When life hits back, and as we’re finding out right now, it can pack a powerful punch, I find that I return to a few favorite things: God, my wife, my family, and my core belief system that goodness, kindness and hard work, and other related common everyday virtues, will win out.
I may be down for a million different reasons—I run into a work issue or I’m frustrated about one thing or another—and my wife will offer a kind word or remind me how far we’ve come and I’ll have the encouragement I need to fight another day.
Over the years, I’ve found that I’ve turned to another source of energy. I’ve turned to a short essay that I first picked up oh so many years ago: Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
Fulghum, an author and minister, holds a pretty simple thesis that everything that is important in life wasn’t learned in grad school or on the job or in the office, but in the kindergarten classroom. It promotes things like having good manners, sharing, playing fair, and the power of warm cookies and cold milk.
A return to simple lessons
The essay’s brilliance is hidden in its simplicity. The essay is like a constrictor knot, the harder you try to break or solve, the stronger it gets. Life is hard, but when you return to the simple things, the easier it gets, the more things become clear.
I first read Fulghum’s book when it first came out in the mid-80s. I was in serious stress mode. I had popped into a bookstore on my college campus to buy a Blue Book, the small 15-20 paged books we had to buy for essay tests, and, since I was in no mood to get back to cramming for my exam, I took five minutes to look at the new books on the shelf. I’m not sure what I was thinking about at the time, I had no extra money and I certainly didn’t have much time to spare. I needed to get back studying, but I quickly perused Fulghum’s book.
On one hand, I remember feeling insulted. Here I was about the take the test that I thought was going to ruin my life and I got the impression he was making fun of me. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. No matter what happened, there would be another day. The sun would still rise and a new day would begin.
You’re gonna miss this
I read the book again when I first started a family. I needed a reminder that I would survive the chaos of family life. The challenge of keeping up with three young kids, a young wife, and managing a career would be exhausting, but my equilibrium would return and at some point in life I would crave the craziness of that very moment. Of course, I picked the book up again after 9/11, if only to serve as a sweet positive reminder that life can be good.
Keeping the faith
Coronavirus on our doorstep
And now with the world coming to a crazed halt, I’ve pulled the book out from a box stacked high with books in my basement to read one more time. I saw the book almost immediately hidden beneath Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and sitting atop Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Each time I read the essay, it seems to offer a lesson. Yes, wash your hands. Put things back where you found them. Don’t hit people. And even in times of distress, share with those in need.
I don’t know about you, but in a time when so much is unclear, when Covid-19 seems to have ripped a deadly path across the globe, from both economic losses and tragic deaths, those seem like some pretty powerful words.
I should note that that book espouses holding hands when you go out into the world and sticking together. In the short term, we may need to vary that slightly but, yes, Mr. Fulguhm, I can’t think of a better message: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.