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The University of Hard Knocks - Chapter 3
The College of Needful Knocks
The Bumps That Bump Into Us
BUT occasionally all of us get bumps that we do not bump into. They bump into us. They are the guideboard knocks that point us to the higher pathway.
You were bumped yesterday or years ago. Maybe the wound has not yet healed. Maybe you think it never will heal. You wondered why you were bumped. Some of you in this audience are just now wondering why.
You were doing right--doing just the best you knew how--and yet some blow came crushing upon you and gave you cruel pain.
It broke your heart. You have had your heart broken. I have had my heart broken more times than I care to talk about now. Your home was darkened, your plans were wrecked, you thought you had nothing more to live for.
I am like you. I have had more trouble than anybody else. I have never known anyone who had not had more trouble than anyone else.
But I am discovering that life only gets good after we have been killed a few times. Each death is a larger birth.
We all must learn, if we have not already learned, that these blows are lessons in The College of Needful Knocks. They point upward to a higher path than we have been traveling.
In other words, we are raw material. You know what raw material is--material that needs more Needful Knocks to make it more useful and valuable.
The clothing we wear, the food we eat, the house we live in, all have to have the Needful Knocks to become useful. And so does humanity need the same preparation for greater usefulness.
I should like to know every person in this audience. But the ones I should most appreciate knowing are the ones who have known the most of these knocks--who have faced the great crises of life and have been tried in the crucibles of affliction. For I am learning that these lives are the gold tried in the fire.
The Sorrows of the Piano
See the piano on this stage? Good evening, Mr. Piano. I am glad to see you. You are so shiny, beautiful, valuable and full of music, if properly treated.
Do you know how you got upon this stage, Mr. Piano? You were bumped here. This is no reflection upon the janitor. You became a piano by the Needful Knocks.
I can see you back in your callow beginnings, when you were just a tree--a tall, green tree. You were green! Only green things grow. Did you get the meaning of that, children? I hope you are green.
There you stood in the forest, a perfectly good, green young tree. You got your lessons, combed your hair, went to Sunday school and were the best young tree you could be.
That is why you were bumped--because you were good! There came a man into the woods with an ax, and he looked for the best trees there to bump. He bumped you--hit you with the ax! How it hurt you! And how unjust it was! He kept on hitting you. "The operation was just terrible." Finally you fell, crushed, broken, bleeding.
It is a very sad story. They took you all bumped and bleeding to the sawmill and they bumped and ripped you more. They cut you in pieces and hammered you day by day.
They did not bump the little, crooked, dissipated, cigaret-stunted trees. They were not worth bumping.
But shake, Mr. Piano. That is why you are on this stage. You were bumped here. All the beauty, harmony and value were bumped into you.
The Sufferings of the Red Mud
One day I was up the Missabe road about a hundred miles north of Duluth, Minnesota, and came to a hole in the ground. It was a big hole--about a half-mile of hole. There were steam-shovels at work throwing out of that hole what I thought was red mud.
"Kind sir, why are they throwing that red mud out of that hole?" I asked a native.
"That hain't red mud. That's iron ore, an' it's the best iron ore in the world."
"What is it worth?"
"It hain't worth nothin' here; that's why they're movin' it away."
There's red mud around every community that "hain't worth nothin'" until you move it--send it to college or somewhere.
Not very long after this, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I saw some of this same red mud. It had been moved over the Great Lakes and the rails to what they call a blast furnace, the technological name of which being The College of Needful Knocks for Red Mud.
I watched this red mud matriculate into a great hopper with limestone, charcoal and other textbooks. Then they corked it up and school began. They roasted it. It is a great thing to be roasted.
When it was done roasting they stopped. Have you noticed that they always stop when anything is done roasting? If we are yet getting roasted, perhaps we are not done!
Then they pulled the plug out of the bottom of the college and held promotion exercises. The red mud squirted out into the sand. It was not red mud now, because it had been roasted. It was a freshman-- pig iron, worth more than red mud, because it had been roasted.
Some of the pig iron went into another department, a big teakettle, where it was again roasted, and now it came out a sophomore--steel, worth more than pig iron.
Some of the sophomore steel went up into another grade where it was roasted yet again and rolled thin into a junior. Some of that went on up and up, at every step getting more pounding and roasting and affliction.
It seemed as tho I could hear the suffering red mud crying out, "O, why did they take me away from my happy hole-in-the-ground? Why do they pound me and break my heart? I have been good and faithful. O, why do they roast me? O, I'll never get over this!"
But after they had given it a diploma--a pricemark telling how much it had been roasted--they took it proudly all over the world, labeled "Made in America." They hung it in show windows, they put it in glass cases. Many people admired it and said, "Isn't that fine work!" They paid much money for it now. They paid the most money for what had been roasted the most.
If a ton of that red mud had become watch-springs or razor-blades, the price had gone up into thousands of dollars.
My friends, you and I are the raw material, the green trees, the red mud. The Needful Knocks are necessary to make us serviceable.
Every bump is raising our price. Every bump is disclosing a path to a larger life. The diamond and the chunk of soft coal are exactly the same material, say the chemists. But the diamond has gone to The College of Needful Knocks more than has her crude sister of the coal-scuttle.
There is no human diamond that has not been crystallized in the crucibles of affliction. There is no gold that has not been refined in the fire.
Cripple Taught by Bumps
One evening when I was trying to lecture in a chautauqua tent in Illinois, a crippled woman was wheeled into the tent and brought right down to the foot of the platform. The subject was The University of Hard Knocks. Presently the cripple's face was shining brighter than the footlights.
She knew about the knocks!
Afterwards I went to her. "Little lady, I want to thank you for coming here. I have the feeling that I spoke the words, but you are the lecture itself."
What a smile she gave me! "Yes, I know about the hard knocks," she said. "I have been in pain most of my life. But I have learned all that I know sitting in this chair. I have learned to be patient and kind and loving and brave."
They told me this crippled woman was the sweetest-spirited, best-loved person in the town.
But her mother petulantly interrupted me. She had wheeled the cripple into the tent. She was tall and stately. She was well-gowned. She lived in one of the finest homes in the city. She had everything that money could buy. But her money seemed unable to buy the frown from her face.
"Mr. Lecture Man," she said, "why is everybody interested in my daughter and nobody interested in me? Why is my daughter happy and why am I not happy? My daughter is always happy and she hasn't a single thing to make her happy. I am not happy. I have not been happy for years. Why am I not happy?"
What would you have said? Just on the spur of the moment--I said, "Madam, I don't want to be unkind, but I really think the reason you are not happy is that you haven't been bumped enough."
I discover when I am unhappy and selfish and people don't use me right, I need another bump.
The cripple girl had traveled ahead of her jealous mother. For selfishness cripples us more than paralysis.
Schools of Sympathy
When I see a long row of cots in a hospital or sanitarium, I want to congratulate the patients lying there. They are learning the precious lessons of patience, sympathy, love, faith and courage. They are getting the education in the humanities the world needs more than tables of logarithms. Only those who have suffered can sympathize. They are to become a precious part of our population. The world needs them more than libraries and foundations.
The Silver Lining
There is no backward step in life. Whatever experiences come to us are truly new chapters of our education if we are willing to learn them.
We think this is true of the good things that come to us, but we do not want to think so of the bad things. Yet we grow more in lean years than in fat years. In fat years we put it in our pockets. In lean years we put it in our hearts. Material and spiritual prosperity do not often travel hand-in-hand. When we become materially very prosperous, so many of us begin to say, "Is not this Babylon that I have builded?" And about that time there comes some handwriting on the wall and a bump to save us.
Think of what might happen to you today. Your home might burn. We don't want your home to burn, but somebody's home is burning just now. A conflagration might sweep your town from the map. Your business might wreck. Your fortune might be swept away. Your good name might be tarnished. Bereavement might take from you the one you love most.
You would never know how many real friends you have until then. But look out! Some of your friends would say, "I am so sorry for you. You are down and out." Do not believe that you are down and out, for it is not true. The old enemy of humanity wants you to believe you are down and out. He wants you to sympathize with yourself. You are never down and out!
The truth is, another chapter of your real education has been opened. Will you read the lesson of the Needful Knocks?
A great conflagration, a cyclone, a railroad wreck, an epidemic or other public disaster brings sympathy, bravery, brotherhood and love in its wake.
There is a silver lining to every hard knocks cloud.
Out of the trenches of the Great War come nations chastened by sacrifice and purged of their dross.