This I Believe

Savage, Susan


  • Susan Savage talks about the impact the death of her mother had on her and her beliefs.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Young people’s wisdom and courage often startle their elders. In this opinion I feel that renowned federal jurist Judge Augustus Hand would concur. His granddaughter, Miss Susan Savage, an alumna of Bryn Mawr, has just begun her first job, at 22, teaching history at New York City’s Chapin School. Here, the beliefs she brought with her.
If someone had asked me a year ago what I believed in, I could not have answered, partly because I had done very little serious thinking to find out what I did believe, partly because I was going through about the hardest experience I ever had to face.
It is just over a year ago that my mother died very suddenly. It is hard now to talk about this dispassionately, but I’ve learned one thing over the course of the past year: that for me, belief in anything, a really lasting one, can come only as a result of adversity, which will either strengthen or weaken what I think I believe.
I believe, first of all, in the innate strength of human character. If someone had told me that my mother was going to die very soon, I would not have thought it possible to go on without her. I like to think that we were a very close mother/daughter combination, enjoying each other’s companionship. I always felt that I could tell her everything and knew that she would respect my confidences.
Somehow I have been able to go on without her. Somewhere within me, and certainly within the other members of my family, has come a strength and a courage, which we never knew we had until we were forced to make use of it. I don’t mean to sound as though we just pulled ourselves together and went on. It hasn’t been easy at all. We’ve known periods of bitterness and unbelievable loneliness, but never have I felt that I just wanted to quit. There was always something that wouldn’t let me.
Probably as a result of this experience, I’ve begun to develop, to use the words of the ancient poet Horace, a carpe diem philosophy. I don’t believe that our lives are planned out for us and that we follow a given course blindly. I do believe that we cannot know what will happen next, and so we should
make the most of what we have, taking our happy times as they come, meeting the troubles and sorrows as they come without seeking to know what tomorrow will bring. That may just be a childish refusal to face the future, but I cannot help thinking of a children’s story by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, which ended with one character saying, “Live while you live, then die and be done with it.”
I would like to say that I believe in the immortality of the soul, but I’m not sure that I do. That concept is at the foundation of the Christian religion, and I cannot say that my religion was a tremendous help to me at the start. At first, I was far too bitter to find any comfort there, but now I feel the need for belief in something far greater than I, something which is everlasting while all
around me seems to be changing. I’m at the point now where I would get lost in trying to defend or describe logically to anyone my belief in God. But I don’t think anyone could argue me out of it.
What I do believe in, strongly, is the beauty and immortality of love. Someone told me that, “It’s far better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I feel now that I don’t want to escape the risks of sorrow to which love exposes one. Pain and sorrow have opened my eyes and made me far more sensitive towards other people. Love is certainly one thing in this world which refuses to accept the fact of death. Just because she has died, I don’t feel that all my love for my mother, or hers for me, has been shut off.
A year ago, as I said, I could not have made any definite statement about my beliefs. The death of someone very close to you is a shot from which it will take a long time to recover, and no amount of platitudes from well-meaning friends will help. What I believe now and what I will believe in ten years may well differ. My present beliefs are really born of adversity, further refractions may well change them, as is apt to be the case with all emotion recollected in tranquility. This is only my account of what I believe, which has helped me through the last fourteen months.
That was Susan Savage, a very young teacher but a very mature citizen prepared for the future.