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“Splendid Things I’d Wish I Said but Other Great Minds Beat Me to Them”

“Splendid Things I’d Wish I Said but Other Great Minds Beat Me to Them”


by Jerry Gervase

“A home without books is like a body without a soul.” Marcus Tullius Cicero beat me to that quote. Of course he had a head start of almost 2000 years. At least he and I feel the same way about books.

Authors like to place a cogent quote at the beginning of a book that in some way describes the message he or she is trying to convey, or is the source of the title of the book.

I read “Tell No Lies” by Gregg Hurwitz. A Henry James quote in the front reads, “Never say that you know the last word about any human heart.” The quote describes the problems his main character, a guidance counselor, has in trying to fathom the hearts of the people in his group therapy session. In my experience almost everyone I know is described in that quote. No matter how well I think I know anyone they can still surprise me. Besides, it is hard enough to know ourselves without trying to understand others.

I barely squeezed through math when I was in school, which kept me away from even thinking about taking physics. So I couldn’t begin to understand Einstein’s theory of relativity. Yet Albert himself gave me an insight into his theory when he said: “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.” Good one, Al!

“Alas not many British dukes are bred as closely as their poorest shepherd’s dogs. Even fewer dukes are bred for accomplishment.” This perceptive quote is from Donald McCaig in “Eminent Dogs Dangerous Men.” Of course anyone who has ever owned a dog knows that they are much better companions than people, have more common sense and do not preen over their accomplishments. As Josh Billing, better known as humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw said, “A dog is the only thing that loves you more than it loves itself.” I wish I had originated both of those quotes.

Another quote by Cicero goes like this, “Rashness belongs to youth, prudence to old age.” Ernest Hemingway put it differently in A Farewell to Arms. “No, that is the great fallacy, the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.”

As I aged I kept waiting for the wisdom card to be dealt to me, you know, like God was some great blackjack dealer in the sky who would hit me with an Ace and a King. (Solomon) Didn’t happen. At least I was never aware that it was happening until I realized I had acquired almost as much common sense as a dog. And what is wisdom if not couched in common sense? I wish Cicero hadn’t beaten me to the quote – what I really wish is that I had written “A Farewell to Arms.” (I did write “Adios to Appendages,” but I couldn’t get a publisher to read it.)

“Most lies are always couched in the vocabulary of the lied to.” I couldn’t find a source for this quote but it seems to characterize the basic message of all political campaigns. Politicians speak to their constituents in the language they want to hear. H.L. Mencken understood this when he said, “If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.” Politics aside, the quote about lies can personify betrayal and/or manipulation. Think of Cassius telling Brutus: “Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves that we are underlings. ‘Brutus’ and ‘Caesar’—what should be in that ‘Caesar’? Why should that name be sounded more than yours?” I’d like to have said a lot of things Shakespeare said.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost.  How did you get where you are? Why do you live in New Jersey and not Pennsylvania? Whom did you choose to marry? Why? Could you have chosen another career? All the choices you’ve made are condensed in Frost’s little poem. I have miles to go before I could say things as ingeniously a

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