GOING BLIND

BLOG #50, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
GOING BLIND
December 10, 2014

Scan_Pic0126

My wife and I often travel on Southwest Airlines; whenever we do so, I like to peruse their in-flight magazine, Spirit. The cover story in the July 2014 issue was titled “As the Lights Go Down.”

Nicole Kear begins her gripping story with these riveting words: “The day I found out I was going blind started out like any other.” She was nineteen years old, a sophomore at Yale, undecided as to whether to major in English or in theater.

A routine appointment with her doctor turned out to be anything but! The eye-specialist shattered her dreams by announcing that she had a degenerative retinal disease called “retinitis pigmentosa.” My retinal cells were slowly dying which would result in gradual vision loss. First the disease would eat away at my night and peripheral vision, and eventually it would claim my central vision too…. It was untreatable and incurable.

As she walked the twenty blocks back to her home, she was overcome by wave after wave of fear: “But more than anything, I felt instant and irrevocable loss, like a kid who’s just lost her grip on a helium balloon. I made a grab for it, fast, but it was too late, and I watched helplessly as it receded, further and further out of reach.”

As time passed, she felt for a time that she’d be crushed under the strain of knowing that darkness was inevitable. “But something else was happening, too. Through the fog of my shock and confusion, I started seeing everything with the eyes of someone looking for the last time. Sights I’d always taken for granted–the bits of sparkle in the pavement, the bright, brilliant red of the streetlight–seemed immensely, heart-breakingly beautiful. I’d wasted so much time, I scolded myself, being blind to the beauty around me. Knowing it wouldn’t last forever, I became ravenous for images.”

So how was she to face it?

“Though I couldn’t control my disease or the blindness it could bring, I could control how I responded to it…. In the time I had left, I could stuff my brain with images in hopes they’d be enough to last a lifetime. I could use the death sentence my eyes had been given as a kick in the pants to start really living.”

Time passed. One afternoon, she sat down with her leather-bound journal and drew up a personal bucket list of things she wanted to see and do before her vision gave out. She called it her carpe diem campaign.

She double-majored in English and theater, learned how to be a circus clown, learned how to master the flying trapeze, and traveled to Europe. In Rome, “I sat in front of the Pantheon, drinking in every column, every chiseled Latin letter, sketching these details in my journal in an effort to permanently imprint them on my memory.” She picked sweet-peas on a farm in North Italy, hiked cloud-capped mountains to see where Ovid had lived, watched men on Vespas smoking cigarettes and women gossiping while leaning out of windows, and smelled the sweet aroma of marinara sauce simmering on stovetops. “Spending all the money I’d saved from birthdays and graduations, I bought a Eurorail pass and set off with my sister to Paris, where we watched Grand Guignol puppet shows, and Amsterdam, where we stood by narrow canals eating wheels of black licorice. I witnessed the sunrise over Venice’s Bridge of Sighs, and I felt near to bursting with awe at the beauty and the grandeur.”

After college, she moved back to New York, where she performed Shakespeare in the lower East Side, 1950s cult classics in the West Village, and avant-garde German theater on St. Mark’s Place.

She fell in love several times–but finally the real thing: David proposed to her in the middle of the Smoky Mountains.

Next came Hollywood: “I was an actor, after all, and in L.A. the streets were paved with TV pilots. David and I quit our day jobs as long-term temps at an investment bank, packed our stuff, and ventured west. I was bowled over by California’s beauty. Rolling, golden hills that looked like sleeping lions. Jagged cliffs with precipitous drops to the churning, foaming Pacific Ocean. Even the light was different, and the smells. Every time I walked out my front door and inhaled the scent of jasmine, I stopped to marvel . . . sniffing jasmine blossoms made me feel like a Disney princess.”

Driving became more and more difficult. She’d become totally night-blind. As her field of vision continued to shrink, she bumped into things more and more, and fell down stairs–and fumbled her stage-lines.

Then she discovered she was pregnant. But now, color-blindness was setting in, and her depth-perception was going too. Even so, She and David decided to go ahead with it. “When my son made his entrance, just after midnight on Thanksgiving Night, I soaked in so many sights: his strong chin, bee-stung eyes, the complex curvature of his ear, so tiny it made my heart ache with tenderness…. Two years later I saw my daughter for the first time, a ruddy, round-cheeked newborn sporting a Mohawk.” There were details she couldn’t see, but she didn’t worry about that.

By the time she was 34, she was deemed legally blind. She could no longer read regular print. Even so, she decided to have another baby. “My third baby is now 2 years old, and I’ve been able to read her books (if the text is big enough), take her to the playground (if it’s enclosed), and watch her blow out her birthday candles.”

Nicole Kear concludes her remarkable story with these poignant words: “But I’ve learned not to peer too anxiously into the future. Hindsight may be 20/20, but what’s to come is too murky for any of us to make out. My eyes are so dim that I need to train them on the present, to soak up as much as I can, to slow it down, to make it last. As much as I can, I stop to smell the roses–and while I’m there, I look at them, long and hard. Those blazing red streetlights. The way the skin on the top of my children’s noses wrinkles when they smile. . . I don’t know the kind of life I might have had or the kind of woman I might have become if that appointment 18 years ago had actually been routine. . . . What I do know is the life I have is nothing like what I expected, but it is everything I wanted–full of beauty, love, and a light beyond anything the eye can see.”

Nicole Kear is the author of the new memoir, Now I See You.

* * * * *

Four months after reading this, on a 55th anniversary cruise from San Diego through the Panama Canal to Fort Lauderdale, my eyes became progressively more difficult to keep open, and the pain increased continuously. In Fort Lauderdale, our son rushed me to an eye specialist.

I can now see again, but it has resulted in a profoundly greater appreciation for the daily miracle of sight.

I conclude with this quotation penned by Harry Moyle Tippett:

Out of a world of total silence and darkness Helen Keller found a way to a world of light and holy purpose. In the top floor bedroom at Forest Hills . . . there were eight windows looking out into a vast expanse of blue sky by day and of star-studded velvet by night. Small strings guided her steps to the sanctuary, and there she reveled in an inner illumination that matched the glorious light of day she could not see and the silver sheen of stars she could only feel. She said, ‘I learned that it is possible for us to create light and sound and order within us, no matter what calamity may befall us in the outer world.’

Making Memories with Grandparents – Part 4 – Seth’s 2014 Cruise

BLOG #45, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
MAKING MEMORIES WITH GRANDCHILDREN
PART FOUR
SETH’S 2014 CRUISE

November 5, 2014

For two years after Taylor’s cruise, the big question was, “Is Seth even interested in mastering the geography of the world?” After all, he’d seen how much work it took for his mother and Taylor to successfully complete such a learning marathon. Furthermore, given that Seth is such an “I’m-the-boss-of-me” individualist, just because

Cezanne’s home in Aix en Provence

IMG_5321his brother did it would not by itself mean much if Seth himself wasn’t equally interested in such a challenge. And, just as was true with Taylor, not until his twelfth birthday did he give the green light to his mother.

Turns out the pace was similar. Not until we were within days of his thirteenth birthday did he clear his last hurdle. When Seth was asked what he’d most like to travel to, he was succinct: “Islands and deep blue sea!” And just as was true with Taylor, his summer sports program was so demanding that we only had a three-to-four-week window to work with; consequently, that reduced our cruise options to a rather small number. We didn’t want to book a cruise that was a carbon copy of Taylor’s because we wanted Seth to feel that there were aspects of the itinerary that were his alone.

In the end, we booked early, in order to get an advance rate, with a cancellation clause that permitted us to back out if Seth failed to complete his challenge in tine. We found a cruise on the Norwegian Spirit that played all the destination hits (from one end of the Mediterranean clear to the other).

Here is the itinerary:

July 3, 2014 – Arrive in Barcelona
July 5 – Leave Barcelona
July 6 – Toulon, Aix en Provence in France
July 7 – Liverno, Florence and Pisa
July 8 – Citavecchia, and Rome
July 9 – Naples, and the Isle of Capri
July 10 – At Sea
July 11 – Mykonos, Greece
July 12 – Istanbul, Turkey
July 13 – Ephesus
July 14 – Athens, Cape Sounion Temple of Poseidon
July 15 – At Sea
July 16 – Venice
July 17 – Return to Philadelphia

As we tested Seth, it didn’t take me long to discover that he was especially susceptible to side-trips beyond the required. In that, he reminded me of my own Grandpa Herbert Leininger, who’d always suffered from an incurable itch to find out what was on the other side of a given hill.

He even expressed his own individuality in his written response to being sent a journal with the trip’s itinerary pasted in at the front of it, and symnopses of each day-trip we had booked.

He wrote,

“Dear Grammy and Poppy,

Thank you for dedicating the last 13 years to save up to take me on a journey of a lifetime. I can’t wait until then. We will have a great time. I wonder what the hotel room on the ship will look like. There are so many things I wonder what will be like. Can’t wait to see you guys.

Love, Seth”

This time, Greg didn’t even try to surprise the new traveler. Of course, he wanted to go along. But no more cramming four people into one small stateroom; he booked an adjoining room for him, and we had Seth bunk with him. Both times, it was great to have Greg along. Of course, the whole purpose of both cruises was the opportunity, at least once in each grandson’s lifetime, to be able to give them our undivided attention. But even so, given that Greg was only one generation removed rather than two (our case), it gave both boys two generational options rather than just grandparent/grandchild.

_MG_5500St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome

This time, we made the transatlantic flight without Greg, as he was flying straight to Munich in order to pick up a brand new BMW there. He later met us at the ship early afternoon of the sailing day.

It didn’t take us long to discover that Seth had three obsessions: science, art, and sports. Words too: from someplace he inherited a love for words—individualized, like Ogden Nash, in his case. Rarely a day in which he failed to coin a new word.

At Barcelona, we were lucky enough to get an early check-in, so after our long transatlantic flight we were able to crash for four hours before venturing out on Las Ramblas. Seth was particularly fascinated with the mime who was impersonating Salvador Dali, complete with long twirly mustache. That evening we played a domino game our family calls either “O’Henry” or “Ah Shucks.”

When we got to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, next day, after ten hours sleep, we had to wait in long long lines over an hour and a half just to get tickets—and then two more hours waiting to get in. It was truly amazing to see how much progress had been made in only three years. Of course, 25,000,000 people a year, each paying a hefty admission price, ought to result in progress!

Later on, I was traumatized to discover that somewhere along the way I’d dropped three sets of very expensive bus tickets. We completed the day’s activity by a visit to the great Palace of Art on the hill. Seth was especially fascinated by the Gothic and Romanesque art.

Next day, finally got into the magnificent Palace of Catalonian Music — hadn’t even been able to get in three years before.

Then, check-out, meeting Greg at the ship, and we were on our way late in the afternoon. No storms this time.

Two days later, in Florence, we lucked out with a much more effective and articulate guide than the one Taylor had lampooned three years before. I’ve discovered over the years that great guides can make a trip and poor guides wreck them.

In Rome, we braved long lines in order to get Seth into Michelangelo’s magnificent St. Peter’s Cathedral.

Next day, high up on the legendary Isle of Capri—first time ever for Connie and me—, by agreement, we separated into two groups of two. Almost disaster! Connie and Seth waited at the Clock Tower rather than the bus stop, so after waiting a time, the other bus passengers left for the fast ship back to Naples. The guide stayed with Greg and me. Finally, Greg was able to get through to Connie’s almost dead cell phone, and the guide put us on a separate bus. We just made the last ship back!

GangFormal(1) Our Formal attire for dinner one night!

Seth’s journal commentary was uniquely Seth-ish:

July 3 – “When we went through security [Philadelphia Airport] Grammy got searched because her bling-pants set off the beep.”

July 7 – Florence and Pisa – “Today was fun. It was tiring though. It took a little more than 10 hours. This was Florence too and not just Pisa. We saw 2 cities! I also got some cool pics of me and leaning tower. We had the BEST GUIDE EVER! She could actually speak English we could understand.”

July 8 – Rome -“Today we had a ninja tour guide, she kept walking away, expecting all of us to follow, leaving about 10 people behind each time…. We only had 10 minutes in the Colosseum. It shtank!”

July 9 – “Capri – O.M.G. Island with clear water. I took a chairlift to the top of the island. I’m still trying to take in the awesome view. It was so majestic.

July 11 – Mykonos – “Clear water! Yah! I went to Greece! The water was as clear as this circle. [He drew a circle]. It was pretty warm too. I stuck my foot in the water… Or accident, with my shoe on. The greek houses were sicik [sic] too, all white and blue highlights.”

July 12 – Istanbul – “Yah, another cool guide. I got 1 spinnything [a top] and we got 4 scarves for Mom and Grammy… Sheese! There was also a cool welcoming band. We went into a mosque where we had to not wear shoes and Grammy had to wear a thing on her head.”

July 13 – Ephesus – “YESSSS! [pronounced with an h sound at the end]. I slept in. Today was okay but we had the best food than the other excursions. Uncle Greg and I got lost/separated from our group, but we eventually found the group again.”

No journal entry for Athens and Venice. A pity. But Seth compensated for it on the last day of the cruise (almost every day he coins a new word): SHMECKLE – for thingees, words, or terms you can’t think of , or any word you want to substitute for.

I had earlier suggested to Seth that he’d be protective of his Grammy as there are so many pickpockets in the crowded streets. He took me at my word, and almost invariably he’d be protecting one side of her, and expecting Greg or me to cover the other. For crowd-control purposes, each bus-load of people is given in advance stickers designating which bus to board for a designated tour. Seth delighted in later planting those stickers somewhere where we wouldn’t notice them – often on our back-sides somewhere.

_MG_6098Our Sticker Boy!

All too soon, we had to bid adieu to the Norwegian Spirit in Venice; Greg flew back to Munich to pick up his BMW for a few days before having it shipped home to him, and we boarded the plane for Philadelphia.

When I asked Seth to rank his experiences, this is how he did it:

1. View from the Isle of Capri [just as Taylor fell in love with the nearby Amalfi Coast, Seth will most likely never ever forget the sight of the incredibly deep blue sea as seen from the ramparts of Capri].

2. Sagrada Familia [like Taylor before him, he was overwhelmed by the interplay of light inside—it literally takes one’s breath away].

3. Free Soft-Serve Ice Cream! [Seth gave Taylor a run for his money in his multitudinous raids on the poor ice cream machine on the ship].

4. Venice. Especially the late afternoon gondola ride.

5. Pool-side Strawberry Daiquiris. [Clearly, the boys are related!]

6. Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

7. Soccer on the ship! [Everyone in Europe, it seemed, was riveted to the World Cup soccer play-offs; besides that, Seth played soccer on evenings or sea days, with other young people on the ship].

8. Pisa and Florence.

9. Beaches of Mykonos

10. Aix en Provence.

As to Seth’s post-cruise thoughts, he too has developed an apparently incurable case of travelitis. Any time we now go anywhere without him, he sulks.

* * * * *

On Nov. 12, I’ll wind up this series on grandparenting, with some last thoughts and conclusions.

Photos by Greg Wheeler.

Henry Sienkiewicz’s “Quo Vadis”

BLOG #5, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #26
HENRYK SIENKIEWICZ’S QUO VADIS
January 29, 2014

Some time ago, our daughter Michelle suggested we pose one question to our Book Club members each month. By responding (on Facebook), they could thereby get book discussions in motion that we have lacked up to now. With this in mind, here is Question #1: Generally speaking, or specifically, of what value are our book selections so far? In other words, how do they enrich your life? Change it?

* * *

One of the requests from those who love books that came in during the last month was this one: Feature more of those classic books you edited for Focus on the Family and Tyndale House. Altogether, there were twelve. Four have already been Book Club selections: Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol (Nov. 23, 2011); Abbie Farwell Brown’s The Christmas Angel (Nov. 23, 2011); Grace Richmond’s The Twenty-Fourth of June (May 23, 2012); and Gene Stratton Porter’s Freckles (July 17, 2013). Some of you may wish to go back in time and retrieve those four if you haven’t done so already. The other eight are: Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Little Men; Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe; Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield; Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables; Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur; and this month’s selection: Quo Vadis.

Scan_Pic0068

Wheeler edition (2000) 663 pages

Scan_Pic0069Pocket Book movie abridged version (1952) 181 oages

I would welcome your e-mailing or writing me with your suggestions: which of these would you like me to feature in this year’s Book of the Month selections?

For each of the twelve books, I wrote an introduction to the book, a modest biography of the author (averaging about 40 – 60 pages); and discussion questions for teachers, parents, homeschoolers, individuals of all ages, at the back. And I did my best to feature the earliest illustrations used for that book, a list of that author’s writings, and movie history. Needless to say, all this was extremely time-consuming (some books taking a year to complete). Also each book was unabridged. It might surprise you to learn that a good share of the classic books sold today are abridged, but don’t so indicate! I consider that a betrayal!

So, with that preamble, let’s move on to 2014’s first Book of the Month.

Scan_Pic0070

Street and Smith  paperback. (1900) 246 pages – abridged

Scan_Pic0072Hippocrene trade paper (1992) – 494 pages, Stanley F. Conrad translation

My own introduction begins with these words:

Most books that we read barely register in our memory bank–they are there, but only dimly. Rarely does a book dig in its heels and demand that it be taken seriously and that it not be forgotten after you finish it and put it down. Quo Vadis is that kind of book.

I first read it many years ago when I was young, and loved it for its excitement and panoramic windows into that long-ago world of the Praetorian Guard; the pomp and opulence of the Roman imperial court; the ludicrous yet malevolent Nero; the fascinating arbiter of elegance, Petronius; the opportunistic and amoral Chilo; the vindictive Tigellilnus; the slave girl with a secret love, Eunice; the forgiving physician, Glaucus; the Christian mother-mentor, Pomponia; the evil virago of an empress, Poppaea; the faithful courtesan, Acte; the apostle of love, Paul; the quo vadis apostle, Peter; the disillusioned old general, Aulus; the faithful Hercules, Ursus; the ruthless young tribune, Vinitius, and the great love of his life, the beautiful princess, Lygia–this incredibly real cast of characters comes to life as you read, and it never leaves you. In addition there is the kaleidoscopic imagery of racing chariots; decadent imperial banquets; the burning of Rome; torchlight processions into old graveyards; candlelit glimpses into foul, plague-ridden prison cells; Christians burning as living torches in Caesar’s gardens, crucified on crosses like their Master, beheaded like Paul, speared by gladiators, pulled apart by horses, gored by bulls and bisons, or savagely attacked by wild dogs, lions, panthers, tigers, and bears. It’s almost mind-boggling that Sienkiewicz managed to cram all this between two covers!

It is not a book for small children, for it is powerful fare filled with violence. But for the rest of us, it serves as a reality check. Our society has so sanitized events like the bloody lashing of Christ. His falling to the ground under the weight of the cross, His humiliating stripping and public nakedness; the agony resulting from having a crown of thorns driven into His scalp, the nailing of His hands and feet to the cross, the ripping of His muscles as the cross is dropped into the hole, the public taunting, the terrible thirst, the brokenhearted death–yes, we have so sanitized all this that we completely miss the agonizing reality of Christ’s sacrifice for mankind.

The same is true of the terrible period of Christian persecution unleashed by Nero, which we quaintly reduce to “the Christians and the lions.” Only as we read a realistic book like Quo Vadis can we genuinely conceptualize what it was like to be a Christian during those days when death was the probable price you would pay for your convictions. It is a sobering book. It is also about as historically accurate as Sienkiewicz could make it (exceptions noted in the Discussion Questions).

So powerful was this 1896 book that in 1900, Sienkiewicz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Today, he is considered to be Poland’s greatest author.

Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916) was born near Lukow in what was then Russian-occupied Poland. Few nations have had a more tragic history than Poland, plagued by having no natural borders. After studying philosophy at Warsaw University, he began his illustrious literary career. He dedicated his life to the celebration of the history of the Polish people. Greatest of these fictional novels was his trilogy: With Fire and Sword (1890, 1892, 1895), The Deluge (1891), and Pan Michael (1893). As for Quo Vadis? it has been translated into over 40 languages, and, according to Stanley F. Conrad, is “the greatest best-selling novel in the history of literature.”

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “The message of Quo Vadis? is universal. Contrasting as it does the early Christian message of love and reconciliation with the debauchery of a corrupt Roman empire that caused its own demise, it speaks to the present as it once did to the tumultuous years that opened the 20th century.”

The title comes from a famous moment in the Apostle Peter’s life, when, as he was fleeing Rome and the wrath of Nero, God stopped him (at a still-pointed-out location in the then outskirts of Rome) with this question, “Quo Vadis?” [“Where are you going?”] After communing with his Lord, Peter returned to Rome, knowing that by so doing, he would die there a martyr to his faith.

THE EXPLOSIVE MARRIAGE ISSUE THE SHIFTING “LINE IN THE SAND”

BLOG #20, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

THE EXPLOSIVE MARRIAGE ISSUE

THE SHIFTING “LINE IN THE SAND”

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:

 

OUGHT WE TO GRANT GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES LEGAL RIGHTS? 

OUGHT WE TO COMPROMISE BY GRANTING THEM CIVIL UNION STATUS?

OUGHT WE TO ALTER OUR DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE TO THIS?

MARRIAGE IS A SACRED RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN A MAN AND A WOMAN,  A MAN AND A MAN, OR A WOMAN AND A WOMAN.

 

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.

 

BACK TO THE ISSUE

 

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!

TREASURES OF THE PAST #3 TENNYSON’S “ULYSSES”

BLOG #19, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

TREASURES OF THE PAST #3

TENNYSON’S “ULYSSES”

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:

 

ULYSSES

 

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)