Things Desired by Jamie Kirkpatrick


This morning, before coffee, all manner of things went wrong. It took forever to open a new package of bacon. A box of tea fell out of the cabinet. When I went to empty the dust buster, I missed the bin and had to vacuum up the contents a second time. I had to empty the entire dishwasher to find a clean cup for my coffee. Having moved all the leftover Christmas decorations last night (we started early this year), I had to move everything back again so I could open my laptop and begin to write. Then I couldn’t find my laptop. (Remember: this is all before even a sip of coffee!) Then I thought I had better find the anniversary card I had lovingly written my wife four days ago so I could mail it today, thereby ensuring it would arrive precisely on our anniversary. (The actual day is tomorrow, the 28th; we’ve made it to 21 years because, having married later in life, we’ve decided to count to in dog years.) Finally, all the little things were aligned like the planets and I opened my once-lost-now-found laptop to begin to write. I took my first sip of coffee…

My morning newsfeed to began to bark like a mad dog: the weather was wrecking its usual post-Thanksgiving havoc: whiteouts on the Interstate, thousands of flights delayed or cancelled. Migrants were storming the Tijuana border only to be repelled by tear gas. The Russians and the Ukrainians were in a tense naval standoff near Crimea. The CIA has officially concluded that the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi was indeed ordered by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia; apparently Mr. Trump is the only person on the planet who thinks otherwise. A man in California died on Thanksgiving day after being shot eight times by teenage burglars when he went to check on an absent neighbor’s house. The list went on, but I won’t. Enough is enough. My coffee was cold and bitter.

The petty frustrations of my morning evaporated. The trees of my little life began to blur as the greater forest began to take dark and foreboding shape. We live in complicated, dangerous times. It would be so easy to become engulfed by this rising sea of existential angst, by all these things falling apart, but if we succumb to that, then we’re truly lost. Better to find another way out; better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

Desiderata: things wanted, things desired. Max Ehrmann, an Indiana poet and attorney—what an odd but wonderful combination!— wrote his famous prose poem in 1927, another time of dislocation and profound social change. In these difficult times and particularly on the threshold of this contemplative season, it might help to think again on these simple truths, the things we all desire:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
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.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

I began to breath again. I brewed another cup of coffee. Better.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is


Letters to Editor

  1. Roger Brown says

    Perfect Jamie


  1. […] Things Desired by Jamie Kirkpatrick […]

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