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Zan Thompson

Essay Has 'All We Ever Need to Know'

September 06, 1987|ZAN THOMPSON

"Thou Shalt Not Park," says the chaste sign that stands at the edge of a field next to the Prince of Peace Chapel in Aspen. The church fits comfortably into the Colorado mountains. It is made of wood and glass and has a handsome stained-glass window behind the altar. A porch wraps around the chapel, leading to the front door and handing you a post-card view of mountain scenery just as you walk into the building.

My friend Jean Erck helps usher at the ecumenical service, which is mid-Sunday morning, year round. The day I went with her, there was some whispered unrest in the congregation lest the pastor not make it down the mountain in time. He had held a service on the top of one of the stomach-dropping ski runs, and more than 400 people had ridden up on the ski lift gondolas another 1,000 feet to hear the words of Gregg Anderson, pastor of the Prince of Peace Chapel.

His sermon was on the Ten Commandments, and I remembered my good friend Nan Tepper saying: "Those were commandments Moses brought down Mt. Sinai. Not suggestions."

And then the Rev. Anderson read something called, "All I Ever Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten." The writing was as clear and plain as Maroon Bells water in a tin cup. It caught the mind and held it with its straight-ahead clarity.

After the service, I asked Rev. Anderson if I might have a copy, and he said he had received it third-hand and then gave me a reproduced sheet. The piece was credited to Robert Fulghum and had appeared in the Kansas City Times. I tracked down Robert Fulghum, a Unitarian minister who lives on a houseboat in Seattle.

Two minutes conversation with him and you could hear in the clear cadence of his words the same simplicity and solid logic he had used in his piece.

He said: "That thing has turned up in the most amazing places. Sen. Dan Evans from the state of Washington gave it to the Republican Senatorial Caucus and Minority Leader Bob Dole circulated it widely.

"A large telephone company in the South mailed it out with their bills.

"Most exciting to me is that a kindergarten teacher sent it home with her students, and the mother of one child sent it to a New York literary agent, Patricia Van der Leun. She wrote and asked me if I had any more things, and of course I do; I'm a minister. I bundled up some things and sent them to her and she pulled them together and sold it all to Random House. In just three weeks, I'm going to New York and receive the full treatment."

I told him to eat lots of delicious food and told him how pleased I am for him. He said Leo Buscaglia, the gentle philosopher, had written him several times, along with dozens of other people. And then he told me he would be glad to share it with you. If you have already read it, good for you. It certainly is good for saving.

"Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do and how to be, I learned in kindergarten.

"Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox of nursery school.

"These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people, put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess.

"Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush.

"Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

"Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

"Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

"Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup--they all die. So do we.

"And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and sane living."

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Think how fine it would be if we all practiced Robert Fulghum's rules for a safe passage through kindergarten. It would carry us through the last nap at peace with ourselves and the world.

After the service in the Aspen Chapel, Jean's friend Tee Bell, who lives in Aspen year round and Harriette Thompson, from Charlotte, N.C., who comes out every summer to spend a month with her friend Betty Whetsell, a year-round resident, served fruit kabobs, home-made cookies, coffee cake and coffee to the people leaving the chapel. They served a punch the color of pale jade, made of ginger ale, lime sherbet and pineapple juice. It was like drinking a corner of a cloud.

Here's thundering success to the Rev. Robert Fulghum. May his milk always be cold and his cookies warm, and may he have a friendly hand to hold when he has to go out into the traffic and when the winter winds blow in from Puget Sound across his houseboat home. And thank you, Robert.

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