Monday, December 28, 2015

No Ifs, Ands, or Buts about it

Reading Lessons 361-365, I was reminded that for a good part of my life I was caught up in the idea that I was alone, and IF anything were to be done, I would have to do it.

In an English class in my senior year in high school, I came across Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If.”  I found it very inspiring and taped it to my portable Remington typewriter case as I went off to Kalamazoo College in 1959.   It gave me courage as I faced the immense challenges of college life, and after all, I wanted to be a “manly man.”

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Much later, 1986, I came across A Course in Miracles, and I learned that I was not alone, experiencing my true dependence.

from Lessons 361-365:

And IF I need a word to help me, He
will give it to me. IF I need a thought,
that will He also give. And IF I need
but stillness and a tranquil, open mind,
these are the gifts I will receive of Him.
He is in charge by my request. And He
will hear and answer me, because He speaks
for God my Father and His holy Son.

from the Epilogue:

                           You do not walk alone.
God's angels hover near and all about.
His Love surrounds you, and of this be sure;
that I will never leave you comfortless.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Early Years: The Store, The Schools, The Swamp

(Note:  The most recent assignment in our Writing Class was to write a narrative describing our activities during our early childhood.  This was  inspired by the sharp contrast with the childhood experiences of this generation, particularly because of the immersion in technological devices.)

In 1947, when I was six years old, my parents moved from Three Rivers, Michigan, ten miles north to Moorepark,  a village of 500 people located 15 miles south of Kalamazoo on old Highway 131.  They wanted  to make a go of it running a General Store, selling basic groceries. Across the Highway to the east was a Methodist Church; (My family never went to church); across the street to the south was a gas station and Gunsmith Shop run by Bergie Hughey.  To the west was a Post Office, and across the street from the Post Office was a one-room schoolhouse.

Our living quarters were located just behind the  store, separated by a curtain.  We lived in one big room.  My parents’ bed was in the northeast corner; my sister, Jean, three years younger, and I slept in small cots in the southwest corner, next to the couch, easy chair, and big, wooden radio.  In the northwest corner was the kitchen with a hand pump over the sink because we had no running water.  Next to it was an ice box that used ice blocks delivered once a week.  Next to it was a primitive stove .Near the kitchen were two large, lead tubs for laundry and our baths. My mother hung clothes on a clothes line.  The two-seater outhouse was just outside.
At night, we huddled around the radio listing to series like “The Shadow,” “The Lone Ranger,”  “The B Bar B Ranch,” and “Amos ‘n Andy.”
During this time, I attended a one-room school, Grades 1-8; I was a student there from Grades 1-4, when my parents gave up, and we moved back into town, Three Rivers.

Mrs. Steininger, a tall woman with gray hair and glasses, masterfully taught us, about 45 kids in one room.  There were 5-6 kids in each grade; she made it work by having the older ones teach the younger ones.  I looked forward to going to school.

(Incidentally, years later I went to a Psychic Reader who said that in my former life I was a Jewish professor at a German University, and I in the late 30’s, I was caught in a round-up by the Nazis, placed in a truck with other people, and a gas hose was attached to the back of the truck, and we were asphyxiated.

She said that several of my family immigrated to the United States.  She said that I came back rather quickly (1941), and one of my sisters became my teacher.  I often think that Mrs. Steiniger was my sister in my former life.

Yet, when I think about it now, I do not recall that she had a German accent, and  how could she have gotten certified to  teach so quickly?)
On most summer days, my friend Nino, from a large Italian family down the street, and I would head for The Swamp.  He often proudly told me that his name meant “young bull.” Across the street from the store behind the church were large fields, and behind them were woods and swamps and streams.  We would head out with our bows and arrows, our knives in scabbards hanging from our belts, and small knapsacks on our backs, carrying our lunch—baloney and mustard sandwiches, Twinkies, and a canteen of water.

We hunted bullfrogs, shot at snakes, and threw rocks at the fish, and played cowboys and Indians.  We swam at The Pit, an enormous sand pit, its large, almost vertical banks sloping into a warm pool.

Looking back, I realize that it was so much fun because we were free to do as we wished, no restrictions imposed by parents or teachers.
After four years, my dad and mom realized they just couldn’t make it running the store.  People tended to go to the larger stores in Three Rivers for groceries, and only came into our store for a few items, like milk and  bread and cold cuts.

We moved back to Three Rivers.  My dad took a job as a butcher in a nearby grocery store, and my mother proudly became a secretary at Continental Can.  She was proud because she had graduated from high school and had taken typing.  I entered Huss Elementary School in the Fifth Grade.  I was wondering how I would do in school, moving into a city of 10,000 people.  I was amazed that I did perfectly all right, often  raising my hand to answer a question.  Mrs. Steininger did her job.

Although bullying was not widespread, as it seems to be now, a couple of guys messed with me because I had moved to town from the country.   One day in the restroom while I was washing my hands, a couple of guys came in and called me “Country boy.”  I grabbed the nearest guy by the front of his shirt, slammed him against the wall, and said, “You better stop fucking with me,” while the other guy took a step back and when I released the first guy, they were out the door. From that day forward, I was accepted and often picked early on for pick-up games in football, softball, and basketball.
On Saturdays, my sister and I would go to the movies in the Riviera Theatre in downtown Three Rivers.  For 12 cents each, we saw a double feature, a serial, and cartons.

And so it went, almost 70 years ago.

Thursday, December 03, 2015


James Van Praagh ends his recent book, “Adventures of the Soul:  Journeys Through the Physical and Spiritual Dimensions with this poem:

(Things I Desire)

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble,
it's a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann was an attorney turned philosopher-poet who live in Terre Haute, Ind. He spent his life wrestling with the realities of making a living and following his personal calling to a life of poetry, literature, and thought. He wrote A Prayer, which became a message of hope for thousands, but he is best known for Desiderata, which he wrote for himself, "because it counsels those virtues I felt myself most in need of."  He died in 1945.