One of my favorite quotes is from Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms. He writes “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places”. Truer words have never been written! Each of us one day will face a hardship that tests our very fiber, but if we make it through, we will grow and flourish. You assuredly learn from your mistakes, but you grow from your pain. The imperfections of this world are designed to test our mettle and prepare us for a more perfect world beyond.
Although the world breaks everyone in some way, many but not all become stronger in those broken places. What gifts have been bestowed on us, so we can be strong in the broken places? St. Paul provides us with the answer: Faith, Hope, and Love with the greatest being Love. As we end this year, let me provide three examples of these saving gifts through the lives of others.
Faith is trust in God and self that things will get better either in this world or the next. It isa powerful weapon in confronting hardship and in forging a new life. One example of abiding faith is St. John Paul II. As a priest and bishop, he showed faith that his beloved Poland wouldshake the bonds of oppression from the Soviet Union and it came to pass. As a new Pope, he had faith in the protection of Mary who shielded him from anassassin’s bullet. He later showed faith in the redemption of others by forgiving this would be assassin. As he aged, Saint John Paul II showed faith in God’s plan by showing us his weakness as he confronted Parkinson’s.
Hope is the belief that things will get better despite current hardships. Gandhi epitomizes hope to me. He faced obstacles and trials as he strove to establish the modern nation of India. Any one of the obstacles that he faced would have dissuaded a lesser person. But through the March to the Sea, the horror of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and his many imprisonments, Gandhi retained his hope that the dignity of man would prevail. In his words, “To believe that what has not occurred in history will not occur at all, is to argue disbelief in the dignity of man.” Hope is the belief that the ultimate purpose of man will shine through despite the broken places.
Love is the greatest gift. It transforms the heart and soul. I have seen it do this to my brother David, his wife Debra, and his mother-in-law Marge. Debra is dealing with the debilitating disease of Aphasia and has been in a nursing facility since September. Please read more at this link https://www.gofundme.com/6d948wg . She can no longer speak and must use a respirator and eat through a feeding tube as she rehabilitates. Though she may not recover fully, she shows her love to David and Marge by getting up each day and taking on the rehabilitation exercises. Marge shows her love for her daughter by coming by daily and sharing time. Despite some of her own health issues, she is always there for her daughter in this time of hardship. Perhaps the most transformed by love is my brother David. We have had our occasional arguments over the years which is to be expected from a younger and older brother. He has in the last year become an inspiration to me and others. He is there after work every night to spend time with Debra and provide her with support. He also fights for his wife as he strives to get justice from the insurance company. I am inspired that the kid that used to tantalize me daily has been blessed with love in the broken places.
As we ring in this new year, let us learn from the examples above and strive to become stronger, more perfect in love! Let’s God’s glory shine through the broken places to be an inspiration for all to see.
I was watching a documentary on the life of Charles Krauthammer today and was surprised that he was once a speechwriter for Walter Mondale. This leader of Neo-con Republicanism once wrote speeches to elect the most traditional Democrat that ever existed, Walter Mondale. And as I watched, I asked how this nation devolved into an us versus them mentality.
It was not always that way. We once had civil discourse and the social intermediaries (clubs, little league, community centers, and other institutions) that brought us together. Listening to Charles’ life, I have to agree with Charles when he said, “Of course we are shaped by our milieu. But the most formative, most important influence on the individual is not government. It is civil society, those elements of the collectivity that lie outside government: family, neighborhood, church, Rotary club, PTA, the voluntary associations that Tocqueville understood to be the genius of America and source of its energy and freedom.”
We have gotten extreme, but it was not always that way. We did not always launch ourselves into the opposing sides of Twitter feeds at the drop of a hat, but rather listened to the opposing sides of people we respected in our community. We sought out the commonalities that brought us together and the spark of humanity that resides in each one of us. We listened to one another and learned from one another at the PTAs, Little Leagues, Community Centers and institutions of everyday life. We need to return to these social institutions and turn away from the emptiness of social media.
The best example of a community of sharing and caring is the town that I grew up in Crosswicks. My town’s main claim to fame was it was the launchpad of the revolution – the Battle of Trenton that won us a country and a nation. In that town of Crosswicks, we had a mix of liberals and conservatives that all got along and progressed for the betterment of our country and our community. Thinking about my hometown, I started thinking how did our nation – the collective Crosswicks – become so Crosswise? What caused the demise of the democracy? Simply this. When you cross the wicks (Crosswicks) of a candle, the light burns brighter. But when you get cross wise, the fire of freedom becomes extinguished.
So tonight, I will ruminate on what made our little hamlet of Crosswicks bring people together instead of pulling them apart. And the answer is quite simple – it was community organizations not affiliated with governments, Facebook, or corporate organizations. It was organizations by the people, for the people and run by the people. Let me talk about three of them:
Little League – Back before the day of club Soccer run by professionals, we had Little League. It was run by volunteers who wanted to teach kids a sport and bring communities together. I am now 55 and can still remember every moment of every Chesterfield Red Sox versus Chesterfield Black Sox game. The whole community came together to watch the teams compete. There may have been some arguments on the fields of friendly strife, but what I remember the most was being with my friends, learning from my father and other parents, and sharing fun with the community. I am not trying to cut down club soccer which is still a unifying organization. But there is something different learning from the people of your community instead of professionals that are getting paid.
Scouts – I cannot talk to Girl Scouts, but I can talk to Cub and Boy Scouts. These institutions brought together people from all walks of life for fellowship and fun. Both my mother as a Den Mother and my Father as a Cubmaster were involved. We got to learn how to compete fairly in the Pinewood Derby and Rocket races. We also learned how to develop our skills and help one another with our various badges. As part of a Den, Pack or Troop, you learned how to cooperate and care for those in your group. You also learned about how through differences and diversity, you create strength. I will never forget how our Boy Scout troop was able to take the disparate talents and succeed in a weekend campout.
Community Center and Library – The heart of Crosswicks was the community center and library. In the summer program at both institutions, I first fell in love with books, learned how to draw a cartoon dog and cat, and participated in parties on Halloween and Christmas. It did not matter the color of your skin, your political institution, or your religion. All the people in Crosswicks were brought together to share in fellowship and learn new skills. In the end, it is really what you learn and apply rather than what you earn and deny that makes a mark on the world.
These are just three of the intermediary institutions that brought us together in Crosswicks. I will never forget the friends that I made. And, even 40 years later, when my friends from Crosswicks express their disparate views, some quite different from my own, I listen and learn. Never underestimate the power of Crosswicks and intermediary institutions to bring people together. Let us all as a nation, cross wicks and make the light of our common humanity shine brighter!
One of the most inspiring people in my life is Father Mike Schmitz. For you that may not heard of him, he is a Catholic Priest and speaker who leads the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is prevalent on social media and speaks often at youth conferences and for Ascension Press. His two podcasts (one for UMD and one for Ascension Press) have often inspired me and believe it or not have been critical to my weight loss! During my exercise routines, I often listen to a Father Mike playlist. His podcasts for UMD range from 20 to 25 minutes and those for Ascension Press shorter. You can read some more on my Fr. Mike exercise practice (item 9) and other weight loss essentials in this blog. What’s AP? A Digital Guide to Weight Loss
If I have a good day at the gym, I report to my wife that I did 3 Father Mike’s (the UMD variety) on the treadmill. I think people in the gym may think that I am a little crazy during Fr. Mike’s talks. I have listened to some when he speaks about being Minnesotan and laughed so loud the guy on the treadmill nearly fell off! Equally, I often listened with tears streaming down my face moved by his words of faith, inspiration, and love.
This latter reaction is what happened yesterday at 5 AM during my Saturday exercise routine. I listened to Fr. Mike’s podcast “It takes Courage” and was immediately overwhelmed with his simple message that so much of life just takes courage. He gives some simple everyday examples that at first may not leap out at you but later resonate deeply. Parents going to work on a Monday after a hectic weekend to take care of their family. Children in their first swim meet when they climb up in the blocks. Parents who are getting on in life and are willing to let go and prepare to meet their next chapter. The infertile couple who desire a kid so badly but are not sure if they will ever conceive. And those couples that do ultimately conceive. In Fr. Mike’s words, “It takes courage to bring a life in this world and say I am going to lay down my life for whoever this child is.” You can hear the full podcast from Father Mike here. Life Demands Courage – Fr. Mike Schmitz
This message – It takes courage to face a world full of everyday unknowns – moved and inspired me to develop my next blog series which will unfold over the next few weeks. Ideas kept popping into my head – not of the famous – but of my friends and family that everyday wake up to face the world with courage when so much of their future is unknown. A cousin as he faces a world that he sometimes does not understand to bring God’s smile into the world. An uncle that walks up the daunting stairs of Eisenhower Hall on two wooden legs. A friend with the courage to be himself and not whom other thought that he should be. These friends and family inspire me with their faith, love and courage to face everyday challenges and to bring their light and that of God into the world.
Last week when thinking about the legacy of Dr. King and thinking of other selfless people like Gandhi and Mother Theresa, I was trying to find the common thread that pulled them all together. And I realized it was because they were each Third – behind their religious beliefs and their care for others. I then thought how hard it is to be Third in my own life and thought of that classic song – “It’s Not Easy Being Green”. So I decided to write this song/poem to the tune of It’s Not Easy Being Green. I hope you enjoy it and my thanks to Kermit!
It’s Not Easy Being Third
It’s not easy being Third,
Putting yourself behind our human family and God’s word,