In this episode of Rule Breaker Investing, Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner shares his Harley-Davidson story and lots of investing insight.
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This video was recorded on May 5, 2020.
David Gardner: Every once in a blue moon or a new moon or an old moon or a borrowed moon, I cue up a hodgepodge of points that I want to share, and they're not really related to each other, a hodgepodge. And so, as I've done before on the show, I call it something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. And each of the four main points fits well, even if I have to shoehorn them into that simple format you probably know the expression, don't you? It's what brides traditionally are supposed to wear on their wedding day for good luck; something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
And while I won't be providing this, this podcast, you're also supposed to have a silver sixpence in your shoes. Now, if you want to locate a dime or a quarter and slip it into your shoe for this week's podcast, I think you might have even better luck. So, episode four, something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, only on this week's Rule Breaker Investing.
Welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing. Happy May! Yep, it's the first RBI podcast of the month of May. Happy May. It's May 6th, this comes out, we tend to try to publish somewhere around 4 PM Eastern every Wednesday. I'm sure, if you're a longtime listener, you know that. We always record the day before. So, I'm recording this on Tuesday, May 5th, another good stock market day this particular day.
And last week, of course, was our mailbag episode, and next week I'm not even sure. I was talking about this with my producer Rick Engdahl and he said, sometimes it's good to leave a mystery in place, you know. Typically for Rule Breaker Investing, I have things planned out for the next six or seven, but I've got a few empty slots. Now, I don't think that's because we're at a loss for subject, there are so many interesting things to talk about and I hope at least 10 or 15 of our 52 weekly podcasts would be of interest to you, but I'm always on the hunt for new things to discover, new things to share. But any time I do a something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue podcast, it probably means I'm in a more reflective state of mind. This is the fourth time I've done this series, you could probably google and find the previous three times, if you want to hear any of the past ones. I enjoyed doing each of them.
You know, something old for me is typically something that we've already covered before, something that I feel like you or I should know. One of these so-called eternal verities usually is something old. Something new is, well, just that. Something borrowed; typically, something that I've learned from somebody else. And then something blue. Well blue has many different meanings. It's a powerful word in addition to one of my favorite colors and so I try to make it a different shade of blue each time.
So, without further ado I say we get started. Now, we start with something old.
One of the better bits of advice I ever got prior to doing some of my first speeches, public statements, maybe my brother Tom, our CEO, my brother Tom Gardner and I were maybe on a paid speech somewhere and we were in our twenties and didn't have deep experience doing public speaking at the time. And I remember one of the best bits of advice I ever got was from the book I Can See You Naked, an excellent book by Ron Hoff, a long-time, kind of, speech coach and author about speeches.
By the way, the idea of I Can See You Naked is that that's what you're supposed to think when you're standing there at the lectern or up on stage in front of people. It should give you some confidence and make you maybe chuckle a little bit that everybody is naked in the audience as they're watching you. And I think Ron Hoff's point is that you often feel naked yourself in front of an audience, so if you just flip that and reverse it, it can start to give you some of the self-confidence maybe to present, especially if you have some stage fright early on to your audiences. So, that's the reason behind the title of the book, as I recall.
But I remember one of things Ron said is, one of the best ways to enter a speech and just create comfort for yourself; and maybe in this case, one of the best ways to enter a podcast and start-off your first point in a weekly podcast is to share something you're very familiar with, maybe a story or two that's really easy for you to tell. So, you kind of dip your toe in, the water is fine, you overcome any stage fright, you're happy ultimately to hop into the pool and play with your audience, because well you toe-dipped, you did something that was kind of easy.
And so, for this week's something old I wanted simply to tell one of my favorite stories, one that I've told any number of times at speeches over the years. I don't think I've rocked it, necessarily, on this podcast, so this might be a first. We started in July 2015. So, here I am maybe telling the story for the first time in May of 2020, about five years later, but it's my Harley-Davidson story. And there's a little bit of fiction in the story, which I'll outline at the end; perhaps there's a little bit of fiction in any really good story. I hope this is a good enough story to give me license to have a little fiction in it, but let me just first tell the story before talking too much about it. So, here's the story.
My brother Tom Gardner and I were in a local watering hole near Fool HQ in Alexandria, Virginia; this is now years ago, it was the late-1990s. And wandering into the pub, at the end of the day, was a tall man, maybe six-foot-five, middle age, dressed from head to foot in leather, not the sort of fellow who would normally walk into the pub that we were enjoying ourselves at, and he sat down next to us and we got to talking with him. And so, he turned to us and he said, well, do you guys do? And we said, well, we started a company called The Motley Fool, so we are all about the stock market. Especially in the late-1990s that's really how The Motley Fool started. These days we're doing a lot more besides just the stock market, although it remains probably my greatest affection in business, picking stocks, but we said to him, we love the stock market and we're Fools and we explained our name a little bit, and he said, oh, OK, so the stock market.
He said, well, let me tell you what I do. I'm a Harley guy. I don't actually live in your city, I'm just passing through on my Harley because it's Memorial Day weekend. And sure enough, that is true, in Washington DC we see people bombing in on their motorcycles, usually big gangs of people coming into the nation's capital thinking about prisoners of war and veterans. So, the POW, MIA, and it's a long-standing tradition. Lots and lots of people, often on Harleys, coming into town. So, he said, I'm a Harley guy and that's why I'm here today.
And he said, but you guys are mentioning the stock market, and so I think the stock market is a great big gambling machine. Can I tell you my stock market story? We said, sure. He said, OK, well the year was 1987. And I heard the stock market had just crashed that Fall. So, I had $5,000 saved at the time and I decided I'd put it in the stock market. So, I found a broker and he put me in a stock that was at $5 a share. So, 1,000 shares of a stock at $5 a share. And I think we asked him what the company did. He said, well, I don't remember that well. I still keep up with it a little bit, but maybe breakfast restaurants in the Southeast, something like that. And then he said, now, do you guys know the pink sheets? And we do know the pink sheets, and perhaps, you dear listener, know the pink sheets as well.
That's probably a bad turn in the conversation, because the pink sheets, those are stocks that don't have the listing requirements to be listed with the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange. These are typically going to be penny stocks, they're going to be microcap companies, they haven't really earned the right to have a ticker symbol up on the big board. And so, here's our Harley friend saying, do you guys know the pink sheets when he's talking about his stock that he bought in 1987. Keep in mind it's about 10 or 15 years later we're having this conversation with him.
So, he said, I still follow the stock, it's in the pink sheets, but it's gone from $5 a share where I bought it down to $0.25 a share, said the Harley guy. And so, my $5,000 now is like $250; and so, that's why I've learned, he concluded, that the stock market is a great big gambling machine.
Well, as I've often told the story, I have my brother Tom leaning forward going, "So did you think of buying Harley-Davidson?" He said to the Harley guy, and the guy said, no. And we said, well, it's a public company. He said, what's that? We said, well, it means you, as a member of the general public can become a part owner through the stock market, in this case Harley-Davidson.
So, let's reflect on that for a minute. Here was a guy who every day was riding a Harley, surrounded by other people who were themselves riding Harleys and yet when it came to putting his savings at the time, $5,000, into the market, he gave it to somebody, probably a penny stock broker he didn't really know, who probably didn't have his best interests in mind, ends up in a single stock and over the course of 10 or 15 years that stock loses most of its value. And so, we can understand why the Harley guy might think it's a great big gambling machine, because when you play the game that way, I guess, it really is.
And yet the great irony, of course, was that the Harley guy didn't buy Harley-Davidson. Well, we went back and checked the numbers, and over that period of time, I think it was 1987. Again, late-1987 to the year 2000, when we had this conversation 20 years ago, Harley-Davidson was up 100X in value. So, if our new friend that day had bought what he knew, what he loved, what in many ways was an expression of himself, that $5,000 would have been worth $500,000, instead of $250 if he just bought what he loved.
Well, to my regular podcast listeners, I don't think I have to underline too much the lessons of that story, certainly to a general audience it's helpful to point out that the stock market is just a great place to have your money over a 13-year period anyway, but especially when you think about how to make your portfolio reflect your best vision for our future, it seems to me that that $5,000 is best invested in the things that you and I know the best, really believe in, as I said earlier, in some ways is a natural extension of ourselves, not instead put into a single stock that isn't a very good company by somebody who is probably just paid to get you to transact. So, I think those lessons are fairly self-evident to my Rule Breaker Investing listeners.
I mentioned at the top that there's a little bit of fabrication in that story, and sure enough there is, this was just my brother Tom's experience, I was not actually there that day. But since we got to telling the story together over the years it didn't make sense to explain that Tom was there and Dave wasn't, so we've kind of pasted me into that one, but this is 100% Tom's experience, although we both went back later and checked the numbers and we've been telling the story ever since, so people can learn the lesson.
Again, I think you, probably, as a fellow Fool, this lesson is probably self-evident to you. But in my experience, whether it's the Harley guy, where so many of his or her ilk, so many people, not just in this nation but worldwide, so many people think that the stock market is a great big gambling machine, or even if it isn't just a gambling machine they think it's so complicated that it would be hard to figure out how to get started. I'm happy to say during this COVID-19 era, I've probably gotten more notes from friends and casual acquaintances asking me, "I think this is a good time, I really want to get invested, how do I start?" And I've dropped them an email back with a few resources and links to how to set up a brokerage account. I do note our sponsor this week is TD Ameritrade, that's a great way to start investing. With TD Ameritrade or Schwab or many other brokers these days. And you can do it online. And if you're a younger person, there are apps these days. And most of the trading these days is free and you can even increasingly buy fractional shares, meaning that the actual amount of money you have, it doesn't even matter. You can start with small amounts investing today. So, I've tried to share these resources with friends.
And I know that if that many people are asking me how to get started, I bet at least a few people are asking you. And I hope if you are asked that question this May of 2020, that you'll convey to people the Harley guy and the Harley story, because it's a timeless story, it's an evergreen story that's a universal story about making sure that you and I have our money not just where our mouths are but where our lives are.
Alright, well, something new.
I love new things, and for this particular episode of something new, I think I'm just going to keep it simple. I do remember last time we did this series, it was November of 2019 and I introduced some of my favorite new books, boardgames, video games, streaming shows and apps, and that's fun to do from time-to-time but I don't think I have enough new ones over the last six months to build up a good point here. So, I think I'll just keep it simple by saying that the earlier you find something new that's good, the earlier you can buy it. And most of all, of course, I'm thinking about the stock market. So, I'm celebrating the eternal quest for the new.
If you're a member of the so-called cult of the new, and I include myself in that cult, this point is your friend. Now, I will say, as somebody who probably is distracted by new things more than the average Fool, I will say that there's a downside to this. I have a real tendency as a person to start things and often not finish them, and I do regret many times thinking back in life things that I started and didn't finish. You don't regret that every time because sometimes it's good to abandon something that's failing or not working, but really it is true, I have to reflect back on my own life that many a time, I as somebody who gets distracted by cool new things, haven't really finished out with the old thing, that's why I think I like starting with something old whenever we do this series.
But there is a benefit to being on the hunt for the new. And especially as a stock market investor I hope you recognize this, because typically if you're finding a tiger and catching it by the tail, and a tiger, I mean here, in the best sense. If you're finding a rocket, if you're finding a Rule Breaker, the earlier you can find that thing, most often the lower is your cost basis, and the lower is your cost basis, the more multi-baggers you're going to score on that stock, the earlier you're going to earn your first spiffy-pop off of that stock.
So, I do think that is worth celebrating the new. I think intellectual curiosity, whatever it is that causes some people to be fascinated by new things or to be seeking them out all the time, and I wish I were that type of person, I can't claim that I am somebody who is deeply invested in always going to new countries trying new foods, new, new, new. It's more that I look for new stocks or sometimes new products and that helps me, but if you're one of those people who's always seeking out the new, you are a wonderful resource to those around you. And I think your intellectual curiosity is its own reward.
But again, mapping that back to investing, I have a real interest on behalf of all of my members, Motley Fool members, Stock Advisor members, Rule Breaker members, I have a real vested interest in you and me finding companies as early as possible. And so, I regularly do take a small amount of pride when a stock that we discovered years ago is only just now being recommended by a Wall Street firm or highlighted by a financial television show or played up on an investor blog. My goal is to get you to those companies as early as possible because even if some of them fail, and fail they will, some of them, nevertheless, the ones that we find earliest can score us such big gains that we tend to forget all the rest of those failures.
And so, as I close up this short simple point, something new, I'm just here to say, it's as much a way, a path, a way of life as anything else, always thinking about what's new, being interested, asking questions, seeking it out. It will really benefit you not just in life but, of course, as an investor. Alright, well, something old and something new. Check, check.
Alright, and now to something borrowed. Well, I've had an occasion to refer to this book from time-to-time over the years, but I'm not sure I've ever really pulled a few pages from it or a framework, which is what I'm about to do with On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis. Now, Bennis, the celebrated author of many books about leadership, most of them in the 20th century, but he did live into the 21st, so he wrote a few in this century as well. But the one that has made the biggest impression on me was his book On Becoming a Leader.
And in particular, in that book, he talks about the four lessons of self-knowledge. We're of course all on a quest to know thyself. My recollection from my undergraduate studies is, that was what was scrawled on the Greek Oracle at Delphi, scrawled kind of graffiti on the side of the temple or maybe it was indoors, but anyway, know thyself and it's a lifetime quest. We keep peeling back layers and finding that we're deeper than we thought we were and oftentimes it's connected to how we were raised as a child or the peers who are influencing us today.
And of course, since we keep changing the act of trying to truly know something, that's always dynamic and always a changing system is itself its own challenge, but a worthy one.
And in fact, in his chapter, chapter three of the book, which is entitled Knowing Yourself, Bennis quotes William James as the epigraph and I'll share that, James' line, this is a great one, James wrote, "I've often thought that the best way to define a man's character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside ... " James writes, " ... which speaks and says this is the real me."
So, yeah, it starts with self-knowledge and maybe it ends with self-knowledge. There are four lessons of self-knowledge that Bennis shares, and I'm just going to do a quick summary of each right now.
And lesson No. 1 is that you are your own best teacher. It's powerful and important to remember that and to think that to adopt that, that mode or mentality. Now, I can't say that if I were 10 years old or 13 years old, I could necessarily say I'm my own best teacher, I'm pretty sure I had better teachers back in fifth grade. But now I'm an adult, and most of the people listening to me right now, although for those who aren't, "Hey, kids!" But most of the rest of us are adults. So, once you've graduated from the school where someone paid tuition through to the school of life, sure enough, I think it's very persuasive to me that I am my own best teacher and you are your own, as Warren Bennis writes, best teacher.
You know yourself better than any other teacher at this point in life and you should know your gaps and your weaknesses and you should be constantly pursuing what's your next book to read, what's your next person to meet, what's your next conversation to have or lesson to learn. Somebody who I've got to know as a new friend in recent years told me, 12 or 13 years ago he was at a point in his life where he had just gone through a divorce and especially at that time he said, who am I? And one of the things this friend of mine decided to do was to teach himself something new every three months. And the aim was not to ever become an expert, it was to start with absolutely no knowledge at all and just pick something up, let's say, woodworking, and go to the point where he went from knowing nothing to being a novice. And so, this friend of mine discovered, in part, who he was by becoming a learning machine. And while he may not have kept up his woodworking from one year to the next, he knew enough to have learned not just about woodworking and be conversant with other people who are experts at it, but he knew enough to know more about himself as a consequence of being a woodworker. So, this friend of mine has just continued to augment who and what he is by being his own best teacher.
In fact, in this lesson one in his book Bennis, quotes Gib Akin, a Professor at the McIntire School of Commerce at University of Virginia at the time, and Akin is quoted as saying, "Learning is experienced as a personal transformation." So, Akin is reminding us, it's not just some kind of book learning or a lesson that you're getting where you're going to need to memorize some dates and spit it back out on a test. Nope, learning as experienced as a personal transformation.
Akin goes on, "A person does not gather learnings as possessions, but rather becomes a new person. To learn is not to have, it is to be." Lesson one.
Lesson two from Bennis. Accept responsibility, blame no one. And boy! Of these four, this is maybe the one that speaks to me, perhaps to you, most powerfully. You know, if you go through life looking backward, blaming somebody or something, it might be personal or it might just be circumstance, if you go through your life looking backwards blaming something, it's going to be awfully hard to truly move forward. And so, while it's easy to say, it's another thing to do. If you and I can do a better job accepting responsibility, blame no one. I love the forthright and almost dramatic air to those last three words, "blame no one." What a powerful place to go from.
You know, I make bad stock picks all the time, about half of the stock picks that I've made in Stock Advisor and Rule Breakers failed to beat the market. The good news is, the other half does, [laughs] and they do well enough that they wipe out the bad ones, as I've often talked about. But I try to blame no one when I make a bad pick. Sometimes it's a teammate's pick and I've selected it for Rule Breakers, but you know, I take that responsibility on myself. I made that selection.
I have five teammates on Rule Breakers, they present their best ideas, I'm one of those, every month and I decide, well, which one do I want to go with, I take ownership of every one of them. You know, one of my favorite things that I ever heard about coach Dean Smith, the longtime basketball coach, the Hall of Famer from the University of North Carolina -- it was often said that whenever the team lost, postgame press conference, he would blame himself, and whenever the team won, he would credit the players. I think that's a great position to be coming from. I see that in a lot of other coaches today and I'm not just talking about sports.
I think that the more that you and I can get in the habit of accepting responsibility and blaming no one, it's not that the people who weren't blamed are helped, it's that you and I are probably helped most of all by that improvement in our character.
Alright. Bennis' lesson No. 3 for lessons of self-knowledge. This one is, you can learn anything you want to learn. And I really love this point, because as somebody who just studied English as an undergraduate, here I am sometimes picking biotechnology stocks or stocks working abroad to countries I've never been to, or in areas of the economy or industry that I have very little familiarity with, but I do have confidence that I can read and I can learn. Not ever learn enough to be an expert for any one company, perhaps, but learn enough about it to feel confident that I have pattern recognition, that I could see this company succeeding, I could see it beating the market, whether it's in my own back doors or half a world away at the antipathies of the earth, you can learn anything that you want to learn.
It's not just that you can learn anything, Bennis writes, it's anything you want to learn. So, a lot of it comes down to what do you want to do? In this chapter he quotes an expert on learning Marty Kaplan. Marty Kaplan says, "I would add a component to this, which is, the appetite to have experience because people can be experience averse and therefore not learn. So, unless you have the appetite to absorb new and potentially unsettling things ... " Kaplan says. " ... you don't learn." So, part of it is temperament. He concludes, "It's a kind of fearlessness and optimism and confidence, and you're not afraid of failure." So, I like those words for Marty Kaplan as well. And I hope this point is persuasive to you, I bet it is to many of my fellow Rule Breakers, you really can learn anything you want to learn.
And finally lesson of self-knowledge No. 4. True understanding comes from reflecting on your experience. Well, in a lot of ways that's what I think I'm doing in this week's podcast, or that I try to do in every week's podcast. Anytime we pick stocks, whether I'm picking them as a Five-Stock Sampler on Rule Breaker Investing or you're buying a stock from one of our services or something you found yourself one year ago or 10 years ago, I hope you're putting aside some time to reflect on that experience.
In fact, in the chapter, I think, Bennis probably goes on most about this particular point. He talks about the importance of reflecting, but I'm just, in closing, going to quote one paragraph from him about this. He says, "Reflecting on experience is a means of having a Socratic dialogue with yourself, asking the right questions at the right time in order to discover the truth of yourself and your life. What really happened, and why did it happen, and what did it do to me, what did it mean to me? In this way one locates and appropriates the knowledge one needs, or more precisely, recovers what one knew but had forgotten, and becomes in Kurtz's phrase ... " as Bennis concludes, " ... the hammer rather than the anvil." Isn't that what you want to be in this world? I think that's what the best people I know are, they are the hammers, they're not the anvils. They are the actors, they are those with self-knowledge that proceed forward with the understanding that they can learn anything they want to learn, that deep experience is important, don't blame anybody and be your own best teacher, especially once we leave school and there's no more defined curriculum anymore, you and I have to come up with our own syllabus.
And as Bennis reminds us in conclusion, making the time to reflect on what we've learned is probably the best way to learn of all.
And so, there you have it, four lessons of self-knowledge, something borrowed, on this episode: you are your own best teacher, accept responsibility, blame no one, you can learn anything you want to learn, and true understanding comes from reflecting on your experience.
And finally, to conclude, something blue.
Well, I've been blue lately, I bet you have too, I have been reflecting a lot on blue and I started to write something to myself this week and I figured I might as well just share it. So, here we go, something blue. You know, with 254,430 deaths attributed to COVID-19 worldwide right now, that figure just pulled from a Bloomberg COVID-tracking website, with numbers updated within the past hour of my recording today on May 5th of 2020, it's fair to say that many of us, if not all of us, now know someone, in some cases many people perhaps, whose life was cut short by this pandemic. It might be someone very dearly departed, a family member or a friend, it might be someone that you simply admired, even if you've never met.
In my case, one of my favorite American musicals, kind of a definitively American musical, Ragtime. Well, Terrence McNally wrote the musical book, he won the Tony Award for it in the late-1990s. Heck! He won five Tonys in total. What a talent and what accomplishment; gone, COVID-19.
Or how about Floyd Cardoz, one of Danny Meyer's master chef? Danny Meyer Founder of Union Square Hospitality Group. Danny was on this podcast a few years ago. In fact, the date was November 16th, 2016, you can google "Rule Breaker Investing, Danny Meyer" and you'll find our talk on The Power Of Hospitality. Floyd was a good friend to Danny, a business partner, a master chef at his restaurants. "Love you so much @floydcardoz," Danny tweeted.
But with this reflection on blue, I don't want to speak about the loss of life; that's all around us, that's yesterday's story and it's today's story and it's likely tomorrow's COVID story too for a while, we know. But I wanted, instead, to speak about something even more broadly felt perhaps than the loss of life, and that is the loss of celebration. Because how many kids don't have the climactic, conclusive, celebratory, earned graduation this year? And how many couples have canceled, well, postponed I hope, their wedding? And how many anniversaries are being toasted privately in a den instead of maybe equally privately, but maybe on a boat to someplace great somewhere?
And even though we can still celebrate and we do still celebrate, those things whose time has come that we esteem, that we cannot not acknowledge and celebrate, even though we can still celebrate; in how many cases is the celebration more modest, perhaps far more restrained than we had hoped for, then we dreamed of?
I heard the other day from a friend about a wedding that proceeded because the couple insisted on it, it was right for their love and their time, but because she insisted on it, along with her white bridal dress the soon-to-be-wife walked down the aisle with a white mask, which itself isn't that big a deal in the end, the right of marriage far outshines, I hope, any cosmetic details, and yet, it's just not the same. And when "same" itself is a word included in a rhetorical question asked a thousand times a day in headlines and social media -- will things ever be the same, what is the new normal, everything has changed, rings a familiar chorus. We're all left with a situation where one cannot predict with confidence how 2025 will differ from 2015, that's truly these days a fool's errant.
So, I just want to say in closing that blue -- I just wanted to maybe mourn a bit for all of us. How many of us have lost some deserved, earned celebration last month, this month, next month? I have some dear friends graduating this year, I bet you do too, younger people in my life, they don't deserve this cancellation, this cessation, this delay in their celebrations. People of all ages though, it's not just young people, with my wife, we just cancelled our travel plans for our 30th wedding anniversary trip this summer. Maybe next time, Japan.
Years from now, each of us is going to have stories to tell mostly of loss and the symmetrical number, 2020, will forever be stamped with power in the same way that 911 ends up looking like 9-1-1 for our society and our way of life back then, 9/11, 9-1-1 to the history books, and so too it will be the same for 2020, perhaps with irony. In that, even with all the technology and our data analytics seemingly giving us 20/20 vision, we still didn't sufficiently see this coming.
But I do hope and believe to that this year you and I, and in particular, all of the classes of 2020, and there's so many graduates of the class of 2020, kids to adults, in a sense we are all the class of 2020 but here in particular, I'm speaking just to the literal student graduates. I'm thinking and believing very specifically that when you do, with your classmates, truly have a chance to gather and celebrate the graduations that you have earned for yourself, that you deserve richly, that you and the rest of the classes of 2020 will have an appreciation of what it means to graduate, to complete something, to get accepted, enroll, work hard, succeed, fail, grow, morph, become the butterfly that you're becoming, that you and your class, more than any I can think of in my lifetime, 53 years and counting, that you and your class will be able to teach and to remind the rest of us of the importance, the need, the beauty of celebration.
As Samwise Gamgee said once to Frodo Baggins, "In the end, it's only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer." But in the meantime, we are reminded during this blue time that as Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote of his poetic subject a young child named Margaret that "It was the plight man was born for, it is Margaret you mourn for." In other words, ultimately, as we grow and live and learn our way through this world, our mortality ever is the backdrop to what we're doing on stage. And particularly, as we age, we can better and better appreciate that.
In fact, why wouldn't I just end this week's podcast with Hopkins' poem Spring and Fall, which I remember first reading in my own undergraduate days. It's a short poem written to a young child, who initially mourns the passing of Spring, but as Hopkins expertly conveys, in a sense, is the morning we must all recognize, is our mortal plight. And yet it is this ephemeral state of our life, finite years, even including a black swan year like 2020, that gives life its meaning. And that is in part it's finitude and its brevity.
Spring and Fall, by Gerard Manley Hopkins:
to a young child
Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow's spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.