The Key to a Successful Life
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
This is my favorite poem. I first heard this poem when I was teaching second grade. My principal at the time ran lots of school programs to give students a chance to succeed. There were reading programs once a month and if the students did the required reading they earned a ticket to the program. We had the Mustang Math Club for students who met the different levels of their math facts. And then, there was the Poetry Masters. Each year, our principal selected different poems for the students to memorize and at the end of the month if they could recite it, they earned points. At the end of the year, if you had enough points, you were honored as a Poetry Master.
As a second grade teacher, I incorporated the poems into our morning meeting time. The students sat on the carpet; we did the calendar and the weather; we read the daily news from the Kidpost and then we recited our poem for the month. My goal was to have every student earn his or her points. This would be easy. If we say it everyday, they will remember it. There really is no difference between memorizing a poem and the lyrics to their favorite songs. But this poem was harder. It had vocabulary in it that not all my second graders knew. So we started to dissect the poem. We talked about the words respect, intelligent, affection and critics. We talked about endure, betrayal, appreciate, and redeem. And when the month was over they all knew it. My usual routine was to take down the poster of the poem I had made and put up the new one for the next month. But I didn’t take this one down. We learned our new poems but we continued to recited Ralph Waldo Emerson everyday until the last day of school. It became our class mantra. When we read the book, Miss Rumphius, about a little girl who’s grandfather tells her that she must make the world more beautiful…we went back to this poem and discussed the lines “to appreciate beauty” and “a garden patch.” When we learned about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, we went back to this poem and discussed “a redeemed social condition.” And when there was trouble in the classroom and there was evidence of “false friends” and “betrayal,” we went back to the poem.
I wonder about those students that are now in college. Do they remember the poem? Do they remember reciting it everyday? Do they remember the lessons that I tried to teach them?
My favorite line is “to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.” This line reminds me of a Jimmy Durante song. I know, I know…Jimmy Durante and Ralph Waldo Emerson??? But that’s where my mind goes…it’s so important to make someone happy...and you'll be happy too.
Today, I'm going to enhance someone's life: hopefully they will breathe a bit easier and are happier because of me.