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Intern Bob reflects on his favorite quote.

I think it’s fair to say that many of us are bombarded with quotations from an early age.  Entirely apart from the adages stereotypically (and often justifiably) attributed to the elderly, we get a heaping helping on our way up the educational ladder.  From F.D.R. to M.L.K, Socrates to Shakespeare, the wisdom of the ages is passed down to us in a steady trickle throughout our lives.  Even outside of school you will almost certainly find aphorisms, maxims and lines from Poor Richard’s Almanac alive and well centuries after their creation.  Perhaps it’s their overexposure that makes them so… boring.

Have you ever been asked what your favorite quote is, perhaps by an oblivious but well-meaning teacher or mentor, and felt your mind racing for something, anything to reply with?  This person wants to know what my favorite quote is!  All I can think of are movie and television lines.  Is something from  “Seinfeld” all right?  Will that make me sound like an idiot?  Quick, better say something literary.  And then you recite part of that Shakespeare play you had to memorize.  You don’t really know exactly what it means but it has a lot of awkward syntax and archaic vocabulary; yeah, that sounds suitably poignant.  So you sort of shuffle out of that situation, wipe the sweat from your brow and say: good lord, who actually has a favorite quote?

I admit that last paragraph is entirely my experience.  However, I have a feeling that if I were to ask any of my friends to name a quotation they felt particularly affected, influenced, or summed up their outlook on life, I’d get the good ol’ Thousand-Yard Stare, perhaps followed by a Schwarzenegger line or a quip from “The Simpsons.”  I would have been in the same boat a few years ago, though I most likely would have just shrugged instead.  Then I stumbled upon a passage that really made me think.  It made me think not just about what it said, but about what it meant for me, if that makes any sense; what it had to say about both life and, at the time, a burgeoning new love of writing.  The quote is as follows:

“The one great crusade worthy of an enlightened man is that directed against whatever impoverishes imagination, wonder, sensation, dramatic life, and the appreciation of beauty.  Nothing else matters.  And not even this really matters in the great void, but it is amusing to play a little in the sun before the blind universe dispassionately pulverizes us again into that primordial nothingness from whence it molded us for a second’s sport.”

– H.P. Lovecraft

Now admittedly the latter half reciprocates my nihilistic outlook which will surely be argued and dismissed by positive people absolutely brimming with hope and optimism.  It’s the beginning that truly affected me, and as someone who is pessimistic by nature, I find something incredibly uplifting about this message.  The notion is appealing:  that there’s an ideal out there that anyone of us can achieve, and there’s a battle in life that anyone of us can fight and win.  I take it to mean that no matter what you do for a living, whether you’re a teacher or a construction worker or an executive board member or a hotdog vendor on the city streets, as long as you actively try to quash ignorance and dispassion – even if only in yourself – you are fighting the good fight, and helping to advance humanity as a whole.  Is that true?  I’d certainly like to think so; others might have a completely different interpretation, or disagree with the message all together.  And that, I think, is why it appeals to me so.  Maybe it’s just my love of arguing, or maybe controversial writing truly is the most interesting kind.

So there’s my take on favorite quotes.  If you do not have any words of wisdom to live by, aside from “Obey Your Thirst,” or whatever McDonald’s newest slogan is, my advice is to just keep on reading – books, essays, whatever interests you.  There’s no rush.  One day you may find a few choice words of wisdom tucked away in a Robert Frost poem or dredged from the bottom of a Dostoyevsky novel.  Then, at the very least, you’ll have a good answer when someone asks you for your favorite quote.

Unless you forget it like I do, constantly, and go scrambling back to that half-remembered Shakespearean play.  Something about a candle, and life’s a stage…?  That’s it, right?

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