In Junior High my parents delighted me with the gift of a portable electric typewriter. I lugged it everywhere, on weekend trips and even a few times to school. Wherever I might have occasion to write, I wanted the typewriter with me. It was my 1970’s version of a MacBook Air.
Eventually the old typewriter ceded its cherished place in my life to a Commodore 64, then a Mac Classic. Thus decades ago I switched, for my scribblings, from index cards to HyperCard and now Scrivener. But regardless of the writing tools, through all the hardware and software changes, these quotations have been a constant expression of my soul.
They are now joined at the top by a quotation from William Butler Yeats, accompanying a photograph from an old Sierra Club desk calendar, added over a decade later while I was in graduate school.
No matter where I have made my desk or office, I have always kept these index cards in view in a prominent location. Today they hang on my office wall to the right of my desk, where I see them every time I rise from my chair to go out the door.
Another old index card, now sadly lost, used to hang alongside the other three. It displayed a passage from Ecclesiastes, one of my favorite books:
“Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun — all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 9:7–9)
The second Lewis quote comes from “The Weight of Glory”:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit–immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
The Yeats line is from a short poem, “Gratitude to Unknown Instructors”:
“”What they undertook to do
They brought to pass;
All things hang like a drop of dew
Upon a blade of grass.”
Yeat’s poem aptly expresses the contingency of all things — and how teachers and others change generations by touching one person at a time. The printout of the poem with the photograph is the remnant of a “thank you” card I created on my old Mac back in the early 90’s for my professors when I passed my doctoral general examinations. They, along with family and several close friends, brought to pass an utterly contingent event, a drop of dew clinging upon a blade of grass.
Together, these quotations map my journey like the large arrows on a compass rose.
What are your “compass quotes”?