Saturday, August 7, 2010

My Favorite Back To School Poem Makes Me Cry (Sniff)

I was saving this post for September, but back to school is starting early this year, or so it seems.  The poem below was in a newspaper the year my son Phil began kindergarten.  We lived in a small apartment on MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and he took a bus to his school, which was definitely urban if not "inner city."  I was pretty nervous.  In a couple weeks from now, Phil enters his last year of graduate school at Columbia.  Fair to say, he's come full circle.  Yet ... it doesn't really matter if it's pre-school or graduate school.  I find the meaning behind the words below stands the test of time, from Abe Lincoln to me and maybe to you.  

As a parent, you've done all you can to teach and mold, and beyond that, you just have to hope and pray for the best.  And though Lincoln wrote this poem for his son, it has just as much meaning for our daughters.  I dedicate this to Tonia, Helen, Elaine, Susan, Bob, Bill, Jenn, Sue, Jim, Wade, Donna, Amy, Jason, Julie, Mike, Peter, Suzie and all the other moms and dads out there who are sending their sons off to school, perhaps with mixed feelings about how everything's going to turn out.  I still cannot read Lincoln's words without having an emotional reaction. {warning: you too might need Kleenex}

World, My Son Starts School Today
-- Abraham Lincoln

World, take my son by the hand--he starts to school today!
It's all going to be strange and new to him for a while, and I wish you would sort of treat him gently. You see, up to now, he's been king of the roost. He's been the boss of the backyard. I have always been around to repair his wounds, and I've always been handy to soothe his feelings.

But now things are going to be different. This morning he's going to walk down the front steps, wave his hand, and start on a great adventure that probably will include wars and tragedy and sorrow.

To live in this world will require faith and love and courage. So World, I wish you would sort of take him by his young hand and teach him the things he will have to know.

Teach him--but gently, if you can.

He will have to learn, I know, that all men are not just--that all men are not true. Teach him that for every scoundrel there is a hero; that for every enemy there is a friend.

Let him learn early that the bullies are the easiest people to lick.

Teach him the wonders of books. Give him quiet time to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun, and flowers on a green hill.

Teach him that it is far more honorable to fail than to cheat. Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him they are wrong.

Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd then everyone else is getting on the bandwagon.

Teach him to listen to all men, but to filter all he hears on a screen of truth and to take only the good that comes through.

Teach him to sell his brawn and brains to the highest bidders but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul.

Teach him to close his ears to a howling mob--and to stand and fight if he thinks he's right.

Teach him gently, World, but don't coddle him, because only the test of fire makes fine steel.

This is a big order, World, but see what you can do.

He's such a nice little fellow.

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