Ten Black Seconds

Davison, Archibald T. (Archibald Thompson)

  • Archibald Davison, Professor of Music at Harvard University and Director of the Harvard Glee Club, recounts a childhood experience in which he shut the door on a man who had come to the house in search of work, and describes his belief in the importance of weighing his actions and words carefully and avoiding the unnecessary infliction of pain. Audio also contains advertisement for "This I Believe" ... read more
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Archibald T. Davison is Professor of Music at Harvard University. For 24 years, he conducted the Harvard Glee Club. Under his guidance, it was one of the pioneers of modern American choral singing. influencing the choral activities of many American colleges. For 30 years, he was Harvard organist and choirmaster, and is the author of books on choral church music and music education. He has received honorary degrees in this country and Great Britain. Now, Professor Davison states his creed.
Of the many passages in the Bible which have for me a deep personal significance, none is more
closely allied to my own experience than the story of the sons of the prophets in Second Kings. Elijah is trying, with merciful evasion, to spare Elisha the knowledge that their final parting is at hand. Elisha knows what must happen; but he is not to be allowed to bear his grief in silence, for at every stopping place on their journey, the two travelers are greeted by the sons of the prophets who keep asking Elisha, “Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master . . . today?” And Elisha, out of the sickness of his heart, must each time answer, “Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace.” That, in a way, is my story because many, many years ago, for one tragically unforgettable moment, I stood among the sons of the prophets.
On a bitter winter’s day, a man-and I still remember that he wore neither overcoat nor gloves-came to the door of my father’s house and asked if he might shovel the snow from our steps and sidewalk. In silence, and looking at him fixedly, I began slowly to close the door. Seeing what I was about to do without even a courteous word of refusal, there came across his face no look of resentment or of surprise, but rather, one of complete resignation as though he would have said, “I know it; I am shabby and almost a beggar and I mustn’t expect a small boy who lives in a prosperous-looking house to wonder if I’m hungry and cold and in need of what little money I can earn at this sort of work.”
Child that I was, and perhaps none too sensitive, I was suddenly smitten by that look which has never left me; and of the many things that I have done, the remembrance of which now grieves me, none has remained more vivid in detail, none has so plagued my imagination. Many a night, lying in the dark, I have looked into that man’s eyes and have literally sweat with longing to be a child again and to atone for those ten black seconds of time.
But that experience of my childhood was not all loss, for from the shock of it I unconsciously developed not a novel philosophy of conduct but, I believe, a salutary and a comforting one, embracing all animal as
well as human life. It has made me infinitely careful to avoid inflicting the small hurts that so often grow into bigger ones. I try-though probably not always with success-never to speak a sentence which may affect the peace of mind of another without first quickly putting myself in his place, weighing the chances of a misunderstanding or the possibility of giving pain. This is not laborious nor does it make me over-meticulous in my dealings with others. It is purely automatic and arises from an instinctive dread of repeating in some form that cruelty of my youth.
I doubt not that, to many, my reactions to that childhood incident will seem abnormal; that were I just
plain sensible I would long ago have dismissed the matter from my mind as of little importance and something not at all foreign to childish behavior. For myself, I am glad that that moment, in spite of its depressing consequences, has continued to live with me. It is so easy to be a son of the prophets. Certainly, there are few more tragic experiences in life than by wounding to be wounded, and to hear always afterward those words, even if unspoken, “Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace.”
Those were the personal beliefs of Archibald Davison. They were chosen from the beliefs broadcast in the past two years for inclusion in the new This I Believe book, now at your bookstore.