Live in Day-Tight Compartments

Written by: Victoria


“Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” -Carlyle

Your lives are overcrowded. Let’s face it. It’s often crowded with people—people we’d rather not take our time. It’s crowded with tasks you’ve “got to” complete otherwise you might not remain sane. Yours is a life crowded with abrasive sounds and sights, your senses assaulted by little screens in your pocket and big screens everywhere else. It’s crowded with gossiping friends, neighbors and family members and desires to be something you’re not. It’s crowded with fake friends or loneliness. Or great friends who are off living their great lives, at least according to Facebook! Your life is crowded with fears and hopes—but mostly fears. Does anyone even give a damn about me, you have asked yourself. It’s crowded with many experiences you’d rather not have and desires to have a better time with life though what you have today are things you once hoped for. Your life is so packed to immensity that it’s difficult to focus on the things you love because, somehow, life is devoid of all the things you wish you had. Stop.

Here’s what’s really going on: Your life, my dear, is overcrowded with the future and the past. And it is devoid of today.

Fear not! Somewhere along my search for meaning in my own life, I stumbled across a nugget of wisdom that I carry with me. I implore you to do the same.

Over one-hundred years ago, a man by the same of Sir William Osler, the most celebrated physician of his generation and the organizer of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, came up with a simple philosophy on how to live his life in the simplest, most efficient way possible. He delivered a commencement address to the 1913 graduating class of Yale University. In the address, he told them of how he ‘d been on the Titanic (not the fateful voyage) and  “stood on the bridge of one of the great liners, sailing the ocean at 25 knots.”  He stood on the bridge with the captain and the captain, satisfying Osler’s curiosity, pressed a button. A signal had sounded and all of the water-tight compartments were closed as measure of safety in spite of the Titanic. Each compartment was able to remain safe by shutting out the threat of water on either side and the concept fascinated Osler, altering the course of his life, one must argue, for the better.

In his address to the Yale Students he urged:

Now each one of you is a much more marvelous organization than the great liner, and bound on a longer voyage. What I urge is that you so learn to control the machinery as to live with day-tight compartments as the most certain way to ensure safety on the voyage. Get on the bridge and see that at least the great bulkheads are in working order. Touch a button, and hear at every level of your life the iron doors shutting out the past, the dread yesterdays. Touch another and shut off with a metal curtain the future, the unborn tomorrows. Then you are safe—safe for today. Shut off the past. Let the dead past bury its dead. Shut out the yesterdays which have lighted fools the way to dusty death. The load of tomorrow, added to that of yesterday carried today makes the strongest falter. Shut off the future as tightly as the past. The future is today—there is no tomorrow. The day of man’s salvation is now. Waste of energy, mental distress, nervous worries dog the steps of a man who is anxious about the future. Shut close then the great fore and aft bulkheads and prepare to cultivate the habit of a life of day-tight compartments.

You can’t fix the future’s problems while you live in today. You can’t change the past in today. You can’t go back and do things you wish you had done. And the fears you replay like a movie in your mind have not been ushered to you by time—because your time is now. Today.

My advice to you, as I try to master Osler’s advice myself, is to do the task at hand. Go for something, rather than run from something so that you may do your best work toward a desirable end, whatever that is for you. But make it good! Life is supposed to be good. Start by making today good, too. Again, do you best work, every hour of today whether that means being a friend rather than looking for one. Or pushing yourself to go farther in this day than you have in any other.

And whatever you decide to do as your work, remember that this is a day that you will give to the ages upon your bedtime. You will never see it again, but rest aiming to make the next day your new masterpiece.

Learn from the past, yes. Plan for the future, of course. But shut them out, and the worries they bring, while you live wholly in today. 


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