Every now and then, you read something, or someone says something to you, or you hear a line in a song, or your ears are tickled by something on the radio or TV that gives you a real “Ah Ha!” moment. Some of these sayings stay with you for the rest of your life.
When I was poised to become a teenager, for example, my godmother fixed me with a steely glare (it’s the only look she had—thank goodness she was in one of her better moods at the time) and said, “Always remember to be true to yourself!”
Yesterday, while driving home from the office, I noticed that the car in front of me sported a bumper sticker that was short, sharp, and to the point, simply saying, “Don’t be a prick!” It’s hard to argue with logic like that.
It’s also difficult to disagree with the Latin phrase primum non nocere (“first, do no harm”). Although this is traditionally associated with physicians, it doesn’t actually appear in the Hippocratic Oath (at least, not in this form), the discovery of which was something of a surprise to your humble narrator.
Contrariwise, there’s the now-famous motto of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, “Move fast and break things” (the idea being that it’s better to approach something with gusto and abandon and make mistakes and disrupt technologies along the way than it is to play things safe at a slow and steady pace).
Although it’s a simple rule of thumb, Frank Zappa’s counsel to “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” from his 1974 album Apostrophe (‘) is advice I’ve certainly tried to live by.
And who could forget the line “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then” that appears in the 1980 song Against the Wind by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band? The older I get, the more poignant this line becomes.
I remember when I was a kid and I was scared about something (like the fear my mother would be serving sprouts for supper, for example), my father would say to me, “A coward dies a thousand times, a brave man dies but once.” I didn’t know it at the time, but he was paraphrasing William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act II Scene II, when Calpurnia is pleading with Caesar to heed the ill omens for the day (the Ides of March, the day he is prophesied to die), and Caesar replies:
Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard.
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
The strange thing is that, after his death, I discovered that my father, whose body was riddled with bullet holes and scars from shrapnel (he was in a reconnaissance unit in WWII and spent a lot of his time on a racing around on a motorcycle behind enemy lines) was himself a tad timorous when it came to toddling down to the dentist.
“What sparked these meandering musings?” I hear you cry. Well, while I was listening to the National Public Radio (NPR) on the way into work this morning, someone quoted Ernest Hemingway, who said “’Every man has two deaths, when he is buried in the ground and the last time someone says his name.” I don’t know about you, but this really gave me pause for thought.
In fact, I’m thinking about it again right now. How about you? Are there any sayings that have stuck in your mind that you would care to share?