Thursday, April 29, 2010



The plays of Shakespeare can be successfully mined for wisdom on almost any subject -- the vicissitudes of history, the temptations of youth, the challenges of aging, the folly of ambition -- you name it. Often overlooked, however, is Shakespeare's simple advice on how to live a good life. Research "the good life" on your computer and you will be offered more than three million sites to visit. None, however, is likely to yield better advice on the subject than the counsel that Polonius gives his son, Laertes, in Hamlet:

  Give thy thoughts no tongue,
  Nor any unproportion'd thought his act.
  Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar;
  Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
  Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel;
  But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
  Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg'd comrade. Beware                      
  Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
  Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee.
  Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
  Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
  Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
  But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
  For the apparel oft proclaims the man . . .
  Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
  For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
  And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
  This above all: to thine own self be true,
  And it must follow, as the night the day,
  Thou canst not then be false to any man.

For three weeks each summer between ages six and sixteen, I attended a summer camp in which the campers were not permitted to enter the dining hall until they had recited in unison the last three lines of this advice about the need to be true to one's self. After a lifetime of reflection, I still consider this wisdom on personal integrity and authenticity to be the most important guidance offered by Polonius -- "above all," writes Shakespeare. With every passing year, however, I find myself increasingly drawn to the insightful observations of Polonius on friendship, especially the notion that we should grapple trusted friends to our souls "with hoops of steel."

I must confess that I have been somewhat remiss in providing the care and attention that is often required to maintain lasting friendships.  With our modern lives in a constant state of flux, punctuated by geographical moves, it is all to easy to lose touch with valued friends, rationalizing all the while that "we've moved on."  Conventional wisdom suggests that "distance makes the heart grow fonder," but I think the truth often lies elsewhere; we move or friends move, and while no one really intends to break ranks, we often fall into an "out of sight, out of mind" way of thinking.

I'm taking steps now to reverse that trend, starting tomorrow with a trip that I may not have considered just a few years ago; I am traveling well over a thousand miles to a reunion with classmates that I had for only two years of my life -- in the ninth and tenth grades of high school -- friends who, for the most part, I have neither seen nor spoken to for more than fifty years. Who knows? Maybe I will find a use for some of those hoops of steel that have been rusting away in the recesses of my mind.

Before departing, I want to offer a little toast of gratitude for those new friendships that I have been making in the blogging community:

To those who generously share your passions through prose, poetry, photographs, historical accounts, and inspirational quotes;  to those who call upon us daily to pay attention to something rare and wonderful in the universe; to those who invite us into different cultures with different traditions; to those who have the courage to talk openly about the difficult passages that cycle through all of our lives; and, finally, to those who not only write about their experiences, but who also find time to comment on the journeys of others --

I raise my glass to you in gratitude. I find your individual journeys to be both fascinating and inspirational, and I look forward to reading your postings when I return early next week.


  1. You are clearly 'an artist of your days' and an enriching find for those bloggers looking for inspiring, life-enhancing subject matter.

    I hope you make many delightful re-connections on your trip, and look forward to any discoveries or insights made on such an adventure.

    Enjoyed re-reading the counsel of Polonius.

  2. Words of wisdom indeed from Polonius, George. I must ditto your account of 'lost friendships' over the years - very much know what you are talking about here. Though I'm not sure whether I'd relish meeting up again with some of my old school buddies! Still, have a good trip, and I hope it's a rewarding one for you.

    Let me raise a toast also - to all new bloggers and their wonderful blogs. Yours, I think, is terrific.

  3. Thanks for the kind words, Bonnie and Solitary Walker. I always look forward to the enlightening and inspirational postings on each of your blogs. Nice to be sharing these journeys of discovery together.