“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” These words are generally attributed to Helen Keller. However, others identify William Shakespeare and Mahatma Gandhi as the first to coin this phrase. One website that I found, points out that this aphorism has been cited in print from a Persian proverb, in a 1258 book called Gio stam pf Sa’di. While its origin may be debatable, its meaning is embraced by all. In simple terms, while one can have difficulties or problems with wealth, health, financial issues or other situations, there is always someone whose predicament or situation is worse than yours. This thought was the focus of several discussions I had last week with my good friend and fraternity Brother, Robert Ridley. Events in the world, circumstances involving family members, friends, politics as well as some of our personal circumstances, had both of us depressed. How bad things are was the topic of our conversations. Our thoughts then focused on the strength of our parents as we reflected on words they paraphrased and uttered regularly. “As bad as things are they could be far worse,” was one of those phrases. For them, these words served as a source of encouragement, back in the day.
During my developmental years, whenever things were not going as I had hoped, I could depend on being told by my parents that I should not worry; they did not embrace “worryation” as things would get better. Besides my parents, it seems there was always someone that provided words of hope and wisdom during my dark days. When I served as executive superintendent of the Newark, New Jersey school district, the state’s education commissioner, Fred Burke, told me on several occasions: “Kittrels, when you get knocked down, do not wallow in the dirt, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep moving ahead.” Such words of wisdom and encouragement are not heard often in today’s “dog eats dog” world.
Returning to my discussions with Rob Roy Ridley, much of what we discussed focused on the appalling activities that are part of our political landscape. Things are really bad! So Ridley responds to the events of today by pointing out that given what is going on, getting old is not a bad thing. His point being, he does not have that long to tolerate the foolishness of today’s world. Many of our discussions are very depressing. In fact, our regular telephone conversations often begin with the question, “Who died this time?”
The managing editor of The Tribune shared with me what his mother said to him when things were not going well. She would say, “All that, makes you a man.” Interestingly, while I have no empirical evidence to support my conclusion, we do not appear to have the optimism that we exhibited, back in the day.
In a Times of India article, Neha Sharma provides a similar saying. She states, “Today is the tomorrow that you dreamt about yesterday. In all of our todays we keep running and running, madly-blindly for a better future. And when that future finally comes, we simply forget that we have always been waiting for this. Even if we remember, it’s momentary. We immediately switch to thoughts about our upcoming future, continually attempting to attain more. Well, good thing, of course we should always work hard and smart to do bigger and better things in life but bad is when we forget to cherish what we have already achieved. Some of us subconsciously do it so much that one can find them complaining and cribbing all the time.” She goes on in her posting to express a sense of gratitude to the Almighty who has worked wonders during difficult times. Her reference to the goodness of God reminds me of how we turned to prayer during difficulties in the past, looking for answers. But in today’s world, prayer appears not to be an option that many of us pursue. While I strongly believe in prayer, I am reminded of a sign that appeared in Browns’ Barber Shop, which was located on the corner of 43rd and Fairmount when I was a teenager. The sign read, “If you want your prayers answered, you must get up off of your knees and pray.” Yet, I do not sense that people turn to prayer during times of difficulties as they did, back in the day.
Yes, things could always be better but they also could be far worse. So, rather than getting stuck on how bad things are, perhaps we need to focus on what we can do. We must commit ourselves to being positive. Several quotes are relevant to this theme. Benjamin Disraeli stated, “I am prepared for the worse but hope for the best.” Thomas Jefferson stated, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Basket ball great, LeBron James pointed out, “I like criticism. It makes you strong.” But, the words of S. C. Lourie, writer, poet, artist and story lover, capture the focus of this column in a very succinct manner. “When things are getting you down and days are feeling difficult, pause, pause. Take a deep breath and think upon the troubles you don’t have. Pause. Take a deep breath again and remember the little graces you do. Never forget; Things could always be worse and it will always get better,” he said.
Remember my friend Robert Ridley and me as you embrace positive thoughts of your parents and others and keep your heads and spirits up and keep on moving ahead. Remember, “As long as you are alive, anything is possible.” These are relevant thoughts today that we often heard, back in the day.