“If—”, by Rudyard Kipling

In his excellent book, Coach Wooden and Me, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar mentions one of John Wooden’s favorite poems, “If—,” by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Wooden recites the second stanza of the poem to Kareem, then explains:

“The lines I’m referring to, Lewis, are that Triumph and Disaster are the same. They’re both impostors because they are momentary. More important is becoming a man of convictions. Lasting joy comes from that.”

—p90

Sidenote: Wooden, Kareem, and a whole slew of legendary NBA centers filmed a series of commercials for Reebok in 1993, featuring then-rookie Shaquille O’Neal. In one of those commercials, they recite the poem to Shaq. I couldn’t find the one with Kareem on YouTube, but I did find this version, which is nice because the person reciting the last line is Shaq’s father.

Once the World Was Perfect

Read this beautiful poem by Joy Harjo courtesy the good folks at Poetry Flash. It’s from her book, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, and it pretty much sums up where we seem to be in the world and why I do what I do:

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy
in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through —
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life —
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we
didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the
next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those
clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time —
To now, into this morning light to you.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Excerpts from Jose A. Alcantara’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, via Mark Leach:

If you have a compass, smash it.
Nothing can point you to true anything, let alone true north.
Besides — and never forget this — you are trying to get lost.
You may be gone for a long time
so be sure not to pack any food or water.
It is only the hungry who feed, only the thirsty who are quenched.

Before you leave, be sure to write a note
telling everyone exactly where you will not be.
The last thing you need is someone coming to your rescue.

Now, find the best map possible
and tear it up. You will be traveling on a scale
that no one has ever drawn.

Do not leave a string of crumbs behind you.
This would only attract predators.
On second thought, go ahead.

Write postcards telling everyone of your adventures.
Be sure to lie, like a fox leaving false tracks.
Someday they will thank you.

You will not know when you have arrived.
But if you think you have, you haven’t.
If you think haven’t, you probably have.

If you come to a fork in the road
stab yourself in the foot with it. You will
reach your destination much faster if you are limping.

Better yet, use it to pluck out your eyes.
There are many signposts along the way.
Maybe now you will learn to see.

One Art: On Loss and Detachment

One Art, by Elizabeth Bishop:

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Thanks to Kate Wing for sharing.