Yesterday at lunch I was sitting, as usual, with some of my teaching colleagues in the Dining Hall, and the conversation turned to ideals lost and found. These teachers are wiser now. They are still among the most idealistic people I know. Happily the naïve simplicity of youth, battered by people and a world that doesn’t meet our idealistic expectations, does get replaced by ideals you can lean on more securely. The difference now, of course, is that when the world doesn’t measure up, we might be disappointed but we aren’t battered. We begin to understand that it is not we who sustain the ideals, but the ideals that sustain us.
I mentioned this conversation to our students today in Chapel, and posed them this question: how do you who are the idealists of tomorrow, who will build the brave new world, acquire ideals and principles in a world where they clearly take quite a beating?
A belated Christmas card arrived yesterday. It contained some words that hung on the wall of Mother Theresa’s orphanage in Calcutta. Mother Theresa would certainly say that it was her ideals and beliefs that sustained her, rather than vice versa. Here are the sentences posted to the wall in her orphanage:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centred.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends, and some genuine enemies.
If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.
For those families whose Christian tradition is in one of the Orthodox Churches, today is Christmas. Merry Christmas.