TREASURES OF THE PAST #4

BLOG #11, SERIES 3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

TREASURES OF THE PAST #4

March 13, 2013

In last week’s blog, In Praise of Old Magazines, I discussed my ongoing love affair with old magazines, and what a treasure each represented to readers of the time who were privileged to read the timeless wisdom represented by the printed stories, poems, and articles.

In recent weeks and months, I’ve been perusing the pages of close to a thousand magazines of The Youth’s Companion (time period: 1870s to late 1920s), when that venerable century-old magazine finally gave up—not coincidentally, synonymous with the cataclysmic Wall Street crash of 1929.

In its pages there are so many gripping stories and memorable poems featured that I, to my later chagrin, passed over multitudinous shorts which I inwardly classified as mere “filler” (something trivial to fill up the allocated pages). Indeed, I was two-thirds through this monumental task before a certain title of a short so piqued my interest that I took the time to read it—and was instantaneously hooked. Perhaps it was but a fluke. Just to make certain, I read another—and another—and another. To my utter dismay, I concluded that I’d now have to go back to the beginning and complete my tabulating inventory!

What I discovered is that the editors early on discovered that much of the timeless wisdom submitted by contemporary authors was packaged in the shorts, any one of which might well be worth a month of reading (in terms of impact of even one of these gems upon the lives of the magazine’s readers).

I also discovered that most of these shorts are every bit as timeless (in terms of the values articulated) today as they were then.

Just to give you a feel for them, here is one. Do let me know if you’d like me to mine these shorts further for our blog readers (there is no author; almost none of these shorts referenced the author—such a pity!).

THE DREAM

The girl sprang to her feet and walked up and down the dean’s office; her eyes were red, and her thin face was drawn as if with pain. “I suppose you think I’m selfish,” she cried. “But I haven’t slept a night since the telegram came. I’ve read it over and over till I’m almost wild. I can’t see how it is right to expect me to leave college and give up all my life plans to take care of Mother. I could go to her during vacations. It isn’t as if we hadn’t money enough to make her comfortable; she could have almost anything in the world. And she may live for several years; the doctor said so.”

“Twenty years ago,” the dean said slowly, “another girl came to me with a problem like yours. She was studying chemistry. She told me that there wasn’t anything in the world she liked better, and that, if anyone offered her sunsets and music and starlight and beauty, she would want them only to analyze in the laboratory. In her junior year her mother died and left one little girl and three boys between the ages of twelve and nineteen.

“I’ve seen great struggles, but I’ve never seen a bigger one than that girl went through. When she said good-by she looked as if she had had a year’s sickness. ‘I’m going home,’ she said, ‘but I’ll never give up my dream!’

“I told her that there was as much chemistry about her home as there was anywhere else in the world, and I’ve never forgotten the startled look that came into her eyes. She stood quite still and just looked

“She was at home for nine years, till the girl started at college. Then she herself returned and took up the work where she had left off. Of course she was years older than most of her fellow students; and she had lost much of the technique of her work. But she had gained other things: judgment, power of quick decision, all-round knowledge and human sympathy. Moreover, through the years she had read much and had followed her beloved study into unusual fields. She had studied the chemistry of the Bible and of literature; she knew the history of chemistry and the lives of the great chemists. In short, she was well on the way to becoming a well-rounded chemical scholar, not a mere laboratory worker. Another thing, in the years at home she had so fired her brothers with her enthusiasm that today all three of them are men of science. Years afterwards she said, ‘My disappointment was the best thing that ever came to me. If I had had my own way, I should be nothing but a chemist now. Those years taught me to put life first and chemistry second.’

“That is why we could not afford to let her go when she finished her course. For twelve years now her influence has been inspiring hundreds of lives inside and +outside the laboratory.”

“You don’t mean—Miss Torrance?” the girl cried.

“I mean Miss Torrance.”

The girl stood quite still, and the dean, watching, saw the look she had been waiting for come into the tired eyes.

—The Youth’s Companion (March 23, 1922)

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL

BLOG #22, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL

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.”

TO REACH THE PORT OF HEAVEN

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

 

TO REACH THE PORT OF HEAVEN

January 4, 2012

 

“I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it—but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.” —Oliver Wendell Holmes

As I write these words—yes, I still write with a Pilot V5 pen rather than type on a keyboard—and begin the third year of “Wednesdays with Dr. Joe” blogs, I am profoundly grateful.

First and foremost for the gift of life.  So many of my contemporaries have written the last page of their life stories.  For some reason, known only to Him, God has seen fit to extend my life beyond the biblically “three score and ten.”  The last time I was in the hospital for surgery, I watched with morbid fascination the digital zig-zagging on the screen that monitored my faithful aging heartbeats.  Each time it descended, I found myself wondering if this would be the time it would stop and never go up again.  Finally, I had to turn my eyes away; the stress was too much!

Second, for the gift of awareness.  One in every five of us will die mentally before we die physically.  That happened to my beloved mother.  Such a phenomenal near photographic memory she had!  Able to retain thousands of pages of short stories, poetry, and readings in her memory banks—then, one fateful day: the light of awareness flickered out of her eyes.  When we entered her room after that and looked into her eyes—there was no one home anymore.

Third, for the gift of family.  One of my cherished friends, an erstwhile millionaire, lost everything (job, house, bank account, solvency) in this recession.  When I asked him how he was coping, there was a long pause before he answered with, “You know, today my financial life is in shambles, I couldn’t even buy a used bicycle on credit—much less a car!  Belatedly, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only real bedrock in this unstable world is God, family,and health.  I still have God, a family who loves me, and my health.  I’m ever so blessed as long as I still have all three!”  I too am oh so grateful I still have a wife, children, and extended family who love me more than I deserve.”

Fourth, for the gift of friendship.  How bleak this world would be without friends!  Every Wednesday morning for over fifteen years now, I have met with Conifer Kiwanis!  Even though our numbers have shrunk from what they were before the recession, we still show up each Wednesday.  And each year, they grow dearer.  One is so fragile with age we rarely see him—and oh! How we feel his absence each week!  But I’m blessed with so many many friends.  My church family, my Zane Grey’s West Society family, my student/colleague family (generated during over a third of a century in the classroom), my alumni family (those who came into my life during my growing-up years), my Focus on the Family dear ones (I’ve shared Christmas with them in their Chapelteria and book store for sixteen years and counting), my publishing family (from twelve publishing houses) who continue to enrich my life.  And last but anything but least all those thousands who have come into my life because of our 76 books and counting, blogs, media interviews (between 500 and a thousand), and tweets.  One family (besides my family and agent, Greg Johnson) owns all 76 books.  But I’ve recently become aware that I have a wonderful extended family in all those who own all 20 (or 22) Christmas in My Heart books.  I call them “Christmasaholic completists.”  What can bring two people closer than a shared obsession?  By next year, I hope to have a list of as many of them as will check in with me.  I need their help as we together vote on the “20 Greatest Christmas Stories Ever Written.”

Recently, someone said to me, “Have you ever wondered how many people who’ve read your books through the years have had one-sided conversations with you?”  I’ll never know the answer to that question—at least on this earth.  So many times I’ve signed for ten to twelve hours a day—yet the Lord has miraculously saved me from carpal tunnel syndrome!

* * * * *

So, Dear Friends, whoever and wherever you might be, Connie and I are so grateful you’re taking time out of your hectic weekly schedule to spend a little time with us!  Let’s together make 2012 “a very good year!”

IOWA CAUCUS – REBIRTH? OR ABERRATION?

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

IOWA CAUCUS

REBIRTH?  OR ABERRATION?

 

Dec. 21, 2011

 

As a historian of ideas, I’ve always been fascinated by sudden turning points.  Case in point: During the last year, we’ve seen, one after another, the emergence of democracy all across North Africa and the Middle East.  Even totalitarian Russia now feels the open scorn of its people.

 

In the daily news, we’ve seen Europe reeling from one economic seismic shock after another.  For decades, Europe has been a poster child for a template that appeared to have staying power: one currency for all, fiscal stability, no closed borders between nations, cradle to the grave welfare for all, more than generous retirement benefits, vacations galore (it often seemed that the population of the entire continent could be found on beaches every August), and millions of tourists flooding the continent the icing on the cake.  But no longer: Europe’s template has cracked right down the middle.  And nobody knows how to fix it.

 

In the U.S., things are little better than in Europe.  Only the fact that the spotlight of the world has been fixated on Europe rather than us has enabled us to escape the world’s scrutiny.  But that cannot long last.  Our status quo is unrelentingly grim.

But in Iowa, on the eve of the last debate before the Caucus, something electric happened.  Gingrich may well be right in declaring that we haven’t had anything this substantive in our political arena since the Lincoln-Douglas debates a century and a half ago.  But first, I must admit that, though I’m a registered Republican, I’m a centrist and vote accordingly.  Like most Americans, in recent years I’ve been disillusioned time after time by the G.O.P.  All too often it has seemed as if our Republican leaders were determined to out-dumb each other.  “”Naive’ and “uninformed” way too inadequate to describe their condition, their evident ignorance of current events and national and world history off the charts of probability; their voting out of offices the informed and intelligent moderates who would work together for the good of the country –  instead they elected, all too often, individuals so close-minded they’d stampede the nation off a cliff rather than work together.

However, on Dec. 15, there took place a rational debate between presidential candidates who, for once, did themselves and their party proud.  Same for the moderators.  Such an impact did this make on me that I was unable to sleep afterwards; in fact, at 2:30 a.m. next morning, I got up and wrote until 5:00 a.m.

 

But even now, I find myself incapable of really making sense of all I heard that night.  I’m mightily muddled.  But even so, permit me to muddle through these swirling unconnected thoughts.  Stream-of-consciousness disorganized because I can’t yet make sense of them:

 

It’s like, on the eve of Dec. 15, the proverbial straw broke the camel’s back.  The candidates and the concerned audience fed on each other, together rising to unexpected heights:

 

Rather than merely ramble on unstructured I am bullet-pointing the concerns that generated that eve of Dec. 15:

 

 

  • Government gridlock
  • Out-of-control spending
  • Massive unemployment – worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s, for third year in a row
  • Epidemic of bankruptcies
  • Millions of lives shattered by foreclosures and being evicted from their homes.  Almost half owe more than they could get by selling their homes.
  • The middle class shrinking so dramatically that the gap between rich and poor has yawned so wide we risk revolution from the disenfranchised.
  • The collusion between government and Big Banks
  • The breakdown of our protective agencies
  • The federal out-of-control spending taking a terrible toll on the finances, education, social programs, infrastructure, and public services of individual states, resulting in a devastating implosion
  • The revolving door between government and lobbyists
  • Government office being restricted to self-made millionaires or billionaires or those who sell their souls to special interest groups
  • The decline of a literate electorate.  With elections decided by electronic sound-bytes rather than thoughtful reading of newspapers, magazines, and books
  • The political campaigns degenerating into attack ads and character assassination orchestrated by unknown sources or people
  • Vote fraud
  • The staggering economic toll taken by multiple foreign wars
  • Retirees losing all they’d saved for their retirement years
  • Graduates unable to find well-paying jobs
  • Manufacturing continuing to be sent overseas
  • The perceived failure of so many of our schools and colleges
  • The courts becoming ever more hostile to all public expressions of religion or belief in a higher power
  • Marriage discredited by secular forces; so much so that the nuclear family (man, woman, child) is for the first time ceasing to be the norm.  Out-of-wedlock births are skyrocketing to such an extent that it is said that one-third of all American children are effectively being raised by their grandparents.  Sexuality today trumps lifetime commitment.
  • A media apparently determined to so ridicule religion and those who attempt to live by biblical principles that they will discredit those people into irrelevancy.
  • Widespread attempts to strip religious holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving of their spiritual significance
  • The replacement of time-honored concepts of Good and Evil and Right and Wrong with psychiatric terminology divorced from a Higher Power.  Result: lying under oath no longer means much to all those who don’t believe in God (however they may perceive Him).  Neither do cheating or stealing seem wrong.
  • Deconstruction of history strips our erstwhile national heroes of whatever noble qualities were once attributed to them.
  • Thoughtful parents so terrified of societal forces hostile to their children (bullying, hazing, pedophilia, rape, substance abuse, sexuality without commitment, ridicule of their beliefs, etc.) that they are pulling their children out of public schools and homeschooling them

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

All these variables swirled around during the memorable two-hour debate (meaningful because moderators asked searching thoughtful questions of the candidates, zeroing in on issues where candidates were perceived to be on thin ice).  Furthermore, moderators permitted candidates to respond and defend their actions and words.  Unlike so many meaningless public debates of recent years, where no real substantive dialogue took place, this debate was very real—indeed it was so gripping I felt it to be high drama!

 

Significantly, the Dec. 15 growing consensus appeared to be: our template is broken beyond repair; it almost has to be rebuilt from the ground up, starting with cutting politicians’ salaries in half, moving back to citizen governance with half-time government service and half time work in the real world.  Frugality once again.  Pay as we go: don’t spend any money we don’t have.  Create jobs rather than parasitically siphoning off the life blood of those who are working hard to create a newer and better society.  Bring God back—, more to the point: bring us back to God.  Respect right to life.  Bring back a society based on the twin bedrocks of God and country.

 

Frankly, I’m less than optimistic that what I felt in the auditorium on Dec. 15 will blossom into a much needed cultural revolution.  For both parties—not just the G.O.P.

 

However, in the darkest days of history, God has summoned great men and women to selfless service—Moses, Daniel, St. Paul, St. Nicholas, St. Francis, Luther, the Wesleys, Washington, Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Gandhi, Schweitzer, Churchill, Mother Teresa.

 

Why could not God do it again?

THE CHANGING SEASONS

The snow is falling again as I write these words.  Another reason for living in the Colorado Rockies.  In fact, the two seasons are slugging it out, as the golden aspens (at peak only a week ago) are clearly reluctant to surrender the field to the forces of winter, but they have no choice in the matter given that each season is as inexorable as incoming and receding tides.

We’ve been waiting almost half a year for this moment: when once again it is safe to build a fire in our moss rock fireplace.  If the truth must be told, when we moved back to Colorado in 1996, the real estate agent had been given a list of 30 priorities (what we valued most in our new home).  At the top were: It should feature serenity, a view we’d never tire of, lots of snow, and a wood-burning fireplace.  Today we get to revel in all four.

OUR BLOG WORLD

Our daughter Michelle and agent, Greg Johnson, joined forces two years ago to drag, kicking and screaming all the way, this dinosaur of the ink and paper age, into the new digital age.  “You must blog!  Thus was born the weekly blog, Wednesdays with Dr. Joe,” which has continued unbroken even during that hellish period when an unscrupulous predator hacked into our world and shut us down.  We have no idea how many readers we lost during that traumatic period.

What I have discovered is that blogging is such a new construct that there are few entrenched norms—unlike tweets where a Procrustean Bed of 140 spaces preclude deviation length-wise.  As you have discovered, I joined the ranks of those who prefer the longer format.  It’s really much like the weekly column I wrote once, “Professor Creakygate,” for the students attending Southwestern Adventist University.  Once you establish a rhythm, it’s just a matter of not breaking it.

Given my penchant for longer blog series (the Northwest National Parks, the Southern Caribbean, the Zane Grey convention in Virginia, the Trembling World, and the upcoming series on the Southwest National Parks), I have discovered that long series where I dwell on a subject for months at a time can put my voice into a straitjacket which precludes me from speaking out on hot current issues.  Because of this, I hereby announce that this time, expect periodic breaks; but rest assured, always I will afterwards resume the series topic.

OUR TWEET WORLD

I held back as long as I possibly could—until my agent held my feet to the fire long enough to risk ignition—on adding the tweet dimension to our lives.  On October 1, I started daily tweets, concentrating on quotations chosen from a half century of collecting (hundreds of thousands).  Not just quotations, but quotations that help make sense of this thing called “life.”  Speaking just for myself, this hectic life we live virtually guarantees that we will break down unless we turn to a Higher Power than ourselves and also seek wisdom from others who have learned much from the batterings of the years.  These hard-earned nuggets of thought and insights end up providing us with just enough strength and courage to face each day.  Changes of pace too, for without changes of pace (such as humor) in our thought-processes, we become warped or petrified.

During my 34 years in the classroom, one aspect was a constant: a thought written with chalk on the blackboard each day.  My students looked forward to something new that greeted them each time they came in the door.  Also, I have since discovered that many of them copied those quotes into their notebooks and have lived with them ever since.

I’m an avid collector of quotation compendiums.  Some few I find worth the price; many, if not most, are not (merely quotations flung onto paper, without regard to their relative power or effectiveness).  I don’t know about you, but what I hunger for most are quotes that make me think, that make me re-evaluate my own habits and inter-relationships, that end up making me a different and better person than I was before.

I also realize that we are each fighting off electronic strangulation; so much so that we try something new with great reluctance.  It is my earnest desire that you will find these tweets worth the time it takes to check them out each day.

MY PERSONA

For years now, my agent has been trying to hammer into my thick head this message:

Our old world (paper and ink-driven) is changing by the nanosecond.  While books are likely to always be with us, they will never reign supreme as they have during the last six centuries.  Like it or not, electronic books will continue to expand their reach.  What this means is that the old templates will no longer work like they once did.  Your persona is no longer captureable just in traditional print.  But rather, you owe it to your “tribe” [people who are kind enough to listen to what you write and what you say] to speak out about life and values multidimensionally: through paper and ink books [75 so far], through public speaking, through media appearances on radio and TV and book-signings, through your blogs, through your tweets, and through all the plethora of new communication technologies.  Only by keeping up with all this as best you can, can your unique voice (your persona) have any chance of remaining alive during coming months and years.

And since I do wish to stay in contact with all of you, I am committed to continuing to create books (traditional and electronic), blogs, and tweets.  Do let me know if all I’ve articulated in this blog makes any kind of sense to you.

* * *

Next week, we will transition through the abstraction of travel toward the Southwest parks and lodges.

* * *

TREASURES FROM THE PAST #1

One of the responses to the survey has already had its effect: it urged me to keep mining the bullion of the past in my blogs.

I have been working around the clock on my eighth collection of animal stories (Animals of the Jungle). As I searched for stories, in a long-ago essay written by Hildegarde Hawthorne (granddaughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne), published in a magazine for young people early in the twentieth century, I found a timeless treasure of thought perfect as the follow-up to last Wednesday’s blog: “Don’t Wait Until Tomorrow.”

It was inspired by Emerson’s famous poem:

DAYS

“Daughters of Time, the hypocritic Days,
Muffled and dumb like barefoot dervishes,
And marching single in an endless file,
Bringing diadems and fagots in their hands,
To each they offer gifts after his will,
Bread, kingdoms, stars, and sky that holds them all.
I, in my pleached garden, watched the pomp,
Forgot my morning wishes, hastily
Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day
Turned and departed silent. I, too late,
Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn.”

THE DOORWAY OF THE DAYS
by Hildegarde Hawthorne

A day is a wonderful thing. It is like a great doorway flung wide for you to pass through into all manner of adventures. One after the other, these doorways open to you, each different, each opening on a fresh prospect. Fresh, yourself, after the rest and the stillness of night, you stand each morning on the threshold, and then you step through and are launched on what that day has for you.

Of course, the day, being as it were just this welcoming doorway, can not make you go out to meet what it holds. You can refuse its mighty invitations. It may be a day that opens on shadowy forest paths, on blue headlands, a day where nature is at her most beautiful best. Again it may hold a splendid hour or two of companionship with some one who could tell you much of this nature, who could give you new insight into her mysteries, who could explain what hitherto you had never understood. It might be a day made for running feet and for laughter and joy. It has opened the wide doorway to all this. But of course you can refuse it all. You can turn your back on the prospect before you, spend your hours indoors, fail to meet the friend who was waiting, sulk over some fancied slight or trouble, worry and exhaust yourself in various ways. The doorway of the day will swing close, at last, and the possibilities on which it opened will have gone, perhaps forever.

Supposing you had only one day to live in, like some of the ephemera, whom you may watch in summer, dizzy with their dancing, in a sunbeam. Just one day! Well, it would hold twenty-four hours. How splendid! How much you could do in that time. And how much to choose for the doing, the seeing, the hearing, the feeling, the thinking! A sunrise and a sunset, stars, a moon maybe, winds swaying tree-tops or ruffling water; and then comrades to play with, a fine book to read, music to hear; a ride, perhaps, in a motor-car or on a horse, a walk in a country lane or along a street filled with all manner of things worth looking at; there would be meals to eat, a lesson to study. You would have the joy of bodily exercise, the joy of loving, the delight of conversation with friends. Each hour would hold its own miracle.

At the end, before sleep came, you would find no words to describe the marvel of a day. Room in it for the exercise of all your faculties, for dreams and for reality, for play and for work. A great round day, and you alive in it.

You see, just because there is more than one day, we get too used to them to remember what they really are. We let them slip through our fingers, with their adventures unlived, their beauty unseen. Many a day has been treated as though it were just a bore, when it was simply bursting with exciting thrills. Many a day that held in it a wonderful thing, which you would have cherished all your life, has been allowed to pass away empty. For only what you take from the offerings of each day is yours.

Do you ever think over the manifold ways in which each day is spent by the people on this earth? How an Eskimo spends the day you have given over to school, to football practice, or a game of tennis or to skiing, to a matinee or a quiet time reading while the storm beats on the windows and shouts over the house? How that same day is being spent by a savage in Africa, by a Russian refugee, a coal-miner, a seaman? You can get some notion of all that a day opens on if you let your mind wander a bit in these directions.

It seems to me that the great difference between those who lead a full and interesting life and those who don’t is that the first do not let the fact that there are three hundred and sixty-five days in a year dull the wonderful possibilities of each individual day. They look before and after, of course, for the past and the future add richness to the present. But the day itself is the thing. Because tomorrow you are to go on an entrancing journey, or to the dentist, there is no reason for slighting today. It too has its worth and its gift. Live it. The combination of you and a day is too wonderful to be missed. People throw days away as if they were worthless pebbles, and then complain that life is a poor affair. One of Emerson’s noble sayings was, “Give me health and a day and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous”; and as you grow older you will cherish also in your memories his brief poem on “The Days.” It is a vivid picture in words of what I have been trying to set forth; and every earnest boy and girl can imagine the days going on about their tremendous business rather bewildered and rather amused. Here we are, they say, full of everything. And look how we’re treated and hear how we’re reviled! What’s the matter with these people, anyway?

And then the Days will show each other the unused things they had ready, which were never asked for, like handfuls of fine jewels shining in the light, but which no one stooped to pick up.

“Funny business!” sigh the Days, and if they had heads, there’d be reasons a-plenty for shaking them.

It is interesting to realize that the day that opens its great gate to you is for you only. No one else has just the same day. Even though you go every hour of the twenty-four close with a sister, a brother, a dear friend, and though what happens to you happens too to him or to her, as the case may be, yet the day will not be alike. Half of everything is the thing itself; the other half, its effect on you; and that effect can never be exactly duplicated. That is why it is that one person will get joy and interest out of a day that another will find merely tiresome.

The best will in the world can not keep dull days and dark days entirely away. You are going to miss quantities of things that you could have enjoyed, because you are tired or out of sorts or disgruntled. Other things will come to you that will be hard to bear and sad to live through. But for all that, the greater portion of your days are good days. The doorway they provide leads to much, and it is your own fault if you get only a little.

The fun of being alive and of having these days opening up, one after the other, is tremendous. Out you go to meet them, with your body, your mind, your senses, your questing spirit. You find things to laugh over, or cry over. You find things that set your mind to keen working or that strengthen your muscles or train the faculty of sight or of hearing, that make more proficient your hands, more skillful the whole bearing of your body. You meet something new to you, and have to readjust yourself and your ideas to take it in. To something else you say good-by for the last time. You will have your own interests, however, and the more, the merrier.

As your mind grows and develops, so the interests of your days should grow and extend, and each day coming ought to be more than the one gone, for you yourself are more. The trouble often is that one drops something for each new thing taken up. The play and the ecstasy of youth is lost with the deeper feeling and growing cares of maturity. But the girl or boy who goes on into maturity without losing too much of that young rapture becomes the best sort of man or woman. Don’t let your life go dry; let it keep its sap and freshness. Artists usually excel in this wisdom. The child lives on in them, making them richer and their days more radiant because it has not withered out of them. Keep what has come, and go on to what is due, and you will not be likely to find life a bore or a burden.

I remember how long a day appeared to me when I was a child—not too long, I enjoyed every moment of it, but so much longer than it does now. I had a better understanding of how great a day is, then. Now it seems short; sometimes I feel as though it merely winked at me and vanished. I can quite imagine that when I move on into eternity that eternity will soon seem to be short enough for all I want to do and be. Think of standing and waiting while the great door of eternity swings open and lets you through! But of course a day is after all a portion of eternity, and maybe it is because we are close to one end of eternity in childhood that days are eternal to us then. Why, any spring morning that was fair and welcoming I remember how I would go to lie under a certain apple-tree where the grass grew thick and the bending branches swept it, making a bower of bloom. And there I would dream away several days in a space that must really have been only a couple of hours. I would like to get back the glorious leisure of those days, to feel the promise of eternity in them; but though I haven’t lost the sense of the magnificence of a day, I can’t hold on to its vastness.

Except always in what it offers.

Now and again a day will come with a gift so splendid that you can not help but recognize it and acclaim it. You will say, as you have heard others say, “That was a great day in my life!” But don’t disdain the other days, that blow no trumpets and open no golden treasure-chests. They have their own wonderfulness, that calls to the wonderfulness in you, and through their mighty doorways you step to everything in life.

St. Nicholas, January 1923

THE CLOCK OF LIFE

“The clock of life is wound but once
And no one can tell you when the hands will stop
At late or early hour;
Now is the only time you have;
Live, love, toil with a will;
Place no confidence in tomorrow
For the clock may then be still.”

Author Unknown

This powerful little poem I positioned at both the beginning and ending of my most recent Christmas story, “The Clock of Life” in Christmas in My Heart 18 (Pacific Press, 2009); in that story, I fictionalized my own recent close call. Over an 18-month period, my body began shutting down on me. Finally, my doctor took one look at my yellow skin and gave me two hours’ notice before checking in at a hospital E.R, Then it was a race against time to find out what was wrong before it was too late.

During those long days and much longer nights, when the clock on the wall above my bed seemed to take forever to indicate one lone minute had passed, I had plenty of opportunities to Monday-morning quarterback my life: Was my life over, my race done? Had I accomplished all I had hoped to in this short soap opera we label “life”? Was I at peace with God? Had I told my wife and children often enough how very much I loved and cherished them? Was my house in order (ready for an exhaustive audit)? If my body continued to close shop on me, was I ready to tie up all the loose ends of my life? Was my wife Connie prepared to shoulder the entire burden of life alone? What could she do with the massive library that has made our 71 books possible? Did I have fences I needed to mend before it was too late? How was I doing on my Bucket List? Did I have any major regrets? Most important of all . . . was I ready to meet my Maker?

After much prayer, I was convicted that I should pour all these variables into my 18th Christmas story. And “The Clock of Life” proved to be the perfect catalyst.

* * * * *

Several days ago, I was debriefing by phone with Tim Kubrock (principal of Monterey Bay Academy) over the alumni breakfast the week before; more specifically, my remarks to the alumni.

Because of all I have gone through during the last couple of years, I was especially conscious of just how fragile is our hold on life—and, by extension, how little time we have in which to accomplish our goals. I used to take all this for granted. I most certainly do not any more.

And so I urged my fellow alumni to not delay in their giving to this school that contributed so much to us in the morning of our lives. I was painfully blunt: “You know, each year we lose more of our beloved classmates—most likely, never on earth will all of us in this room assemble together again. So please don’t delay in your support of our alma mater.”

All this the principal and I referenced in our chat.

Then he told me, “I’ve got to tell you about an experience I had in my office about 5 p.m. Saturday afternoon. A 50th anniversary alum walked in (I could tell by the honor ribbon on his shirt). Well, he just wanted to talk about the academy, life in general, his own children (who’d also attended the academy), and some painful things I can’t share. Before he left, I felt impressed to offer prayer for him and his family: that the Lord would help to heal the brokenness in his family. When he got up to leave, there was a softness and peace in his face that had not been there when he came in.

There was then a long silence. . .

Followed by a sigh . . . and

“He died last Friday.”