I love finding books that tie up little mysteries that resonate in your mind, and books that pop up in unexpected places. This book, ‘Graphic Sayings’, is one of them.
It’s been a stressful few months for me, which has involved many visits to my local hospital, at all times of the day and night. On the wall above the reception desk of the main concourse of the hospital is a round slate tablet, with the following inscription: ‘It Will Pass, Whatever It Is’. An enigmatic phrase, and one that always gave me a little piece of stoical comfort whenever I saw it.
The tablet stated that it had been carved by the Cardozo Kindersley workshop in Cambridge. The workship was founded by lettercutter, sculptor and inventor David Kindersley in 1946. There are many pieces of carving by the workshop across the city.
Every time I saw the phrase, I wondered where it originated. I had looked on the Cardozo Kindersley website a few times, but I could find no clues there. Then, one lunchtime, whilst browsing in a charity shop, I found this little book. First published in 1971, and reprinted in 1991, it contains 16 proverbs, each one in a different typographical style. David Kindersley wrote the following introduction:
‘The task of finding ‘sayings’ and ‘proverbs’, generally so difficult, was made easier by the kind permission of Idries Shah to let me quote from his books, from which all the designs are derived. One great joy is their humour and another that they tend to be the right length, matching both the size of paper and my limited power of sustained attention in their execution’.
Flicking through the book, I found ‘It Will Pass Whatever It Is’ on page 3. I would have bought the book anyway, but finding a phrase that had been lodged in my memory for a while was a bonus. Furthermore, who was Idries Shah? Had he wrote this phrase?
According to Wikipedia: ‘Idries Shah (16 June 1924 – 23 November 1996), also known as Idris Shah, was an author and teacher in the Sufi tradition who wrote over three dozen books on topics ranging from psychology and spirituality to travelogues and culture studies.’
‘It Will Pass Whatever It Is’ is similar to ‘This Too Shall Pass’, and according to Wikipedia: ‘The phrase appears in the works of Persian Sufi poets, such as Sanai and Attar of Nishapur. Attar records the fable of a powerful king who asks assembled wise men to create a ring that will make him happy when he is sad, and vice versa. After deliberation the sages hand him a simple ring with the words “This too will pass” etched on it, which has the desired effect.
There are 16 phrases and sayings in the book, each one drawn in a distinctive style. I’m generally wary of the kind of books that list little quotes and sayings, the kind that you find near the till in bookshops, but this one has made it onto my bookshelf. What is different about it is that it has been produced by a man with a passion, who turned this passion into a lifetime’s work, and has left this work in public spaces for people to draw inspiration and comfort from.
Hospitals are places where the slightest touch of comfort – a kind word, or a thoughtful gesture – can go a long way. I don’t know how or why this stoical little phrase made it on to the wall of the hospital, but I’m glad it did, and I’m glad I found this little book.