by Esther Mackintosh, President of the Federation of State Humanities Councils
Esther Mackintosh, President of the Federation of State Humanities Councils, explains how a single letter from her father offered solace during an especially trying period of her life.
As a graduate student facing an uncertain future, Mackintosh took refuge in her father’s written words, which described his own challenges as a newly married farmer during the Great Depression. His letter concluded with a question posed to his daughter: “Would it help you to know that things usually turn out alright?” Thanks to her father’s words,…
In my late 20s, I knew that I wanted to make a vocational shift, but I struggled to find the courage to do so. One day, I came across the lines of Transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau. “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation,” he wrote in Walden
in 1854. Though Thoreau lapsed into an unfortunate gender bias (as women may lead lives of quiet desperation, too), I still took refuge in his words. Reflecting on my own life (which felt quietly desperate, I realized) imparted me with the audacity to make a change and follow…
by Brooke Andrade, Director of the Library, National Humanities Center
I started learning Latin in seventh grade because I decided it was the most difficult course I could take, and I had something to prove. I was an economically disadvantaged student in a wealthy private school, and all of my classmates knew it. I would never live in their mansions, or wear their expensive clothes, or go on their exotic vacations, so I set about making myself at least academically equal. Like most grade school students who read Latin, the poetry of Catullus was some of the first “real” literature I encountered. After the dry,…
This short poem by Emily Dickinson (a mere six lines), describes how service to others, even in the smallest of ways, can give a life purpose and meaning.
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.