This I Believe

Thomas - Columbia, Maryland
Entered on October 8, 2007

As a fan of Mark Twain, I am amazed how his words still ring true today. Pulling together a number of quotes, I was able to put together what I believe would be Twain’s thoughts on the world today as we know it. I have Twain speaking here in front of a high school audience at a Commencement ceremony:

Be Good & You Will Be Lonesome

“My dear friends and neighbors, not only do you have the distinct pleasure of having the great and modest Mark Twain address you here today but I have come back from the dead to do so.

When I was alive I once said that Man does not become his honest self until He has died and then not until He had been dead for year and years. Therefore, given the fact that I have been dead for nearly 100 years, I can assure you that I am as honest now as I ever can be. As I said, people ought to start dead and then they would be honest much earlier.

I must also say that you know as well as I that most people are haunted by that most long and laborious of speeches, the graduation address. I make no claims that my words here today will be any better. But at least if you are to be haunted, you might as well be truly haunted — by a dead man nonetheless!

I must also tell you that here upon my return it comes as no surprise to see that greed, corruption, and outright hypocrisy are alive and well, particularly here in America. That is right, I wish to talk to you in some degree about this misbegotten war the bold deceivers have engaged us in. I think it is important that I address this subject in that you all are among the likely candidates to be recruited to continue this aimless fight — this war of no apparent good reason.

You may know that when I was alive I was never in favor of the American Eagle putting its talons upon any foreign nation. And this I say to you, I would avoid charging into any war unless I knew for certain that our leaders and recruiters, the aforementioned bold deceivers, were not going to lead us onto the battlefield. Even then, I would proceed with the utmost caution!

The next time an army recruiter tries to sell you snakeoil — that is the promise of bold adventure, future education, and a cash advance — all in return for your enrollment — kindly tell that person that experience and wisdom will take on and defeat youth and inexperience any time! Therefore, the battle they want you to wage would be better fought by the elder statesmen — the ones who think nothing of starting a war just as long as they don’t have to fight it.

If by chance your response is greeted with anger or charges of treason, please remind these compensated fellows that our nation was founded by a group of malcontents and disobeyers, the same men who made it our right, if not our patriotic duty, to speak up when we see our country faltering.

It is my guess then at this time that recruiter will resort to the most desperate of measures and invoke the Deity into penetrating your conscience. Sadly, such it is with Man that he must resort to such promises of a higher calling to achieve such a lower goal. Just remember, that many of those who would invoke the name of God to motivate you are among the very souls that would have put the final nail in the cross had they been at Calgary 2000 years ago!

Besides the fact that you are young and virile, much to the jealousy of the elder statesmen, comes the fact that many of you do not know what you want to do with your life. Why I was once a steamboat captain on the mighty Mississippi. It was a job I believed I was born to do and was quite good at it, if I might so add. It was my intention to spend my entire life navigating that river and die in its lasting embrace. But then the war came and I found myself out of work. For a short time, I was caught up in the excitement of the coming battle but I soon realized it was fool’s gold. So I joined the Confederacy. Served for two weeks. Deserted. And the Confederacy fell! I took leave of my assignment and went out west and began a new life.

So why is it that, as I deliver these words, I can only guess that my speech today will spark outrage? They’ll say, ‘How is it that the great Mark Twain can return from the dead and yet criticize our President so?’ They will accuse me of taking sides but I can assure you that I am neither a Republican or Democrat. I am American. I am THE American. And perhaps worse than our president and his cunning assistants are those members of Congress — the National Asylum for The Helpless, as I used to call it. Just remember had these purported servants been around when the Deity claimed ‘Let There Be Light’, it would never have happened!

So be it. I realize that once again I have gone on too long about subjects that only get me in heaps of trouble. Besides, I promised you this ‘haunting’ would be brief in nature. So before I take leave of you all today, I wish to give you just a few points to dwell on as you begin to weave your way through the tangled web of life.

One. Always obey your parents when they are present. Most parents think they know know more than you do, and you can generally make more by humoring that superstition than you can by acting on your own better judgement. As I say, it is good to obey the rules when you’re young, so you’ll have enough strength to break them when you’re old!

Two. Don’t smoke to excess. Don’t drink to excess and certainly don’t marry to excess!

Three. When angry count to four. When very angry, swear.

Four. Understand that being rich ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. It’s just worry and worry, sweat and sweat, and a-wishing you were dead all the time. I know this all to well from my own experiences, which I care not to revisit, thank you.

Five, and I leave with this today — Always do what is right. This will gratify some and astonish the rest.

Goodnight and goodbye — from the dead.”

Mark Twain