Words To Live By

When I was … what, eleven or twelve years old? I had one of those teachers you remember forever.

Mrs. Silvera.

She was awesome.

There are so many things I’ve forgotten and supressed from those formative years, but the Mrs. Silvera experience could never be one of them. This is partially because she made our class memorize The Desiderata, a poem written by Max Ehrmann. Click here to read the whole thing before I break it down phrase by phrase.

When I was a socially awkward pre-teen, the words means almost nothing. Who was this crazy woman, and why does she insist on us memorizing this poem? It wasn’t until I hit college, and the trials and tribulations of being away from the safety net of my family and friends in Trinidad, that the Desiderata truly felt relevant to my life. It wasn’t until grad school that I understood that Mrs. Silvera was handing down words to live by. Which is kind of interesting, considering that I’m talking about a poem written in 1927, by a regular man who didn’t claim himself to be a prophet or religious figure of any kind.

Specific phrases of the Desiderata have helped me moments large and small, those “ugh” days we all have, and through especially trying times in my life.

For example, in the final throes of sixth form when I found myself sadly adrift in an ocean of frenemies, and freshman year of college when I was an island girl in a strange new world, I held two phrases as my watchwords:

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons,” and “Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

For real. That holds true to this day.

When I entered the world of grad school, this phrase seemed particularly pertinent:

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.”

When I entered the world of work, I took solace in these words:

Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.”

And now, in these everchanging times, when I’ve made a decision to leave behind the safety net of a familiar job in a city I’ve called home for a decade, in exchange for new adventures in a colder place, this sounds about right:

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.

Thank you, Mrs. Silvera, for drilling that all into our heads at such a tender age. It’s crazy to discover just how loudly some old lessons can resonate. Even louder with the passage of time.

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Comments

  1. Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful
    beyond measure.

    It is our light not our darkness
    that most frightens us.

    We ask ourselves, Who am I
    to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented,
    and fabulous?

    Actually, who are you not to be?

    You are a child of God.

    Your playing small does not serve the world.

    There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
    so that other people won’t feel insecure
    around you.

    We are all meant to shine, as children do.

    We were born to make manifest
    the glory of God that is within us.

    It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

    And as we let our own light shine,
    we unconsciously give other people
    permission to do the same.

    As we are liberated from our own fear,
    Our presence automatically liberates others.

    Marianne Williamson

  2. Thanks for posting this. Somehow, in all those years of school, it escaped me. I really needed these words of inspiration today.

  3. Oh, Bella! I was damn near brought to tears reading this poem. This is beautifulm, truth and wisdom.

    “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi

    Peace and blessings..

  4. “If” by Rudyard Kipling is also full of words to live by. I reference it a lot in my day to day.

    Great story, Bella.

  5. Bella, I have got to say you are an amazing writer. I’ve read about this scholarship and most people just slapped a post together. You took the time to craft a story around this…wow.

    Thank you again for sharing!

  6. Bella, this poem is sooooo timely. I think I will “artfully” print it and give it as a gift to a couple of freinds and family. I also will be passing the info along to my daughter about the scholarship…we need that help!

    Thank you for posting this.

  7. I absolutely love this blog…mainly because you always have SOMETHING worth talking about. I really enjoyed the poem and can agree that as the years go by, most of the things my parents and older family members told me is certainly true. I’m thankful for people in my life who have invested time and energy into making me the woman that I have come to be. And although life’s trials will surely come, its good to have sisters (black, white, or whatever) to share with and learn from.

  8. sincerely says:

    Thanks Bella, your post moved me! The desiderata is sooo beautiful and truthful and so is Marianne Williamson’s quote!

  9. ” You are not your past…you are your possibilities…

    GT

  10. And BTW Bella….congrats on your move….taking risks are important in the journey of life…

  11. I can still remember hearing a recording of the Desiderata while i was a teenage.It was set to music while a man’s voice read the poem.Maybe it was a Caribbean thing because my parents and teachers often quoted from it.

  12. “Think Positive”

    If you think you are beaten,
    you are.
    If you think you dare not,
    you don’t.
    Success begins with your
    own will…
    It’s all in your state of mind.
    Life’s battles are not always won
    By those who are stronger
    or faster;
    Sooner or later the person
    who wins
    Is the person who thinks
    she can!

  13. Wow Bella, that poem is beautiful. I will be printing this to in my office for regular inspiration.

  14. “Eat, drink, and be merry”.

    Seriously, that’s all I need in life. Good food, good friends and just being at peace and happy. Life is not perfect and neither am I. If I can just get a little “happy” in my day, the rest can go kick rocks!

  15. OMG!
    M R S. S I L V E R A!!!!
    You just took me down memory lane with this one. I sometimes have this semi-subconscious matra “go placidly amidst the noise…and remember what peace there is in silence” – its only now I am remembering where it came from. And I can’t believe you still HAVE your copy! I’m blessed to have had the Hilarian experience.

    Rereading it now this poem has new relevance and meaning in my life. Thanks for that.

  16. Caribbean Girl says:

    Thank you for the poem bella. Thank you.

  17. Thank you for the poem. I am also in a very weird space now, studying abroad in London and those words mean something to me. Thank you for the scholarship opportunity. Its really hard to find scholarships for people that cannot demonstrate a financial need where there is obviously one. Thank you.

  18. Sumatra77 says:

    This my all time favorite poem. I give it to everyone I know that needs a pick me up.
    I live my life by a lot of what it says.
    Thanks for posting it and sharing it with your readers

  19. 2bnatural says:

    beautiful poem.

    I’ve been gone from the site for a few days. I don’t mind the new setup but could you type the blog in black. It is difficult for me to read the grey. If it is in black, then i’m sorry my computer screen must be acting up.
    Congratulations and good luck on your move to the Chi. I’m sure great things are in store.

  20. yorubella says:

    Hey bella! Longtime reader here…before I “met” you I thought natural hair meant not wearing a weave! Lol anyways I L-O-V-E your blog, but I’m not digging the new setup. The afrobella logo is amazing, and should be more prominently featured as part of your “brand.” Also I like when the link to the comments are at the bottom of blog posts and not the top so you don’t have to scroll up once you finish reading. Its also a bit difficult to read in grey. In my opinion (but i’m no expert) the old setup actually looked a bit more professional. Keep up the good work :)

  21. the new look is nice me likey :)

  22. I am to going through the same at this moment. Again back in a area, away from my family, pushing through school. It really has it’s hard times, and words are sometimes all you can fall back on to push you through.

  23. I’m thankful for the Mrs. Silveras of the world. I have my own, who impacted my little 10 year old mind in a way I don’t think she could ever truly know. God bless all the educators who make a positive impact on young minds!

    Also, I’m thankful that you posted this. I’ve heard of the Desiderata (b/c of the copyright issues surrounding it) but never actually sat down and read it. It’s beautiful and I really needed it in this moment. Thank you for sharing what you love with your readers.

  24. I love the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley. Desiderata is an awesome poem and has also just become a favorite of mine. Your blog is so inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

  25. An awesome post. I had not heard of the poem….I will be getting a copy of it ASAP. Thanks as always Afrobella for sharing good stuff!

    Also, thanks for sharing about Larry Peterman too. I’m going to check out his blog.

  26. This is one of my favorite poems. My mother has a copy hanging up in the house, and I have my own copy as well.

  27. I think your blog looks great. I’m a big fan of it. Cheers!

  28. NaturalMomGodess says:

    I know this comment comes YEARS after your original posting, but I want to say THANK YOU!!
    I to learned this poem as a teen, (my aunt taught it to us in at a church conference and made us break it down) and I had a copy for a very long time. Over the years and moving packing, unpacking, moving and storing my copy has become misplaced. I could remember snippets but never the whole poem in the correct order and could not remember the author. Thank you for giving it back to me!
    I am going to pass it on to my teenage daughter who is now entering into that tumultous time that we call high school. Hopefully it will provide her some guidence and peace now, and through out life as it did you, me and many others.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Must-read for Latinos. All shades are beautiful. Heck, a must-read for all peoples. [...]

  2. [...] by max ehrman, live your life, max ehrman poem trackback …for sharing this poem on her fabulous blog! It’s so perfect for right now and a great way to start off the week.  I immediately knew I [...]

  3. [...] me for my voice if I did. Sassy gave me the courage to speak my own truth, quietly and clearly (shoutout to the Desiderata). Sassy showed me I could keep it 100% on paper and in real life – I didn’t have to put [...]

  4. […] 3 – There were some amazing opportunities that worked out for me in 2013. There were also opportunities that fell through, and times where I felt dismayed at things not working out, or opportunities that I wanted not happening for me. But I had to come to realize that there comes a time to accept, to check your ego and your expectations, and trust that the universe is unfolding as it should.  […]

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