When I was young, my dad used to encourage me to read a poem that he had framed and hung on his wall. As with any young girl who looks up to her father like he’s superman, not only did I do what I was told and read the poem, I also attempted to commit it to memory, just so I could surprise him one day and randomly recite it : ).
Well, I suppose it’s the thought that counts – I never actually did commit all of the verses to memory, but I have since revisited the poem quite often throughout my life. In fact, the same framed version which hung on the wall of my dad’s Denver apartment while he was still alive, now hangs on the wall of my own home. At times, the poem has simply hung there like an unnoticed wallflower that I pass by each day without even a single thought of its presence. Other times, the poem has literally lured me into its verses, causing me to stop whatever I’m doing and walk over to it for yet another read.
I cannot help but notice the times when the poem captivates me. It seems to offer me a dose of whatever I need to make sense of most situations and it has served as a great re-set button when I’ve had misguided thoughts in the past. It has shed new light and transformative meaning to me throughout many phases of my life – fun, trialing, happy or sad – good, bad, ugly or blissful. To me, the poem’s words offer an ingenious key that unlocks life’s greatest secrets – ideas that are so basic and simple that it’s a wonder how we could ever stray far from them, or better yet, allow such thoughts of purity to escape our hearts like some sort of unsolved mystery.
With the recent loss of a great family friend, who happened to know my dad well, the poem has yet again become a prominent fixture on my wall. I hope you think it’s as cool as I do and maybe it can supply you with the same sense of awe and wonder that it has given me throughout all of these years.
By the way, the version I have on my wall is marked Anonymous – but it is strikingly similar to the version written by the late Samuel Ullman, who was a Jewish / German immigrant of Mississippi and later Alabama and lived from 1840 – 1924.
So, without further delay, here is the masterpiece…
YOUTH… is not a time of life – it is a state of mind. It is not a matter of ripe cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, vigor of the emotions; it is a freshness of the deep springs of life.
Youth means a temperamental dominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over love of ease. This often exists in a man of fifty more than a boy of twenty.
Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years; people grow old only by deserting their ideals. Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair – these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust.
Whether seventy or sixteen, there is in every being’s heart the love of wonder, the sweet amazement at the stars and the starlike things and thoughts, the undaunted challenge of events, the unfailing childlike appetite for what next, and the joy of the game of life.
You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubts; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.
In the central place of your heart there is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage, grandeur and power from the earth, from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young.
When the wires are all down and all the central place of your heart is covered with the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism then are you grown old indeed and may God have mercy on your soul.