Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On starting the day: Good faith or a dancer's lost limb?

I’ve often wondered about how I start my days. Today was pretty typical.

I put the water on for the coffee then retrieved the newspapers from the stoop. I’m an old-fashioned guy, but I could have easily clicked in to the computer. Later I did just that.

As usual, the headlines set the tone for my Wheaties and Grapenuts.

“Employers’ health care maze” read the Oregonian’s main headline.

Another read, ambiguously, “Vatican reveals its procedures for abuse.”

The front of the New York Times offered:

“Civilians Killed as U.S. Troops Hit Afghan Bus”

“Leg Lost, Dancer Is Caught Between Caregivers.”

All this before my first cup of coffee. Bitter stuff.

It took Thomas Jefferson to bring me around.

Today is Jefferson’s birthday, a matter of singular note in Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. The Almanac’s extended entry quoted Jefferson, writing John Adams, on the very topic of how to start my day.

"I have given up newspapers in exchange for Tacitus (“A desire to resist oppression is implanted in the nature of man”) and Thucydides (“Justice will not come to Athens until those who are not injured are as indignant as those who are injured”), for Newton and Euclid; and I find myself much the happier."

As substitutes for The Times and The Oregonian, I’ve considered Marcus Aurelius and Lao Tzu, among others.

Imagine starting the day with one of these:

Here’s Aurelius: “Whenever you notice someone else going astray, immediately turn and examine how you yourself have gone astray” or “For each thing you do, stop and ask yourself if death is to be feared because it deprives you of this.”

Try Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching: “Those who are of good faith I have faith in. Those who are lacking in good faith I also have faith in. In so doing I gain in good faith.” Or “Much speech leads inevitably to silence. Better to hold fast to the void.”

We can be grateful that Jefferson, born on this day in 1743, chose to live at great distance from “Leg Lost, Dancer Is Caught Between Caregivers.”

We should be equally grateful for following his path.

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