Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living.
I have been putting my life under a huge microscope since I was in high school.
I have delighted in developing a philosophy of life–a code of behavior, based on my Catholic faith that I have tried to live.
Author, Nancy Pearcey, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing for Phyllis Schlafly on her nationally syndicated program a few weeks ago, calls this a worldview or what the Germans christened, a Weltanschauung.
You should check out her book, A Total Truth.
When I was in high school my idea of a good time was to take an unsuspecting young lady in the corner of a room during a school dance and tell her the unedited version of my life, replete with my worldview.
That usually took three hours.
You have to understand that I was only 17 years old.
Today that would require a much longer session. That’s why I blog!
It also made dating the same girl a bit difficult because they had heard my life story already. In senior year at Xavier I dated 22 different girls.
It was at my 50th high school reunion that I realized how much a role angels had played in my life.
I wonder how many people still believe in Guardian Angels?
In grade school, during my early education the nuns would teach that each one of us had a guardian angel.
Most people probably equated such teaching to having an imaginary friend.
In other words a kind of fantasy you tell children until they are old enough to realize that such things don’t exist.
Think Santa or the Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy is real.
I know I never gave angels much of a thought.
For adults angels are relegated to the ornamental world of Christmas trees.
Many men dreamed of finding an angel with a very earthly body.
The Bible, especially the New Testament, relies heavily on angels as messengers and powerful intercessors for God’s will.
The older I get the more I look to human angels than any celestial being with wings and things because of the number of intercessions that have been made on my behalf by them.
My trip to Gettysburg for my recent birthday evoked memories of the best-selling book by Michael Shaara, Killer Angels.
This was the author’s theological way of saying that human beings have a divine spark but are also cursed with a lethal tendency.
I think many of us are employed by God to take messages of hope and grace to each other.
It was during the open mike session during the reunion that I had some deep thoughts that I shared with my classmates that demonstrated how interconnected the events were in my life and how many angels or messengers of God’s grace had enabled me to pursue the life that has become my life and my adult Weltanschauung.
I started out by saying how I had received something none of them ever had from Xavier H. S.–a rejection letter.
That was the absolute truth.
What bothered me more than my dashed hopes and dreams, created by a neighbor, who proudly marched past my window everyday, wearing his snappy blue dress uniform, en route to the subway, was the fact that many of my intellectual inferiors in my eight grade class had been accepted.
I did have the consolation that Todd Defronzo had also gotten a thin letter from Xavier.
Todd and I had taken the test for Xavier’s rival Jesuit school, Brooklyn Prep.
Of the 5,000 who took their test, I had finished 162nd and Todd–12th.
Unfortunately he needed a scholarship. He missed that by two places.
I moped around for a full week until just before the end of the lunch period, one of my inferiors told me to call home–My dad was as excited as I was when he told me they had reconsidered and I had a place in the Class of 1961.
I found out later that the first of what would be several messengers of grace had interceded on my behalf.
My saintly maiden aunt called her Jesuit friend, Father Joseph Connors at St. Francis Xavier Church and he must have told them how smart, good and handsome I was.
Well maybe two of the three.
Going to Xavier shaped the direction my life would take.
From there I went to Holy Cross–another jebbie school.
They told us that there were only two kinds of schools, the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities. And then there was everyone else!
At Holy Cross, I met another instrumental priest, Father John Sullivan, who later became the Archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas, the same diocese that my good friend Archbishop Joseph Naumann, now leads.
He represented the Catholic Lay Extension Volunteers.
It was their mission to extend the Catholic Church into rural and urban areas where there were just a few Catholics.
This out-reach program catered to teachers, social workers and people who cared about Church teachings.
I promised myself that if I felt as inspired as I was that first time, I would join.
Four years later after hearing Father Sullivan a few more times, I signed up.
But it wasn’t that easy.
Twice they tried to wash me out.
Both times were for the standardized test, the infamous MMPI.
I had to visit the school psychologist at the Cross.
God only knows how I got through that and I was on to a brief period of training at Barat College of the Sacred Heart in Chicago.
I had to take that same test again. This time I tried to micromanage my answers.
They would give you silly questions such as would you rather march in a parade or pick daisies.
Well it was another trip to the psychologist.
It seemed that I was too much of an individualist. They wanted team players and I was told to go home.
I remember feeling as low as I did when Xavier had rejected me.
I was sitting in a light rain thinking about where m,y life was headed when I heard from our Missouri director, Father Wally Ellinger.
He told me he had gone to see the powers that be and showed them a letter I had written to him, pledging that I would do anything to serve the cause in Missouri.
I guess that sounded like being a team player to them and I had my rejection rescinded again and it was off to Charleston, Missouri, where I met the woman who would be my wife ever since 1966.
Since then I have developed a deeper understanding for personal introspection and how God’s mercy, grace and whatever works its way in each human life.
I have no idea how many times I may have inadvertently acted as a messenger of grace for the people I have encountered over the years, either in person or on the radio or maybe even through my written words.
One of the lament of life is that you just never know…and maybe that’s a good thing.
Comedian Albert Brooks said in one pf his acts that he had a dream that an angel, like Jimmy Stewart’s Clarence came to him and showed him how the world would have been without him…and it was better.
Of course that was a joke.
I have always said that George Bailey had nothing over me.
While he had done so much good that he was unaware of, I have had people go to bat for me because presumably they saw something special in me and they have changed my life completely.
I hesitate to think of what my life might have been without them.
They were true messengers of grace who helped me along the road to my earthly and eternal destiny.
I hope this gives all of you something more to think about.
MY HISTORICAL ODYSSEY—9/4—9/11
Where does a historian go on his birthday?
If he likes American history during the sesquicentennial of the Civil War he goes to Gettysburg.
This was a trip I have been thinking of taking for sometime.
After two inspiring days in Philadelphia where we took in the sites of Independence Hall, Carpenters’ Hall and all the other historic sites where our nation originated.
I had never seen the Liberty Bell before.
I was struck by the ordinariness of the circumstances.
The desks and the chambers, after allowing for the 18th century architecture, did not look much different from the sameness of American life today.
Yet the events that transpired in those hallowed halls changed the world and left a legacy of freedom and democracy for my generation to monitor.
Later that afternoon, I ran up the stairs of the Art Museum just as one of my movie heroes, Rocky Balboa did over 35 years ago.
Unfortunately the triumphant statue, erected his honor, has been moved to an obscure side of the museum.
The city fathers did not think Rocky was sophisticated enough to warrant its former place of prominence on the top step.
I wonder how many people would even go to their museum if it had not been for the free publicity Rocky gave them.
The theme from Sylvester Stallone’s movie, GONNA FLY NOW has had a special meaning for me.
I used it to inspire my baseball team of nine and ten-year olds to a perfect 12 -0 season in 1977.
My last four years on WGNU radio I used it as bumper music to get my blood flowing and my brain engaged.
After Philadelphia, the next morning–my birthday–September 6th–we were off for lunch with Amish people in Lancaster CO.
Our informative local guide was a Mennonite, which means she dressed normally, could drive and had a college education.
The Amish women are not allowed to do any of these things.
And they had no electricity, except for a bishop dispensation for illness.
We were instructed not to take their picture because they feared that it would damage or even steal their spirit.
I did talk to one young lady at the local store and she kindly wished me a happy birthday.
Later that afternoon we drove to Gettysburg, which was at the top of my list.
It was raining, not very hard but enough to necessitate an umbrella.
Our local guide, Jim Dale, was excellent and I learned what a Minie Ball really is.
First of all, it is not small.
It has about a 54 caliber weight.
The guide also affirmed my question that Napoleon was largely responsible for the Southern defeat in Pennsylvania because the generals, especially Lee, were still using the tactics of the early 19th century, where lines of soldiers marched into deadly cannon fire.
This was perfectly illustrated by Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd, the third and last day of the bloody encounter.
Ironically, my 6th grade text-book, a weathered volume that had probably been around for many years, had an illustration of the charge.
I still have a mental picture.
The Southerner with his sword high over his head is probably Lo Armistead, one of Pickett’sBrigadier Generals and not Pickett as I had thought all these years.
The next day we spend three hours, inside at the Gettysburg Museum.
The item that struck me the most was seeing Abner Doubleday’s hat.
No Mike it wasn’t a baseball cap.
General Doubleday, who was also at the war’s first battle, Fort Sumter, had absolutely nothing personally to do with the origins of America’s national pastime.
In answer to my question, I learned that incoming Union general, George Meade had just relieved him of his command just after the battle began.
That marked the end of his career as a field commander for the rest of the war.
Gettysburg is a charming town.
I wish we had been able to walk its streets for a while. I would have hopped into Gettysburg Eddie’s restaurant for a peek.
It is named after Hall of Fame pitcher, (1946) Eddie Plank, who finished his career with the old St. Louis Browns.
A young woman, Mary Virginia Wade was surpisingly the opnly civilian fatality during the three-day battle. She was killed instantly by a stray bullet that went through a kitchen window and struck her in the back.
Next it was on to Williamsburg, Virginia where we spend an entire day visiting the shops and historic exhibits.
I took a brisk walk down to the House of Burgesses, which was the site of the first assembly in the New World.
That as in 1619, the year the first black slaves and women came to America.
The last two days we spent in Washington, D.C.
Our guide didn’t want us to miss a thing.
He stopped at the small house where Thomas Stonewall Jackson died after being wounded by friendly fire after his tremendous victory at Chancellorsville.
We toured at night as well, seeing the WW II Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial the first night, as well as walking by the Capitol Building with the Washington Monument looming in the far distance.
Due to the earthquake earlier this summer, tourists will probably not be able to climb to its top because the nation is broke.
We stayed at what I call the Eliot Spitzer Memorial Hotel.
Better known as the Mayflower this old hotel was the site of an infamous call girl ring that brought down one of New York’s most aggressive Democratic politicians.
He bounced back as a talk show host.
The next day we went to Mt. Vernon, where I saw the Washington family tomb and the actual bed the first president died in.
The year was 1799 and I think he was 66 years old.
Later that day we went to the Vietnam and Korean wars memorials where the present of SWAT gave us cause to realize that Washington was under a serious alert because the war on terrorism.
Before dinner we walked to the White House by the West Wing and were allowed to approach the gate for the photo op.
Our farewell dinner was at the International Spy Museum where we toured its contents.
I was attracted to the exhibit about spying that dated back to Sun Tse, the Bible and later Cardinal Richelieu in the French court of King Louis XIII.
Robert Hanssen was also there.
He was the so-called devout Catholic and member of the Opus Dei, who sold his country out for money.
The movie with Pat Cooper, entitled Breach is one of my favorite flicks.
As a special extra we journeyed to Arlington Cemetery at night to view the memorial to Iwo Jima.
There was some controversy on our bus after our trip to the Marine Museum in Maryland en route to DC that there were only five flag raisers.
I knew there were six, ever since I saw the John Wayne movie in 1949 with my dad when I was six years old.
I must have walked around the monument 20 times trying to count them—trust me it is not easy.
Well after about 20 minutes, I looked up and I did not recognize any of the other tourists. II had completely lost my focus.
could not find my bus. Panic started to take hold—it was very dark there.
Fortunately I was looking in the wrong place and they had waited for me.
I wont even mention the lockdown, involving Ollie North at Lambert airport when we travelled back to St. Louis on 9/11 from Dulles airport.
Of the 18 tours I have taken with Tauck, our guide named Mark who was a burly man who reminded me of a cross between HOF football player, Dan Dierdorff and Rodney Dangerfield, added a great deal to my enjoyment because of his enthusiasm and knowledge of history.
He also had read all the Lee Child novels about Jack Rhecter, who has about the same build as Mark…but is not as funny as Rodney.
OI have been to Hawaii where we all learned about the sperm whale and Sonoma where I was taught how rto savor the bouquet of a fine wine.
Most of those went in the one window and out the other one.
This time I had a strong historical foundation, which i could add a few stories to.
What a birthday!
I am already starting to plan my birthday for next year.
THE WINNER IS!!!!
NUMBER 50: Meeting and holding the hand of Blessed John Paul. It was an overwhelming experience. (Joan Sheehan)
NUMBER 51: Listening to Lito Cortez play the piano at The Don CeSar, St Pete Beach, Florida. This should have been on my original list. His music is marvelous. I have all of his six albums. (Debra Petersen)
I have often wondered why so many of my fellow Catholics, who are more devout than I am don’t smile more.
Since smiling is usually the product of a clear conscience, you would think that they would smile more.
In fact some of them can be extremely pushy, angry and short-tempered.
Perhaps it’s because they bear the weight of the world on their shoulders or think something is wrong with enjoying life too much.
These people have lost or probably never had what Jesuit Father William O’Malley, S.J called the Wow factor.
I must have that because I am always saying wow, as I see or do things that just make my spirit soar until I think my heart is going leave my body!
Last Tuesday was my birthday. I was 68 years old.
A friend told me age was just a number. Actually it is just a word.
Too many people get old and they never seem to experience that sense of joy.
Joy doesn’t have to be expensive. Your life might not be going as you would like but you still can experience real joy.
You just have to be open to it and have a beating heart.
What I have written below is a random list of all of other things in my past, present and hopefully present that have given a marvelous feeling of joy, sometimes followed by a serenity that seems almost other worldly.
So here are as the song goes, 49 of my favorite things. See if you have had any feelings of wow or joy, similar to mine.
Feel free to comment on the page provided.
Why 49? Two reasons! Anyone can do 50–but the last few can be a stretch. And besides I am saving that space for you. Send me your #50–has to be different from my 49 and I will publish and send you a free copy of my last book, The Scorpion and the Frog. (HB)
THE SENSE OF WOW:
1) seeing my little granddaughters bungi-jump on a trampoline at the local mall. Seeing their wide-open eyes recess in their little heads as they soared, nearly to the top of the glass skylight;
2) smelling the salty air on a catamaran in San Francisco Bay or any other place on deep water;
3) a long, lingering full-body massage with massive blood flow (all internal) on a Thursday morning;
4) watching a sunset with Judy in Naples on a February evening;
5) seeing the Mets win at Citifield a few miles from my boyhood home, two birthdays ago;
6) drinking a banana-chocolate smoothie at Starbucks during a 100 degree day in August;
7) listening to old Carley Simon or Petula Clark CD’s;
8) watching a movie with the unrequited lover getting the girl;
9) seeing my first baseball game on May 29, 1954–Pee Wee Reese hit the winning home run at the Polo Grounds as Brooklyn won 4-2;
10) smelling the air after a long, cool rain;
11) spending an hour before the Blessed Sacrament in our church’s chapel;
12) seeing Holy Cross beat anybody in football or basketball;
13) receiving the Father James Hartnett Award several years ago at the St. Louis Ritz in front of my whole family, including cousins from New York…and on my birthday;
14) reading essays and articles I have written–or thinking about what I want to write about;
15) going to a game with my sons;
17) telling and listening to funny stories with friends–new and old; works for both the friends and the stories
18) watching my youngest sink the last seven foul shots in a row during a 7th grade game, his team won 29-28;
19) watching my daughter win the first Kevin Kline Award for Best Actress in a play in St. Louis in 2006; Separate Tables
20) date night every Friday evening with Judy for Starbuck’s, a movie, and a light dinner;
21) seeing one of my plays produced on the St. Louis stage;
22) having a young pretty girl smile at me as we pass on the street;
23) finishing my latest and most ambitious play, about a dysfunctional happy family, called In a Family Way;
24) the sight of a new mother holding her brand new baby;
25) seeing my three children for the first time;
26) every time one of them thanks me for being their father;
27) a surprise gift from my wife or one of my kids that touched me specially, such as Howdy Doody, Rocky card, with my favorite theme, Gonna Fly Now and most recently a Ronald Reagan collectors pin.
28) seeing my oldest son play with or coach his three children; and any other kids that are on his teams;
29) spending three minutes with Gene Shalit on the Today Show and not losing my cool or my breakfast;
30) having actually taught something to a goof-off in Brooklyn in 1967; little Joey Ancona learned what the word impaled meant, just before I ran him through with my pointer;
31) watching Ellen dance on her afternoon show during lunch at my favorite restaurant;
32) seeing the face of God in a child’s smile;
33) learning something new;
34) hearing from an old high school friend; or college friend;
35) getting a warm hug from a friend, preferably a female;
36) having a grandchild hug my leg;
37) seeing my grandson play football, basketball, lacrosse, soccer etc.–all during the same season;
38) hearing my granddaughter sing at a school concert;
39) an even longer, more lingering massage on a late Sunday morning;
40) reading a book that makes me think:
41) watching What about Bob or Planes, Trains…;
42) running into a friend I have not seen for years;
43) receiving an unexpected honor of being named The Mindszenty Foundation Man of the Year–2011 at a small gathering at an elegant luncheon hosted by Eleanor Schlafly, the novogenarian I have worked for nine years and one of the most charming women of any age I have ever encountered;
44) spending Thursday and Sunday afternoons breathing deeply and feeling a sense of exhilaration that leads me to daydream of my past, present and future for hours; See # 3 & 39
45) a moonlight swim in my own pool;
46) a granddaughter in her 1st communion white dress, with veil, with her eyes cast down;
47) any Michael Connolly novel that features Harry Bosch;
48) whenever one of my children or even grandchildren actually listens to me;
49) the innate feeling that somehow God really does love me;