June 18, 2012
Sing your death song
I've been preoccupied with a poem, an excerpt of which was in a movie on a recent flight. It is reportedly from Tecumseh, a native american warrior/leader, but that is a matter of some dispute. Anyway, here it is, slightly abridged (though various copies abound, all a little different):
So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.
Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.
Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.
Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place.
Show respect to all people and bow to none.
When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the food and for the joy of living.
If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself.
Abuse no one and nothing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death,
so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.
Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.
-- Chief Tecumseh
After some googling around, Tecumseh's last words are reported to be: "One of my legs is shot off! But leave me one or two guns loaded; I am going to have a last shot. Be quick and go!" Account given by Andrew J. Blackbird (Mack-e-te-be-nessy) of the Ottawa, of the last words declared by Tecumseh to his fellow warriors, as he lay on the ground after being severely wounded by a musket ball in the leg, and prior to being swarmed over by many U.S. troops.
Regardless of whether or not he wrote the poem, it would appear when it came his time to die that he sang his noble death song and died like a hero going home.
February 14, 2011
John Blanchard stood up from the bench, straightened his Army uniform, and studied the crowd of people making their way through Grand Central Station. He looked for the girl whose heart he knew, but whose face he didn't, the girl with the rose. His interest in her had begun thirteen months before in a Florida library. Taking a book off the shelf he found himself intrigued, not with the words of the book, but with the notes penciled in the margin. The soft handwriting reflected a thoughtful soul and insightful mind.
In the front of the book, he discovered the previous owner's name, Miss Hollis Maynell. With time and effort he located her address. She lived in New York City. He wrote her a letter introducing himself and inviting her to correspond. The next day he was shipped overseas for service in World War II.
During the next year and one-month the two grew to know each other through the mail. Each letter was a seed falling on a fertile heart. A Romance was budding. Blanchard requested a photograph, but she refused. She felt that if he really cared, it wouldn't matter what she looked like.
When the day finally came for him to return from Europe, they scheduled their first meeting - 7:00 PM at the Grand Central Station in New York. "You'll recognize me," she wrote, "by the red rose I'll be wearing on my lapel." So at 7:00 he was in the station looking for a girl whose heart he loved, but whose face he'd never seen.
I'll let Mr. Blanchard tell you what happened: A young woman was coming toward me, her figure long and slim. Her blonde hair lay back in curls from her delicate ears; her eyes were blue as flowers. Her lips and chin had a gentle firmness, and in her pale green suit she was like springtime come alive. I started toward her, entirely forgetting to notice that she was not wearing a rose. As I moved, a small, provocative smile curved her lips. "Going my way, sailor?" she murmured.
Almost uncontrollably I made one step closer to her, and then I saw Hollis Maynell. She was standing almost directly behind the girl. A woman well past 40, she had graying hair tucked under a worn hat. She was more than plump, her thick-ankled feet thrust into low-heeled shoes. The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away. I felt as though I was split in two, so keen was my desire to follow her, and yet so deep was my longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned me and upheld my own.
And there she stood. Her pale, plump face was gentle and sensible, her gray eyes had a warm and kindly twinkle. I did not hesitate. My fingers gripped the small worn blue leather copy of the book that was to identify me to her. This would not be love, but it would be something precious, something perhaps even better than love, a friendship for which I had been and must ever be grateful.
I squared my shoulders and saluted and held out the book to the woman, even though while I spoke I felt choked by the bitterness of my disappointment. "I'm Lieutenant John Blanchard, and you must be Miss Maynell. I am so glad you could meet me; may I take you to dinner?"
The woman's face broadened into a tolerant smile. "I don't know what this is about, son," she answered, "but the young lady in the green suit who just went by, she begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said if you were to ask me out to dinner, I should go and tell you that she is waiting for you in the big restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of test!"
It's not difficult to understand and admire Miss Maynell's wisdom. The true nature of a heart is seen in its response to the unattractive.
"Tell me whom you love," Houssaye wrote, "And I will tell you who you are."
-- S. I. Kishor, Collier's Magazine, 1943.
February 12, 2011
The Devil and Billy Markham (Redux)
THE DEVIL AND BILLY MARKHAM (REDUX)
The Devil walked into Starbucks on a rainy Silicon Valley night
While the lost souls sat and sipped their drinks in the compact florescent light.
And the Devil, he looked around the room, then got down on his knees.
He says, "Is there one of you entrepreneurs who'll roll the dice with me?"
Larry, he just taps on his Android, pretending not to see.
And Bill, he just looks away and takes another sip of tea.
Mark, he says, "Not me, I'll pass, I've had my share of Hell,"
And kept typing on his MacBook, some business plan he was sure would sell.
Steve just kept whisperin' to the cute Stanford MBA who clutched at his sleeve,
And somebody coughed -- and the Devil scoffed -- and turned on his heel to leave.
"Hold on," says a voice from the back of the room. "'fore you walk out that door.
If you're lookin' for some action, friend, well, I've rolled some dice before."
And there stood Billy Markham, he'd been on the scene for years,
Creating startups with pitches that the venture capitalists didn't want to hear.
He'd filed Chapters 7 and 11 countless times, and his eyes were wise and sad,
And all his visions were too far ahead, and all his luck was bad.
"I know you," says Billy Markham, "from many a dark and funky place,
But you always spoke in a different voice and wore a different face.
While me, I've gambled here on Sand Hill Road with hustlers and with whores,
And, Hell, I ain't afraid to roll them devilish dice of yours."
"Well, then, get down," says the Devil, "just as if you was gonna pray,
And take these dice in your luckless hand and I'll tell you how this game is played.
You get one roll -- and you bet your soul -- and if you roll thirteen you win,
And all the MnA's and IPO's are yours to touch and spend.
But if that thirteen don't come up, then kiss your ass goodbye
And will your useless bones to God, 'cause your goddamn soul is mine!"
"Thirteen?" says Billy Markham. "Hell, I've played in tougher games.
I've loved unfunded startups and rode on wheelless trains.
So gimme room, you stinkin' fiend, and let it all unwind.
Nobody's ever rolled a thirteen yet, but this just might be the time."
Then Billy Markham, he takes the dice, and the dice feel as heavy as stones.
"They should, they should" the Devil says, "'they're carved from Steve Jobs' bones."
And Billy Markham turns the dice and the dice, they have no spots.
"I'm sorry," says the Devil, "but they're the only dice I got."
"Well, shit," says Billy Markham. "Now, I really don't mean to bitch,
But I never thought I'd stake my roll in a sucker's game like this."
"Well, then, walk off," says the Devil. "Nobody's tied you down."
"Walk off where?" says Billy Markham. "It's the only term sheet in town.
But I just wanna say 'fore I make my play, that if I should chance to lose,
I will this ultrabook to some entrepreneur who'll start something we all can use,
Who ain't afraid to pitch with terms like damn or shit or fuck
And who ain't afraid to bet on common stock to makes his bucks.
But if he starts some piece of crap, and pumps it up with sugary lies,
I'll haunt him till we meet in Hell -- now, gimme them fuckin' dice."
And Billy Markham shakes the dice and yells, "Come on, thirteen!"
And the dice, they roll -- and they come up blank. "You lose!" the Devil screams.
"But I really must say 'fore we go our way that I really do like your style.
Of all the fools I've played and beat, you're the first one who lost with a smile."
"Well, I'll tell you somethin'," Billy Markham says. "Those odds weren't too damn bad.
In fourteen years of starting companies, that's the best damn chance I've had."
Then, arm in arm, Billy Markham and the Devil walk out through Starbucks door,
Leavin' Billy's beat-up notebook there on the floor.
And if you go into that cafe now, you can see it laying mute
on a shelf, in a corner, the Devil's forgotten loot
Billy Markham's old computer. . .
That nobody dares to boot.
(a parody of Shel Silverstein's most excellent poem, The Devil and Billy Markham. Updated 1/14/12).