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A Spiritual Almanac: “Albert Schirding” by Edgar Lee Masters

Feb 16, 2021

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In 1891, Edgar Lee Masters was admitted to the bar and built a successful law practice with Clarence Darrow in Chicago. But his real passion was writing.

He originally intended to write a novel about the people of a small town in Illinois. But he was also a poet and decided to tell their stories in free verse instead. The result was Spoon River Anthology — a collection of monologues inspired from tombstones in an Illinois graveyard.

For our inspiration today, we’re looking at a piece from Spoon River Anthology. It’s the story of a man wrestling with feelings of failure, inadequacy and self-pity. The poem is titled, “Albert Schirding.”

 

ALBERT SCHIRDING

By Edgar Lee Masters

 

Jonas Keene thought his lot a hard one
Because his children were all failures. 
But I know of a fate more trying than that: 
It is to be a failure while your children are successes. 
For I raised a brood of eagles 
Who flew away at last, leaving me 
A crow on the abandoned bough. 
Then, with the ambition to prefix Honorable to my name, 
And thus to win my children’s admiration, 
I ran for County Superintendent of Schools, 
Spending my accumulations to win—and lost.
That fall my daughter received first prize in Paris
For her picture, entitled, “The Old Mill”— 
(It was of the water mill before Henry Wilkin put in steam.)
The feeling that I was not worthy of her finished me.

More nuggets for today:

Today is the festival of Vasant Panchami in the Hindu tradition.

The festival marks the end of winter and officially ushers in the start of spring. Although different regions celebrate Vasant Panchami in different ways, the festival is known for the wearing of the color yellow, which symbolizes the brilliance of nature and the vibrancy of life.

In many places, celebrants also bake a unique pastry called kesar halwa. It’s made from flour, sugar, nuts cardamom powder and saffron — which gives the pastry the festival’s vibrant yellow color.

And on this day in 600 A.D., Pope Gregory the Great issued a decree proclaiming the words “God Bless You” as the appropriate response to a sneeze.

It happened at a time when the Bubonic Plague was raging across Europe. Sneezing was an early symptom of the disease, and Pope Gregory figured it couldn’t hurt to offer God’s blessing to sneezers to prevent them from falling ill with the plague.

In truth, the idea of speaking a blessing after a sneeze didn’t originate with Gregory. Tradition held that when a person sneezed, their soul was hurled out of them, making them particularly vulnerable to evil spirits interested in occupying their mortal body. So, a short blessing worked as a sort of vaccine against malevolent activity.

Even today, some people believe a sneeze stops one’s heart and a quick “God bless you” gets the ticker up and running again.

Finally, our words of wisdom for today come to us from the famous mythologist and academic, Joseph Campbell:

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

I hope you go out there and muster up the courage to let go of your best laid plans today, so you can find the life that’s waiting for you.

And that’s today’s Spiritual Almanac. For additional reading, see Spoon River Anthology: An Annotated Edition. There’s a link in the description and on our website.

Thanks for listening — I hope you heard something that inspired you. Until next time, be kind and take good care of each other.

 

“Albert Schirding” by Edgar Lee Masters. Public domain.

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