Words from the wall that speak to my heart

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 12, 2003

You good folks send me so many wise sayings, some of your own, some quoted from others, and I'm grateful for every one of them. A few even wind up on the wall behind my computer so I can sit in their light every time I write this column.

For example, just this past week I received two comments on last week's column on Becky Beaver, the blind elder who helped me understand the "Serenity Prayer."

From Calgary, Dr. David Swann, human rights advocate and former provincial medical health officer, wrote: "Thanks, Warren. [Becky's determination] reminds me of [deaf and blind author/educator] Helen Keller's words: 'I cannot do much, but I must not fail to do the little that I can.'"

I've placed that one on my wall right next to a similar saying by author Ernest Hemingway: "Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is."

Also from Calgary, Beverly Bernhardt wrote that, on a recent trip, she saw an intriguing variation to the second line of the "Serenity Prayer" ("God grant me . . . the courage to change the things I can"). This is how the variation went, she said: "But God, grant me the courage not to give up on what I think is right, even though I think it is hopeless."

That one reminds of another quote on my wall about being true to yourself. It comes originally from James Truslow Adams and was shared with me by David Irvine, Cochrane author on authentic living:

"Seek out that particular mental attribute which makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive, along with which comes the inner voice which says, 'This is the real me,' and when you have found that attitude, follow it."

A couple of weeks ago this column looked at the importance of the business community showing respect to their customers. Several readers commented to me on the importance of showing respect for the customer's first language, even when it is different from one's own.

From Trinidad and Tobago, linguist and intercultural communicator Jack Popjes wrote:

"At the core of every person is his or her culture and language. If we do not respect the other person's language we do not respect them. It took my wife and me nearly ten years to adequately learn the culture and language of the Canela people of Brazil. I remember the first time I told a joke to a group of young men my age in fluent Canela (I had practiced it the day before). That was a watershed. They could have understood the joke in Portuguese, but because I made the effort to tell it in 'our' language they realized I respected them on the deepest level, and they accepted and respected me."

Jack then shared two quotes. The first is from writer Dale Spender: "Language is not neutral. It is not merely a vehicle which carries ideas. It is itself a shaper of ideas."

The second of Jack's quotes is from Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz: "Language is the only homeland."

Because language is one of the greatest treasures any people can have, I think I'll place the Milosz quote on my wall next to one by the 19th century British Prime Minister and statesman Benjamin Disraeli:

"The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but reveal to them their own."

So, what other treasures do I have on my wall by my computer?

Among snapshots of family and some of my other favorite people, there's a news clipping, a couple of gracious thank-you notes, a dozen or so Post-Its, and a few other quotes that mean so much to me, including Psalm 62:5: "For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from Him."

One anonymous saying in particular is very special: "A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you've forgotten the words." I've pasted a photo of my wife in one corner of it, because it expresses so well the feeling of one heart in two bodies.

Oh yes, and right above the phone there hangs a slightly flattened Styrofoam coffee cup. On the outside, written by one of my grandchildren, is one of the best tributes to this column I've ever received: "Coffee with Grandpa sounds better."

© 2003 Warren Harbeck

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