41: “Shine Upon Them” (John Keats)

                “I feel assured I should write from the mere yearning and fondness I have for the beautiful, even if my night’s labours should be burnt every morning, and no eye ever shine upon them.” -John Keats

                That brings me back to what might be the best career advice I was ever given. I was a senior in college. As far as I could see, I had no idea what to do next. So I asked a professor to connect me with B. Alan Wallace, a visiting scholar (with an inspiring personal history) who’d talked to our class. The professor agreed, and I ended up in a skype call with Mr. Wallace. He was sitting at a meditation center in Thailand, I was in Massachusetts, and I asked him, “Mr. Wallace, part of me wants to head off to New York and wear a suit and earn some hefty money, and part of me wants to go to graduate school, because I’m worried education is a bridge you can fall from. And part of me wants to try teaching high school. What should I do?”
                He was thoughtful for a long, quiet moment, and then he gave me his piece of advice. “Azlan,” he said, “The day will come when you die. When you do, it won’t matter how much you have in the bank, and it won’t matter if you’re a tenured chair at Cambridge; but something will matter. I hope you find that something sooner rather than later.”
                At first I was a bit frustrated. I wanted advice. I wanted direction. But Mr. Wallace didn’t discuss careers any more. He smiled. The last thing we talked about was how the sun was rising up behind him in Thailand, a little while after it had set behind me in Massachusetts. “Beautiful symmetry,” he said.
                Looking back, I am only thankful. The day will come when I die. And there are some things we do whose truth goes on forever, even when they end. There are some labors that are simply how our hands reach out to meet the world. The sun goes down. The sun comes up. Beautiful symmetry. Perhaps Keats needs no eye to “shine upon” his words. That is pleasant–it is good to share our shining–but the words of a true poem shine for themselves. They shine in the moment of their speaking. They shine in their own small forever.
                My friend, I hope you find that something sooner rather than later.

3 thoughts on “41: “Shine Upon Them” (John Keats)

  1. Every single day now I am further convinced that something echoing Wallace’s words needs to be the guiding force in my choices from now on. Every day I get a new idea about what I will do and how I will do it, and every day it moves in a direction that I cannot foresee. It scares me, this uncertainty. I can only hope that when the moments come I make the right choices, that in time I will have grown wise enough to dodge any self-doubt or indecisiveness and simply understand that the answer is 42 and I will die.

    Great writings Azlan, thank you. I miss talking to you.


    1. Good to hear from you, my friend. I miss our talks, too; I’m online some this summer, and next semester is coming soon. That means poetry, storytelling, and your play–and I’m looking forward to it

      The moments are always coming: and if you accept it, perhaps even self-doubt can be a good traveling companion. You just need to balance him with curiosity and self respect.


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