A woman named Thelma Thompson told of a time when her husband was stationed at an Army training camp in the Mojave Desert, and she moved there to be with him. While he was out in training maneuvers, she was, as she said:
“…left alone in a tiny shack. The heat was unbearable—125 degrees in the shade of a cactus. Not a soul to talk to. The wind blew incessantly, all the food I ate, and the very air I breathed, were filled with sand, sand, sand…”
She was so miserable that she wrote to her parents and told them she was leaving the desert, and coming back home. She couldn’t stand it one minute longer, she wrote— “I would rather be in jail.”
Her father wrote back with just two lines:
Two men looked out from the prison bars,
One saw the mud, the other saw the stars.
“I read those lines over and over,” Thelma said. “I made up my mind I would find out what was good in my present situation.”
“I made friends with the natives…When I showed interest in their weaving and pottery, they gave me presents of their favorite pieces which they had refused to sell to tourists. I studied the fascinating forms of the cactus and the yuccas and the Joshua trees. I learned about prairie dogs, watched for the desert sunsets, and hunted for seashells that had been there millions of years ago when the sands of the desert had been an ocean floor.
“What brought about this…change in me? The Mojave Desert hadn’t changed…I had changed my attitude…And in doing so, I transformed a wretched experience into the most exciting adventure of my life…I had looked out of my self-created prison and found the stars.”
This story is from a book written over seventy years ago—Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (1948). I first read the book about fifteen years ago, and the quote, and the story it appears in, have stuck with me since then. I’ve been meaning to illustrate this quote for awhile, and (with the risk of inducing eye-rolling), I thought I would share it here, with this brief story. I hope to eventually incorporate it into something longer, but for now I thought I’d just get it out. It seems to me it is as relevant now as ever.
On that note, if you readers have any stories from your own lives that illustrate this quote, and are willing to share, please do! Send me an email or send it through the contact form (or even in comments if you are feeling brave). I’d love especially to hear any stories about how people have fared during the COVID slowdown, and if any good has come out of it for you, or you are seeing the world a little differently now. I’ve been working on an essay about this for awhile, and I’d love to learn about your experiences, and perhaps incorporate them if you’d be up for it.