Chapter 7 - Don't Let the Beetles Get You Down

23 April 2022

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Here is a dramatic story that I'll probably remember as long as I live. It was told to me
by Robert Moore, of 14 Highland Avenue, Maplewood, New Jersey.
"I learned the biggest lesson of my life in March, 1945," he said, "I learned it under 276
feet of water off the coast of Indo-China. I was one of eighty-eight men aboard the
submarine Baya S.S. 318. We had discovered by radar that a small Japanese convoy was
coming our way. As daybreak approached, we submerged to attack. I saw through the
periscope a Jap destroyer escort, a tanker, and a minelayer. We fired three torpedoes
at the destroyer escort, but missed. Something went haywire in the mechanics of each
torpedo. The destroyer, not knowing that she had been attacked, continued on. We
were getting ready to attack the last ship, the minelayer, when suddenly she turned and
came directly at us. (A Jap plane had spotted us under sixty feet of water and had
radioed our position to the Jap minelayer.) We went down to 150 feet, to avoid
detection, and rigged for a depth charge. We put extra bolts on the hatches; and, in
order to make our sub absolutely silent, we turned off the fans, the cooling system, and
all electrical gear.
"Three minutes later, all hell broke loose. Six depth charges exploded all around us and
pushed us down to the ocean floor -a depth of 276 feet. We were terrified. To be
attacked in less than a thousand feet of water is dangerous-less than five hundred feet
is almost always fatal. And we were being attacked in a trifle more than half of five
hundred feet of water -just about knee-deep, as far as safety was concerned. For
fifteen hours, that Jap minelayer kept dropping depth charges.
If a depth charge explodes within seventeen feet of a sub, the concussion will blow a
hole in it. Scores of these depth charges exploded within fifty feet of us. We were
ordered 'to secure'- to lie quietly in our bunks and remain calm. I was so terrified I could
hardly breathe. 'This is death,' I kept saying to myself over and over. 'This is death! ...
This is death!' With the fans and cooling system turned off, the air inside the sub was
over a hundred degrees; but I was so chilled with fear that I put on a sweater and a furlined jacket; and still I trembled with cold. My teeth chattered. I broke out in a cold,
clammy sweat. The attack continued for fifteen hours. Then ceased suddenly.
Apparently the Jap minelayer had exhausted its supply of depth charges, and steamed
away. Those fifteen hours of attack seemed like fifteen million years. All my life passed
before me in review.
I remembered all the bad things I had done, all the little absurd things I had worried
about. I had been a bank clerk before I joined the Navy. I had worried about the long
hours, the poor pay, the poor prospects of advancement. I had worried because I
couldn't own my own home, couldn't buy a new car, couldn't buy my wife nice clothes.
How I had hated my old boss, who was always nagging and scolding! I remembered how I
would come home at night sore and grouchy and quarrel with my wife over trifles. I had
worried about a scar on my forehead-a nasty cut from an auto accident.
"How big all these worries seemed years ago! But how absurd they seemed when depth
charges were threatening to blow me to kingdom come. I promised myself then and
there that if I ever saw the sun and the stars again, I would never, never worry again.
Never! Never! I Never!!! I learned more about the art of living in those fifteen terrible
hours in that submarine than I had learned by studying books for four years in Syracuse
We often face the major disasters of life bravely-and then let the trifles, the "pains in
the neck", get us down. For example, Samuel Pepys tells in his Diary about seeing Sir
Harry Vane's head chopped off in London. As Sir Harry mounted the platform, he was not
pleading for his life, but was pleading with the executioner not to hit the painful boil on
his neck!
That was another thing that Admiral Byrd discovered down in the terrible cold and
darkness of the polar nights-that his men fussed more about the ' 'pains in the neck"
than about the big things. They bore, without complaining, the dangers, the hardships,
and the cold that was often eighty degrees below zero. "But," says Admiral Byrd, "I know
of bunkmates who quit speaking because each suspected the other of inching his gear
into the other's allotted space; and I knew of one who could not eat unless he could find
a place in the mess hall out of sight of the Fletcherist who solemnly chewed his food
twenty-eight times before swallowing.
"In a polar camp," says Admiral Byrd, "little things like that have the power to drive even
disciplined men to the edge of insanity."
And you might have added, Admiral Byrd, that "little things" in marriage drive people to
the edge of insanity and cause "half the heartaches in the world."
At least, that is what the authorities say. For example, Judge Joseph Sabath of Chicago,
after acting as arbiter in more than forty thousand unhappy marriages, declared:
"Trivialities are at the bottom of most marital unhappiness"; and Frank S. Hogan, District
Attorney of New York County, says: "Fully half the cases in our criminal courts originate
in little things. Bar-room bravado, domestic wrangling, an insulting remark, a
disparaging word, a rude action-those are the little things that lead to assault and
murder. Very few of us are cruelly and greatly wronged. It is the small blows to our selfesteem, the indignities, the little jolts to our vanity, which cause half the heartaches in
the world."
When Eleanor Roosevelt was first married, she "worried for days" because her new cook
had served a poor meal. "But if that happened now," Mrs. Roosevelt says, "I would shrug
my shoulders and forget it." Good. That is acting like an adult emotionally. Even
Catherine the Great, an absolute autocrat, used to laugh the thing off when the cook
spoiled a meal.
Mrs. Carnegie and I had dinner at a friend's house in Chicago. While carving the meat, he
did something wrong. I didn't notice it; and I wouldn't have cared even if I had noticed it
But his wife saw it and jumped down his throat right in front of us. "John," she cried,
"watch what you are doing! Can't you ever learn to serve properly!"
Then she said to us: "He is always making mistakes. He just doesn't try." Maybe he didn't
try to carve; but I certainly give him credit for trying to live with her for twenty years.
Frankly, I would rather have eaten a couple of hot dogs with mustard-in an atmosphere
of peace-than to have dined on Peking duck and shark fins while listening to her
Shortly after that experience, Mrs. Carnegie and I had some friends at our home for
dinner. Just before they arrived, Mrs. Carnegie found that three of the napkins didn't

"I rushed to the cook," she told me later, "and found that the other three napkins had
gone to the laundry. The guests were at the door. There was no time to change. I felt
like bursting into tears! All I could think was: 'Why did this stupid mistake have to spoil
my whole evening?' Then I thought-well-why let it? I went in to dinner, determined to
have a good time. And I did. I would much rather our friends think I was a sloppy
housekeeper," she told me, "than a nervous, bad-tempered one. And anyhow, as far as I
could make out, no one noticed the napkins!"
A well-known legal maxim says: De minimis non curat lex- "the law does not concern
itself with trifles." And neither should the worrier-if he wants peace of mind.
Much of the time, all we need to overcome the annoyance of trifles is to affect a
shifting of emphasis-set up a new, and pleasurable, point of view in the mind. My friend
Homer Croy, who wrote They Had to See Paris and a dozen other books, gives a
wonderful example of how this can be done. He used to be driven half crazy, while
working on a book, by the rattling of the radiators in his New York apartment. The
steam would bang and sizzle-and he would sizzle with irritation as he sat at his desk.
"Then," says Homer Croy, "I went with some friends on a camping expedition. While
listening to the limbs crackling in the roaring fire, I thought how much they sounded like
the crackling of the radiators. Why should I like one and hate the other? When I went
home I said to myself: 'The crackling of the limbs in the fire was a pleasant sound; the
sound of the radiators is about the same-I'll go to sleep and not worry about the noise.'
And I did. For a few days I was conscious of the radiators; but soon I forgot all about
"And so it is with many petty worries. We dislike them and get into a stew, all because
we exaggerate their importance. ..."
Disraeli said: "Life is too short to be little." "Those words," said Andre Maurois in This
Week magazine, "have helped me through many a painful experience: often we allow
ourselves to be upset by small things we should despise and forget. ... Here we are on
this earth, with only a few more decades to live, and we lose many irreplaceable hours
brooding over grievances that, in a year's time, will be forgotten by us and by
everybody. No, let us devote our life to worth-while actions and feelings, to great
thoughts, real affections and enduring undertakings. For life is too short to be little."
Even so illustrious a figure as Rudyard Kipling forgot at times that "Life is too short to be
little". The result? He and his brother-in-law fought the most famous court battle in the
history of Vermont-a battle so celebrated that a book has been written about it:
Rudyard Kipling's Vermont Feud.
The story goes like this: Kipling married a Vermont girl, Caroline Balestier, built a lovely
home in Brattleboro, Vermont; settled down and expected to spend the rest of his life
there. His brother-in-law, Beatty Balestier, became Kipling's best friend. The two of
them worked and played together.
Then Kipling bought some land from Balestier, with the understanding that Balestier
would be allowed to cut hay off it each season. One day, Balestier found Kipling laying
out a flower garden on this hayfield. His blood boiled. He hit the ceiling. Kipling fired
right back. The air over the Green Mountains of Vermont turned blue!
A few days later, when Kipling was out riding his bicycle, his brother-in-law drove a
wagon and a team of horses across the road suddenly and forced Kipling to take a spill.
And Kipling the man who wrote: "If you can keep your head when all about you are
losing theirs and blaming it on you"- he lost his own head, and swore out a warrant for
Balestier's arrest I A sensational trial followed. Reporters from the big cities poured into
the town. The news flashed around the world. Nothing was settled. This quarrel caused
Kipling and his wife to abandon their American home for the rest of their lives. All that
worry and bitterness over a mere trifle! A load of hay.
Pericles said, twenty-four centuries ago: "Come, gentlemen, we sit too long on trifles."
We do, indeed!
Here is one of the most interesting stories that Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick ever told-a
story about the battles won and lost by a giant of the forest:
On the slope of Long's Peak in Colorado lies the ruin of 3 gigantic tree. Naturalists tell us
that it stood for some four hundred years. It was a seedling when Columbus landed at
San Salvador, and half grown when the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth. During the course
of its long life it was struck by lightning fourteen times, and the innumerable avalanches
and storms of four centuries thundered past it. It survived them all. In the end,
however, an army of beetles attacked the tree and leveled it to the ground. The insects
ate their way through the bark and gradually destroyed the inner strength of the tree by
their tiny but incessant attacks. A forest giant which age had not withered, nor lightning
blasted, nor storms subdued, fell at last before beetles so small that a man could crush
them between his forefinger and his thumb.
Aren't we all like that battling giant of the forest? Don't we manage somehow to survive
the rare storms and avalanches and lightning blasts of We, only to let our hearts be
eaten out by little beetles of worry-little beetles that could be crushed between a
finger and a thumb?
A few years ago, I travelled through the Teton National Park, in Wyoming, with Charles
Seifred, highway superintendent for the state of Wyoming, and some of his friends. We
were all going to visit the John D. Rockefeller estate in the park. But the car in which I
was riding took the wrong turn, got lost, and drove up to the entrance of the estate an
hour after the other cars had gone in. Mr. Seifred had the key that unlocked the private
gate, so he waited in the hot, mosquito-infested woods for an hour until we arrived. The
mosquitoes were enough to drive a saint insane. But they couldn't triumph over Charles
Seifred. While waiting for us, he cut a limb off an aspen tree-and made a whistle of it.
When we arrived, was he cussing the mosquitoes? No, he was playing his whistle. I have
kept that whistle as a memento of a man who knew how to put trifles in their place.
To break the worry habit before it breaks you, here is Rule 2:
Let's not allow ourselves to be upset by small things we should despise and forget.
Remember "Life is too short to be little."  

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