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Doing Our Best at All Times

Source: The Majesty of Calmness

Life is a wondrously complex problem for the individual, until, some
day, in a moment of illumination, he awakens to the great realization
that he can make it simple,--never quite simple, but always simpler.
There are a thousand mysteries of right and wrong that have baffled the
wise men of the ages. There are depths in the great fundamental
questions of the human race that no plummet of philosophy has ever
sounded. There are wild cries of honest hunger for truth that seek to
pierce the silence beyond the grave, but to them ever echo back,--only
a repetition of their unanswered cries.

To us all, comes, at times, the great note of questioning despair that
darkens our horizon and paralyzes our effort: "If there really be a
God, if eternal justice really rule the world," we say, "why should
life be as it is? Why do some men starve while others feast; why does
virtue often languish in the shadow while vice triumphs in the
sunshine; why does failure so often dog the footsteps of honest effort,
while the success that comes from trickery and dishonor is greeted with
the world's applause? How is it that the loving father of one family is
taken by death, while the worthless incumbrance of another is spared?
Why is there so much unnecessary pain, sorrowing and suffering in the
world--why, indeed, should there be any?"

Neither philosophy nor religion can give any final satisfactory answer
that is capable of logical demonstration, of absolute proof. There is
ever, even after the best explanations, a residuum of the unexplained.
We must then fall back in the eternal arms of faith, and be wise enough
to say, "I will not be disconcerted by these problems of life, I will
not permit them to plunge me into doubt, and to cloud my life with
vagueness and uncertainty. Man arrogates much to himself when he
demands from the Infinite the full solution of all His mysteries. I
will found my life on the impregnable rock of a simple fundamental
truth:--'This glorious creation with its millions of wondrous phenomena
pulsing ever in harmony with eternal law must have a Creator, that
Creator must be omniscient and omnipotent. But that Creator Himself
cannot, in justice, demand of any creature more than the best that that
individual can give.' I will do each day, in every moment, the best I
can by the light I have; I will ever seek more light, more perfect
illumination of truth, and ever live as best I can in harmony with the
truth as I see it. If failure come I will meet it bravely; if my
pathway then lie in the shadow of trial, sorrow and suffering, I shall
have the restful peace and the calm strength of one who has done his
best, who can look back upon the past with no pang of regret, and who
has heroic courage in facing the results, whatever they be, knowing
that he could not make them different."

Upon this life-plan, this foundation, man may erect any superstructure
of religion or philosophy that he conscientiously can erect; he should
add to his equipment for living every shred of strength and
inspiration, moral, mental or spiritual that is in his power to secure.
This simple working faith is opposed to no creed, is a substitute for
none; it is but a primary belief, a citadel, a refuge where the
individual can retire for strength when the battle of life grows hard.

A mere theory of life, that remains but a theory, is about as useful to
a man, as a gilt-edged menu is to a starving sailor on a raft in mid-
ocean. It is irritating but not stimulating. No rule for higher living
will help a man in the slightest, until he reach out and appropriate it
for himself, until he make it practical in his daily life, until that
seed of theory in his mind blossom into a thousand flowers of thought
and word and act.

If a man honestly seeks to live his best at all times, that
determination is visible in every moment of his living, no trifle in
his life can be too insignificant to reflect his principle of living.
The sun illuminates and beautifies a fallen leaf by the roadside as
impartially as a towering mountain peak in the Alps. Every drop of
water in the ocean is an epitome of the chemistry of the whole ocean;
every drop is subject to precisely the same laws as dominate the united
infinity of billions of drops that make that miracle of Nature, men
call the Sea. No matter how humble the calling of the individual, how
uninteresting and dull the round of his duties, he should do his best.
He should dignify what he is doing by the mind he puts into it, he
should vitalize what little he has of power or energy or ability or
opportunity, in order to prepare himself to be equal to higher
privileges when they come. This will never lead man to that weak
content that is satisfied with whatever falls to his lot. It will
rather fill his mind with that divine discontent that cheerfully
accepts the best,--merely as a temporary substitute for something

The man who is seeking ever to do his best is the man who is keen,
active, wide-awake, and aggressive. He is ever watchful of himself in
trifles; his standard is not "What will the world say?" but "Is it
worthy of me?"

Edwin Booth, one of the greatest actors on the American stage, would
never permit himself to assume an ungraceful attitude, even in his
hours of privacy. In this simple thing, he ever lived his best. On the
stage every move was one of unconscious grace. Those of his company who
were conscious of their motions were the awkward ones, who were seeking
in public to undo or to conceal the carelessness of the gestures and
motions of their private life. The man who is slipshod and thoughtless
in his daily speech, whose vocabulary is a collection of anaemic
commonplaces, whose repetitions of phrases and extravagance of
interjections act but as feeble disguises to his lack of ideas, will
never be brilliant on an occasion when he longs to outshine the stars.
Living at one's best is constant preparation for instant use. It can
never make one over-precise, self-conscious, affected, or priggish.
Education, in its highest sense, is _conscious_ training of mind
or body to act _unconsciously_. It is conscious formation of
mental habits, not mere acquisition of information.

One of the many ways in which the individual unwisely eclipses himself,
is in his worship of the fetich of luck. He feels that all others are
lucky, and that whatever he attempts, fails. He does not realize the
untiring energy, the unremitting concentration, the heroic courage, the
sublime patience that is the secret of some men's success. Their "luck"
was that they had prepared themselves to be equal to their opportunity
when it came and were awake to recognize it and receive it. His own
opportunity came and departed unnoted, it would not waken him from his
dreams of some untold wealth that would fall into his lap. So he grows
discouraged and envies those whom he should emulate, and he bandages
his arm and chloroforms his energies, and performs his duties in a
perfunctory way, or he passes through life, just ever "sampling" lines
of activity.

The honest, faithful struggler should always realize that failure is
but an episode in a true man's life,--never the whole story. It is
never easy to meet, and no philosophy can make it so, but the steadfast
courage to master conditions, instead of complaining of them, will help
him on his way; it will ever enable him to get the best out of what he
has. He never knows the long series of vanquished failures that give
solidity to some one else's success; he does not realize the price that
some rich man, the innocent football of political malcontents and
demagogues, has heroicly paid for wealth and position.

The man who has a pessimist's doubt of all things; who demands a
certified guarantee of his future; who ever fears his work will not be
recognized or appreciated; or that after all, it is really not worth
while, will never live his best. He is dulling his capacity for real
progress by his hypnotic course of excuses for inactivity, instead of a
strong tonic of reasons for action.

One of the most weakening elements in the individual make-up is the
surrender to the oncoming of years. Man's self-confidence dims and dies
in the fear of age. "This new thought," he says of some suggestion
tending to higher development, "is good; it is what we need. I am glad
to have it for my children; I would have been happy to have had some
such help when I was at school, but it is too late for me. I am a man
advanced in years."

This is but blind closing of life to wondrous possibilities. The knell
of lost opportunity is never tolled in this life. It is never too late
to recognize truth and to live by it. It requires only greater effort,
closer attention, deeper consecration; but the impossible does not
exist for the man who is self-confident and is willing to pay the price
in time and struggle for his success or development. Later in life, the
assessments are heavier in progress, as in life insurance, but that
matters not to that mighty self-confidence that _will_ not grow
old while knowledge can keep it young.

Socrates, when his hair whitened with the snow of age, learned to play
on instruments of music. Cato, at fourscore, began his study of Greek,
and the same age saw Plutarch beginning, with the enthusiasm of a boy,
his first lessons in Latin. The Character of Man, Theophrastus'
greatest work, was begun on his ninetieth birthday. Chaucer's
Canterbury Tales was the work of the poet's declining years. Ronsard,
the father of French poetry, whose sonnets even translation cannot
destroy, did not develop his poetic faculty until nearly fifty.
Benjamin Franklin at this age had just taken his really first steps of
importance in philosophic pursuits. Arnauld, the theologian and sage,
translated Josephus in his eightieth year. Winckelmann, one of the most
famous writers on classic antiquities, was the son of a shoemaker, and
lived in obscurity and ignorance until the prime of life. Hobbes, the
English philosopher, published his version of the Odyssey in his
eighty-seventh year, and his Iliad one year later. Chevreul, the great
French scientist, whose untiring labors in the realm of color have so
enriched the world, was busy, keen and active when Death called him, at
the age of 103.

These men did not fear age; these few names from the great muster-roll
of the famous ones who defied the years, should be voices of hope and
heartening to every individual whose courage and confidence is weak.
The path of truth, higher living, truer development in every phase of
life, is never shut from the individual--until he closes it himself.
Let man feel this, believe it and make this faith a real and living
factor in his life and there are no limits to his progress. He has but
to live his best at all times, and rest calm and untroubled no matter
what results come to his efforts. The constant looking backward to what
might have been, instead of forward to what may be, is a great weakener
of self-confidence. This worry for the old past, this wasted energy,
for that which no power in the world can restore, ever lessens the
individual's faith in himself, weakens his efforts to develop himself
for the future to the perfection of his possibilities.

Nature in her beautiful love and tenderness, says to man, weakened and
worn and weary with the struggle, "Do in the best way you can the
trifle that is under your hand at this moment; do it in the best spirit
of preparation for the future your thought suggests; bring all the
light of knowledge from all the past to aid you. Do this and you have
done your best. The past is forever closed to you. It is closed forever
to you. No worry, no struggle, no suffering, no agony of despair can
alter it. It is as much beyond your power as if it were a million years
of eternity behind you. Turn all that past, with its sad hours,
weakness and sin, its wasted opportunities as light; in confidence and
hope, upon the future. Turn it all in fuller truth and light so as to
make each trifle of this present a new past it will be joy to look back
to; each trifle a grander, nobler, and more perfect preparation for the
future. The present and the future you can make from it, is yours; the
past has gone back, with all its messages, all its history, all its
records to the God who loaned you the golden moments to use in
obedience to His law."

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