Remembering Life’s Lessons


Hard work will not a person kill

Sheer laziness will.

People generally associate Longfellow, the American educator & poet, with the heroic figure of Paul Revere which he wrote. However, to me one of the most profound poems of his well imprinted in my heart are the following lines:

The heights by great men reached & kept,

Were not obtained by sudden flight;

But they, while their companions slept,

Were toiling upward in the night

Standing on what too long we bore,

With shoulders bent & downcast eyes,

We may discern – unseen before

A path to higher destinies!”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (February 27, 1807 – March 24, 1882)

Admittedly, at the time in school I learnt it, committed it to memory as required, without really understanding it in any depth. Strangely enough, when you are able to render any poem verbatim at a young age, somehow over the years you’re still able to recall, as with all our childhood favourites of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” or “Twinkle Twinkle little Star”. I don’t think you’d ever forget them.

Interestingly too, it is worth a note that Chinese traditional scholars learnt through memorising. It’s a system not to be scoffed at – it does have merits. My own father had only two years of Confucian schooling, and all through my young adult life I often heard him quoting Confucian sayings & he had such a flair for Chinese calligraphy.

In my days of insurance management & sales, I always advocated new sales trainees to learn off sales techniques & presentation by heart. They were told to keep repeating & memorising key presentation until they knew it so well that it became part of them. Often new trainees became quite professional in the shortest span of time – able to render presentation spontaneously, flawlessly, fluently as though it were their very own. This system of “internalisation” renders well professionalism.

The path to higher destinies is never attained through lying in a bed of roses, nor as it’s said above “by sudden flight”. You’ve got to be prepared to be pricked & hurt by the sharp thorns; pay the price of toiling through the night while most are enjoying their “peaceful slumber”. It goes without saying that the higher the price the higher the reward.

The ones who made it to the top are the ones made of sterner stuff. The weak & cowardly will fall by the wayside . . . sleeping along the way.

Biblically, we can draw examples from the lives of God’s greatest servants. Many of them experienced & suffered great disappointments & frustrations in their saintly journeys. Topping the list would be Moses, who braved it all for forty years in the desert & never even got to see the land of milk & honey.

Others would include:

  • Joseph, after spending years as a slave & in jail revealed deep disappointment when he was left forgotten.

  • John the Baptist, when awaiting execution, doubted whether Jesus was, in fact, the Christ.

  • Elijah, losing all hopes & despondent to the point of death, asked God to take his life in the desert; and

  • Peter, quitting his fishing business & invested three years of his life only to watch his Saviour crucified, wondered whether the purpose of those three years could be justified.

When hope fails & life doesn’t add up, which often is the case, it leaves the heart sick. Disappointments in life leave us questioning . . . trying our very soul . . . seemingly making absolutely no sense at all. We are left with a choice: to cling & not to sing!

There’s only one answer to life’s great disappointments. Like the Psalmist, we must : “Find rest, my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock & my salvation. He is my fortress, I will not be shaken” – (Ps. 62:5-6)

Without sounding audacious & with every due respect to all concerned, medical or otherwise, I just like to say that sleep is a sheer luxury in life. It is generally accepted that we need to sleep at least eight hours. Debates & arguments are pointlessly hopeless against medical minds. Speaking personally, rightly or wrongly, I think each individual physical body knows exactly how much sleep is enough – and that can extend from one extreme end to the other, meaning some people sleep soundly three four hours & feel absolutely refreshed. In contrast, there’s the “passive horizontal” camp who even after maintaining a minimum of eight hours of sleep or even more, cases have been found to be still “lacking of sleep”.

In this connection, I often jokingly relate to willing ears that I have 13 months in a year in contrast to some who only have 10 to 11 months. A known fact is a lot of people who sleep a lot seldom amount to very much in life, compared to historical figures like Sir Winston Churchill, Napoleon Bonaparte, Thomas Edison, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Earnest Hemingway & others far too many to name. These well-known figures have been known to sleep very little but had claimed their rightful places in history in no small measures. Medical science would lump them all as having the “bipolar disorder”, but their contributions to mankind are more “sane” than the large majority of mankind who slept their lives away!

The simple fact is that these outstanding historical figures didn’t die for lack of sleep. They demonstrated that they were brilliantly at their best “toiling upward” through the nights towards life’s higher destinies.

Paul Chong ©

A Chinese by Descent

An Australian by Consent


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