What do I believe? What laws do I live by? There are so many answers - work, beauty, truth, love - and I hope I do live by them.
But in everyday things I live by the light of a supplementary set of laws. I'd better call them rules of thumb. Rules of thumb aren't very grand, but they do make the wheels go round.
My father and mother sent me to good schools, but the finest thing they did for my education was to have seven children. I was the oldest, and my brothers and sisters were my best teachers.
I learned first to pull my own weight in the boat. Kids making a bob-sled have no use for the loafer who wants a free ride. Neither has the world. I learned to make the bed I slept in, and wash the glass I used, and mend what I broke, and mop up where I spilled. And if I was too lazy or too dainty or too busy, and left it for someone else, somebody else soon taught me different.
Then, the same way, I learned that anger is a waste. It hurts nobody but me. A fit of the sullens got short shrift in our house. It wasn't pulling my weight in the boat. It was spoiling sport. And among seven children it got me nowhere. It might reduce four o'cat to three o'cat, but the game went on just the same, and where was I? Out of it. Better go in and join the group around the piano and forget my grievance. Better still, next time don't fling down my bat in a tantrum; keep my temper, and stay in the game.
Here's a rule thumb that's important, and the older I get, the more important I think it is. When I can do something, and somebody wants me to do it, I have to do it. The great tragedy of life is not to be needed. As long as you are able and willing to do things for people, you will be needed. Of course you are able; and if so, you can't say no. My mother is seventy-seven. In seventy-seven years she has never said no. Today she is so much in demand by thirteen grandchildren and countless neighbors that her presence is eagerly contended for. When I want to see her I have to pretend emergency.
Then there's the rule of curiosity. Your body would die if you stopped feeling hunger and thirst, and your mind will die if you lose your curiosity. This I learned from my father. My father was a naturalist. He could see the beetle under the bark, and draw it forth unharmed for us to squint at through the magnifying glass. He sampled the taste of thirty-three different caterpillars. Fired by his example, once, my sister ate an ant. In case you are wondering, caterpillars taste like the green leaves they eat, and ants taste of lemon. I personally haven't tasted any entomological specimens lately, but I am still rejoicing in the limitless curiosity, the draws me to books and people and places.I hope I never lose it. It would be like pulling down the blind.
Finally, there is the rule of happiness. Happiness is a habit. I was taught to cultivate it. A big stomach-ache, or a big heart-ache, can interrupt happiness, but neither can destroy it unless I permit. My mother simply wouldn't have unhappy faces moping about the place. If it was stomach-ache, she does it. If it was heart-ache, she administered love and understanding and lots of interesting things to do, and soon the sun came out again. Even the heartbreaks that can't really be mended, even those seem to yield to the habit of finding happiness in doing things, in love and in the memory of love. I hope I never lose that habit either. It would be like putting out the light.
So I learned to live, by the great laws, and these little rules of thumb. I wouldn't take a million dollars for any one of them, or a million times that for the years at home that taught them to me.