25 April, 2011

Thanks, Janine

It's not long ago - last July 1 - that I started this blog and offered my first post. I've encountered some great folks along the way as they have commented on something I've posted or as I have reacted to one of their blog posts. They're a generous lot as well and have a penchant for passing around awards that aren't very highfalutin but nevertheless represent sincere admiration for one's efforts.

Janine Ripper of Reflections from a Red Head, one of my favorite blogs, has bestowed the Kreativ Blogger Award upon me and my young blog. It comes with conditions though. I have to pass it on to ten bloggers, notify them, and then reveal ten things about myself that most folks might not know. So here we go - although in no particular order.

1 - cath of ~just my thoughts offers beautiful photography wonderfully woven into thoughts about life's journey. Even the occasional poem; awakening is a favorite. I was an instant fan of this blog.

2 - Phoenix of Socrates and Serendipity has been quiet of late due an accident but is about to return. Phoenix documents a journey of self-discovery searching for personal truth and peace and with many unexpected, fortunate discoveries along the way. Well done too.

3 - Paul C of quoteflections, a regular eclectic mind fix, is a retired educator and self-professed life long learner offering us a "mind fix" that blends quotes, images, and quality thought. He always has something to make me think deeper.

4 - Savira of LIVE LAUGH BREATHE, LIVE In The Moment LAUGH Always BREATHE With Awareness, The Art Of Oneness Through The Practice Of Yoga On And Off The Mat ... My Journey Of Balancing The Internal And External Gems Of This Ancient Practice. She deserves a a special award just for having the longest title! Seriously though, there is a lot to learn here and well worth the effort.

5 - Kate of Hotdishing says she bares her soul as she focuses on life's trials and tribulations, successes and failures, and funny moments with a music link to accompany each post. She's successful. I'm fairly new to this site, but I really like it.

6 - Laurie of Three Dog Blog shares stories, stories, and more wonderful stories of life. Always an enjoyable visit.

7 - Nancy of BLissed-Out Grandma helps us savor life's smaller moments - which are, of course, the important ones. A visit here is to take a deep cleansing breath.

8 - Rosemarie of In Pursuit of Quietness says she is "in search of her inner meaning or something like that." It's interesting to watch her journey and easy for me to identify with since we're about the same age and I married the daughter of an Italian immigrant.

9 - Debbie of Confessions of a Cluttered mind is a playwright, freelance author, and editor who loves to rant, vent and observe what life is like for her in the 21st century. Always fun.

10 - Karla of Crow Droppings tells us about her thoughts, travels and personal revelations with the occasional epiphany and "quirp" on things of interest to her but which "could bore the pants off of a few." Not to worry. Some amazing photography too.

Now - ten perhaps new revelations about moi.

1 - Moi is one of the few French words I know. I took one semester as a first year university student and barely managed a D+. I retreated to the safety of Latin to finish my language requirement and added three more years to the four years I took in high school

2 - I cry easily, tear up anyway. I'm not as bad as the current Speaker of the House, but it doesn't take much. Rituals and ceremonies revolving around things important to me, human misfortune, triumphs of the human spirit, a horse race, a poignant memory, beauty however represented. Yep - I'm a softie.

3 - I rarely go to church. Although quite spiritual, I'm not very religious. Then there's a good chance the power of the ritual will bring a tear - so I tend to avoid it. Mostly I think I just got tired of the hypocrisy of people who talked like Christians but rarely acted like them - except in church. Who knew - since I'm named after three Methodist ministers: an uncle, a grandfather, and a great grandfather.

4 - In spite of being a softie, I have a sarcastic streak - which I'm very good at controlling, thank goodness. I always warn my students when they might expect it and encourage them not to be deterred. When they tell me, however, they can't find an answer anywhere, it's hard to resist asking them if they have ever used or know how to use a book index.

5 - I turn the lights out in empty classrooms as I walk down the hallway.

6 - Growing up, I always wanted to be an architect. Somehow I'd forgotten that by the time I was old enough to decide on a university and a major.

7 - French wasn't my only problem as a first year university student. I failed calculus - although I always believed the teacher was the one who failed. This was a big problem for an aspiring physics major. So ... now I'm an experimental psychologist.

8 - My favorite wines are beefy but elegant reds - big, bold, and chewy with good wood, slow falling legs, and a long strong finish. Um ... at least I think we're still talking about wine.

9 - I believe my father was right to teach me that if something is worth doing at all, it is worth doing well.

10 - I did well in my university ROTC courses in Naval Science - especially celestial navigation. In fact, I still have the text - Dutton's Navigation and Piloting. I'm pretty sure that's why I have never been lost at sea at night.


24 April, 2011

The Vineyard Of The Lord

A young preacher recently came upon a farmer working in his field. Being concerned about the farmer's soul the preacher asked the man, "Are you laboring in the vineyard of the Lord my good man?"

Not even looking at the preacher and continuing his work, the farmer replied, "Naw, these are soybeans."

"You don't understand," said the preacher. "I mean, are you lost?" The farmer answered, "Naw! I've lived here all my life."

"Are you prepared for the resurrection?" the frustrated preacher asked. This caught the farmer's attention, and he asked, "When's it gonna be?"

Thinking he had accomplished something the young preacher replied, "It could be today or tomorrow. Or it could be the next day."

Taking a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiping his brow, the farmer remarked, "Well, please don't mention it to my wife. She don't get out much, and she'll wanna go all three days."

18 April, 2011

Nothing Old Here, Old Sport

In October of 1994, I delivered an invited keynote address at the Abbey of San Clemente a Casauria at a celebration of the 100th anniversary of its dedication as a National Monument. I was Presidente Onorario, Centro Studi Casauriensi - Honorary President of the Center for Casaurian Studies. Although I had to speak through an interpreter, it was quite an honor to be asked. I took the opportunity to muse a bit about how Americans see the value of old things.

A few moments ago I watched a news story about the mansion (Land's End, 1902) that was an inspiration for one of the greatest of American novels, The Great Gatsby. It's being torn down. Isn't that our way? We rarely seek to preserve the past - finding it so much easier to tear down and build anew even when restoration is possible.

Anyway ... the news story reminded me of the speech, and a brief, edited excerpt follows.

On Being Old in America

In America, there is very little which is old. We do have things we like to think of as old, but they are not - at least by Italian standards. It is certainly easy to find things which have survived a century. In my home, we have furniture and glassware that are over 100 years old. Even my grandmother who died only recently would today be 100.

To find something 200 years old in America is more difficult, but there are public buildings, churches, and even homes which have survived. The nation itself is just over two centuries old. We're young, but the real problem is that America is a country that likes to reinvent itself every so often. Things are not built to last, not anymore anyway. What did last is often torn down and rebuilt in the image of the latest fashion, and things tend to be too easily replaced.

Old things are important, however, because the nation’s people unite when they celebrate a shared sense of history. I fear that America is becoming so diverse that the shared sense of history is being lost. There is a special strength that comes from diversity, but a people must also have some common celebrations. I salute you for celebrating your past. It too is a source of strength.

To find something 300 years old in America is most difficult. There are only a few buildings in the whole country. To find something over 500 years old - like where we are today - is exceedingly difficult. And to find some things over 1100 years old - as are parts of this abbey - is almost impossible. There are some Indian burial mounds made of earth as well as the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi or other structures made of dried adobe clay in the low desert of the Great Basin in the southwest of America, but they represent a culture different than that which most Americans celebrate.

Structures 2000 years old - like the Roman elements under this altar where I stand today - simply do not exist, although the Hopewell people of what is now Ohio in Eastern America constructed massive earthworks as ritual and community centers. They are of that same era.

I say these things so you will understand why I, as do many Americans, value things which are truly old. We don’t have them. There is something about the “test of time” that is a powerful force - both physical and emotional. It says that the people looked forward to the future and cared about the future.

To see antiquities and to study them should be a treasured experience. Just to be in San Clemente is, for me, a moving experience, and to be invited to speak here is, indeed, an honor. I am proud to be a part of this ceremony.

My remarks were delivered from the altar's
chancel at the far end in the image above.

The Value of What We Do

There is much for us to share, but what we share most is a love and an understanding of the value of history, of the arts, of the sciences, and of the humanities.

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, is my favorite American. A better student than I, he was a man who could speak Italian and several other languages, and he was a man who gave his home an Italian name, Montecello. His design for it and its construction just over two centuries ago were significantly influenced by his studies of Italian and Roman architecture.

Among Mr. Jefferson’s many profound accomplishments is the founding of the University of Virginia in 1819. That is where I went to university, and in that hallowed place we refer to him as Mr. - as if he were still alive. When Mr. Jefferson wrote a letter to his friend, Benjamin Rush, about his new university, he offered that “here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor are we afraid to tolerate error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

When he wrote that, Mr. Jefferson understood the value of scholarship, and he would surely have understood the value of what we and the Center for Casaurian Studies do today.

Ovid, a neighbor of Castiglione a Casauria, wrote in Ex Ponto that we should “note too that a faithful study of the liberal arts humanizes character and permits it not to be cruel” When he wrote that, he too understood the value of what we do and say today.

Cicero knew that value also when he wrote in De Oratorio that:
          History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time,
          It illuminates reality,
          It vitalizes memory,
          It provides guidance in daily life,
          And it brings us tidings from antiquity.

Those historical tidings are simply wonderful and should be treasured. As I stand here before you and contemplate the architectural space around us, the elegant beauty of the Abbey of San Clemente a Casauria is inspiring. It is easy to understand why Pier Luigi Calore fell in love with her, and I salute him for his dedication to her restoration and preservation.

In closing, please allow me to say in Italiano - grazie, Pier Luigi Calore. E grazie, amici miei. Aspetto giá il nuovo ritorno.

I shall always feel that we Americans need to pay more attention to history and to take better care to preserve and restore our heritage - especially our architecture. Once destroyed, it cannot be recovered.

In spite of what Disney's incredible magic and his Imagineers might lead us to believe, plastic will never inspire as does wood. Faux rock should be a faux pas, but I fear that is our future - synthetic and plastic and happy about it.

17 April, 2011

A Big Mistake

In an ancient monastery, a new monk arrived to dedicate his life and to join the others copying ancient records. The first thing he noticed was that they were copying, by hand, books that had already been copied by hand.

He had to speak up. "Forgive me, Father Justinian, but copying other copies by hand allows many chances for error. How do we know we aren't copying someone else's mistakes? Are they ever checked against the originals?"

Father Justinian was startled! No one had ever suggested that before. "Well, that is a good point, my son. I will take one of these latest books down to the vault and study it against its original document."

He went deep into the vault where no one else was allowed to enter and started to study. The day passed, and it was getting late in the evening.

The monks were getting worried about Father Justinian. Finally one monk started making his way through the old vault, and as he began to think he might get lost, he heard sobbing. "Father Justinian?" he called.

The sobbing was louder as he came near. He finally found the old priest sitting at a table with both the new copy and the original ancient book in front of him. It was obvious that Father Justinian had been crying for a long time.

"Oh, my Lord," sobbed Father Justinian, "the word is 'celebrate'!!!"

10 April, 2011

Saint Peter's Day Off

Saint Peter had a terrible cold and fever and didn't think he would last the day minding the Pearly Gates of Heaven. So he phoned Jesus to ask for the day off.

"Why, Peter," Jesus said, "you know your health is my first concern. Take as much time as you need."

As Jesus pondered who he might use to replace Peter, he decided to handle the job himself. It was a very slow day, and no one approached the Gates until late in the afternoon, when in the distance, Jesus saw a bent, white-haired old man slowly making his way up the path with the aid of a gnarled cane.

As the man neared, Jesus said, "Good afternoon, sir. How may I help you?"

"Well," replied the man, "I was hoping to enter the Gates of Heaven."

"We would certainly love to have you," said Jesus, "but we do have certain rules as to who can enter Heaven. Tell me, what have you done to deserve such an honor?"

"Actually, I have done nothing so wonderful myself," said the man. "I lived in a small town and led a simple life as a carpenter. But my son," he continued, "now HE was special!"

With pride in his voice he said, "I raised him to be a carpenter like myself and did my best to teach him right from wrong. When he grew older, an amazing transformation overcame him and to this day he's known throughout the world and loved by all alike."

As Jesus listened to the story, a sense of recognition came to him. With a lump in his throat and a tear in his eye, he threw open his arms and cried, "Father!"

Emotional at this outburst, the old man threw open his arms and yelled, "Pinocchio!"

08 April, 2011

Please Don't Fake It

Commencement isn't far off, and I find I've begun thinking what I might tell graduating seniors if I were called upon to do so. In my years as a college vice-president and president I was often called upon to do this and could always find few bits of wisdom. On a whim, I dug out some of my old speeches and found what follows - although I've edited it a bit. It still works, I think.

I've been asked to share a few hard earned wisdoms with you today - which is a good thing because I have only a few.

The first actually occurred to me after I arrived at work this morning. That is to know what expected of you before you begin any assignment - or your workday - so you can dress appropriately. Actually, I spent a chunk of my day working in my laboratory - so I’m a little dressed down as they say. Please forgive me.

The second may sound a little negative, but it isn’t intended that way. So far your life’s been good. You’ve learned a lot, and you’ve learned it very well - hence the accomplishments we’re celebrating today.

Of course, there are some things you learned before you came to us, and we can’t take credit for them.
           -Always say please and thank you.
           -Look both ways before crossing the street.
           -Not to laugh while drinking milk.

And, of course, there are lots of things you did learn while you were here at UC, and we celebrate your achievements as if they were our own.

I’m sure there are a few things you didn’t learn though - things that you should have. I expect that, being the successful students you are, you were probably able to fake it on occasion and still do well. I have noticed when I counsel students - especially good students - that sometimes they’re just afraid to admit they don’t know something and, therefore, don’t seek the help that’s needed.

In my younger years I’ve tried that faking or just getting by a few times but not with great success. It's embarrassing. Nowadays I just say "I don’t know" or "I don't understand. Help me." There is a cautionary tale that perhaps explains why you shouldn't try to fake it. You may have heard it before.

History has recorded that Christopher Columbus was stranded in Jamaica AND he needed supplies AND he knew an eclipse was to occur the next day.

He told the tribal chief, "The God who protects me will punish you unless you give me supplies. A vengeance will fall upon you, and the sun will disappear." When the eclipse darkened the sky, Columbus got all the supplies he needed.

It is also told that in the early 1900s (400 years later), an Englishman tried the same trick on a Sudanese chieftain. "If you do not follow my order," he warned, "vengeance will fall upon you, and the sun will lose its light."

The wise chief of the Sudan said, "If you are referring to the solar eclipse, that doesn’t happen until the day after tomorrow."

What’s my point? Don’t ever try to fake it. Recognize that although you’ve learned a lot, you still have a lot to learn. Recognize also that you will eventually learn all that you need and that the world is full of wonderful teachers.

When you will encounter situations in which you need help - and you shall - just ask for it. It’s there and there for a reason. Also, take these wonderful intellectual skills that got you this far and continue to make a difference in your own life and in the lives of others.

03 April, 2011

The Sound Like No Other

A man is driving down the road and breaks down near a monastery. He goes to the monastery, knocks on the door, and says, "My car broke down. Do you think I could stay the night?" The monks graciously accept him, feed him dinner, and even fix his car. As the man tries to fall asleep, he hears a strange sound - a sound like no other that he has ever heard. The next morning, he asks the monks what the sound was, but they say, "We can't tell you. You're not a monk."

The man is disappointed but thanks them anyway and goes on his merry way. Some years later, the same man breaks down in front of the same monastery. The monks again accept him, feed him, and even fix his car. That night, he hears the same strange mesmerizing sound that he had heard years earlier. The next morning, he asks what the sound was, but the monks reply, "We can't tell you. You're not a monk."

The man says, "All right, all right. I'm dying to know. If the only way I can find out what that sound was is to become a monk, how do I become a monk?"

The monks reply, "You must travel the earth and tell us how many blades of grass there are and the exact number of sand pebbles. When you find these numbers, you will become a monk."

The man sets about his task. Some forty-five years later, he returns and knocks on the door of the monastery. He says, I have travelled the earth and devoted my life to the task demanded and have found what you had asked for. There are 371,145,236,284,232 blades of grass and 231,281,219,999,129,382 sand pebbles on the earth.

The monks reply, "Congratulations, you are correct and now you are a monk. We shall now show you the way to the sound." The monks lead the man to a wooden door, where the head monk says, "The sound is behind that door."

The man reaches for the knob, but the door is locked. He asks, "May I have the key?" The monks give him the key, and he opens the door. Behind the wooden door is another door made of stone. The man requests the key to the stone door.

The monks give him the key, and he opens it, only to find a door made of ruby. He demands another key from the monks, who provide it. Behind that door is another door, this one made of sapphire. And so it went until the man had gone through doors of emerald, silver, topaz, and amethyst. Finally, the monks say, "This is the key to the last door."

The man is relieved to no end. He unlocks the door, turns the knob, and behind that door he is astonished to find the source of that strange sound. It is truly an amazing and unbelievable sight, ...

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... but I can't tell you what it is because YOU are not a monk.