One of my favorite people, Winston Churchill, once said, "The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it, but in the end there it is." Now I'll give you the Bill Bailey hillbilly version. "You might as well start with the truth, you are going to end with it."
The words I believe, the words I think, the words I feel, may or may not be true. The words I experience are true. Where you are today is the sum total of every experience you have had in your life. And you had the opportunity to say "yes" or to say "no." Whatever good happened to you, you ought to take credit. And whatever blame happened to you, you get that too. Because you could have said "yes" or said "no." Wherever you are is okay, because you are here. And if everything hadn't happened exactly the way it did in your life, you would not be here. You might have not survived.
Your direction is critical. Because one thing I will assure you of, in your life after seventy years of watching it, It Will Change! All positions are temporary. Take a look behind you. As Shakespeare said, "Straight satisfy yourself as the truth of it." And again I'll remind you. Whether you like it or not, you look in the mirror, that is your problem and that is your solution.
When I was very young I learned my first lesson in motivation, absence of options will create a very quick and powerful decision. I was born and raised in the hills of Kentucky, what you all call Appalachia. We called it just plain poor.
There were eleven kids in the family. We had six flat acres, the rest of them were on the hills. We plowed with mules. I was born in 1930, we didn't have paved roads until I was 15. We had electricity when I was 16. We never had indoor plumbing. So we were a family, but we walked to church together and we walked back together. We had a very unusual community feeling.
So one day when I was 15 years old, I was plowing corn. The last time you plow a field is in August and in August, it's very hot, it's very humid. Well, I was plowing about three o'clock, back in a place called the Dorsey Holler. And I, like most young people decided I was not going to plow anymore, so I spent about five minutes thinking up a nice lie I was gonna tell my father if he asked. So I backed up under this big beech tree, sat down, tied the plow lines of the mule up to the plow handles, lit a cigarette. About that time I heard a voice say, "What in the h__ do you think you are doing?" And there stood my father looking like a rain cloud about to burst. I quickly whipped out my best lie and said, "Well, the ground was hard and the mule didn't want to pull the plow." He asked, "Did you hit it?" I said, "NO." He said, "Well son you can hit the mule or I am hitting you." I HIT THE MULE!
Here is the next statement for you. It is a shame that we wait for something outside us to cause us to do what we ought to do ourselves. Why did I wait for someone to force me to do what I should have been doing? We should all be truly excited about the rest of our lives because we have the greatest single tool in the world called the human brain.
My first eight years of school were in a two-room schoolhouse. Woody Craft, a Baptist minister, was our teacher. Woody taught me something that I will never forget, because he made me an absolute fortune and he gave me the window into an incredible world. Every Friday, after lunch at one o'clock, he would gather all the two rooms together and he would read books like "Pilgrim's Progress," "Call of the Wild," and "Robinson Crusoe." And he read them in voices. I thought that was incredible. I thought, "My God what an adventurous world right at my fingertips." I learned to love to read.
After I learned to read, I then learned something else to further my reading skills. Because we were very poor, we used coal-oil lamps. Kerosene if you will. And my father did not like to have the lamps burn too long. When he said to turn that light out, what he wanted to hear was click, the sound of it being turned off. It was not a debate session. So I learned to do something that people now teach, speed reading. Well, I learned to speed read because of my father. When he'd come home I'd have to cut wood for the stove, help milk the cow and feed the mule, so by the time I got a chance to read, I only had a half an hour left of daylight. So out of necessity, I learned to look at a paragraph until I absorbed it. And the funny thing about absorbing it, is it never goes away. It's always there.
In the same way, life asks us to absorb; absorb the experiences and the moments. For example, at times when I have been in the mountains or sailing far out to at sea, poems appear. Now I cannot write poetry, but over the last twenty years, I have had some come to me. I don't question where they come from. These poems come from a source, I'll leave it up to you to decide what that source is. I've never tried to make them come. I can now sum up my philosophy for you in a poem. As a matter of fact, about five or six years ago, somebody got me to write them down in a book called "Rhythms of Life." Up until that time I had never written them down, I had never seen the need to because I keep them in my memory. One day somebody asked, "Well what if you pass away and they aren't written down?" I said, "Well you know, there is no direct evidence I will ever expire, but circumstantially it is fairly strong. I may in fact do that."
This one poem sums up my philosophy. How I have lived ever since I came across the idea that there are no limits on what I can do or what I can be.
So I am going to do the poem for you. It is called "A Warrior's Song." This poem appeared to me when I was at Beartrap Lake, which is 11,400 feet up on the Eastern slope of the Sierras. There is about a four acre lake above the tree line. As I crawled out of a sleeping bag one morning, just as the sun came up over the ridge, it seemed to move through the meadow just like a wave of water. The wave of light lit the wildflowers and then it hit some snow over on the north side where it doesn't melt. And this is what appeared in my mind.
A WARRIOR'S SONG
The sun kisses a mountain top
And glistens on its face of snow,
And slowly climbs into the sky above
And lights the valley below.
For each of us that this day awakes
A miracle takes place.
For once again we walk our earth
And own all upon its face.
And the past regrets and foolish fears
Of yesterday's cloudy mind,
Are washed away by the light of day
And seem so far behind.
For each of us is reborn each day,
Our life renews again.
And with the help of God we will find a cause
That makes us want to win.
For a man without a goal in life
Is a man already dead.
His mind wanders from place to place,
And he walks with feet of lead.
He has no reason to stretch his mind,
No spirit to stir his soul.
His name is not even in the book,
When destiny calls the roll.
Better to take the wine of life
And drink both deep and long --
Greet each day 'cause you're here to stay,
And sing your warrior's song.
For the battle of life is joined, and
You might fight long and true.
For in this strife, it's the game of your life
And the only loser is you.
Gird up your loins with courage
And answer the trumpets call,
And lose or win, you can say at the end,
This was the greatest of all!
--William E Bailey---
William E. Bailey is a respected speaker and author, a Horatio Alger Award recipient, and author of "The Rhythms of Life," Mr. Bailey's book of poems and philosophical writings.