‘D’esiderata

Mötley Crüe has nothing to do with this blog post.
I just started writing about the ’80s and got nostalgic.

Blogger’s Note: I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge for April 2012, where you blog your way through the alphabet during the month of April. After suffering some writer’s block on D, I got super busy on my E and F days. So, I’m totally cheating and back-dating this post.

Eight years ago, I took a theology class at my Unitarian Universalist church. To be specific, it was a “Build Your Own Theology” class. Might sound like sacrilege to some, but if truth be told, I think every Bible study and (fill in the blank of how people study your religious tradition because I don’t really know what anyone else does) is a “build your own theology” course. We are human and, therefore, we see what we choose to see. If you and I sit in the same course for any subject, we will undoubtedly come out with our own particular views on the subject, shaped by our personal experiences, background knowledge and how well we paid attention on any given day.

The end assignment of this course was for the class members to do a Sunday sermon. My inspiration for my portion came from a trippy mural that was painted on the wall outside the auditorium in  my high school. (And if you are reading this and have a photo, please send it to me!) A group of large-eyed youth were painted looking longingly out into the stars. A gang of friends would congregate around that mural before school and after lunch. I stood there looking at that mural for so many years, the phrase painted on it is embedded in my memory forever: “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.” I have — many times and in many places — done spontaneous, floaty, interpretive dance moves to those words. Think scarves and leaping through the air. I do. Since I don’t actually use scarves and I can’t leap, I’m sure it looks more like “rotund suburban mom having a seizure,” but in my mind I float.

Many years went by before I knew the source of those words. They come from the Desiderata, a famous poem by Terre Haute poet, Max Ehrmann (who has his own statue now – yay!). Makes sense. My high school was in Terre Haute, Ind. You may recognize the poem from posters and those “mimeographed” copies that circulated in the 1960s and 1970s. It starts out, “Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.” My high school was built in 1971. Trippy mural makes sense now, too.

I suppose it was the intention of those who placed the mural and those words there to embed the thought into my brain. They probably wanted me to be inspired to read more poetry (I do) and study the stars (I did – thanks to the planetarium that was part of my high school). I have sometimes wondered if they meant for me to build my own theology around it. Surely not. That might have been grounds for painting over it and perhaps, additionally, the burning of Mötley Crüe albums.

In part of my contribution to our theology class sermon, I wrote:

I believe the time when we are alive is far more important than the time after we die. I believe that if you lead a good life, the impression you make on people will long outlast you. Smiles for overworked grocery store clerks, good deeds for those in need, and unrestrained, unconditional love for others will set forth a positive force in this world that may last for many generations to come. This I believe is heaven.

I believe that people need to get off their sorry butts and do stuff for other people. I believe the world needs more people who practice the arts of forgiveness and peacemaking.

You are a child of the universe and you do have a right to be here. I still believe these words. I believe it for all things. The trees, the stars, me, you — even hairy spiders have the right to be here. (Although I do reserve the right to squash them if they are in my bed, as I did earlier this week. Ew. Ick. Shivers.)  We belong to this world and it belongs to us. Long after we are gone, what we did here will last through the lives of those people, places and things (including all living beings) we impacted in ways large and small. The relationship we have with life will outlast the small, insignificant span of our own individual life.

Here is the Desiderata in its entirety. Note that the next to the last line is “be cheerful.” It was often misquoted as “be careful,” which makes it an entirely different sentiment! Historians have confirmed Ehrmann wrote “cheerful.”

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, y’all!

Author: rosie

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