No single television series has ever spoken to me as much as Once & Again did – and does. No, I’ve never experienced divorce, either directly or indirectly, which is the basis of the basic storyline. Neither am I American, WASP or Jewish. None of the characters is my age. But Once & Again is perhaps one of the best-written, best-acted, and loveliest shows ever made; the best example for the case that TV can be educational, edifying, eye-opening. (My So-Called Life, the other series by creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, is pretty outstanding, but Once & Again is the very pinnacle of television.)

And it is moving. Today, as I re-watched the first season episode ‘The Mystery Dance’, a poem, read in turns by two characters at a crossroads in their lives, leapt out at me. It had never made the same impression before; its relevance had been confined to the characters’ situations. I suppose I’m at the point in my life that makes me ripe for it. This is my first Chinese New Year holiday since 2002, my first as a working person, at the start of the rest of my life.

‘George Gray’ is part of a collection of poems, each of which is a posthumous, autobiographical epitaph, by the American poet/biographer/dramatist Edward Lee Masters. It was originally published in 1915 in his Spoon River Anthology, which is proof positive that some things are universal. ‘George’ contemplates his headstone and his life-that-wasn’t – a sharp nudge in the ribs, a painfully sad reminder to those of us, still living, to live.

George Gray

I have studied many times

The marble which was chiseled for me –

A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.

In truth it pictures not my destination

But my life.

For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;

Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;

Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.

Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.

And now I know that we must lift the sail

And catch the winds of destiny

Wherever they drive the boat.

To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,

But life without meaning is the torture

Of restlessness and vague desire –

It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

Edgar Lee Masters