Words to live by as the year winds down

Adages, quotes and sayings to inspire in 2014.

 

I always get apprehensive at the prospect of a new year stretching out ahead of me, with both opportunities and challenges sure to present themselves, and daunting conundrums of every kind certain to test my character.

I no longer make New Year’s resolutions, but I carry a mental and spiritual repair kit wherever I go, a compendium of wisdom containing clichés, aphorisms and truisms to be used as psychic Band-Aids, when needed. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t, but I think of this stuff as akin to the medicine bags the Plains Indians used to carry, packed with their personal magic, totems against harm, disorder, confusion and the unexpected. Mountain men who had prolonged exposure to Native Americans took to carrying such bags themselves, filling them with a bright stone, an eagle feather, or maybe a tintype of a woman they knew in St. Louis, far back down the Missouri River.

My personal medicine bag is pretty full now, and some of the things in it have served me well, words against the chaos, and salve to the soul. First among my personal resources is the famous serenity prayer, which goes like this: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

It’s not easy to practice those words; it can be exceedingly difficult to tell the difference between the things you can change and the things you can’t, but learning to accept what cannot be changed is the first building block of sanity.

I also find useful truth in the line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet that reads: “There is nothing either bad nor good but thinking makes it so.” Though there are surely some things so bad that no amount of thinking can make them better, there’s also stuff we endure that’s really only as bad as we make it out to be. If we rearrange our attitude, we can often reconfigure our own psychic pain.

“Where there’s life, there’s hope.” I read that in a Tarzan comic book when I was maybe 8 years old. Tarzan had been badly mauled by some fierce critter and had climbed up in a tree to recuperate. His chances of survival seemed poor. “Where there’s life, there’s hope” appeared in a thought bubble above Tarzan’s bleeding head.  There have been more than a few times in my life when things seemed hopeless and those words returned to offer encouragement. And hope.

Mark Twain provided several nostrums for my medicine bag, but the one that comes up most frequently is his observation that “worry is interest paid on a debt you may never owe.” I worry less than I once did, but I’m still pretty good at it, and if I should fail to worry enough, my wife will usually remind me of one or two reasons to keep worrying. It’s then I recall Twain’s sage advice, which I also share, tirelessly, with my two daughters.

One of my own pearls of wisdom also made it into my medicine bag, a thought that came to me when my eldest daughter complained that her then-boyfriend was giving her “mixed signals.” My reply to her was: “Mixed signals are clear signals.” It helped her work some things out, and she complimented me on being so smart, but I think I just got lucky when that insight came to mind.

Hardly a day goes by when I’m not reminded of Samuel Johnson’s adage that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Johnson made that observation during the years when this nation was being forged. Since our inception, we’ve been plagued by far too many scoundrels who use ersatz love of country to mask narrow self-interest. Rush Limbaugh and a horde of others leap to mind whenever I think of Johnson’s famous phrase. Limbaugh paid more than a million bucks for Elton John to perform at his fourth wedding, money that the anti-gay-rights scoundrel had originally earned by professing love of country while sowing further division, and doing his country so much harm.

I don’t know what the next year will bring. As scientist Niels Bohr once observed, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” With all that uncertainty, I’m just glad I’ve got so many resources in my medicine bag. So, I’ll sign off with the immortal words of Porky Pig, who said so memorably: “Th-th-that’s all folks.”

Jaime O’Neill is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. He writes in Magalia, California.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • BACKCOUNTRY FILM FESTIVAL MANAGER
    Boise-based Winter Wildlands Alliance is looking for an experienced and highly motivated individual to organize our annual Backcountry Film Festival and Tour and coordinate additional...
  • LAND CONSERVATION MANAGER
    SUMMARY Leads, administers and manages the land conservation, conservation easement stewardship, and property management activities of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department within...
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM ATTORNEY, NEVADA
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Staff Attorney who is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes River Conservancy in Bend, Oregon
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.