Thursday, June 18, 2009

Filling the unforgiving minute

When I was in my 20s, a high school buddy of mine was killed in a car wreck in Pasadena, California. At his funeral, his father, an Englishman, read Kipling’s poem, “If”:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master,
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

It was the first time I’d heard the poem and — given the emotionally charged circumstances — it’s not surprising that it stuck in my head and heart ever afterward.
“Filling the unforgiving minute” has become a daily mission. Some days you do it better than others.

Yesterday was such a day. My daughter and my wife hit the arena early for a lesson with Jessica Yankey, who is an excellent equestrian trainer. Ceili, who had up until a couple of weeks ago, said she did not want to jump, was cantering over small jumps with a world-beating smile on her face.

My wife, who has recovered nicely from knee surgery this spring, is back in the saddle and riding without pain or fear.

Her brother and his sons are visiting from, up from California. We took them shooting and boys who had never fired a shotgun were blasting flying clays out of the sky. They loved being able to shoot their rifles at reactive targets at unknown distances instead of just punching paper on a range. Then it was off to their campsite along the Metolius to cast a fly line, roast marshmellows and sing Ian Tyson songs around the campfire.

Brother Dave is an avid birder and he was beside himself at the paradise he had found in Camp Sherman.

I write all this not to journal the day — I still think nothing’s better than a pen and a notebook for that.

It’s just that, as we drove out to Camp Sherman, Marilyn and I were talking about what an enormous privilege it is to live here, a place where people come to experience things that are just not available to them at home — a natural world, a world that is still, compared to other places, relatively free and still rich and beautiful.

It’s all too easy to take for granted that the Sisters Country is one of the very best places on earth to fill your unforgiving minute with 60 seconds of distance run.

Jim Cornelius, Editor

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