“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of It.” Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyham
Yes, it’s true. Once it leaves our mouths, it’s gone forever. Khayyham was a Persian poet who lived from 1048 to 1131. I cannot, for the life me, tell you how or who introduced his poetry to me. Since I was never a great fan of poetry, it must have been someone I admired. That and another verse have stuck in my mind for some time now, in large part, because of the truth, the severe truth of the words. They remind me of a story that you and I have heard countless times, nonetheless, you are about to hear it again.
There was a young boy whose temper was so fierce that when he was seven, his parent sent him to spend the summer with his grandparents on a farm, just to keep him – and them, I’m quite certain – out of trouble. The grandfather took it upon himself to cure the young child of his tantrums and maddening behavior. Since spankings and washing his mouth out with soap hadn’t worked the grandfather decided on a different strategy.
“Every time you get angry,” he told the young man, “I’m going to take you out to the barn and make you drive two long nails into the barn door.” The seven-year-old thought that sounded like fun, at least until he tried to do it. The hammer was too big, the nails too long, and the barn door was made of a very hard wood. Driving the nails became a terrible chore, but, the boy learned that this was a punishment about which he was not fond. As a consequence, and after a couple of summers, he learned to control his fierce temper and to manage his anger. One day, he went to his grandfather and said, “I don’t get as mad as I once did. Thank you for teaching me.” The farmer replied, “You have done so well that now you may remove two nails each day that you keep your temper under control.” The now 10-year-old thought that this, too, might be punishment, but he did as he was told. It wasn’t long before all of the nails had been pulled from the barn door. “Grandfather,” the boy queried, “I’ve pulled the nails, but the barn door now has many ugly holes. Isn’t that bad?” The old man smiled and said, “Think of those holes as the holes in the hearts of those at whom you were angry. Those holes are the pain that you caused others. You hurt them, and now, by taking the nails away you have left a hole in their heart. Feel free, if you wish, to fill the holes with wood putty.” The boy did as he was asked, and soon, all of the holes were filled. “I’ve filled the holes,” he said, “but it still looks ugly.” “Yes,” said the old man, “Those are the scars over the pain you inflicted. It can never go away.” The boy thought and thought, and the next summer, he told his grandfather, “I’m going to paint the barn door so that I won’t have to see the scars!” The grandfather just smiled, and the boy went to get a bucket of paint and a brush. The old man came out to see what his grandson was doing. “There,” the young man said, “that looks much better. The old man just smiled. The next morning, he noticed that the boy was again applying paint to the barn door. “What are you doing?” he asked. “I still know where the scars are,” the boy replied, “so I’m painting them over again.” “I cannot see where the holes were or where you patched them,” said the grandfather. “You will always see them, not matter how much you try to cover them up, because those are the holes and the scars that you made. For you, they will always be there.”
Perhaps that’s now how you heard the story, but if you, as a child, had a fierce temper – as did I – you heard some form of that tale. There’s a saying that I have on one of my T-shirts that reads, “Just because it pops into your head, doesn’t mean that it should pop out of your mouth.” I don’t know about you, but it took me some time to learn that lesson.
Just as I began this with words not my own, so let me end this piece on the same note:
“Watch your thoughts, they become words. “Watch your words, they become actions. “Watch your actions, they become habits. “Watch your habits, they become character. “Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
Attributed to Frank Outlaw, Founder, Bi-Lo stores