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“Tell me one thing you know is true”


The novelist Henry James received a letter from a friend, a woman who was dying. In that letter, she wrote, “You must tell me one thing you know is true.”

Henry James later said that question had a major impact on his life, more than all the books he had read.

“You must tell me one thing you know is true.”

You get the feeling that the woman wasn’t looking for just one more piece of information. She was looking for something deeper. Something essential. Something at the core of life.

How would you answer that question?

“You must tell me one thing you know is true.”

There might be many ways to approach this. But today, if you asked me the question, I think I would be tempted to answer, “You. Are.”

You. Are. Here. Now. You are a human being, the most valuable thing on the planet.

You are unique, different from any that have ever lived in all the long history of the world. Different from any who will ever live in the future.

You have a story, different from any other story. A story that includes success and failure, tears and laughter.

You are a new answer to the question, “What is a human being?” “What does it mean to be alive?”

You. Are. Isn’t that the One Truth we have in common with every other person on the face of the earth?

Isn’t that always the place we can start?


The hot water principle


“I’m in hot water now!”

 Then get ready to discover new strengths you didn’t know you had.

As Dan McKinnon said:

“Consider that people are like tea bags. They don’t know their own strength until they get into hot water.”

Sooner or later, most of us end up in “hot water” of one kind or another—a good reason to follow Max Ehrman’s advice in these words from Desiderata:

“Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.”

 I like the yin and the yang of that. On the one hand, “Nurture strength of spirit,” but on the other hand, “Be gentle with yourself.”

In the “strength of spirit” department, you might begin by looking yourself in the mirror and repeating:

I can face anything I need to face. I can overcome any hurt. It won’t always be easy, it will be painful at times, and it will take patience and courage, but I can do it. Because I am a human being. And I am strong.

And in the “being gentle to yourself” department, you might add (paraphrasing, in part, from Desiderata):

Even if I’ve failed many times, that doesn’t make me a failure, because everyone fails. Failure is human. No matter what has happened, I am a child of the universe, no less than the sun and the stars. I’m still a human being, the most valuable thing in the world.

With strength of spirit in one hand, and being gentle to ourselves and others in the other hand, we can face anything the future may bring.