To whom all the roses nod and all the stars wink…*

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I remember reading a while ago a statement of Anatole France. He said that the chief business of life is “killing time.” And so it is. What is the difference if we gather all the facts of the universe into our brains for the worms to eat? They might give the worms indigestion. What matters it how much we get together? It lasts but a short time. It never brings what we expect. All we get from it is the self-forgetfulness that comes from gathering it. We get from the gleaning the loss of self-consciousness, which after all is the only thing that makes life tolerable to the ordinary person, or the extraordinary for that matter. One can imagine nothing more tiresome and profitless than sitting down and thinking of one’s self. If you are bound to work and cannot avoid work, and can be lost in the work, it is the most tolerable life after all that one can have. Now, I never was industrious. I could prove that by a number of people here tonight. Still, I have always worked. Some task is always waiting for me and someone always calling to me. And I could not avoid the task or ignore the call. So the sixty-one years of my life have slipped by and I have scarcely known it.

I used to wonder what old people could find to do that would bring them any joy-of course I am not old, I am still quite young. I am not boasting. I used to wonder what boys could do to have fun after they were twenty years old; then I raised it to twenty-five; then I raised it to thirty. I have been raising it ever since, and still wondering what people can do for pleasure when they are old. But we are there with the same old illusions and the same old delusions, with fantasies promising us and beckoning us; with castles that we begin to build, never stopping to think whether these castles will be finished; we get our satisfaction and we kill our time listening to the voices and building the castles. Whether the voices fade in the distance or the castles tumble down does not seriously matter. I fancy it would be as much fun to tear down the Masonic Temple as to build it, if we really wished to do it. The main thing is to be occupied with our work.

Of course as you grow older, you can’t run so fast. But what is the use of running so fast? You would have to come back anyhow. And then one can learn to stay where he is; the place he would run to is no better than the one that he would leave. Nature, by taming your ambitions and cooling your blood, steps in and helps you out, and you hardly know what is happening as the years crowd around you.

On the whole I think young people get less comfort out of life than older people. The fact is, when we are young we expect too much; we haven’t the experience to temper our emotions. If it is raining today, the child cannot temper his disappointment with the thought that the sun will shine tomorrow; no more if the sun shines today can he repress his emotion by the thought that tomorrow it will rain.

Neither the old nor the young can live long without pleasure, or the hope of pleasure. The denial of this is death or worse than death. Of course, I have done my best to have my full share of pleasure as I lived. I could never resist temptation. As Heine said: “It was very well for Kant to say, ‘Act so that your conduct may be a law for all men under similar conditions.’ But Kant forgot that YOU are a part of the conditions. Suppose you happen to be one of those fellows to whom all the roses nod and all the stars wink,” then what are you to do? Everyone is the heir to all that has gone before; his structure and emotional life is fixed, and no two children of nature have the same heredity. I believe everyone should and must live out what is in him. So no two lives can be the same.

Life is an everlasting struggle. It is filled with cares and sorrows of all sorts. Of course, when you come close to your real friends, you find solace and rest. Still, life is hard, and all who really live know that it is hard. Man is continually moving between his desire to do certain things and his regret that he has done them. He is always resolving that in the future he will be better and more thoughtful than he has been in the past. We are all makers of resolutions. I “swear off” smoking several times a day, but I smoke again. “Swear off” doing many things, but not seriously. Habits are too strong for me and life is too strong for me.

Most of life is hard for those who think. No doubt there are those who believe that “God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.” If one can live on this delusion, he would be foolish to awaken from his dream. But if we really think and feel, life is serious and hard. All who live a full and long life without illusions, at times involuntarily look with almost longing eyes to the last release.

From the sterner things of life and death men have turned always to illusions to make things seem what they are not. For those mortals who must look life in the face and cannot dream, there is nothing left but a sense of humor and hard work. Hard work is good. It is good because it brings a loss of consciousness. It makes man live an intuitive, automatic fife, where he forgets that he is living. Hard work, like sleep, is an interruption of life; it is unconsciousness and death and is, therefore, peace.

We try to think that our fate will be unlike the rest, when we know that it will not.
As we grow older, friends mean more and more. There are not many who have the capacity for true friendship. The world does not permit it. We have too much to do. We are too busy getting a living and getting money. We are too busy keeping out of the poorhouse and the jail. I have often told young men starting out in business not to make acquaintances, but to make friends. Acquaintances are of little value unless you want to run for office, and I know that each of you have an ambition higher than that. But friends are of value as you go through life. They are of value in an infinite number of ways and places that you can never see in advance. They give consolation, comfort, and help which nothing else can bring. I have often said friendship is like agriculture-the intensive kind is the sort that pays. Our American farmer will take five hundred acres and cultivate it poorly and let the weeds grow with the grain. The French farmer will take ten acres and cultivate it with thoroughness and care and get more profit from his ten than the American will from five hundred. One cannot reach the whole world. We should intensively cultivate our friends, find out the capacities, the sympathies, the depths of nature of those around us and cultivate them until they are our friends and we are theirs. More and more as we grow older we find friendship the chief thing in life.

Of course we fight and we work. I have always yearned for peace, but have lived a life of war. I do not know why, excepting that it is the law of my being. I have lived a life in the front trenches, looking for trouble. The front trenches are disagreeable; they are hard; they are dangerous; it is only a question of days or hours when you are killed or wounded and taken back. But it is exciting. You are living; and if now and then you go back to rest, you think of your comrades in the fight; you hear the drum; you hear the cannon’s voice; you hear the bugle call; and you rush back to the trenches and to the thick of the fight. There, for a short time, you really live. It is hard, but it is life. Activity is life. Peace is death; and there is no complete peace excepting death. However hard, if it is the law of our being it cannot be changed.

I have always believed that man has little or nothing to do with himself. He is born without willing. He dies when his time is up. He is influenced by everything about him, helpless from the beginning to the end.

This is life and all there is of life; to play the game, to play the cards we get; play them uncomplainingly and play them to the end. The game may not be worth the while. The stakes may not be worth the winning. But the playing of the game is the forgetting of self, and we should be game sports and play it bravely to the end.

*Text taken from Clarence Darrow’s reflections on his sixty-first birthday. Read the full, unabridged version here.

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