May 30, 2012




Roger Ebert’s review of this new British film doesn’t begin to do it justice:


                                    Travel Comedy.  4 ½ stars.  PG-13.

                                    The hotel of the title is a retirement

                                    destination in India for “the elderly

                                    and beautiful.”  It has seen better days,

                                    and if you want to see what the better

                                    days looked like, just examine the

                                    brochure, which depicts a luxurious

                                    existence near Udaipur, a popular tourist

                                    destination in Rajasthan.  To this city

                                    travel a group of seven Brits with

                                    seven reasons for making the move.  As

                                    we meet them jammed on the bus from

                                    the airport, we suspect that the film will

                                    be about their various problems and that

                                    the hotel will not be as advertised.  What

                                    we may not expect is what a charming,

                                    funny and heartwarming movie this is,

                                    a smoothly crafted entertainment that

                                    makes good use of seven superb veteran

                                    actors. (Roger Ebert, Universal Uclick)

                                    124 minutes.


It is far more than a travel comedy.  As funny as many of the lines are situations are, undergirding it all is a serious premise.  It reminds me of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (ostensibly, merely a collection of stories told to each other by medieval pilgrims; but in reality, all Europe is being terrorized by a plague that is no respecter of persons or age groups.  It is a plague that strikes indiscriminately and suddenly: today you are healthy, tomorrow you are dying, often horribly).  Marigold Hotel is just as serious, beneath the humor and vibrantly alive scenery and people of India.  In truth, each of the seven Brits is in India for a reason.  In most cases it is for reasons each of us knows all too well: we are all dying, tied as we are to a terminal existence.  But what tortures us most is not the mere ceasing to breathe, but being marginalized, being pushed aside, having to dither in the grandstands of life watching the only players that matter fight it out.  Discovering how little our grown children need us any more—and by extension, the grandchildren as well.  Reallizing that all too often our children or others usurp control of our financial assets.  Ruefully becoming aware that we have inadequate resources to maintain the quality of life we are used to.


In times past, before the State assumed responsibility for the needs of its elderly, families took care of their own and lived together or in close proximity, intergenerationally.  In such a world, there were many contributions the elderly could make.  That is much less true in our age of separation of senior citizens from the day-to-day flow of those still active and creating products and services.


Another key dimension of the film highlights the aging protagonists’ continued yearning to be loved and cherished, for physical intimacy even though with lower wattage.


In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” older people miraculously have their youth restored to them; at least that’s what they think, and act accordingly.  Since their restored youth is all illusionary the results are grotesque.  In Marigold Hotel, each character is all too aware of their aging, yet each still longs to have their aliveness, their youthful vigor, return—even if it be briefly or for but one last time.

                                                                                                                                                            Marigold Hotel, itself as aged and dilapidated as they, is an inspired setting.  The young Indian hotel owner/manager and his vivacious and lovely sweetheart provide intensity contrast to the lack of it in the guests.  Another layer of meaning is that the old hotel dates back to the days when the British ruled India, and the wisdom articulated then by such writers as Rudyard Kipling still resonating today in such immortal works as “If.”  Almost ironically the descendants of India’s erstwhile conquerors return in order to rediscover meaning in their lives.


Miraculously, the aged hotel proves to be a catalyst—not necessarily to a rebirth of youth for the characters, but to a prolongation of their sense of belonging, of camaraderie, of esprit de corps, of friendship, of being needed, of being given the opportunity to contribute again, of being respected again, and last but anything but least: a sense of renewed excitement with the dawn of each new day (in that sense, a rebirth of joie-du-vivre).


The one character who is unable or unwilling to accept the call of India, returns to England without her husband who—oh, you’ll just have to see and experience the film for yourself!


It is not a film young people would understand very well.  However, it is a must for every senior among us, and almost an equal must for all those older children and care-givers who interact with society’s seniors.  As to why, that is something each film-watcher will know for a certainty before the screen credits roll.


* * * * *


The film also segues beautifully with my May 9 blog on Tennyson’s “Ulysses.”







May 23, 2012










Of all the thousands of books I devoured during my growing-up years, none did I love more than our June selection: Grace Richmond’s The Twenty-Fourth of June, a paean to Midsummer’s Day (the Feast of St. John the Baptist), at the time of the Summer Solstice.  It is a love story like no other.  The story of a rather arrogant grandson of a millionaire who flits through life with little sense of purpose. Then young Richard Kendrick sees lovely Roberta Gray—and is transfixed.  But she is anything but, where he is concerned.  For dilettantes she has nothing but scorn.


Richmond’s unforgettable novel chronicles the clash that takes place when a man falls in love with a woman as beautiful inside as out—a woman not in the least interested in him.  When he persists, she throws down a gage at his feet: if he cares for her at all, he must agree to have nothing to do with her, have no contact with her, send her no gifts—no flowers even—for almost half a year.


Until Midsummer’s Day.


All the suspense of the novel is woven into the fabric of those months of noncommunication.


How it all plays out—well, you’ll have to somewhere, somehow, find a copy of this old book, and read it for yourself.



(1866 – 1959)


Grace was born on March 3, 1866, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to a minister father, the Rev. Dr. Charles E. Smith and mother, Catherine “Kitty” Kimball Smith.  Grace was a direct descendant of the state’s founder, Roger Williams.  An only child, Grace grew up the focal center of her parents’ manse.  In 1885, after having pastored Baptist churches in Mt. Auburn, Ohio; New Haven, Connecticut; and Syracuse, New York, Dr. Smith was called to Fredonia, New York; and there he would remain for the rest of his life.  On Oct. 29, 1887, Grace married the personable young family doctor, Dr. Nelson G. Richmond, who purchased a home next door to the manse.  So after marriage, Grace merely moved next door.  And it was here in Fredonia that the bride would write her many stories, essays, and novels.


The home.  It all starts there, the action happens there, and it all ends there.  Because of this, Grace Richmond is known as The Novelist of the Home.”  Of the thousands of writers who have written about the home, only Richmond earned that title.  Only in her fictional world is the home the all-in-all, the core, the bedrock.


Among her other beloved books are novels such as The Indifference of Juliet, The Second Violin,

A Court of Inquiry, Red Pepper Burns, Strawberry Acres, The Brown Study, Red Pepper’s Patients, Red and Black, Foursquare, Cherry Square, Lights Up, At the South Gate, the Listening Post, High Fences, and several Christmas novelettes.  She was among the most prolific short story writers in America. Most of her novels were serialized as well.  For 40 years, she was never out of print.  Of the dominant family authors of the first half of the twentieth century, only Zane Grey, Gene Stratton Porter, and Harold Bell Wright were better known than she; and her name ranked up there with Frances Hodgson Burnett, Kate Douglas Wiggin, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Pearl S. Buck, Bess Streeter Aldrich, and Temple Bailey.  It was illustrious company indeed.  At the height of her popularity she was paid upward of $30,000 for magazine serializations (a princely sum back then!).  Doubleday would sell more than 2,500,000 copies of her books.




Of the twelve classic books I edited for our Focus on the Family Great Stories Series, one was The Twenty-Fourth of June.  It was also the first to sell out; consequently, copies have always been scarce for apparently readers appear unwilling to part with the book.  At the front of it is my 55-page biography (which I researched and wrote over a year’s period) and at the back, discussion questions for families, teachers, and home-schoolers.  I also include a complete bibliography of all her books and stories.


Candidly, I actually feared returning to a book I’d loved so much when I was young.  I needn’t have worried: I was gripped with the same fascination as before, even though I knew how it all came out.  The title was an inspired choice; there is a symbiotic relationship between the plot and the title—each enhances the other.  How many book titles can you think of which are limited to a month and a day?  Richmond’s genius is that if you can remember the title, you can remember the plot.


But it is more than that, because the date represents far more than the cutting of the proverbial Gordian Knot, the denouement; it is the source of all the suspense.  All through the second half of the book, the reader reels back and forth between two questions: Will he make it?  And, if he does make it, will it be enough? I know of no other book that incorporates quite the same structure, the same crescendo, of suspense.


Copies are available on the web, both the Doubleday edition and the A. L. Burt reprint edition.  Since it is the rarest Focus/Tyndale classic book, I can’t help much as I have only four copies left (all new, unread) at $95 (I’ll include postage and insurance in that price; and inscribe them personally if requested to do so).






May 16, 2012



Suddenly, thanks to President Obama’s open advocacy of granting gays and lesbians the legal right to marry, not much else is being talked about on the air-waves, relegating even the economy to a back seat.  One thing appears glaringly obvious: this year’s election promises to be a defining one, a polarizing one, a stridently divisive one.


Which is both a bad thing and a good thing.  Bad in that the rhetoric is going to be ugly; good in that since a showdown on the issue had to come sooner or later, it might as well come now.


I’m prayerfully sharing these personal thoughts, not because I have any illusions that this blog is likely to make much of a difference in our national debate but because I’ve been convicted that I ought to weigh in on the issue.


The issue, simplified, appears to be this:







In the days, weeks, and months to come, in the midst of a media frenzy, keep in mind the essential simplicity of the issue itself.


Before arriving at any conclusions on the issue, permit me to step back in time with you a little.


Since time immemorial, marriage between a man and a woman has been considered the very bedrock of civilized society.  When that template began to crumble (such as in Greco-Roman times), the collapse of those civilizations soon followed.


Christianity, based as it is on the creation of man and woman by God, with God sanctioning the relationship of Adam and Eve as the divinely ordained foundation of the home itself, has never wavered on its commitment to this divinely ordained marriage.


Until now.


The eroding process has been long but steady.  Long because it began way back during the Renaissance.  The Reformation represented a major course-correction.  But it too weakened as secularization gained momentum over the centuries that followed.  Rationalism and skepticism joined forces with science to question the validity of the Bible and the principles contained in its pages.  Then came Darwinism which ended up challenging creation itself.  Not that it should have, however, because change itself ought not to have invalidated God—but the perception that it did accelerated the spiritual erosion.  Then came psychology, psychiatry, and sociology, in which their practitioners all too often did their best to discredit the spiritual dimension of men and women, and replace it with a template that did all but push God out of the picture.  This development too did not make sense because God created our minds, hearts, and souls to begin with!  And the titans of history (individuals such as Moses, Plato, Daniel, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Paul, St. Augustine, Luther, Galileo, Tolken, C. S. Lewis, Schweitzer, etc.), tower over time because they intertwined in their lives, speech, and writings both the spiritual and the rational dimensions.


In our time, the Woman’s Lib Movement—which was badly needed because of male disenfranchisement and demeaning of women—had dominated society way too long.  Sadly, however, not content with righting this imbalance between the sexes, many of the movement’s leaders went on to discredit and demean the male sex.  So successful were they that today the male sex it is that is on the ropes, and marriage between a man and a woman is continually disparaged.  Who needs it?  Today live-in relationships and out-of-wedlock births are threatening to become the new norm.  The media (orchestrated by men and women who rarely espouse Judeo-Christian values or attend churches or synagogues) openly trash Christians who dare to speak out about their values.  As a result, they have Christianity cowering and on the defensive.




As I see it, I feel that Christianity comes into the fray with anything but clean hands.  For, I’m ashamed to admit that we have tended to over-react on this issue.  For if men and women who bear the gay and lesbian label are just as much children of God, and created by God, as we, then they are entitled to our love, friendship, and respect.  Since Christ would not have excluded them from His love, why should not we follow His divine example?


But having said this, that does not mean that we should ignominiously turn our backs on the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.  If the legal definition of marriage were to be changed to include man and man and woman and woman, the basic foundations of society would collapse.  Inheritance would mean nothing.  Nor would genealogy.  DNA itself validates the man and woman basis for society’s existence.  Since men and men and women and women can not procreate they can not possibly be entitled to be married in the sense that men and women can.  Otherwise, we’d be forced to come up with a new name for traditional marriage!


But this does not mean we should discredit all those who have chosen the gay and lesbian lifestyle and truly love and care for their partners, who set up households, adopt children, and do their level best to live good lives, to serve their fellow man—as untold thousands now do.  They should not be deprived of the right to have their relationships with their cherished significant others recognized and honored by society—which is all of us.


This is why I feel we should recognize their right to be entitled to civil union status.  This way they too can hold their heads up high, knowing that we consider each to be a first-class (not second-class) citizen deserving of our love, friendship, and respect.


But I conclude with this caveat: Should we surrender on the core issue (marriage is between a man and a woman), the American home, family, society, and civilization would be doomed.  “Marriage” itself would immediately become a meaningless word, and the heretofore sacred marriage ceremony a travesty.  There can be no fall-back position.  This must be our final line in the sand!


May God continue to bless the United States of America!

                                                —Joseph Leininger Wheeler, Ph.D. (2012)


*Feel free to make copies of this blog and share them with others!






May 9, 2012


Last week, in discussing our Book of the Month, Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Enoch Arden, I also referred to Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” generally considered to be the greatest poem on aging ever written.  It was so considered by three generations of our family, namely my maternal grandfather, Herbert Norton Leininger; my mother, Barbara Leininger Wheeler—and I have inwardly mined its wisdom all of my life.


The untimely death of his dearest friend and soulmate, Arthur Hallam resulted in a spiritual earthquake that permanently darkened Tennyson’s inner skies.  Not only did it result in the greatest ode in the English language, it also resulted in Tennyson’s writing a poem that almost defines the aging process long before its author reached his own twilight years.


Tennyson’s persona is no less a person than Ulysses, the lead character in Homer’s immortal Iliad and Odyssey.  Ulysses, who, after fighting the Trojans for ten years, roams the Mediterranean world for another ten years; only then, returning to his long neglected wife Penelope, and kingdom of Ithaca.  But Tennyson goes beyond Homer in this marvelous creation: a titan who finds “business as usual” impossible to endure after having lived and interacted so long with kings, queens, warriors, and Greco-Roman gods.  Indeed this restlessness has resulted in his rounding up all the surviving warriors who accompanied him on his sojourns and battles, and enlisting them in one last adventure, one from which none will return to Ithaca alive.


In this monologue, Ulysses explains to us the reasons why he is embarking on this third and last quest.  He has thought of everything and everyone (with the notable exception of his long-suffering wife Penelope); he has turned over the reins of government to his much more prosaic son Telemachus, and has his crew ready to launch out into the deep.


First of all, he explains to us all why he must go—his restlessness; his hunger to fully live again (not merely exist); his yearning for action; for fighting against overwhelming odds; for making a real difference in his interactions with all those he comes in contact with; for learning, for becoming, for experiencing, everything life and the gods may throw at him.


Then in the poem’s powerful conclusion, Ulysses details his personal Bucket List: all he hopes to accomplish before he and his mariners sail off into the sunset.


This is one of those poems that so grows on you that each year of your life that passes, the lines and imagery will embed deeper into your psyche.  In short, properly internalized, the poem will revolutionize the rest of your life.  At the least, post it on your wall, or, better yet, memorize it:




It little profits that an idle king,

By this still hearth, among these barren crags,

Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole

Unequal laws unto a savage race,

That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel; I will drink

Life to the lees [dregs].  All times I have enjoyed

Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those

That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when

Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades

Vext the dim sea.  I am become a name;

For always roaming with a hungry heart

Much have I seen and known,—cities of men,

And manners, climates, councils, governments,

Myself not least, but honored of them all;

And drunk delight of battle with my peers,

Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough

Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades

For ever and for ever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!

As though to breathe were life!  Life piled on life

Were all too little, and of one to me

Little remains; but every hour is saved

From that eternal silence, something more,

A bringer of new things; and vile it were

For some three suns to store and hoard myself,

And this grey spirit yearning in desire

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.


This is my son, mine own Telemachus,

To whom I leave the scepter and the isle—

Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil

This labor, by slow prudence to make mild

A rugged people, and through soft degrees

Subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere

Of common duties, decent not to fail

In offices of tenderness, and pay

Meet adoration to my household gods,

When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.


There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:

There gloom the dark, broad seas.  My mariners,

Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me—

That ever with a frolic welcome took

The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed

Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;

Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.

Death closes all; but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;

The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep

Moans round with many voices.  Come, my friends,

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are:

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

—Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)


BLOG # 18, SERIES #3




May 2, 2012



My abject apologies for being late; this should have been posted last week.  In contrition for giving you a short month, this month’s selection will be a short book.



Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) was born into English gentility, his father a rector.  Extremely precocious, the boy constructed an epic of 12,000 lines when only twelve.  His early education was conducted by his father; that was followed by further education at Trinity College, of Cambridge.  It was here that he made the deepest friendship of his life with Arthur Hallam, who became not only his soulmate but his almost brother-in-law.  Almost—because, tragically, Hallam died of a ruptured blood vessel.  Neither Alfred nor his sister Emily ever completely recovered from this loss.   Eventually, Tennyson would write perhaps the most famous ode in the English language, In Memoriam (a labor of years), expressing his sorrow as well as also articulating a Victorian philosophy of life.


When he was only 21, Tennyson published Poems, Chiefly Lyrical that stunned the literary world.  From that time on, his name was talked about everywhere.  Money was often a problem, especially after he unwisely invested all he owned with an unscrupulous speculator—and lost everything.  There were long periods of time when he didn’t publish anything more, but then he’d surface again with works that propelled him back into the public limelight.  In 1850, he was finally able to marry Emily Sellwood (after a twenty-year-courtship) and was annointed Poet Laureate on the death of Wordsworth.  From this time on, the flame of his fame burned so bright that Britannica Encyclopedia editors declare that “No living poet ever held any country in unbroken sway as long as did Tennyson.”


His greatest financial success came with his multi-segmented epic work originally titled Morte d’Arthur, and eventually growing into Idylls of the King.


Unlike so many poets before and since, Tennyson never lost the common touch.  Generations came and went, still his poetry ruled supreme among the common folk as well as the literati.  Before I ever came on the scene, my maternal grandfather, and then his daughter Barbara (my mother) learned by heart and recited such enduring poems as “The Lady of Shalott,” “Ulysses” (one of the greatest poems on aging ever written), “Locksley Hall,” “Sir Galahad,” “Break, Break, Break,” “Sweet and Low,” “The Splendor Falls,” Tears, Idle Tears,” “The Eagle,” “Rizpah,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” and that paean to departing life (both in poetic and hymn form), “Crossing the Bar.”


And that great story poem, Enoch Arden, first published in 1864.  The original story, titled “The Fisherman’s Story,” was relayed to Mrs. Tennyson by the Pre-Raphaelite sculptor and poet Thomas Woolner.  She’d asked Woolner if he could “give Alfred something to do”—and it more than accomplished that, becoming one of the most beloved story-poems of the age.  Apparently, it was based on a true story, and is as poignant and impossible to ever forget today as it was back then.


The premise: what if your husband sailed away and never came back? (leaving you and children behind without funds with which to pay your bills).  What would you do?  What could you do?  What if another man who’d always loved you urged you to marry him?  But what if your long-lost husband should come back years later?


Enoch Arden has been reprinted many times, in both self-standing books and in literature anthologies.






Encyclopedia Britannica (1946 edition).


Drabble, Margaret, Editor.  The Oxford Companion to English Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1932, 1985).


Kamm, Anthony.  Biographical Dictionary of English Literature (Glasgow, Scotland: Harper Collins, 1993).


Stephens, Beck, and Snow, Editors.  Victorian and Later English Poets (New York: American Book Company, 1934, 1937).

Published in: on May 2, 2012 at 8:00 am  Comments (1)