“But it is better to learn wisdom late than never to learn it at all.” ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The Man with the Twisted Lip)
Several weeks ago I was gifted a handful of books that had belonged to my grandparents.
Books, and the words in them, are to me one of the most sacred things we can lay our hands on. They are doors to other worlds, to the minds of great thinkers, of imaginations different than our own, of languages and history, and of the passage of time.
If you want to get to know me better, take a long look at my bookshelves. They tell my story more eloquently than I ever could.
I carefully brought these books home and placed them on my bookshelves. After so many weeks of simply walking past their spines, I finally stopped and I pulled out The Return of Sherlock Holmes. The words inside were a balm to my soul, like running into an old friend and finding that nothing had changed. They were just the same as I had left them.
Holmes may be the trendy fictional character to crush on these days, but I fell in love with him, or at least the idea of him, long before the new movie re-makes and television series.
My parents have a beautiful gold-leafed copy of the entire canon of stories. While most were reading their kids fairy tales or Harry Potter, my mom sat with that heavy, gold-leafed book on her lap and read me each story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In fact, we read our way through the book and started over again at the beginning—more than once.
Holmes is droll. Witty. Confident. Brilliant. Logical to a fault. Quirky. Imperfect.
He was a character that I could enjoy more as I grew up, and the older I get, the wiser he becomes.
If I’m being entirely honest with myself, I wish I could carry off the role of Holmes, even in my own mind. But, no. I’m much more the Watson to the vivid character of Holmes I have built in my memories.
“You know my methods. Apply them.” ~ Sherlock Holmes (The Sign of Four)
For the last three months I have embraced my inner Watson. I walked alongside my new mentors and peers, and I observed. I collected information. I asked questions.
I learned the methods.
And now, I turn to the words of Holmes to help me share a few pertinent life lessons.
1. “Come, Watson, come!” he cried. “The game is afoot.” ~ Sherlock Holmes (Adventure of the Abbey Grange)
Three months ago my life was nice, but it didn’t feel particularly full. There were things missing—you know, those things that we think about, dream about, wonder about and think that we’ll get to, someday.
In a moment of courage, I decided to grasp my “someday” dreams and take action, even though it scared me as much as it thrilled me.
I asked myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” I allowed vulnerability and rejection to be a possible outcome, and that is right where pure magic pierced my life. My magic came to me in the form of elephant journal’s apprenticeship program.
Magic doesn’t enter our lives inside our comfort zones. If we want it, we have to reach for it, be open to it, and take that first step.
Now, I ask myself that simple question whenever something makes me feel scared: “What’s the worst that could happen?” Usually, the answer is silly enough to make me stop worrying! This subtle mental shift has helped me more than I can say.
2. “Watson. Come at once if convenient. If inconvenient, come all the same.” ~ Sherlock Holmes (Adventure of the Creeping Man)
We choose the priorities in our life, they don’t choose us. And we make this choice over again each day. The people who have our back, they are the ones who we are going to drop things for in order to come when they call—even when it’s not convenient.
Most things in life aren’t on our own timeline, and they definitely aren’t convenient. Often the work I was doing for elephant journal, while it made me feel fulfilled and happy, was awfully inconvenient.
Thankfully, I met some wonderful human beings who became my support, and my friends, as I navigated my way through multiple jobs, moving, medical emergencies, family responsibilities, and our weekly writing prompts. We shared a common goal, a similar way of looking at the world, and a passion for the written word.
In short, I found my people. They helped me through the good days, the bad days, and the really bad days.
This experience has reminded me of how important it is to have people who support us and will answer the call when we are brave enough to ask for help. Asking for help can be hard, but I’ve been told that it gets easier. I’m learning slowly that often, people are more than happy to help, if only we get up the courage to ask.
Asking for help and support, that’s what makes us gloriously human. And it is beautiful.
3. “Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.” ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The Naval Treaty)
Somehow, in the midst of the chaos of these past three months, I have learned to live more fully in the present moment. I feel myself rooted to the current time. I hear the seconds ticking by on clocks as if they are saying “now, now, now…”
Before this experience, I think I was just beginning to get to this point, but I was conceptualizing it more than I was actually living it. It was easy to wrap my head around intellectually. But, now?
Now, I see the extras in life. I see the roses, and I notice their intricacies. I feel my purpose more keenly because I am living it, and I am living in line with the current of life. I no longer feel stuck, like life is moving past me.
In order to help keep myself in the present, I drink water. I find that it anchors me to the ground beneath my feet. I also often pause in my life if I notice that I feel a little “off” and take a couple of deep breaths. If our lower abdomen is tight, we’re not going to be breathing deeply.
I also give myself permission to have a small time-out if life suddenly becomes a little too overwhelming. I take a moment to myself, and I close my eyes—I listen. We need to notice the sounds playing out around us. Take them all in as they happen. Be with them.
After that exercise, I feel much more present when I open my eyes again.
I don’t pretend I’m perfect, but I do agree with Holmes here—there is hope in the flowers—in the “extras”—but only if you stop to notice them.
4. “Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons, with the greatest for the last.” ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The Red Circle)
And last, but not least, we must keep striving to learn. Keep challenging ourselves. Keep the spark alive. There is something to be learned in every experience we encounter, but we must find it.
At just 24, I haven’t been away from school for very long, but I was amazed by how much my mind and spirit were alive with the challenge of learning new things and putting them into action.
Throwing myself out of my comfort zone, learning to lean on others and ask for help, actively staying present in my daily life, thriving under the knowledge of new skills—these are simply a handful of the things I find myself grateful for at the end of my Academy experience. But in truth, I am grateful for the opportunity to dig deeper, to be of benefit to the world in a more meaningful and impactful way, and for the chance to have my words be heard.
“I must thank you,’ said Sherlock Holmes” ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The Hound of the Baskervilles)
Author: Molly Murphy
Editor: Nicole Cameron