JANUARY 7, 1948
HYDE PARK, Tuesday—In a recent magazine article, "A Thought for 1948," Henry Seidel Canby chose a quotation from Thoreau which any one of us might think of many times a day. "Our life is frittered away by details ... The nation is ruined ... by want of calculation and a worthy aim ... It lives too fast." Thoreau, of course, retired to the woods. When he wanted to write a book, he simply lived a hermitlike life, cultivating beans and corn and going into the village as rarely as possible.
This is a simple expedient if you have no responsibilities or if you feel that the particular work you want to do is more important than any of the other things which crowd your days. Very few of us can have that feeling of dedication to one particular part of life, but we can, I think, both personally and nationally, rid ourselves of a great deal of unnecessary detail and, as Dr. Canby suggests, "Live deep instead of fast."
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It is not always as simple as he suggests, however, and it is not always a question of just finding out what is the most important thing you want to do and then cutting out everything else. There are people, of course, whose work is so important that it is right for them to subordinate their families, their friends and all other interests in order to achieve what they feel called upon to do. For most of us this would be extremely difficult, since we wonder whether anything we do is more valuable than something done by some member of our family or by some friend, and we feel called upon to contribute to the work of others as well as to accomplish what we can ourselves.
Through good organization and with careful thought, I think the proper balance can be achieved by a removal of as much of the detail as possible that fritters away time. To live deeply requires a capacity for feeling—and that, too, is something which must be developed. For the most part, people's emotions, when untrained and uncontrolled, are apt only to stir the surface and not to reflect themselves in thought and in action.
Nature is a good teacher and, though we cannot all be Thoreaus, we can accept her lessons when we have the opportunity and can gain some of the peace and contentment that comes with the development of an ability "to live deep instead of fast."
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I find one of the by-products of life in the country in the winter is a continual change in the plans of our guests. If they are with us, they are apt to get marooned by snow and to remain longer than they intended. If they are not with us but are planning to come for a brief time, they are apt to find that buses and trains do not run, and so they do not appear. But it really makes very little difference, as our own plans are easily adjustable since we have few definite commitments here—which is one of the reasons that I revel in the country!