- Joined Mar 3, 2005
Truly brilliant article taken from Wall Street Journal.
The following essay was written by Edmund N.Carpenter, age 17, in June 1938 while he was a student inLawrenceville, N.J. Carpenter would go on to win the Bronze Star forhis service in World War II and to a civilian career as an attorney. Agraduate of Harvard Law School, he became president of Richards, Layton& Finger, a law firm. He died on Dec. 19, 2008 at age 87 and issurvived by six children and 15 grandchildren:
It may seem very strange to the reader that one of my tender ageshould already be thinking about that inevitable end to which even thepaths of glory lead. However, this essay is not really concerned withdeath, but rather with life, my future life. I have set down here thethings which I, at this age, believe essential to happiness andcomplete enjoyment of life. Some of them will doubtless seem very oddto the reader; others will perhaps be completely in accord with his ownwishes. At any rate, they compose a synopsis of the things which Isincerely desire to have done before I leave this world and pass on tothe life hereafter or to oblivion.
Before I die I want to know that I have done something truly great,that I have accomplished some glorious achievement the credit for whichbelongs solely to me. I do not aspire to become as famous as a Napoleonand conquer many nations; but I do want, almost above all else, to feelthat I have been an addition to this world of ours. I should like theworld, or at least my native land, to be proud of me and to sit up andtake notice when my name is pronounced and say, "There is a man who hasdone a great thing." I do not want to have passed through life as justanother speck of humanity, just another cog in a tremendous machine. Iwant to be something greater, far greater than that. My desire is notso much for immortality as for distinction while I am alive. When Ileave this world, I want to know that my life has not been in vain, butthat I have, in the course of my existence, done something of which Iam rightfully very proud.
Before I die I want to know that during my life I have brought greathappiness to others. Friendship, we all agree, is one of the bestthings in the world, and I want to have many friends. But I could neverdie fully contented unless I knew that those with whom I had beenintimate had gained real happiness from their friendship with me.Moreover, I feel there is a really sincere pleasure to be found inpleasing others, a kind of pleasure that can not be gained fromanything else. We all want much happiness in our lives, and giving itto others is one of the surest ways to achieve it for ourselves.
Before I die I want to have visited a large portion of the globe andto have actually lived with several foreign races in their ownenvironment. By traveling in countries other than my own I hope tobroaden and improve my outlook on life so that I can get a deeper, andmore complete satisfaction from living. By mixing the weightyphilosophy of China with the hard practicalism of America, I hope tomake my life fuller. By blending the rigid discipline of Germany withthe great liberty in our own nation I hope to more completely enjoy myyears on this earth. These are but two examples of the many thingswhich I expect to achieve by traveling and thus have a greaterappreciation of life.
Before I die there is another great desire I must fulfill, and thatis to have felt a truly great love. At my young age I know that love,other than some filial affection, is probably far beyond my ken. Yet,young as I may be, I believe I have had enough inkling of the subjectto know that he who has not loved has not really lived. Nor will I feelmy life is complete until I have actually experienced that burningflame and know that I am at last in love, truly in love. I want to feelthat my whole heart and soul are set on one girl whom I wish to be aperfect angel in my eyes. I want to feel a love that will far surpassany other emotion that I have ever felt. I know that when I am at lastreally in love then I will start living a different, better life,filled with new pleasures that I never knew existed.
Before I die I want to feel a greatsorrow. This, perhaps, of all my wishes will seem the strangest to thereader. Yet, is it unusual that I should wish to have had a completelife? I want to have lived fully, and certainly sorrow is a part oflife. It is my belief that, as in the case of love, no man has liveduntil he has felt sorrow. It molds us and teaches us that there is afar deeper significance to life than might be supposed if one passedthrough this world forever happy and carefree. Moreover, once the pangsof sorrow have slackened, for I do not believe it to be a permanentemotion, its dregs often leave us a better knowledge of this world ofours and a better understanding of humanity. Yes, strange as it mayseem, I really want to feel a great sorrow.
With this last wish I complete the synopsis of the things I want todo before I die. Irrational as they may seem to the reader,nevertheless they comprise a sincere summary of what I truthfully nowbelieve to be the things most essential to a fully satisfactory andhappy life. As I stand here on the threshold of my future, these arethe things which to me seem the most valuable. Perhaps in fifty years Iwill think that they are extremely silly. Perhaps I will wonder, forinstance, why I did not include a wish for continued happiness. Yet,right now, I do not desire my life to be a bed of roses. I want it tobe something much more than that. I want it to be a truly greatadventure, never dull, always exciting and engrossing; not sicklysweet, yet not unhappy. And I believe it will be all I wish if I dothese things before I die.
As for death itself, I do not believe that it will be such adisagreeable thing providing my life has been successful. I have alwaysconsidered life and death as two cups of wine. Of the first cup,containing the wine of life, we can learn a little from literature andfrom those who have drunk it, but only a little. In order to get thefull flavor we must drink deeply of it for ourselves. I believe thatafter I have quaffed the cup containing the wine of life, emptied it toits last dregs, then I will not fear to turn to that other cup, the onewhose contents can be designated only by X, an unknown, and a thingabout which we can gain no knowledge at all until we drink forourselves. Will it be sweet, or sour, or tasteless? Who can tell?Surely none of us like to think of death as the end of everything. Yetis it? That is a question that for all of us will one day be answeredwhen we, having witnessed the drama of life, come to the final curtain.Probably we will all regret to leave this world, yet I believe thatafter I have drained the first cup, and have possibly grown a bit wearyof its flavor, I will then turn not unwillingly to the second cup andto the new and thrilling experience of exploring the unknown.
No cliffs, just read it.