MY TURN: 'Youth' remains 'a state of mind' for young at heart


“Youth,” according to the late General Douglas MacArthur, “is not entirely a time of life ... it is a state of mind. It is not wholly a matter of ripe cheeks, red lips or supple knees ... it is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life. It means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of an appetite for adventure over love of ease.”

The general said: “Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old by deserting their ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up interest wrinkles the soul. Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair – these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust.

“Whatever your years, there is in every being’s heart the love of wonder, the undaunted challenge of events, the unfailing child-like appetite for what is next, and the joy and the game of life. You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.

“In the central place of every heart there is a recording chamber; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer and courage, so long are you young,” MacArthur said. “When the wires are all down and your heart is covered with the snow of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then, and then only, are you grown old.”

Wise words, lucid phrases, beautifully crafted, and ever so true.

The words, which many attributed to MacArthur, were actually those of poet Samuel Ullman, an American businessman, poet and humanitarian whose poem “Youth” was a favorite of the legendary Army general.

The poem reportedly hung on the wall of MacArthur’s office in Tokyo when he became Supreme Allied Commander in Japan following the surrender of the country in 1945. He often quoted from the poem in his speeches, adding to its luster as a literary work of art.

All of us have seen friends, relatives, or acquaintances “age over night” because of some major disappointment or illness. And sometimes the problem which turns a sprightly individual into a suddenly aged lump of coal is not even of catastrophic proportions.

Several weeks ago, I crossed paths with a former newspaper colleague, a man of considerable talent that time has not treated well.

He has experienced professional setbacks and health challenges, but it was apparent after 10 minutes of conversation that an “age-old” bad attitude had consumed him.

Perhaps it has been exacerbated by today’s political polarization fueled by the twin forces of social media and those who are consumed by the hate-filled platform.

Coincidentally, that evening I came across the movie “MacArthur” while searching for a film with a historical flavor. The 1977 movie stars Gregory Peck and traces the sometimes dictatorial and autocratic career of the legendary World War II leader.

MacArthur, of course, was a complex figure, vilified by some and glorified by others. While he possessed an over-sized ego, MacArthur also provided the military with uncommon leadership, according to historians, offering a strong, determined and reassuring voice when the air was heavy with the sound of defeat.

However history has treated MacArthur, there can be little doubt that he was a wordsmith whose stirring farewell before the U.S. Congress in 1951 will never “fade away” from the ranks of memorable speeches.
Such verbal magic is but a distant memory in today’s politically charged society, where eloquence has become a lost art.


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