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A scrap of paper

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In my wallet I carry a crumpled scrap of paper containing quotations that have become favorites of mine over the years. On street corners waiting for the traffic light to change, in elevators, and at other fleeting moments, I may open my wallet, unfold the piece of paper entangled in credit cards and bank slips, and refresh myself by reading the quotations.

On those days when everything else seems to go wrong, I savor these words of Athol Fugard, the South African playwright. ``When I reach the end of a day that has seemed pointless and stupid, I then work through it again, minute by minute, to find out whether even in peripheral vision I saw things that celebrated life.''

We all experience emotional ups and downs in life, but compared with James Boswell, most of us are models of equanimity. Moody and mercurial, he soared on certain days and plumbed the ocean depths when feeling low. I sympathize with his weaknesses and admire his fitful efforts to overcome them.

On my sheet of quotations I treasure this sentence of his: ``How sad will it be if I turn [out] no better than I am.''

In every age, and ours is no exception, there are people who find life tiresome and contemptible. Montaigne knew life to be otherwise, finding it both agreeable and worth prizing. ``Nature has placed it in our hands adorned with such favorable conditions,'' he wrote, ``that we have only ourselves to blame if it weighs on us and if it escapes us unprofitably.''


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