Some years ago I was called to the bedside of an old man expected to live but a few days. We talked together for quite a while, my friend seeming to find relief in discussing thoughts that apparently had been much on his mind during his illness.
"I have been a visitor on this earth for more than eighty years," he said, "and looking back over that time I find one thing very clear: I may have done some good, but on the whole my life seems to have been one of neglected opportunities. I've been selfish, of a passionate and stubborn nature, and my thoughts and acts have been mostly centered around myself. I've done very little to conquer these weaknesses, and now when it is too late to change, I see my life as a failure. Whatever balance of good is transferred from one life to another, will, in my case, be very meager."
In those few honest words, it seemed to me, the whole drama of his life was bared. Somehow I felt that despite his despair, his dying thoughts of recognition would go a long way in getting him started right that next time in which he so firmly believed. After I had gone home, however, a heavy sadness clung like dark clouds around my heart. I thought of the many whose lives seem like blank pages in the Book of Eternity! How may we prevent such failure in our own lives?
It is quite easy to see that faults of character have an effect on the inner as well as the outer man, holding back real growth if they are not weeded out. Such traits as vanity, anger, jealousy, fear — all have their origin in our selfish lower nature, and grow there like weeds if we do nothing to check them. Why do we allow them to stay there year after year doing their destructive work and choking out our higher aspirations?
For years I have believed that man has a Spiritual Companion, a Divinity, a Knower, who is ever waiting and ever ready to help, if we will do our part by earnestly trying to take our character in hand, endeavoring to purify it. By making our hearts beat more for others than for ourselves, we gain something that will never leave us: the consciousness of our Inner Divine Self. Everyone of us is free to choose between good and evil — every moment of our lives. If we have sown seeds of selfishness, it is never too late to change. For as we sow, we shall reap, and the choice is ours.
The old man I visited had had several opportunities during his life to change his character, but he had made little use of them, gradually becoming a slave to his foolish sowing. Only in the harvest-time did he have the courage to analyze himself — his acts, his motives — comparing the wrong things in his life with the right ones, recognizing that in large measure he had been a harvester of failure. These words then came home to me as never before:
Desire to sow no seed for your own harvesting; desire only to sow that seed the fruit of which shall feed the world. You are a part of the world; in giving it food you feed yourself.
If our efforts are continual, if no failure discourages us, with trust in the Law, we shall be harvesters of success — not for our ordinary acquisitive selves, but for that Spiritual Companion who is ever seeking to lead men to the Light.
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Great Zeus, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, teach us to esteem wisdom the only riches, and give us beauty in our inward souls; and may the outward and the inward man be at one. — Prayer of Socrates