Today I Know

What if I told you that through hardships and tribulations, I had discovered nine characteristics by which to create a rich and beautiful life? Well, I haven’t. But Charlie Chaplin did.

I recently read a poem authored by Charlie Chaplin and was so struck by its poignancy that I did a little research to see if I could learn what had inspired such wisdom. He wrote it at 70 years of age, and I’ve copied the entire poem at the bottom of this article, but in it you’ll see that these are the attributes that Charlie had ultimately come to value: authenticity, respect, maturity, self-confidence, simplicity, love of oneself, modesty, fulfillment, and wisdom of the heart.

Most of us know Charlie Chaplin as the famous silent-movie-era actor. He was born in London, England, on April 16 th, 1889 to parents who were both singers and actors. But Charlie’s father was an alcoholic and died of cirrhosis of the liver when Charlie was only nine years old. The subsequent serious mental illness of his mother forced her to be institutionalized and made it necessary for Charlie and his brother, Sydney, to fend for themselves at a very early age. He dropped out of school at 13 and supported himself with a variety of jobs… including performing.

A natural on stage, Charlie came to America at 12 years old as a comedian in vaudeville and featured player in the Fred Karno Repertoire Company. When his vaudeville commitments expired in 1913, he was offered a motion picture contract for $150 per week and was an immediate and overwhelming success with American audiences.  His next contract was for much more money, but, being a perfectionist, Charlie wanted to control his work and his destiny.

By 1917, after a failed marriage and losing his first child (a son) three days after he was born, at only 28 years old, Charlie became an independent producer and built his own studio in Hollywood where he began to produce his own films. By 1919, he joined with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks to form United Artists where he wrote, directed, and acted in The Circus which won him an honorary award at the very first Academy Awards in 1929.

In 1952, while traveling to London for a movie premiere, he was banned from returning to the United States based on FBI concerns that he was a communist, which he always denied. Eventually, he was invited back to receive an honorary lifetime achievement award at the 1972 Academy Awards gala for “the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century.” For it, he received a 12-minute standing ovation, still the longest in the Academy’s history.

Charlie Chaplin was the father of nine children. He authored four books as well as all 35 of his movie scripts. He was an accomplished, self-taught musician playing a variety of instruments including the cello and violin which he mastered left-handed. He was a composer who wrote and published many songs as well as the soundtracks for all of his silent films.  He was one of the rare comedians who not only financed and produced all of his films (the only exception being “A Countess from Hong Kong) but was also the writer, director, actor, and soundtrack composer of all of them.

He died on Christmas Day in 1977 at the age of 88. Afterward, Bob Hope commented, “Charlie Chaplin was a genius endowed with a brilliance that was born from raw talent, relentless work ethic, sharp intelligence, an eye for beauty, and an unstoppable drive for excellence. We were lucky to have lived in his time.”

Like most of us, Charlie’s life was a combination of tragedies and triumphs. The amazing art that he produced and the success he created in his life were clearly forged from all of those hardships, sacrifices, and the determination which comes only when our backs are up against the wall.  Reading his poem, written later in his life, offers us a glimpse into what life can teach us all but only through living it, struggling with it, and growing as a result of it.

This week, as the world unfolds a new chapter in our collective story, consider what we learn from Charlie Chaplin below: that we must have the contrast of pain to know joy, fear to know faith, and anger to know peace. Remember we cannot do others’ work but only our own.  Live your own truth. Invite yourself to grow. Remain calm. Show love. Spend less time trying to be right so you can be less wrong more of the time.  Connect with your heart. And know that even stars collide, and out of their crashing, new worlds are born.

A Poem by Charlie Chaplin

As I began to love myself
I found that anguish and emotional suffering
are only warning signs that I was living
against my own truth.
Today I know, this is Authenticity.

As I began to love myself
I understood how much it can offend somebody
if I try to force my desires on this person,
even though I knew the time was not right
and the person was not ready for it,
and even though this person was me.
Today I call this Respect.

As I began to love myself
I stopped craving for a different life,
and I could see that everything
that surrounded me
was inviting me to grow.
Today I call this Maturity.

As I began to love myself
I understood that at any circumstance,
I am in the right place at the right time,
and everything happens at the exactly right moment.
So, I could be calm.
Today I call this Self-Confidence.

As I began to love myself
I quit stealing my own time,
and I stopped designing huge projects
for the future.
Today, I only do what brings me joy and happiness,
things I love to do and that make my heart cheer,
and I do them in my own way
and in my own rhythm.
Today I call this Simplicity.

As I began to love myself
I freed myself of anything
that is no good for my health
food, people, things, situations,
and everything that drew me down
and away from myself.
At first, I called this attitude a healthy egoism.
Today I know it is Love of Oneself.

As I began to love myself
I quit trying to always be right,
and ever since
I was wrong less of the time.
Today I discovered that is Modesty.

As I began to love myself
I refused to go on living in the past
and worrying about the future.
Now, I only live for the moment,
where everything is happening.
Today I live each day,
day by day,
and I call it Fulfillment.

As I began to love myself
I recognized
that my mind can disturb me
and it can make me sick.
But as I connected it to my heart,
my mind became a valuable ally.
Today I call this connection Wisdom of the Heart.

We no longer need to fear arguments,
confrontations or any kind of problems
with ourselves or others.
Even stars collide,
and out of their crashing, new worlds are born.
Today I know: This is Life!

“Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”
~ Charlie Chaplin