June 24, 2015

Wisdom, in whatever form it’s packaged, has always fascinated me. The most condensed form of wisdom is a quotation, which we discussed last week. Second only to quotations are poetry, in terms of the words required to compress wisdom into so few lines. Next would come essays and short stories.

As those of you know who own my book, Tears of Joy for Mothers, my introduction was titled “My Mother’s Scrapbooks,” a dual heirloom which I was lucky enough to inherit. My mother was a professional elocutionist, a stage performer whose control of audiences—be it for short stories, readings, or poetry—was absolute. I grew up listening to the rhythm of her voice. She bequeathed to me two great gifts: an enduring love for short stories, and an equally enduring love for poetry.

In earlier times, the reciting of poetry was a staple in schools, civic functions, and churches everywhere. Today, poetry has been all but snuffed out by a vacuous media. Ted Koppel put it best in these two lines:

“Almost everything said in public today is recorded;
Almost nothing said in public today is worth remembering.”

So little of enduring value in today’s televised yada-yada.

In my classes, I found boys and young men to be the most resistant to poetry. That is, until I showed them how brutally honest and searing great poetry can be. Result: many went on to put together scrapbooks composed of their favorite poems.

Though I don’t currently have a Dr. Joe’s Poem of the Month Club, I have blogged quite a few of my favorite poems. Here they are so far:

1. “Love Comes Not the Same” – Joe Wheeler – (Feb. 10, 2010)
2. “The Child Is Father of the Man” – William Wordsworth – (March 31, 2010)
3. “The Other Side of Pomp and Circumstance” – Joe Wheeler – (May 12, 2010)
4. “The Clock of Life” – Author Unknown – (May 19, 2010)
5. “Outwitted” – Edwin Markham – July 28, 2010)
6. “Days” – Emerson – (March 16, 2011)
7. “October Song” – Joe Wheeler – (Oct. 5, 2011)
8. “Enoch Arden” – Tennyson – (May 2, 2012)
9. “Ulysses” – “Tennyson – (May 9, 2012)
10. “The Mill” – Edwin Arlington Robinson – (Aug. 1, 2012)
11. “A Song of Living” – Author Unknown – (May 15, 2013)
12. “First Settler’s Story” – Will Carleton – (June 24, 2013)
13. “Where Does Morning Come From?” – Emily Dickinson – (March 19, 2014)
14. “And I Learned About Women from Her?” – Kipling – Oct. 8, 2014)
15. “I Am” – Helen Mallicoat – (Dec. 31, 2014)
16. “Wisdom” – Edgar Guest – (March 4, 2015)
17. “It Couldn’t Be Done” – Edgar Guest – (April 22, 2015)

So . . . , I have a question to ask of you: Would you like me to make a regular thingn of poems I’ve loved in life? Are you one of those who’d like to collect them if I did? If you are, please respond right away!

Meanwhile, over the next several weeks, I’m going to share a couple more of my favorites with you.

You can contact me at: mountainauthor@gmail.com. Or message me on Facebook.

Stay tuned.



December 3, 2014

In times gone by to be diagnosed as a leper was a curse almost worse than death, for you were immediately expelled from the human race. And nobody—but nobody—was ever cured from it.

That’s why it was such a monumental event when Christ cured—not one—but ten lepers at once! St. Luke, the physician, noted such miracles in his Gospel. In the 17th book, he notes not just the ten-fold miracle, but also noted something else: Only one came back to thank his Lord. That Christ was not above noticing such things as gratitude or the lack of it is born out by his sadly asking the rhetorical question: “Where are the other nine?”

With all his multitudinous faults, David was an exception to the rule. Jeremy Taylor put it this way: “From David learn to give thanks for everything—every furrow in the Book of Psalms is sown with the seeds of Thanksgiving.”

I wish I could say I’ve personally experienced a considerably higher ratio in terms of my own giving, but I can’t: At best, one out of ten will thank me. And I’m lucky if I get that many. I’m convinced, however, that, generally speaking, gratitude has to be taught at home. Rarely does it flower spontaneously.

For most of twenty years now, I’ve gifted a significant number of Christmas in My Heart® books to the leadership of large Christian organizations. As certain as night follows day, I can be absolutely certain that the same people will thank me every last time; and the same people will not.

* * * * *

We have all once again celebrated the sacred holiday of Thanksgiving. How many of us, I wonder, really took time to thank God for our many blessings—the gifts of life, health, family, friendship, and so much more?

But what about this week, now that Thanksgiving is over for another year? Does our thankfulness end Thanksgiving night?

For many years now—but not nearly enough—, I have made the expression of gratitude into a great adventure. Are these unexpected expressions of gratitude received in ho hum fashion? Not on your life! It’s more like cold water to travelers dying of thirst.

About a month ago, at Lauderdale by the Sea in Florida, I couldn’t help but notice how extra delicious the vegetarian omelet was. I asked our waiter to relay my appreciation to the chef. He turned me down, saying: “Sir, I think it would mean more if you took time to thank him personally.” I followed his suggestion and finally found the chef in a hot windowless room; dark, cheerless, and dank. You should have seen the sunrise of joy on his face as he effusively thanked me again and again for taking the trouble to track him down and thank him personally!

I’ve made it a habit, whenever I discover someone who is going the proverbial “second mile” in any aspect of service to others, to take time to say “thank you”—not just generally but specifically, which means much more to the recipient.

Oh there are ever so many opportunities, each day of our lives, to say thank you. Often we completely forget to regularly thank those who are nearest and dearest to us.

Emerson maintained that “the gift without the giver is bare,” which reminds me of expensive Christmas cards some people mail us, that arrive with their names printed on it. And nothing else. Am I impressed? Not on your life! They could have said something! Or what about tipping in hotels and motels. It’s all too easy to just drop some dollar bills on a table, and leave it at that. But ah the day-brightening-difference to hospitality workers when I also write “Many thanks!” or “You keep our room beautiful!”

It is an industry axiom that for every person who sends us an unsolicited note of thanks, there are at least a hundred people who feel the same way but will never take the time to express that gratitude. That’s why I consider unsolicited thank you notes as pure gold!

* * * * *

So how about you? How many of our readers would like to join me in this great Gratitude Adventure?

Richard Henry Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast”

March 26, 2014

Class, for our 28th book selection, we are turning to a book unlike any other previous selection. For all those who love true history, unvarnished biography, and the all too rare opportunity to step back in time and experience life as it once was without interrupting commentary, this is your book.











Heritage Edition                                                                                                                                                       Signet Classic Edition

There is much to be amazed about in the story of this book: First, the author was in his twenties when he wrote it, and never again wrote anything comparable to it. Second, it has never been out of print since Harpers first published it in 1841! It was an almost instant classic and best-seller and has remained so ever since.

Let’s step back in time 199 years, only six years after the birth of Abraham Lincoln, Richard Henry Dana (1815-1882), was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Both his father and mother were members of the New England aristocracy.

Early on, attending a local school, the boy was regularly flogged by sadistic schoolmasters. Such flogging was indiscriminate and administered without justification. Later, he studied with Emerson. He was only sixteen when he enrolled at Harvard. All went well until, in his sophomore year, he came down with the then deadly measles. A side effect was that he all but lost his sight. Unable to read or even endure ordinary sunlight, he was forced to drop out.

What should he do now? After wrestling with what few options were open to him, he concluded that his best chance of recovery was to go to sea; but not in style for that would not provide an arena of intense living, complete with suffering. So he signed on as a common sailor on the sailing brig, Pilgrim in 1834. The initial voyage was around the Horn of South America and then sailing north to San Francisco in then Spanish California.

He stoically took whatever the brutal captains dished out, climbing up the masts in the stormiest of weather, and working night and day, through terrible storms and just as terrible calms.

Somehow, however, he found time to journal what he saw and experienced. Two years later, some 20,000 miles later, when the clipper ship Alert nosed into the Boston Harbor, he’d fully recovered his sight and was at the peak of physical conditioning.

So he returned to Harvard, then passed the bar and set up practice. One day, his father discovered his son’s journal; was so impressed by it that he suggested that he consider publishing it. William Cullen Bryant, a family friend, ran interference with Harpers, and the book was published in 1841. But even with Bryant’s urging fairer reimbursement, all the author received for his efforts were two dozen copies of the book and $250. Not until the 28-year copyright expired was Dana able to secure more revenue from what was by then an international best-seller.

But people read it now for the adventure of it, the swan-song period of those most beautiful of all sailing ships–the windjammers, a world which was even then coming to an end as steamships remorselessly displaced sailing vessels.

Dana’s book, told in its simple unimpassioned way, detailing the courageous men who dared the sea and suffered such brutality in the process, ended up waking up readers to the reality of merchant marine life, gradually resulting in more humane treatment.

Melville (four years younger than Dana) was tremendously impressed by the book, even borrowing from one of Dana’s real shipmates, Bill Jackson, and immortalizing him as Billy Budd. Thoreau too was much impressed by it.

I’ll not tell you any more about Dana’s later life, mainly because I want you to journey the rest of the way on your own. What I will guarantee is this: You will not be the same person at the end you are now. Bryant maintained it is as great a book as Robinson Crusoe. But, in a very special way, it is more significant than Defoe’s novel–for every word of it is true, actual.

So step into this long-ago world. Let me know what you think about it when you come out.

Many editions are available of course; just make certain your copy is unabridged. The Heritage edition is stunning (346 large format pages). The Signet paperback contains 384 pages.