Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Where's Your Merit?

For reasons we don't need to get into, I pulled out my old college yearbook tonight. As is usual of yearbooks, the seniors get extra room. For my college (Carleton!), seniors could have a page designated for a group of 5-6 of them. My friends did just that. So me and P and H-B and CY and A and C did a page together. (Sadly, there wasn't room for D, though he was represented on our group page.) For 6 people, we got 7 photos. A group photo and then one designated for each of the 6 of us. Along with the photos, we each got to include a short quote or two.

(On a side note, H-B was off campus the term we had to put this all together, so I picked her quote. Hope she likes it...)

For my own quotes, it's no surprise that I picked Crowded House lyrics, as Crowded House is the greatest band ever. And is responsible for A's current happiness. (You're welcome, A.)

But it's my second quote that struck me tonight. Because it's a quote that still resonates with me. I think it's a quote that I would still, nearly 17 years later, choose as my quote. It's from "Emma," one of my 3 favorite Jane Austen novels. (No, you can't expect me to be more specific because asking me to choose 1 specific favorite Austen novel is like asking me to pick a favorite parent or star or sport.) It's a quote that was pointed out to me by the English professor who taught the Jane Austen course (which H-B, the English major, took with me) and a quote that has stayed with me since.

Early in the novel, Emma takes credit for creating the match between her beloved Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston. Mr. Knightley turns to Emma and asks her, "Where's your merit?" He's asking her how she can take credit for this match. As my professor put it, Mr. Knightley is asking her to prove herself, her worth, her very merit, and Emma spends the rest of the novel answering that challenge.

In everything I have done since that Jane Austen course my junior year of college, I have remembered that line and thought how to answer it. Obviously not in the direct context as I had nothing whatsoever to do wiht Miss Taylor marrying Mr. Weston. But in a broader context. That question has humbled me, made me focus on what I am doing to help others, rather than just myself. I have since 1994 thought about whether what I am doing is truly helping others or whether it is purely in my own self-interest. Though Mr. Knightley wasn't speaking to me, though he wasn't even a real person, I have heard that challenge, that admonishment, in my head for two decades. Possibly because it matches closely to a lesson my mom taught me long before college.

I know I haven't always (or even often?) succeeded. Heck my biggest ever failing might involve a cat named Mr. Knightley. (I'm sorry!) But I think I've made up for it with my treatment of my sweet pup. And my dedication to my clients and my colleagues. (I hope.) And, most importantly perhaps, to sweet little 21-year-old me who picked that quote. Because even if I don't always succeed or live up to it, I really do always try to show where my merit is, to be a good, kind, selfless person. I try not to let my considerably-younger self down. I think the mere fact that I would still include that quote on my senior page would satisfy College Sarah. I certainly hope so, because of all the people I might feel the need to prove myself to, she would be #1.

No comments:

Blog Designed by : NW Designs