Remember back to the high school American Literature class where you were assigned to read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words:

To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

You were tracking fine through the “betrayal of false friends” stuff because your best friend had just been a real jerk before class.  But when you got to the passages of  leaving a “garden patch” or a “redeemed social condition” or especially the part of “one life breathed easier because you lived” the response was a smirk, a chortle and some rolling of the eyes! That was “SUCCESS?”

Then you left American Lit. class and went to the assembly where a high powered motivational speaker had been brought in to tellyou our space guys had just walked on the moon and the world was wide open for you to achieve, excel, get rich and be a success.  And you beat on your chest and said, “Sorry, Mr. Emerson, you ain’t cool.”

Personally, I like to excel and achieve. And I have done my share of wealth creation and accumulation. But I find myself smiling at me with a much gentler smile these days as I set aside each year the week of April 15th to not only sign my tax returns but also dig out my lily patch from the Colorado snow. It’s a patch I carved out myself nearly 40 years ago that lies between the stone wall along the road and the sparkling mountain creek that runs through our property. It’s a wonderful garden patch.

There are also days now when tsunamis of overwhelming joy and contentment wash over my weary soul and make spring out of winter as I hear the simple “thanks” of a little Ethiopian girl in Addis Abba whose life was just saved with one of our donated pediatric surgery machines ... or the director of the University Medical Training Hospital in Brazil say, “Dr. Jackson, you have brought us millions of dollars worth of supplies and pieces of equipment but the thing that you brought that made the most difference was ... you brought hope to us.”

Mr. Emerson, sorry it took awhile to recognize and embrace your soft-spoken wisdom. I concede the debate to you and am thankful that I never forgot your words from that literature class.