There is an old Irish toast that I find poetic and moving. I’m sharing it here today on the occasion of Saint Patrick’s day.
It is all the more touching given that we have travelled few roads and met few distant friends in the last 12 months due to the Covid pandemic.
May the Road Rise Up to Meet You
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
The Origins and Meaning of the Poem
Celtic literature contains a strong connection between spirit and nature. The wind, the sun and the rain are important images in celtic story. I like the idea that spirituality is not abstract but deeply connected with the earth and nature and our surroundings. In my life, looking at high mountains and looking at sunrise or sunset over the sea are some of the most spiritually uplifting experiences.
In Irish, the first line is “Go n-éirí an bóthar leat”. It is more literally correct to translate as “May you succeed on the road”, the French equivalent of which is “bon voyage.”
My sister shared this poem with me many years ago as a powerful reflection on life. What is important about a person’s life? The numbers, the material possessions… or something more… A reflection for a Friday afternoon.
By Linda Ellis
I read of a man who stood to speak At the funeral of a friend He referred to the dates on the tombstone From the beginning…to the end
He noted that first came the date of birth And spoke the following date with tears, But he said what mattered most of all Was the dash between those years
For that dash represents all the time That they spent alive on earth. And now only those who loved them Know what that little line is worth
For it matters not, how much we own, The cars…the house…the cash. What matters is how we live and love And how we spend our dash.
So, think about this long and hard. Are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough To consider what’s true and real And always try to understand The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger And show appreciation more And love the people in our lives Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect And more often wear a smile, Remembering this special dash Might only last a little while
So, when your eulogy is being read With your life’s actions to rehash… Would you be proud of the things they say About how you spent YOUR dash?
This poem was shared by Warren Rustand during the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation Leadership Academy 2016 course held in Washington last year. It was part of his description of why he spends so much time teaching.
Update January 2021: Warren Rustand has published a book and I would recommend to any person who wishes to lead a life of intention, integrity and impact to read his words.
Warren Rustand has helped many successful leaders to raise their standards for themselves and lead lives of impact. Warren has 3 elements that he helps people clarify: Clarity of Vision, Certainty of Action, and Values. His impact on leaders from all around the world is powerful, and I am excited to see him share his wisdom in a book for the first time.
I loved the sentiment expressed by Warren, and captured in this poem:
The Bridge Builder
Will Allen Dromgoole
An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”
What are you doing the rest of your life?
Here’s Warren speaking at a recent conference:
Are you living your life on cruise control? Warren suggests this is a poor response to life. Warren suggests that easing through life is not the right path. We want to be “spent by the battle of life”.
Life might be more enriched by doing it a bit differently.
The First World War began in 1914. Today marks the day that Britain and Northern Ireland entered the war.
Over 9 million soldiers died in the 4 years until 11 November 1918. Total direct casualties were over 37 million (source).
My great grandfather Sidney was in the trenches in the Great War. He never spoke of his experiences.
The causes of the war are complex. The trigger for the war was the assassination of the Crown Prince of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist.
The true causes of the war?
The rise of Nationalism. “My country is better than any other” was a popular belief in Britain, France, Germany. This storyline blinded the population and the leadership to the real facts of the situation.
The rise of Imperialism in Germany threatening Great Britain’s sense of world superiority. Germany were rapidly building a powerful navy and Great Britain were concerned about Germany overtaking their control of the seas. Germany wished to build an international empire “worthy” of their status as a leading power. Britain felt this ambition threatened their own empire. Both Britain and Germany had interest in a valid reason to “adjust” the balance of power.
Delusional Arrogance of the aristocratic leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Britain. They were surrounded by “yes-men”. Roles were filled by family connection not by merit. Each leader was led to believe by their advisors that they had massively superior military capabilities. Each country believed that the conflict would be over in a matter of weeks. “It will be over by Christmas” was the general view of the British soldiers as they headed off to war. Germany’s first 3 days of war was so incredibly successful (Belgium and northern France collapsed entirely) that the country got very excited by the war.
Political Power more important than Human Rights. Military and Political leaders who saw soldiers like pawns on a chess board – expendable units for a few yards of advance. Military technology had moved ahead in giant leaps, but military tactics remained locked in the distant past.
Internal weaknesses in Russia and Germany – the senior leaders needed an external enemy to avoid revolutions and major changes in their own regimes. Russia had lost a recent war with Japan and needed a victory to boost moral. Germany was a weak confederation and Kaiser Wilhelm needed a common dangerous enemy to unite factions.
“Sleepwalking” diplomats that watched the events unfold without having a sense that the continued build up would reach all-out war. Europe had not had a major war in almost 100 years and senior diplomats were often chosen for their family ties, not for their experience or wisdom as spokespeople for their nations.
The song “The Green Fields of France” is often sung in pubs in Ireland to remember the fallen of the war. It is an intensely sad song that always makes me feel an intense gratitude to be alive today and to live in a time when myself or my friends and children are not under the threat of spending 4 years in trenches. The song asks whether we have ever learnt the lessons of the war. I hope we do. My own personal ambition is to teach the world to use words so powerfully that guns are not needed. This is a big challenge.
The Green Fields of France
by Eric Bogle
Well how do you do, young Willie McBride,
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside
And rest for a while ‘neath the warm summer sun
I’ve been working all day and I’m nearly done.
I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen
When you joined the dead heroes of nineteen-sixteen.
I hope you died well and I hope you died clean
Or Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene.
Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly,
Did they sound the dead-march as they lowered you down.
Did the bugles play the Last Post and chorus,
Did the pipes play the ‘Flooers o’ the Forest’.
And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined
Although you died back there in nineteen-sixteen
In that faithful heart are you ever nineteen
Or are you a stranger without even a name
Enclosed and forgotten behind the glass frame
In a old photograph, torn and battered and stained
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame.
The sun now it shines on the green fields of France
The warm summer breeze makes the red poppies dance
And look how the sun shines from under the clouds
There’s no gas, no barbed wire, there’s no guns firing now
But here in this graveyard it’s still no-man’s-land
The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man
To a whole generaation that were butchered and damned.
Now young Willie McBride I can’t help but wonder why
Do all those who lie here know why they died
And did they believe when they answered the cause
Did they really believe that this war would end wars
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain
The killing and dying was all done in vain
For young Willie McBride it all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and again.
Dinner on Thursday night was a session we call “Noche Bohemia”. Each person brings a song, poem or book that has marked a significant moment in their lives.
I shared this poem by Rudyard Kipling with the group. I first read this poem in 1981, during a time when I was reading, dreaming, imagining Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
What one book, song or poem would you share? Why is it important to you?
“May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
What does Bruce Lee mean? What is it to “be water”?
On “being water”
What is it to “be water“? Water flows and adapts. It has no plan, but deals with the environment that it finds. It fully explores the space. It has no expectations of what it will find. It forgets immediately when it leaves one space to find another. It remains the same inside even as it flows and adapts outside. Is this what it is to “be water, my friend”? What did Bruce mean?
Bruce in speaking of be water is talking about a Tao concept called Wu Wei – knowing when to act and when not to act. Wu Wei can variously be translated as “effortless doing” or “effortless action”. It connects to the Greek Rhetoric school and “Kairos” – recognizing the right moment to act, and knowing in the moment the right way of acting.
According to masters of rhetoric it is impossible to teach a general way to identify these moments and the right methods of action – so we must turn inwards and go back to our intuition, and really become good at listening to our own internal voice.
“Don’t make a plan of fighting
that is a very good way to lose your teeth
if you try to remember you will lose
Empty your mind
put water into a cup
becomes the cup
put water into a teapot
becomes the teapot
water can flow or creep or drip or crash
be water my friend”
This was written on the wall in Mother Teresa‘s home for children in Calcutta and is widely attributed to her. It is often given the title “Do it anyway“:
Do It Anyway
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
The words seem to be based on a poem by Kent Keith, but much of the second half has been re-written in a more spiritual way by Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa, Agnesë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu (Gonxhe meaning “rosebud” in Albanian) was born 1910, in Üsküb, Ottoman Empire (now Skopje, capital of the Republic of Macedonia). Her father, who was involved in Albanian politics, died in 1919 when she was eight years old. She left home at age 18 to join the Sisters of Loreto as a missionary. She never again saw her mother or sister. Agnes initially went to the Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham, Ireland to learn English, the language the Sisters of Loreto used to teach school children in India. She arrived in India in 1929, and began her novitiate in Darjeeling, near the Himalayan mountains. She chose the name Teresa after Thérèse de Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries.
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