This I Believe

Nilson, Alfred


  • Alfred Nilson describes how, as a harvester in California, the only way to keep his balance while traveling on foot along the railroad ties was to focus his eyes on the distance, and he explains how this lesson in farsightedness has helped him to balance the rest of his life.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Alfred Nilson is a man who, in a unique way, has managed to combine in his life the ancient and the modern. By profession he is a radio engineer at WOR in New York but he is also a sailor having lived for the past twenty-nine years on the Chinese Junk Amoy, a boat built according to a design perfected over a thousand years ago. This is his creed.
Years ago, I worked as a harvester in the California orchards. Early in spring, along with others who wished to enjoy the clean air and delicious fruit, I would head for the cherry orchards. When the cherries had been picked, we would go to the apricot, peach, pear, prune, and apple orchards, then the hop fields, and, finally, the grape vineyards.
In the course of the summer, we would walk well over 200 miles loaded with utensils, blankets, books, and wearing apparel. We found that the straightest, levelest highway between fruit centers was the railroad. But walking the track was difficult. If we walked the ties, which were not evenly spaced, we had to continually break step. We would occasionally step on a piece of crushed rock and be tripped. To walk the top of the rail was ideal, except that it was narrow.
It was in attempting to master this technique that I was led to a discovery which I feel was one of the most valuable I’ve ever made, a discovery that’s been a guide to me in almost every decision I make. I found that I could make about ten steps along the rail before having to step off and regain my balance. No matter how carefully I watched my feet, I was unable to go any greater distance. And then I made this discovery: if I took my eyes off my feet, if I raised my sights to as far down the track as I could see, I could walk for miles along that same narrow ledge without once stepping off.
Then I got to thinking: If looking ahead can steady my physical course, why cannot I steady my mental course with the same farsightedness?
And having for many years tested that this can be done, I was led to try this same method on all the larger problems that perplexed me and all those around me. I imagined myself commissioned to design a life for people 2000 years hence, a life that would be as nearly perfect as I could plan it. Little by little, I graded and sifted my thoughts and acts, and soon found that I attached myself only to those interests that are as imperishable as diamond. I found myself being driven with an inspiring mental energy, which is the mark of successful living.
I realize that since we are all equal creatures created by God, we should have religious understanding of that Creator we can all agree on.
I came to believe that if it was regarded as the moral responsibility of all genuinely religious people not to subscribe to any creed from which others are automatically excluded, you would find nothing but very religious people in the world. Atheists are only people who refuse to accept the special provisions in our religions.
When I look over the plains of history, the peaks that stand out—the Homers, the Platos, the Shakespeares, the Gandhis—I find them all to be men conscious of the world of the future, almost completely undisturbed by the petty troubles of the contemporary world.
They were the men who could stand erect, look far down into the future, and walk the straight track to their ideals with the minimum of stumbling and falling. This I believe.
That was Alfred Nilson whose three sons have never lived ashore until they went to college but have sailed around the world in their Chinese junk home.