the action of which streams through my finger tips.
At times my heart cries out with longing to see all these things. If I can get so much pleasure from mere touch, how much more beauty must be revealed by sight. Yet,
those who have eyes apparently see little. the panorama of color and action which fills
the world is taken for granted. It is human, perhaps, to appreciate little that which we have and to long for that which we have not, but it is a great pity that in the world of light the gift of sight is used only as a mere conveniences rather than as a means of adding fullness to life.
Oh, the things that I should see if I had the power of sight for three days!
The Shadowland of Dreams By Alex Haley
Many a young person tells me he wants to be a writer. I always encourage such people, but I also explain that there's a big difference between "being a writer" and writing. In most cases these individuals are dreaming of wealth and fame, not the long hours alone at the typewriter. "You've got to want to write," I say to them, "not want to be a writer."
The reality is that writing is a lonely, private and poor-paying affair. For every writer kissed by fortune, there are thousands more whose longing is never rewarded. Even those who succeed often know long periods of neglect and poverty. I did.
When I left a 20-year career in the Coast Guard to become a freelance writer, I had no prospects at all. What I did have was a friend with whom I'd grown up in Henning Tennessee. George found me my home—a cleaned-out storage room in the Greenwich Village apartment building where he worked as superintendent. It didn't even matter that it was cold and had no bathroom. Immediately I bought a used manual typewriter and felt like a genuine writer.
After a year or so, however, I still hadn't received a break and began to doubt myself. It was so hard to sell a story that I barely made enough to eat. But I knew I wanted to write. I had dreamed about it for years. I wasn't going to be one of those people who die wondering, "What if?" I would keep putting my dream to the test—even though it meant living with uncertainty and fear of failure. This is the Shadowland of hope, and anyone with a dream must learn to live there.
Then one day I got a call that changed my life. It wasn't an agent or editor offering a big contract. It was the opposite—a kind of siren call tempting me to give up my dream. On the phone was an old acquaintance from the Coast Guard, now stationed in San Francisco. He had once lent me a few bucks and liked to egg me about it. "When am I going to get the $15, Alex?" he teased.
"Next time I make a sale."
"I have a better idea," he said. "We need a new public-information assistant out here, and we're paying $6,000 a year. If you want it, you can have it."
Six thousand a year! That was real money in 1960. I could get a nice apartment, a used car, pay off debts and maybe save a little something. What's more, I could write on the side.
As the dollars were dancing in my head, something cleared my senses. From deep inside a bull-headed resolution welled up. I had dreamed of being a writer—full time. And that's what I
was going to be. "Thanks, but no," I heard myself saying. "I'm going to stick it out and write."
Afterward, as I paced around my little room, I started to feel like a fool. Reaching into my cupboard—an orange crate nailed to the wall—I pulled out all that was there: two cans of sardines. Plunging my hands in my pockets, I came up with 18 cents. I took the cans and coins and jammed them into a crumpled paper bag. There Alex, I said to myself. There's everything you've made of yourself so far. I'm not sure I ever felt so low.
I wish I could say things started getting better right away. But they didn't. Thank goodness I had George to help me over the rough spots.
Through him I met other struggling artists, like Joe Delaney, a veteran painter from Knoxville, Tennessee. Often Joe lacked food money, so he'd visit a neighborhood butcher who would give him big bones with small pieces of meat, and a grocer who would hand him some withered vegetables. That's all Joe needed to make his favorite soup.
Another Village neighbor was a handsome young singer who ran a struggling restaurant. Rumor had it that if a customer ordered steak, the singer would dash to a supermarket across the street to buy one. His name was Harry Belafonte.
People like Delaney and Belafonte became role models for me. I learned that you had to make sacrifices and live creatively to keep working at your dreams. That's what living in the Shadowland is all about.
As I absorbed the lesson, I gradually began to sell my articles ,I was writing about what many people were talking about then: civil rights, black Americans and Africa. Soon, like birds flying south, my thoughts were drawn back to my childhood. In the silence of my room, I heard the voices of Grandma, Cousin Georgia , Aunt Plus, Aunt Liz and Aunt Till as they told stories about our family and slavery.
These were stories that black Americans had tended to avoid before, and so I mostly kept them to myself. But one day at lunch with editors of Reader’s Digest, I told these stories of my grandmother and aunts and cousins. I said that I had a dream to trace my family’s history to the first African brought to these shores in chains. I left that lunch with a contract that would help support my research and writing for nine years.
It was a long, slow climb out of the shadows. Yet in 1970, 17 years after I left the Coast Guard, Roots was published. Instantly I had the kind of fame and success that few writers ever experience. The shadows had turned into dazzling limeligh t.
For the first time I had money and open doors everywhere. The phone rang all the time with
new friends and new deals. I packed up and moved to Los Angeles, where I could help in the making of the Roots TV mini-series. It was a confusing, exciting time, and in a sense, I was blinded by the light of my success.
Then one day, while unpacking, I came across a box filled with things I had owned years before in the Village. Inside was a brown paper bag.
I opened it, and there were two corroded sardine cans, a nickel, a dime and three pennies. Suddenly the past came flooding in like a tide. I could picture myself once again huddled over the typewriter in that cold, bleak, one-room apartment. And I said to myself, The things in this bag are part of my roots, too. I can't ever forget that.
I sent them out to be framed . I keep that clear plastic case where I can see it every day. I can see it now above my office desk in Knoxville, along with the Pulitzer Prize, a portrait of nine Emmys awarded to the TV production of Roots. And the Spingarn medal –the NAACP’s highest honor. I’d be hard pressed to say which means the most to me But only one reminds me of the courage and persistence it takes to stay the course in the Shadowland.
It's a lesson anyone with a dream should learn.
Choose Optimism By Rich De Vos
If you expect something to turn out bad, it probably will. Pessimism is seldom disappointed. But the same principle also works in reverse. If you expect good things to happen, they usually do! There seems to be a natural cause-and-effect relationship between optimism and success.
Optimism and pessimism are with powerful forces, and each of us must choose which we want ,so as to shape our outlook and our expectations. There is enough good and bad in everyone’s life --- ample sorrow and happiness, sufficient joy and pain to find a rational basis for either optimism or pessimism. We can choose to laugh or cry, bless or curse. It’s our decision: From which perspective do we want to view life? Will we look up in hope or down in despair?
I believe in the upward look. I choose to highlight the positive and slip right over the negative. I am an optimist by choice as much as by nature. Sure, I know that sorrow exists. I am in my 70s now, and I’ve lived through more than one crisis. But when all is said and done, I find that the good in life is far
greater and more important than the bad.
An optimistic attitude is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. The way you look at life will determine how you feel, how you perform, and how well you get along with other people. Conversely, negative thoughts, attitudes, and expectations feed on themselves; they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Pessimism creates a sad and hopeless place which no one wants to live in.
Years ago, I drove into a service station to get some gas. It was a beautiful day, and I was feeling great. As I walked into the station to pay for the gas, the attendant said to me, “How do you feel?”That seemed like an odd question, but I felt fine and told him so. “You don’t look well,”he replied. This took me completely by surprise. A little less confidently, I told him that I had never felt better. Without hesitation, he continued to tell me how bad I looked and my skin appeared yellow.
By the time I left the service station, I was feeling a little uneasy. About a block away, I pulled over to the side of the road to look at my face in the mirror. How did I feel? Did I look that bad? Was everything all right? By the time I got home, I was beginning to feel a little sick. Did I have a bad liver? Had I picked up some rare disease?
The next time I went into that gas station, feeling fine again, I figured out what had happened. The place had recently been painted a bright, disgusting yellow, and the light
reflecting off the walls made everyone inside look as though they had hepatitis! I wondered how many other folks had reacted the way I did. I had let one short conversation with a
total stranger change my attitude for an entire day.He told me I looked sick, and before long, I was actually feeling sick. That single negative observation had a profound effect on the way I felt and acted.
The only thing more powerful than negativism is a positive affirmation, a word of optimism and hope. One of the things I am most thankful for is the fact that I have grown up in a nation with a grand tradition of optimism. When a whole culture adopts an upward look, incredible things can be accomplished. When the world is seen as a hopeful, positive place, people are given the power to attempt and to achieve.
Optimism doesn’t need to be naive. You can be an optimist and still recognize that problems exist and that some of them are not dealt with easily. But what a difference optimism makes in the attitude of the problem solver! For example, through the years I’ve heard some people say that the money spent on our space program has been wasted. “Instead of spending $455 million to put a man on the moon,”they say, “why not spend that money here on earth on the poverty problem?”But when you ask them exactly how they would spend that money to solve the poverty problem, most of them don’t have an answer. “Give me a solution,”I tell them, “and I’ll raise you the money.”Think in positive term about how to address the issue rather than criticizing money spent on other program, such as America’s space program, which resulted in many positive discoveries that have benefited mankind.
Optimism draws our attention away from negativism and channels it into positive, constructive thinking. When you’re an optimist, you’re more concerned with problem solving than with useless fault-finding. In fact, without optimism, issues as big and ongoing as poverty have no hope of solution. It takes a dreamer –someone with hopelessly optimistic ideas, great persistence, and unlimited confidence –to tackle a problem that big. It’s your choice.