noise and haste

I’ve been with my husband-unit since I was fifteen. The first time I went over to his house, his mother served corned beef, cabbage, boiled potatoes and parsley sauce. It was tasty. After dinner I went out to use the toilet in the utility room, not dissimilar to the one in my own house (rustic, old tank that you flush with a chain, stone floor, rough wooden door, freeeezing) and as I sat down, I saw this on the back of the door:

Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

Basically every time I’ve gone to the toilet in there since (many many times), I’ve read it again.

I’m sure you’re familiar with it. It’s called Desiderata and it was written by a guy called Max Ehrman some time before his death in Baltimore in 1945. You can read a bit of its interesting history here.

Anyway, it’s nice and well written and I like it, but it’s schmaltzy and whatever; it isn’t what I wanted to talk about. What I wanted to talk about is that there are some prisoners that bring this poem to mind when I am with them: listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Man, are some prisoners hard to talk to. They’re few and far between, these ones, but I have to keep checking myself back to the present when they’re droning on. I have one who studiously writes down long lists of what he thinks are funny or clever phrases and reads them to me, one after another. (Yes really.) Another has massive flecks of spittle that burst continuously from his mouth as he speaks, and the bursts of spittle land on my face and even in my mouth. 

You think you’re a nice person…and then you find yourself crossing the prison halls to avoid Dermot the Dull and Sammy Spitface. I tell you, it’s not the murderers that are hard to love, it’s the smelly ones.


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