2009 E-Lacrosse Feature: The E-LaxerataAbout eight years ago, I was sitting in a doctor's examining room waiting for the doctor to come in for my annual check-up. I had been in this room with time to kill before and had already memorized the clippings of funny doctor-related cartoon clippings tacked to a cork board and the various degrees posted on the wall attesting to my physician's academic accomplishments and accreditation. But I'd never read the calligraphic document which was framed on the back of the door. Perhaps the door had never been shut before while I was waiting or perhaps the calligraphy and poetic posturing of the words in verse turned me off like required reading at school, but this time I noticed it and out of sheer boredom looked closer. At the top of the verses it said "from a document found at Old Saint Paul's Church, Baltimore A.D. 1692". Being from Baltimore I decided to read on for at least another sentence or two. It read: "Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others..."
I was stunned. The verse actually made sense and was helpful to me. I thought it to be like combination of religion and grandfatherly advice; like a bible verse with a bit of Kahlil Gibran, Henry David Thoreau, and even Dale Carnegie thrown in. I read on and it changed my life. You can read the poem in its entirety here and I highly recommend it. I had the doctor write the word "Desiderata" on a prescription note for me -- appropriate, though I did not think of that at the time. He mentioned that he thought it was really written by a more modern poet than the calligraphy on the door had noted. I told him I would look it up on the web and let him know the next time I saw him.
He was right. The author was Max Ehrmann, a poet and lawyer from Indiana, who died in 1945. The confusion about its origin came from a printing of the poem in a pamphlet handed out at Saint Paul's Church in Baltimore in 1959. The Reverend Frederick Kates, rector of the historic Maryland church, had simply noted at the top of the pamphlet the church's origin "Old Saint Paul's Church, Baltimore A.D. 1692." The church was erected in 1692. Over the years the pamphlet was copied and passed from person to person because the words carried such meaning to the readers. Eventually the rumor that accompanied the verses was that the document had been discovered during the building of the church and that it must be even older than that date.
The actual writer, Max Ehrmann, never enjoyed much notoriety while living and the verse was not well known when it was initially published. It is said that when Adlai Stevenson, a great leader of the Democratic Party, died in the 1960s, the Desiderata was to be included in his Christmas cards the following winter. The press took hold of that and the notation of the Church's establishment mistaking the origin, popularizing the verses as ancient and worthy after never noticing them while Ehrmann was alive.
The verses are alive and well today and as popular as ever, though you may not have read them. Who reads poetry these days? In fact, someone in nearly every profession or popular hobby has adapted it to their specific interest. There are now hundreds of references to the Ehrmann writing all over the world, all meaningful to some group or another. I discovered this the day I got home from the doctor's office. I looked up the Desiderata and found it easily. But the one I began reading was somehow different that the one on the doctor's door. It said things that pertained to flying. It turned out to be the adaptation for pilots. I kept searching and found one for Cub Scouts and then one for bureaucrats. There's even one now for video gamers. I finally found the original online and printed a copy for myself. This literary work by Ehrmann and the poem entitled "If", just one brilliant work by Rudyard Kipling, the author of a popular children's' favorite, "The Jungle Book," are the most influential writings in my life. Another of Kipling's works, "The Law of the Jungle," should also be used by coaches of every sport as he ensures that, "For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack."
A couple years later I came across a rather amateur, even absurd rendition of the poem for Star Trek fans posted on a hotel wall which must have hosted a Trekkie convention some days before my arrival. All at once I abhorred the juvenile and fanciful facsimile of the original and then accepted the challenge to myself to do better (much better) adapting a version for the passion in my life -- the sport of lacrosse. It took a few months to perfect before I released it on E-Lacrosse, titling it self-indulgently, "The E-Laxerata."
I had no idea what to expect. A lacrosse poem? But within weeks I had requests from more than 100 coaches and lacrosse programs to use it for various purposes and even a publication wanting to reprint it. I was blown away. Since that time it has now appeared in the programs for hundreds of school teams. It is a permanent fixture on the locker room walls of at least 40 lacrosse-playing schools that I know of. It has been etched on trophies and plaques. It has been read for motivation from the highest to the lowest levels of the game by coaches to their charges before big wins and after big losses.
Every once in a while I read it again myself to find my way in the sport and the industry of lacrosse again. My version just speaks to the game of lacrosse, but I like to think Mr. Ehrmann would be proud of the adaptation of his immortal verses. At every Hall of Fame ceremony I have attended, and at that time of year (the ceremony is next week), I usually think that the honorees lived up to the challenge in the words. For our game is one of competing but sharing; rivalry but camaraderie; aggression but courtesy; achievement but appreciation of others. I love the game, and for all that I may have given to the game with E-Lacrosse for more than 11 years now, founding two very good lacrosse programs and helping with countless others, this adaptation of the words on my physician's door may be the best thing I ever have done for the sport of lacrosse. Of it I am most humbly proud.
Here it is for your enjoyment during this Hall of Fame week:
Walk silently onto clamorous fields, and remember the advantage that comes from quiet confidence. As best you can, without surrender, be of good will toward all opponents. Win quietly and decisively; and honor all teams and players, even those who are of lesser skill and experience. They too love the game. Avoid loud and unsportsmanlike people. They are vexations to the spirit of Lacrosse.
If you compare your game or success with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser players than yourself. Enjoy the wins as well as personal achievements in the game. Be aware of every success as you learn and play the game, however small; those moments will always be yours in the changing fortunes of teams and players.
Exercise caution when choosing heroes, assigning loyalties or believing rumors, for the world is full of trickery. But let not this blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, the game is full of heroism and honesty. Play your game. Accept winning and its rewards. Don't be afraid to lose, for as important as any game is there will almost always be another. As you get older use your experience to dominate, gracefully surrendering the speed and strength of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit needed to lose even the biggest games with class and dignity. But never expect to lose. Many games are lost before they are played. Beyond trying as hard as you can all of the time, don't take losing to heart. You are a lacrosse player, no less than any; you have a right to be on the field. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the experience of every victory and defeat will make you a better player and a better person. Therefore, be at peace with the game, whatever you conceive it to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations in lacrosse, keep anchored in your family, education and career. For as much as we love the game, after devastating injury or loss, it's important to already know that there's more to life than lacrosse. Play hard.
Enjoy the game.
November 4, 2008