Finding New Meaning in a Misattributed Quote

I was in church once, more than 10 years ago and the priest said this during his homily. “There are two important days in a person’s life: the day you were born and the day you realize why.”

I know it was that long ago because I came home and wrote what he said down with the date. At the time I thought that was a pretty wise saying. It really cut through the clutter. He was a likable enough guy as far as priests go, so I believed that he had come up with the sentiment on his own.

It was one of those sayings that seemed to bring order to the chaos of the world. As if no matter how tough things got, there would be clarity in my life. Though it didn’t make sense at the time, I could look forward to a moment when everything made sense.

It wasn’t until years later, when I heard the saying again, that I went to the Internet to discover just where the quote came from. At the time, according to Google, it was attributed to Mark Twain, and if I wanted, I could copy an image of a blue sky with the words typed over it.

Suddenly it put everything the priest said in a different light.


Did he know he was plagiarizing one of America’s greatest writers and humorists?*  Was anything real? But when I checked on Quote Investigator, I found a bigger issue. Versions of the saying have been used in homilies and speeches for more than 100 years and have been attributed to a number of people in that time, most famously Twain, though there is no evidence to support that he said it.

So now the saying that once brought me comfort was a lie. If it hadn’t been said by a trusted man (whether that was the priest or Twain) did it still count?

Since the time I heard it a lot had changed in my life. I no longer thought about the big moment when everything would make sense. Slowly over time, things had begun to. It seemed to me now that there were a lot of moments in a person’s life. I wasn’t sure there could only be two.

Having one big moment where you know what everything is about is a pretty tall order. If that works for you, that’s great. But for me, focusing on the little things that matter is more important than wcropped-door-county-2010-052-2.jpgaiting for the big moment when I finally see what it’s all about. You know? Those moments when you really see something or someone? Or when someone really sees you? The things you remember when you really slow down to notice. Even the ones you write down and look back on more than a decade later. Even the ones that help you see how much you’ve changed.

What do you think? Is there a moment in life when we know our purpose? Have you ever re-evaluated something you’ve heard?


* according to Wikipedia














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  1. lovesdeepwaters

    Nope! I’m 39 and my life is more confusing than ever. People seem to enjoy my words, so I write. I don’t trust quotes much. Generally I will just put quotations with no name. Somebody said it or thought it but I think we rarely know who. Just because someone “famous” says it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t told to them by a family member or wise old farmer who lived many years ago. I understand your disappointment, truly I do.

    • Catherine Lanser

      It’s interesting how we re-evaluate things at different times in our life. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m older or because the person who said it changed that the meaning changed for me. Probably a little of both.

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