When I was in 10th grade, I read the first aphorism—or proverb—that changed my life. It was hanging out right in the middle of Act I of Shakepeare’s Julius Caesar. Cassius says to Brutus “Men at some times are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings” (Act 1, Scene 2, 140-143).
Yeah, I know what Cassius and Brutus went on to do, and I know that in the tenth circle of hell, Satan is chewing on Brutus for eternity. But that’s not the point.
The point is that my 15 year old self was rocked by the divine literary affirmation of what my parents had been telling me: my life was mine, every triumph, mistake and consequence. All mine to make or break. Intoxicating. Empowering.
As a teacher I put aphorisms around my classroom, in print that was big enough to read from across the room, but only if you really focused. I never called attention to them. Aphorisms need to be mulled over a few times. I waited for the students to ask me. And in drips and dribbles, over the course of the year, kids would come to me and say “Can I ask you what this means?” To which I always answered “First, tell me what you think it means”.
I’ve done the same thing in our home. Only Gabriel can read, and he’s probably too young for Ben Franklin, but I want the words to be a fixture in our home, familiar, like old friends. I want the words to be there for the day they lose a game, or get a D, or fight with their friend. Something to mull over. To help them figure it all out.
Because sometimes the answers to life’s questions can be tied up in one tidy, historically, philosophically or spiritually significant saying.
Here they are!*
Of course, the most important words in our home are contained in our family Bible, which normally lives on our hutch, right within easy reach. But since we are currently short a hutch, it’s in the cupboard next to the phonebook, which is pretty appropriate if you think about it.
I am sure as the years go on, I will add or switch some of the hanging words in our home. Maybe (dream of dreams) the kids will add some of their own eventually. Either way, I hope we are always a family of words, spoken and hanging.
*The wooden signs were made for us by my sister-in-law’s mother, Karen Shoemaker. Her work can be found at www.shabbyshoesigns.com.