Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) was an early twentieth-century writer and poet. She was born to a family of self-styled intellectuals on a farm in Johnstown, Wisconsin. But her family had financial problems and she turned to writing poetry as an escape, publishing her first poem when she was just eight years old.
In 1884, she married Robert Wilcox and the two made a pact that the first one to die would try to make contact with the survivor from the afterlife. When Robert passed away 30 years later, she crafted a mantra in her grief, and repeated it over and over throughout the day. It went: “I am the living witness: The dead live: And they speak through us and to us: And I am the voice that gives this glorious truth to the suffering world: I am ready, God: I am ready, Christ: I am ready, Robert.”
Many of Wilcox’s poems reflect her sensitivity to both the seen and unseen world. As a young adult, she was travelling to the governor’s inaugural ball in Madison when she ran across a young woman dressed in black and crying. Wilcox comforted her, but she couldn’t get the woman out of her mind. When she arrived at the governor’s ball, Wilcox wrote the opening lines of today’s inspiration. It’s a poem titled, “Solitude.”
By Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air;
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.
Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all,—
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.
Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.
FOR ADDITIONAL READING: See The Essential Ella Wheeler Wilcox Poetry Collection.
More spiritual nuggets for today …
On this day in 1968, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces launched surprise attacks on the South Vietnamese and American armed forces.
It was the holiday of Tet, or the Vietnamese new year. Each religion celebrates Tet in its own way, but many Vietnamese return home on the holiday to worship at family altars or visit the graves of deceased relatives. Traditionally, Tet is also a day of truce. By ignoring the truce, the North Vietnamese gained an important advantage and the success of the Tet offensive helped erode support for the war back in the U.S.
Today marks the death of Coretta Scott King in 2006.
The widow of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., King played a leadership role in the Civil Rights Movement following her husband’s assassination and founded the King Center, where she spearheaded the effort to make his birthday a national holiday. She was also active in the Women’s movement, and advocated for other social causes, including LGBT rights and the fight against South African apartheid. Just a few days ago, on January 20, her daughter Bernice tweeted, “As you honor my father today, please honor my mother, as well. She was the architect of the King Legacy and founder of the King Center, which she founded less than three months after Daddy died. Without Coretta Scott King, there would be no MLK Day.”
Today is also the birthday of the actor Gene Hackman in 1930.
When he was 13 years old, Hackman was playing in the street when his father gave him a small wave and walked away forever, abandoning the family without explanation. Hackman went on to enjoy a film career that spanned more than six decades and two Academy Awards. Over the course of his career, he developed a reputation for playing a range of characters, and in 1972 he played a memorable role as a banished clergyman in the box-office hit, The Poseidon Adventure. Although he’s retired from acting now, he’s always maintained a practical, down-to-earth perspective about his craft and his life. He’s quoted as saying:
“When you’re on top, you get a sense of immortality. You feel you can do no wrong, that it will always be good no matter what the role. Well, in truth, that feeling is death. You must be honest with yourself.”
Good spiritual advice for all of us, Gene. Happy birthday. And that’s today’s Spiritual Almanac.
Be kind, take good care and we’ll see you soon.