Desiderata

In my childhood, one of the books we always saw in the living room was Reader’s Digest. It was a thin, smaller-sized booklet. As a small kid, I wondered what book it was.

In later years, my father told me that its original edition was in English. He used to check both English and Japanese versions. That was circa the 1980s when there was no Internet at all.

My father explained to me why he kept them on his bookshelf. Subscribing it, you can understand what is happening in the world and what people around the world think and do. That was one of the memorable conversations with my father, who is now with the Lord.

As various magazines thrived in globalization, they no longer caught people’s attention in the way my father explained. Reader’s Digest Japanese version discontinued publication in 1985. The only original English version got commoditized, becoming available everywhere, from a convenience stores to a kiosk in the airport. Everyone casually picked it up to kill time during the trip.

That is not the case anymore. Despite its ubiquitous presence, people rarely buy this booklet. We are now in a flood of information overload to effortlessly find any reading materials for consumption online through our smart devices. Everything is ubiquitously and digitally a few clicks and taps away from your device. Why do we have to purchase and subscribe to a physical booklet amid the overwhelming information and knowledge for free?

Wikipedia tells how Reader’s Digest started as follows:

In 1922, DeWitt Wallace started the magazine while recovering from shrapnel wounds received in World War I. Wallace had the idea to gather a sampling of favorite articles on many subjects from various monthly magazines, sometimes condensing and rewriting them and combining them into one magazine.

The idea is similar to online digital curation. Facing a slew of online information, we can no longer “digest” it without curation. In this regard, the mission of Reader’s Digest is intact in the digital sphere, which is in the same fate that Wikipedia took the role of Encyclopedia Britannica, Americana, and the like.

Ironically, I used to hear the same opinion from my father in my childhood about the encyclopedia – how it is essential to keep it in everyone’s household. In those days, he courageously purchased a voluminous set of Encyclopedia Japonica. It was an expensive purchase then. And, we rarely read them now in 2022, as if they are part of my father’s outdated belongings.

Did they, both physical Reader’s Digest and Encyclopedia, end their critical roles and responsibilities? I don’t know. Sometimes I miss good old memories around them, like conversations with my father. And there is another reminiscence.

Young students are fond of or get required to do memorization, from school assignments to personal preferences. What you memorized in those days, together with classic books you enjoyed and struggled with, is now your lifelong asset. They affect what you value and how you think and live your life in one way or another. What you read and memorize is part of your preparation. Your true teachers and masters never show themselves until and unless you are ready. Even God would never show Himself unless and until you are ready.

One day, while I was a young student, my English teacher shared a piece of paper pasted on the cardboard. It looked like a handmade picture frame. She was another person who emphasized the importance of reading Reader’s Digest at that time, aside from my father.

A piece of paper was the excerpt from one poem introduced in Reader’s Digest. She physically cut and pasted it on the cardboard. The title was “Desiderata.”

Since the title didn’t sound like English, I asked her the meaning. She said it was in Latin, meaning “things that are desired.”

“Who desired them?” I asked.

“Probably, the author himself desired them. Or, God wants us to desire them, I guess.” She kindly replied, suggesting it was worth reciting it by heart.

Aside from the first chapter of the Gospel of John and other school assignments, Desiderata was the first English poetry I memorized passionately in my younger days. I naively wanted to impress my teacher at that time.

Now, I’m thankful to her because I can recall the lines from time to time, even after many decades.

Fortunately, Desiderata is everywhere now. We don’t have to purchase Reader’s Digest. You can buy its frame in any craft shop. Indeed, it is available a few clicks and taps away from your device. Even one commented it could be one of the most famous quotes we can see on the refrigerator. Let me cite it here:

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

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. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Desiderata by Max Ehrmann © 1927

Image by Myriams-Fotos

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