The Light We Leave Behind

“Were a star quenched on high,

For ages would its light,

Still travelling downward from the sky,

Shine on our mortal sight.

So when a great man dies,

For years beyond our ken,

The light he leaves behind him lies

Upon the paths of men.”

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from his poem,

“Ode to Charles Sumner”

While recently reviewing an speech written by the famous orator, Daniel Webster, entitled, “The Seventh of March Speech—The Constitution and the Union,” delivered to the Senate of the United States on March 7, 1850, I was completely surprised by the power and the tone of the speech, which should clearly be recited once again in the United States Senate.

Daniel Webster was the Senator from Massachusetts at the time, and he was making a case against the institution of slavery.  Tensions were high in the United States at that time, and the competing views of what to do about the future of our country were front and center.  What he said in that speech could easily be a description of our current circumstances:

“It is not to be denied that we live in the midst of strong agitations, and are surrounded by very considerable dangers to our institutions and government. The imprisoned winds are let loose.”

Recognizing the parallels to our modern day circumstances, which seem no less worrisome to the American people now, I thought to write about those parallels for this post, and decided to search for an image of Daniel Webster to include with my commentary. Upon conducting that search, I came across a website with an image of a more recent individual named Daniel Webster that struck me as being even more relevant to my efforts here, and felt compelled to share it with my readers.

One of the most startling aspects of the website posting was the image of the man himself.  He appeared in every way to be a kindred spirit.  His face radiated what must have been a joyful, living soul, and as I began to read further, it quickly became apparent that the parallels between my own life and his were just too strong to be simply a coincidence.

It was unfortunately an obituary of a man who lost his life one year ago today, after a long battle with cancer. The loss of any life for any reason is cause for us to pause and reflect, but in this case, the description of his life, combined with the image, really struck a chord within me.

He was “…An accomplished guitarist, pianist, singer and songwriter, in the mid-1970s he performed at clubs in the Boulder area, once opening for Tom Waits. Later performing and recording several albums under the stage name Dan Oakenhead, he continued to write, perform, and record his music until the last months of his life… His love of travel frequently found him and (his wife) Margaret in mountains and canyons around the world… Dan’s other great passion was his lifelong study of philosophy, Yogic teachings and Tibetan Buddhism. For many years he was an active member of the Eldorado Mountain Yoga Ashram, where he was known as Tukaram.”

His devotion to the spiritual aspects of his existence were central to his life endeavors, and combined with the particulars of his life, his devotion to his family, and to the creative arts, just seemed too much of a coincidence to skip over.

He was described also as “…a wonderful and caring husband and father, sharing his love of music and nature, and his curiosity.”

The fact that he passed away at the age of 68, the age at which I will also arrive this summer, also rendered the encounter with a kind of purposeful meaning that felt important to consider.  While my own accomplishments were clearly of a different sort and which, by comparison, resulted in far less notoriety, I couldn’t help but notice how closely our lives could be measured in a number of strikingly similar ways.  The important differences really didn’t seem all that different, and the similarities seemed significantly important as I read about his life.

In many ways, his life seemed enviable and wonderful, and his efforts to make a life for himself that had meaning and purpose were not all that different from my own efforts in the same way.  I do not suppose that either one of us would necessarily want a different life than the one we experienced up to this point.  No one wants to have cancer or to depart from this life prematurely, but our lives are what they are and we must live them as best we can, while striving for whatever goals seem right for us as individuals and as members of a family and as a larger community of people.

The poem by Longfellow expressed the sentiments I was feeling as I contemplated the parallels and the differences in our two lives, and the thoughts expressed by the original Daniel Webster, himself a notable figure in the history of our country, all show unequivocally the importance of every life, regardless of the status achieved or the accomplishments accumulated.

In his conclusion to the speech on March 7, 1850, Daniel Webster wrote:

“Let us make our generation one of the strongest and brightest links in that golden chain, which is destined, I fondly believe, to grapple the people of all the states to this Constitution for ages to come.”

Both of the men named Daniel Webster lived important lives that “left a light behind them, which lies upon the paths of men.”

I can only hope that my own life will have some portion of light that will be left in a similar manner.

About jjhiii24
Way back in 1973, as a young man embarking on the journey of a lifetime, I experienced what Carl Jung described as “the eruption of unconscious contents,” which compelled me to seek the path I continue to pursue to this day. The path of discovery has led me through an astonishingly diverse range of explorations in philosophy, science, and religion, as well as the many compelling ideas in the literature and scriptures of the cultures of the world. There is, in my view, a compelling thread made up of components of each, that runs through the fabric of life. The nature and study of human consciousness has been a compelling subject for me for more than twenty years. I have spent a great deal of my time and energies trying to come to terms with my own very particular “inner experience” of life, and to somehow understand how the events and flow of my temporal life have directly been influenced by the workings within. Sharing what I have come to understand about my own “Inner Evolution,” has tasked my intellect and communications skills in a big way. I am only just beginning to feel confident enough in the results of my study and contemplation to express the many various aspects of what I have uncovered within myself. I am hopeful that my own subjective and personal experience of my own “human spirit” will resonate with others, and encourage them to explore their own.

5 Responses to The Light We Leave Behind

  1. simplywendi says:

    thank you for the light you share with others…….

  2. Jaff xoxo says:

    Hello, John. This is a post I found to be particularly well done, and I read and enjoyed every word of it. Your parallel to times in your own life brought both Mr. Webster’s lives back to their vibrancy, and revealed the depth of your own life’s experience. Thank you for sharing this with all of your readers.

    • jjhiii24 says:

      Jaff…It clearly is a consequence of many years of life experiences which brings us to a place where we can reflect more meaningfully on the experiences of other figures we know from our storied past, and to recognize the importance of the contributions by our fellow travelers in our own time.

      The parallels between our own lives and the lives of others can be informative and helpful to us moving forward, and the more recent Mr. Webster’s life struck such a chord within me that I felt compelled to include it almost immediately.

      I appreciate your kind words and hope that others will also appreciate the sentiments I expressed and look at the Daniel Websters in their own lives.

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