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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