18 December 2013

Sufficient Unto the Day Is the Evil Thereof

William James Dawson (1854-1928), "On Old Age," The Book of Courage (New York: F. H. Revell, 1911), pp. 196-197:
We can accommodate ourselves to almost any situation if we have to, and it should not be difficult to accommodate ourselves to age. Raleigh, after all his adventurous wanderings, can settle down for twelve years in the Tower and write his History of the World, and Argyle slept in a prison as soundly as he had ever slept. Old age is much more a mental conception than an actual fact, a ghost that seems dreadful until we approach it, when it turns out to be nothing more than moonshine. At twenty, fifty seems a great age; when we reach fifty we are surprised to find that the road we travel is much the same, but the company is better. If there is less beating of drums and shrilling of trumpets, there are more victorious names inscribed upon our banners ; if there are fewer rainbows in the sky, there is wider sunlight. A great part of the wisdom of life lies in the simple art of living a day at a time. An old Federal soldier once told me the story of his sixteen months' imprisonment in a Southern prison. The conditions were deplorable. There was little food, much sickness, the men were clothed in rags, and great numbers of them died. "How did you survive?" I asked. "Why, I said to myself the first day, 'I shall be released tomorrow'; and every day I repeated to myself that this was no doubt my last day. I just lived a day at a time." He added further that the men who died the soonest were those of a melancholy temperament, who spent their time brooding over their unhappy lot. As I listened to the story, I realized that this cheerful old fellow had discovered the only philosophy of life that is of practical value and utility. He made it his one business to get through the present hour the best way he could; and that is, after all, the chief business for us all.