'HOW TO STAY YOUNG'
Youth is not a time of life - it is a state of mind: it is a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of emotions, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.
Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years: people grow old only by deserting their ideals; years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair - these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing back to dust..
Whether seventy or sixteen, there is in every being's heart the love of wonder, the sweet amazement of the stars and the star-like things and thoughts, the undaunted challenge of events, the unfailing childlike appetite for what next, and the joy and game of life.
You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear, as young as your hope, as old as your despair.
As long as your heart receives messages of beauty, cheer, courage, grandeur and power from the Infinite - so long as you are young.
When the wires are down and all the central place of your heart is covered with the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then you are grown old indeed and may God have mercy of your soul.
MY BACKGROUND TO THE POEM
The poem above has been copied from framed original print that we have in our possession. The print has an interesting history. Yellowed, stained and nibbled by cockroach fry, it is a memento from the 'American Eagle Bar' in old Manila. When the Manila Hash House Harriers made the odd foray to the Eagle in the late 1980s, it was on its last legs.
It was the only survivor of the old Red Light district that existed under the pre-War US Colonial Administration. The Eagle reached its heyday when the Americans returned in 1945, following the defeat of the Japanese occupying force. Reputedly, General MacArthur personally led the assault on the office of his Japanese counterpart that was located on the penthouse level of the Manila Hotel.
The distinctly less fashionable Eagle Bar was no doubt the scene of some mediocre behaviour and the odd true romance with the Bar Girls but it was also the setting for more wholesome good times between 'best buddies' and 'good mates'.
An interesting insight into the overall setting is provided by the situation in Saigon during the Viet Nam War, as portrayed in the Musical 'Miss Saigon'. Here Kim the new Bar Girl falls for a GI and eventually kills herself to ensure the adoption of their son Tam and his entry to the States. In the smash hit London West End production, the part of Kim was played by Manila's darling, Leah 'The Sun will come out Tomorrow' Salonga (whose earlier TV show was a great favourite with Matt and Pete).
However, life was not inevitably gloomy for the Bar Girls in such situations. Our home masseuse in Manila in the 1980s - Inday - had been a 'masseuse' at the Manila Hotel in the 1950s. One of her colleagues of that era had married a wealthy US patron and eventually became a powerful widowed socialite who towed around Group Captain Peter Townsend (Princess Margaret's suitor).
GENERAL BACKGROUND TO THE POEM
When famed War Correspondent Col. Frederick Palmer called on Douglas MacArthur at his Manila Headquarters, his most vivid memory of the meeting was that of the three frames hanging over the General’s desk. On the left, a portrait of Washington -on the right, a portrait of Lincoln, and between them, a framed version of a poem called “Youth” by Samuel Ullman.
He also hung it in his office in Tokyo when he took over as Supreme Allied commander of Japan, and would continue to quote it in the many speeches he gave his “old” age. Because of his influence in Japan, the poem became very popular among the Japanese, and it is still more well known and beloved there than in the West.
In 1992, Kenji Awakura, a Japanese-American executive at the electronics company JVC, traveled to Birmingham to see the former home of one of his personal heroes, a poet. This American-born poet had achieved a devoted following in Japan. Awakura, like many men raised in Japan following World War II, carried a copy of the writer’s most famous poem “Youth” in his pocket as he walked down 15th Avenue to the poet’s home. This poet was none other than Samuel Ullman, the educational reformer and early Temple Emanu-El leader.
After retiring in his 70s, Ullman took up poetry in his spare time. Before his death in 1924, Ullman published one collection of his works called From the Summit of Years: Fourscore that sold relatively few copies. However, somehow a copy of the book fell into the hands of General Douglas MacArthur. The aging general became obsessed with one particular poem in the volume, “Youth.”
When MacArthur gave speeches to crowds of Japanese people, he quoted the poem at length. For a people whose country had been ravaged by war, Ullman’s brief meditation on aging touched a nerve, and “Youth” slowly became an anthem of mass appeal to a Japan in the midst of reconstruction. Soon translations of the poem into Japanese began circulating around the country. Older business men carried the poem on note cards in their pockets.
An organization formed called the Youth Foundation devoted to the ideals of the poem. From the Summit of Years: Fourscore became a national bestseller, and remains the second best-selling book of poetry in Japan in the last forty years. Traces of Ullman are located throughout Japan, a country he never visited. In the lobby of the Daichi Insurance Company, the site of MacArthur’s old office, a sculpted bust of Ullman greets those who enter. The main library of the city Maebashi has an entire wing named after the Jewish American businessman and poet.
When Kenji Awakura made it to Ullman’s final home in Birmingham, where the poet had written his greatest work, he was disappointed to find that the building had fallen into disrepair. Partnering with the Japan American Society of Alabama and the University of Alabama Educational Foundation, Awakura led the fundraising effort to restore the house to its 1924 appearance. In 1993, the Ullman Museum was born and the youthful memory of one of Birmingham’s early Jewish founders persists.