28 March 2012

Words of Wisdom from Arthur Gordon (and Robert Louis Stevenson and a French Purser)

A few years ago, on a liner bound for Europe, I was browsing in the library when I came across a puzzling line by Robert Louis Stevenson:  "Extreme busyness, whether at school, kirk, or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality."  Surely, I thought, "deficient" is a mistake--he must have meant "abundant."  But R.L.S. went merrily on, "It is no good speaking to such folk:  they can not be idle, their nature is not generous enough."

Was it possible that a bustling display of energy might only be a camouflage for a spiritual vacuum?  The thought so impressed me that I mentioned it next day to the French purser, at whose table I was sitting.  He nodded his agreement.  "Stevenson is right," he said.  "Indeed, if you will pardon my saying so, the idea applies particularly to you Americans.  A lot of your countrymen keep so busy getting things done that they reach the end of their lives without ever having lived at all."


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