And old saying goes, Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a legacy.
The way we often apply the word persistence or perseverance to actions in our lives most often has to do with some sort of victory. Persistence will win the day when perhaps other strategies won’t. If you persevere at studying, you will pass the course. If you persistently diet and exercise, you will reach your weight loss goal. If you’re a kid and persistently nag your parents, they’ll give in.
But such a usage leaves out many people, people who aren’t going to win the contest, people who aren’t going to be cured, people who aren’t going to escape their condition. And it’s not accurate to say that these people have no hope. They have lots of smaller hopes. They hope that they might feel good enough or have the transportation to do this or that today. They hope to have a longed-for experience next week. Or live long enough to celebrate some coming joyous event with family and friends. These are people who hope that they can stay about where they are health-wise for as long as possible, lose ground slower than faster.
I like Jane Kenyon’s poem Otherwise when it comes to persistence.
I got out of bed on two strong legs.It might have been otherwise. I ate cereal, sweet milk, ripe, flawless peach. It might have been otherwise. I took the dog uphill to the birch wood. All morning I did the work I love.
At noon I lay down with my mate. It might have been otherwise. We ate dinner together at a table with silver candlesticks. It might have been otherwise. I slept in a bed in a room with paintings on the walls, and planned another day just like this day. But one day, I know, it will be otherwise.
Jane Kenyon, of course, died of cancer at age 47.
I had a friend who died just last week after a long illness that he knew he couldn’t overcome. He got out of bed every day and persistently went about his routine as best he could. He persevered at interacting joyfully with the people in his life. And he planned to do much the same tomorrow even though he knew tomorrow could be otherwise.
Fifteen years earlier he’d had a lung transplant. He even agreed to persevere when he got his lung. Just finding a donor doesn’t assure you’ll get the organ you need. He had to go through all sorts of testing, including psychological tests, to give the medical center assurance that he was the sort of person who would take care of the donated lung. That he would persist in a lifestyle and regimen that would contribute to as long a lifetime as possible. He initially hoped to make it five years. He made it fifteen, and in the process was a source of encouragement to others as they dealt with problems in their lives.
His suffering was incredible at times.
His wife described his persistence in terms of his getting out of bed and putting on his socks and shoes every day. He persistently put on his socks and shoes and got going as best he could. Owning his own business, he worked as often as he could. He never wallowed in self-pity. He was careful to never dump his illness on another. Call him up, he’d ask how you were doing. Was there anything he could do to help you?
There are such people in the world. I bet there are more than we think.
This man wasn’t able to live the life he planned or wanted. But he persisted at the life he had, and by so doing enabled those about him to observe his character. It is amazing what simply getting out of bed and putting on his socks and shoes eventually meant to others. Even the actions we overlook can become a habit we don’t think about and form a character that catches the attention and admiration of others.
Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a legacy.