AS I look back along the
trail I have travelled from the campfire of the savage to the pulpit of
the Christian and the wider field of the lecture platform, I realise
that the way was winding, uphill, thorny and long. I realise, also, that
whatever progress or achievement has been mine, it had its
starting-point in the loving kindness of a little child. For it was her
whispered words in the Salvation Army meeting which revived the spirit
that was all but dead within me.
Then, what served to keep
my face toward the East, was the knowledge that good women and good men
believed in me. In undying gratitude my memory holds them all—especially
the Reverend Doctor Henry Ward—the friend of the under dog.
Yet, while I recognise
the fact that it was God Himself that gave life to my stupefied soul, my
belief was, and always has been, that anything anybody could do for me
was nothing as compared with what I could do for myself; that, indeed,
what I could do for myself was the most important help of all. The acorn
does not wait for some one to break its shell in order to grow. It works
its own way out and up into its height and girth. So must it be with
men, and men have the advantage of a choice of environment, and
environment is greater than heredity.
Having fought my way from
below the bottom of human society up into respectability, I am certain
that no one is so low that he cannot get up and out into the purifying
sunlight where every human being belongs. Not a soul is so black that it
cannot become white. One of the whitest living things in this world is
the pond lily. But it has its beginning in the blackest mud at the
bottom of the pond, where the spotted frog leaps and the mud turtle
And a thought which to me
has been a water-spring under a shady tree in the desert when the sun
above was a coal of fire and the earth beneath an ash-heap, is this : I
am more than anything that can happen.
From the darkness of the
past I have brought with me many memories to which I shall ever cling.
So am I one with my people of the long-ago time. For, according to one
of our oldest legends, these people were not satisfied with the world in
which they found themselves. So they dug their way up through the roof
into another world which was better than the first, but they became
discontented with that one. They again tunnelled upward, to find a world
still better. But their discontent became greater than ever. Again by
hard work they emerged into a higher and better world, and again and
again. But always their dissatisfaction increased, and their yearning
for something better grew. Yet, back in every one of the worlds they had
left there were things they loved.
So with me.
Some of the shadows of
the past held for me not a sun-fleck, but there is one in which I want
to remain forever. It lengthens with the westering sun. It is the shadow
of the old rawhide tepee. For within it I first became conscious of the
human heart-throbs answering to my own, and it was there I learned the
principles of true manhood. And within its shadow shines the hope of
seeing the mother who in the doorway of our prairie cabin gave her life
for me; of knowing again the company of my long-ago brothers of the
prairie; of looking into the face of that other one who gave up her life
in my behalf.
For I cannot believe that
heart-hunger grows only for the famine, but that the Master of life will
some day stoop down and kiss into life and beauty those whom we’ve loved
and lost awhile; and that together we shall rejoice where the hills are
glad of the morning and there shall be no more night.