One of my favorite authors is Bill Bryson, an American travel writer who has published several books full of incredibly clever, brilliantly funny observational essays, and if you haven't read his books, get yourself to a bookstore and grab a copy or seven (hardcover, if possible). And I say "book," not "e-book" because there's something really lovely about taking one of his books with you on a trip, schlepping it everywhere, reading his essays as you journey, and just giving the book a little loving wear and tear. I've read his books all out of order, in terms of publication date, and the most recent one I finished was his 1999 collection, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, when he moved back to the States after twenty years living in England, and not only introduced his British family to American living, but rediscovered Stateside living himself, in his typically acute humorous way.
One of the essays that stuck in my head was this part from An Address, where he gave this speech to the graduating class of Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire. I think it's quite inspiring, not just to those about to enter the world as graduated adults, but to everyone already very much in the world. We are always in need of a good reminder of why we should be thankful, humble and thoughtful, at all times. Take it away, Bill:
Take a moment from time to time to remember that you are alive. I know this sounds a trifle obvious, but it is amazing how little time we take to remark upon this singular and gratifying fact. By the most astounding stroke of luck an infinitesimal portion of all the matter in the universe came together to create you and for the tiniest moment in the great span of eternity you have the incomparable privilege to exist.
For endless eons there was no you. Before you know it, you will cease to be again. And in between you have all this wonderful opportunity to see and feel and think and do. Whatever else you do with your life, nothing will remotely compare with the incredible accomplishment of having managed to get yourself born. Congratulations. Well done. You really are special.
But not that special. There are five billion other people on this planet, every one of them just as important, just as central to the great scheme of things, as you are. Don't ever make the horrible, unworthy mistake of thinking yourself more vital and significant than anyone else. Nearly all the people you encounter in life merit your consideration. Many of them will be there to help you -- to deliver your pizza, bag your groceries, clean up the motel room you have made such a lavish mess of. If you are not in the habit of being extremely nice to these people, then get in the habit now.
Millions more people, most of whom you will never meet or even see, won't help you, indeed can't help you, may not even be able to help themselves. They deserve your compassion. We live in a sadly heartless age, when we seem to have less space in our consciences and our pocketbooks for the poor and lame and dispossessed, particularly those in far-off lands. I am making it your assignment to do something about it.
Jaunty Fine Print: image of the Magpie doing a silly pose on a lava field taken by Robin Rockey (thanks, Robin!)