In 1927 Max Ehrmann wrote Desiderata, a prose poem that began with the words “Go placidly.” It was extraordinarily popular in the 1970s but seems today to have returned to the obscurity from which it came. I sat down in Lent and tried to distill a 21st-century Desiderata. Here it is.
Be humble. Remember what it took for you to be here. Think of the imagination of God that brought creation into being; there could have been nothing. Think about the many layers of evolution that it took for you to get from being a twinkle in God’s eye to the living, breathing being that you are. Reflect on how many of your ancestors clung to life to the point where they could conceive the one whose birth eventually led to yours. Realize by how fragile a thread their existence hung, and how the miracle of your birth is made up of a constellation of other miracles. As you contemplate your parents, and come to terms with both their ordinariness and their fallibility, remember that without them you would not be here at all.
Be grateful. Lord Mountbatten said of Gandhi, “You would never guess how many people it takes and how much it costs to keep that man in poverty.” But it requires a myriad of angels to keep any single one of us in the life to which we are accustomed. We take for granted that others toil in fields and slaughterhouses and travel the earth to bring food to our grocery stores; all we do is produce a card and pay for it. We assume someone will work night and day to make roads and vehicles and bring oil out of the ground so we can move around. We seldom ask whose sweat produced our shoes, our computer, or our shirt (which we boast about having bought so cheaply), and when we get a bargain we scarcely pause to consider which link in its supply chain got no reward.