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Two Poems and the Power to Choose

As a little girl I remember sitting at my father’s feet as he would recall classic poems and teach my five siblings and me the principles that could be derived from each masterpiece. Two in particular piqued my interest as a little girl and have stuck with me. The first is “The Builder,” by an unknown author. The other is by the poet Edgar A. Guest, “You.”  As I reflect on why these, of all the poems my father shared, continue to stick with me it has become evident that both embody a principle I hold dear–the ability to choose for ourselves.

“The Builder” tells the story of a man passing by a demolition site of a building.  As he looks upon the work these men are performing, he strikes up a conversation with the foreman of the group. “Are these skilled?” the man asks the foreman, referring to the crew. The foreman laughs at the idea and explains that there is no skill needed in the demolition of a building. The foreman goes on to explain that it takes him only a few days to destroy what a skilled builder takes years to accomplish. As the man continues on his way, he begins to reflect upon his own deeds, and the poem ends with these thoughts:

….And I thought to myself as I went my way,
Which of these two roles have I tried to play?
Am I a builder who works with care
Measuring life by the rule and square?
Am I shaping my deeds to a well-made plan,
Patiently doing the best I can?
Or am I a wrecker, who walks the town
Content with the labor of tearing down?”

Much like this man, you and I have the potential to be either a builder or wrecker dependent on our actions. The second poem, “You,” dives further into this idea and goes as follows:

You are the fellow that has to decide
Whether you’ll do it or toss it aside.
You are the fellow who makes up your mind
Whether you’ll lead or will linger behind
Whether you’ll try for the goal that’s afar
Or just be contented to stay where you are.
Take it or leave it. Here’s something to do!
Just think it over — It’s all up to you!
So, whatever it is you are wanting to be,
Remember, to fashion the choice you are free.
Kindly or selfish, or gentle or strong,
Keeping the right way or taking the wrong,
Careless of honor or guarding your pride,
All these are questions which you must decide.
Yours the selection, whichever you do;
The thing men call character’s all up to you!

As we spend this month focusing on the tenet, “We are free to choose and willingly accept responsibility for our choices,” I hope these poems bring to you a sense of personal power and responsibility the way they have for me throughout my life. The power lies within each and every one of us to make the decisions that will ultimately lead to stronger families, deeper faith, and an increased appreciation for motherhood in all those with whom we associate. We must move through our days with an increased appreciation of the power that we as women intrinsically have with a deepened sense of responsibility in the way we use that power. I leave you with the words of Peter Parker: “With great power comes great responsibility.” And you women have great power!

Kim with her father and sisters

~Kim Landeen