Tag Archives: quotation

Like January 1 or a Birthday, Inauguration Day Prompts Me to Reflect. Plus, Schoolhouse Rock.

I often get what I call the “America feeling.” It’s such an intense emotion, that I usually get all choked up.

I got it when I went to see the Broadway show Hamilton, especially during the song “Cabinet Battle #1”:  “‘Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ We fought for these ideals; we shouldn’t settle for less.”

I get it every time I hear the song “The Farmer and the Cowman” from the musical Oklahoma! “I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else — but I’ll be danged if I ain’t jist as good!”

When I was clerking for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, I got it every time the Court was called to order before oral arguments. “Oyes! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court.”

I get it every time I vote.

When I was writing my biography of John Kennedy, Forty Ways to Look at JFK, I got it each time I read my favorite speech of June 11, 1963. “This is one country.”

I got it when I applied for an emergency passport.

And today I keep thinking about something that always gives me the America feeling — the Schoolhouse Rock video, “Preamble.” How I love Schoolhouse Rock.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

In seventh grade, we all had to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution, and Schoolhouse Rock made it easy.

Do you experience something like the “America feeling?”

(Fill in the name of your own country!) Under what circumstances?

Certain days, such as January 1 or the celebration of a birthday, often remind us to reflect on our lives and our hopes for the future.

For me at least, Inauguration Day is prompting me to think about the highest ideals of the United States, and how I, in my own way, can strive to fulfill its promise.

Upon Waking, I’ve Had This Odd Experience — How About You?

I was recently re-reading C. S. Lewis’s memoir Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, and I was struck by his excellent description of something that I’d often experienced, but never been able to put into words.

He wrote:

“It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.”

I’ve had exactly that experience: I’m in bed, I’m awake, but I’m not yet aware that I’m awake, and then slowly I do become aware that I’m awake.

I’ve often thought that this moment in my day is when I come closest to experiencing impersonal awareness — of being conscious, yet not having any sense of being “me.”

I’m present, but in a wholly impersonal way.

Then it’s an odd sensation when I do become “me,” when I begin to have thoughts like, “How soon do I have to get up?” “What’s the day of the week?” “What do I have to do today?”

Before that switch, however, I’m just…aware.

Am I right that when people meditate, they’re trying to get a place like this? Thoughts happening, perception happening, but apart from personality.

Is this what “thoughts without a thinker” looks like?

This experience isn’t under my conscious control. I can’t get to this state — I wake into it, and then it dissipates. (And as I describe in Better Than Before, I tried meditating, and gave it up because it did nothing for me.)

Perhaps relatedly, and I’ve never heard of anyone else experiencing this: I will experience my hearing turning “on.” I’ll be lying in silence, and then suddenly I’ll begin to hear the radio (for better or worse, my husband and I sleep with all-news radio playing all night).

I’ve had this happen while I’m awake, too. I’ll be thinking hard about something, and there will be silence, then suddenly something clicks “on” and I hear noises. It’s pretty weird.

These are such fleeting, inchoate moments…they’re hard to articulate.

Have you ever experienced this?

This waking-up experience is odd. Almost pleasant. Consciousness, but without ambition, worry, planning, reminders, judgment, and all that other noise.

Agree? “Life is a Train of Moods Like a String of Beads,” or, “We Bring Our Own Weather to the Picnic.”

“Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them, they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

In other words, we bring our own weather to the picnic.

A Little Happier: How Do I Live Up to the Highest Ideals of My Country?

A Little Happier: How, in my own life, do I live up to the highest ideals of the United States?

Reading Harold Nicolson’s reflection about what an Englishman would do reminds me of that question, in my own life — which is a question for us all.

Here’s the entire passage that I read from Harold Nicolson’s Diary of June 10, 1941, when he was working at the wartime Ministry of Information:

The Middle East have no sense of publicity. The Admiralty is even worse. We complain that there are no photographs of the sinking of the Bismarck. Tripp says that the official photographer was in the Suffolk and that the Suffolk was too far away. We say, ‘But why didn’t one of our reconnaissance machines fly over the ship and take photographs?’ He replies, ‘Well you see, you must see, well upon my word, well after all, an Englishman would not like to take snapshots of a fine vessel sinking.’ Is he right? I felt abashed when he said it. I think he is right.

I’ve read that story dozens of times, and I choke up every time I read it. “An Englishman would not like to take snapshots of a fine vessel sinking.” What does that tell us about the English at that time, and their view of themselves, and their ideals — and how they felt compelled by those ideals, even under the most extreme conditions?

If you’d like to get the “Moment of Happiness,” my free daily email newsletter with a quotation about happiness or human nature, sign up here.

If you’d like to read my biography of Winston Churchill, Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, you can learn more here. What a joy it as to write that book! What a subject.

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Happier listening!

Do You Hesitate to Throw Something Away, for Fear that Others Might Pick It Up?

“There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.” 

–Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Have you faced this problem — for instance, deciding to pursue some opportunity, even though you weren’t really interested, because you knew you’d be annoyed if someone else got the chance to do it?

I remind myself of this observation all the time.