EIGHT WORDS, CARVED ON AN ANCIENT HEADSTONE
BUT, WHAT A TREASURE OF MEANING AND WISDOM

THE SEARCH

It was one of those aimless Sunday afternoons that every family knows.

I had driven the family into the country to look for pine cones and acorns, and to let their mother, who had a touch of flu, manage to get some rest at home. It was the kind of hazy autumn day we have sometimes in the Deep South when no winds stirs and the dust motes hang like golden smoke in the soft air.

It was also one of those days when I was feeling depressed. No single, overwhelming problem. Just a combination of things in my life. A friend had just done me an unkindness, or so I thought. A very promising writing assignment had fallen through. There was, inside our family circle, a corrosive little problem of human relationships that stubbornly refused to yield to reason or common sense.

About sundown we came to a place that seemed to fit my mood; a forgotten cemetery amongst a quiet, old oak grove. Lichen-covered headstones tilted fantastically under a ghostly canopy of Spanish moss.

The children immediately made a game of finding the oldest dated headstone. (Hey, look an 1840!” Ha, that’s young. Here’s an 1812.”) Disrobed by the shouts and laughter, a big brown owl drifted out of a magnolia tree and vanished on reproachful wings.

I noticed the weathered stone beside me marked the resting place of a “beloved wife” who died in 1865 “of a fever.” Right beneath her name was a line of script, almost indistinguishable. I wondered which Biblical phrase her grieving children have chosen. But, it was not a familiar quotation after all. It was a statement...

Ever she sought the best, ever found it.

Eight words...

I stood there with my fingers on the cold stone, feeling the present fade and the past stir behind me the illusion we call time. A full century ago this woman had been living through a hideous war. Perhaps, it took her husband from her, perhaps her sons. Here country had been beaten, impoverished. She must have known humiliation, have tasted despair. Yet, through all this, someone who knew her had written that she always looked for the best, and always found it.

As we walked back to our car through the gray twilight, I could not get those words out of my mind. Ever she sought the best. There was courage in them, and dignity and purpose. And a kind of triumph, too, as if they contained a secret of inestimable value. What you look for in life, they seemed to be saying, you will most surely find. But, the direction in which you look is ultimately up to you.

In the station wagon on the way back home, I found myself thinking of the things that had been bothering me. I saw that I had ben focusing, not on the best, but on the worst. Where my friend was concerned, really, what was one misunderstanding compared to years of affection?. The lost assignment was disappointing, but there would be others. The big family difficulty was a rocky little island, but, after all, it really was surrounded by a big ocean of love.

We were home at last. The children straggled in, tired now, ready for supper. I looked at the house and thought of the worries I had often entertained there like honored guests, giving them a preposterous preference over all the good things the same house contained. Perhaps, I told myself, you’ve learned something today.

The living room was familiar and quiet; the chair was an old friend, the fire muttered in the grate. The five-year old climbed up on my lap and burrowed his porcupine head into my shoulder. I could see the firelight reflected in his eyes.

It would be dark now in the old burial ground. Darkness and silence, and the old owl watching the shifting leaf patterns, and wisdom carved on an ancient stone.

Search for the best? I said to myself, you really don’t have to search very far. No one does! It surrounds us all the time, the goodness, the abundance, the wonder of living.

By: Arthur Gordon
Source: Woman’s Day (January, 1963),
@ 1962, by: Fawcett Publications, Inc.
67 West 44th Street, New York, 36, N.Y

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