One-liner

Simplicity can say a lot

The presidential candidates are being urged to "talk about the issues." That is probably good advice. But sometimes "life's one-liners" can do a better job of educating us about the important issues in life.

Frances Hayward, who was an octogenarian when I first met her (she was a member of the church in Boston where I served as minister), had several of these rules of thumb, which I have never forgotten:

If you can't begin in the beginning, begin in the middle.

She meant that whenever you have a good idea, put it into action right away. Don't wait for "a more favorable time." February 9th or June 5th is as good a time to put a resolution into practice as January 1st. Don't wait for next New Year's Day to roll around.

When everything is against you, just quit.

Under many circumstances, this is an improvement on the adage, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." There often comes a point when perseverance and sticking to it are just a waste of time. "Try again" is good advice. "Try, try again" may not be. Knowing when to quit is one of the marks of wisdom.

If the cakes are too hard, put them in milk.

This was a note Miss Hayward put inside a box of cupcakes she had brought over to me when I was a bachelor minister.

Miss Hayward was not poor. (She had her chauffeur deliver the cupcakes to me.) She could have afforded to buy fresh cupcakes.

But she was a New Englander who followed the New Englander's credo "use it up, wear it out, make it do." In this case, I, a transplanted Midwesterner, was to be enlisted to use up the week-old cupcakes. Nothing must go to waste. This was part of character-building.

I recall a time after I had just finished painting the bedroom. The job left something to be desired, but as I stood back to survey my work, I said to myself, "Well, it's better than it was."

That was something my father used to say all the time after he had finished some repair job. I've remembered it all my life.

If we want things to be perfect for us all the time, we are going to be unhappy. But if we can look at our life today and say, "It's better than it was," we have reason to be happy.

The best collection of life's one-liners is "Life's Little Instruction Book," published in 1992 by Rutledge Hill Press. It was written by Jackson Brown for his son who was about to leave for college. The subtitle of the book is "511 Reminders for a Happy and Rewarding Life."

Here are a few of my favorites:

"Compliment three people every day... Don't waste time learning the tricks of the trade. Instead, learn the trade... Let drivers pull in front of you when you are stopped in traffic... Hug children after you discipline them... When someone hugs you, let them be the first to let go.

"Resist the temptation to put a cute message on your answering machine... Never give a loved one a gift that suggests they need improvement... Never give anyone a fruitcake... Send a lot of Valentine's Day cards. Sign them, 'Someone who thinks you're terrific.'"

The only one in this collection that I don't like is "When someone asks how you feel, say 'Terrific never better.'" On this topic I agree with the British cleric Monsignor Ronald Knox, whose one-liner is "Don't be too cheerful."

We sometimes don't realize that telling people how great we feel or how well things are going for us can actually depress those who are not finding it so good.

We ought to cheer people up. But we ought to be aware that telling others how happy we are doesn't necessarily cheer them up. (Copyright 1999 Newspaper Enterprise Assn.)

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