Category Archives: Philosophy

End of the World?

Halley’s Comet – named for Sir Edmond Halley, the English bloke who used Newton’s new art of calculus to surmise that frequently seen comets in history were, in fact the same comet – returns to the inner solar system once every 76 years or so, on average. [1] When this occurs, it is usually quite visible with the naked eye for weeks at a time.

76 years is quite a short period for a comet that can be so easily seen.  It is the only one that can be seen twice in a single human lifetime.

Alas, the only appearance during my lifetime – in 1986 – was far less than spectacular.  Earth’s and Halley’s orbits were sort of “out of synch” and thus minimized earth’s view of the comet when it was brightest. I was most disappointed, since I had read about it so much and had been very let down by the “flame out” of Kahoutek in 1973-74.

Such has not always been the case.

In 1066 the Comet portended the defeat of English King Harold II to William, the conqueror from Normandy at a battlefield near Hastings[2A] So important was this astronomical sign that its significance and image are captured on the magnificent 70 meter (230 feet) long tapestry that that tells the story of conquest, and still survives in Bayeux, Normandy. [2B]

Over the millennia, many other occasions of Halley’s return and sighting have been recorded in several cultures. As there was no effective difference between astronomy and astrology, a comet’s appearance (exceedingly rare as they are) are usually associated with some momentous decision, or a historical event.

Could that event be the end of the world?

The year was 1910, and the comet’s return was certainly expected. Based on its path through the solar system since its 1835 appearance, astronomers and physicists predicted it would appear in spring. [3]

And yet, in January, a comet brighter than anything anyone had expected appeared!  Was this Halley’s?  Appearing early? Astrophysicists re-worked and labored over their calculations again.  As they did, the comet got so bright it was visible during the day!  It’s brightness rivaled that of famously bright evening and morning “stars” – Venus and Jupiter –  but with a tail painted across the sky. 

Soon enough scientists announced: No! This is not Halley’s.  This is an unrecorded comet, probably with a period of 50,000 to 100,000 years!  People alive then were fortunate to see such a spectacle. That 1910 comet is often referred to as “The Daylight Comet.”

Historians regularly call 1910 “The Year of Two Comets.” Just a few months after the Daylight Comet faded away Halley’s made its scheduled appearance in April. 

Astronomers first sighted it in early April, and it could be seen with the naked eye starting around April 10. They tracked it, and – again – many scientists and astronomers made their calculations and observations.  Those who calculate did their calculations: Each orbit of a comet is different, and everyone wanted to know how bright the comet would get, and how close it would get to earth.

From the Dallas Star, May, 1910

On April 20 the comet reached perihelion – its closest approach to the sun – and became very easily viewable from earth with casual unaided observation.  [On cue, Mark Twain passed away[3]]. After perihelion they predicted an Earth-comet approach so close that on May 18th Earth would pass through the comet’s tail Now that’s astonishing!

What would happen then?  How should this news be treated? Should they let everyone, and anyone, know?  Would panic and hysteria ensue? What about the news that spectroscopic surveys of the tail suggested the tail was comprised of a high percentage of cyanogen, a precursor to cyanide? 

A few scientists suggested that this could make the entire atmosphere fatally toxic! But most scientists thought that there was no danger.  Yet, we couldn’t know until we actually passed through.

What do you do when the world might end?  Many people just stayed home, preferring to spend their final hours with their families. Factories shut down for want of workers. Yet, in many places around the world the answer was: have a party.  A big party.  Get all your friends, family, food and booze together and enjoy yourselves like there might be no tomorrow. Humans around the world wondered what might happen, … while partying. It was a delicious time: while the vast majority had little or no fear of the “calamity”, they took it as an opportunity to have a good time, enjoy this singular event: a few spectacular hours of passage. And by doing so – maybe – mocking those who were in hysteria.

It might have been the last time until now (the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, March 2020) that the world has been more or less united in the same activities.  Mankind united by a single set of events.

Earth passed through the tail of Halley’s Comet. When it was over, of course, nothing happened.  They had simply witnessed and experienced an event that probably no other human had!  And no other human will for a very long time. [5]

Well, perhaps more than that happened.  Quite a few probably had hangovers – and there might have been a mini-baby boom in early 1911. (There was, in fact, a few percent jump in US births in 1911 over 1910; however, (1) that was a time of such massive immigration; and (2) birth numbers jumped consistently from 1900 until 1918 [insert WW1 comment here], so it’s not clear what we should attribute this mini-baby boom to.) [4]

Anyhow, one way or the other, this SARS-CoV-2 thing (and the illness it causes, COVID-19) will pass. Some of us have panicked.  Nearly all of us will survive, although many of us will be changed; maybe with larger waistlines.

Unlike extraordinary 1910 – with two brilliant comets, and with Halley’s extremely close-approach to Earth – an epidemic or pandemic will occur again.  For some of us, perhaps, within our lifetime.  What will happen next time?  Much will depend on what we have learned. And what we remember.

I hope it’s not the end of the world.  But in any case, we can have a party.

By the way: Halley’s is predicted to appear again in the summer of 2061.  I don’t think I’ll hang around for that one.  Gotta join ol’ Mark Twain sometime. But if I do make it to then: we’re having a heck of a party!

Until next time, I wish you peace and health

Joe Girard © 2020

Thanks for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for when there is newly published material by clicking here. Or emailing joe@girardmeister.com

[1] Halley’s orbital period varies a bit with every orbit; and the variation is random.  Why? A) The comet sheds a fraction of its mass with each inner solar system pass due to solar heating; and B) the comet is tiny and light, and thus subject to (usually) slight gravitational perturbation by planets.  Halley’s once had an orbital period of many tens of thousands of years, falling from the Kuiper Belt – or more likely the Oort Cloud – but after repeated close encounters with planets, it has been captured and now strays only about as far away from the sun as the 8th planet Neptune at aphelion – it’s farthest distance from the sun. 

[2A] My son Aaron and I walked the battlefield in April, 2010. It is actually quite far inland from Hastings. There is a lovely town there now, with a beautiful Abbey. The town is called, appropriately enough: “Battle”

[2B] My wife and I were fortunate enough to have time to walk along and see the entire tapestry during our Normandy tour, in May, 2018.

[3] Mark Twain was born in 1835, with Halley’s Comet visible in the night sky.  As he aged, he grew weary and bitter – he had lost his fortune, three of his four children perished before him, and then his wife went. In such a dark cloud he predicted his own demise in 1910, concurrent with Halley’s reappearance.  He was correct.

[4] US Live Birth Statistics   https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/statab/t1x0197.pdf

[5] Deaths from Halley’s.  There were quite a few deaths associated with Halley’s, almost all of them due to the hysteria.  I read a report of a 16-year old Canadian girl falling to her death from the roof of a building where an “end of the world” party was being held.

[6] Author’s note: My disappointment with Halley’s 1986 appearance was greatly relieved by Hale-Bopp in March and April, of 1997.  On a spring break trip to the Arizona desert, with perfect viewing, Hale-Bopp was magnificent.  And it’s brightest night was almost exactly the same as a lunar eclipse and – right next to the moon – Mars in perfect and brilliant opposition

Eternal Life

Something has definitely changed.  Or maybe it’s just me.  Outside of a funeral or memorial service (of which I’ve attended far too many lately), when was the last time you heard about, read about or discussed the topic of Life After Death?

Wasn’t this an infatuation of humans about their temporary condition for – oh, I don’t know – forever?  Maybe it’s me and the change is that I haven’t been paying attention.  If this topic is much less of a curious passion of our attention than it used to be, then that is probably one of the few good things to come out of the recent decades of self-awareness and self-absorption: living the life we have now – and doing it right – rather than for the life we don’t know about.

Personally, I profess to harboring a sense of ambiguity – or perhaps a resigned agnosticism – on the subject.  I don’t know a thing about it (Greek: a = not/non; gnosis = to know) and yet accept that there is probably some form of post-death existence that defies human description.  Can God completely and eternally allow something – someone – He loves to be destroyed for evermore?

In a less spiritual sense, can we deny that the world is changed by the existence of each and every one of us?  And once changed, the world is irreversibly changed.  It can’t go back.  Each of us affects the others in our life, who in turn affect and change the experience of others in their lives.  Is that not a form of Eternal Life?  The memories of our ancestors is carried on in our descendants … if we take the time to pass along their stories.
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A few such stories surpass those of all the rest.  The names and stories of some people become part of everyday life, become part of everyday thought and become part every person’s consciousness –- and thereby bring a form of not only life after death, but eternal life.

I bring you three short stories, each very different.

— – —

1. Is it Life after Death if  your name is spoken nearly daily by every English speaker hundreds of years after you die?

John Montagu was born in the early 18th century in the flats near the coast of the English Channel in northeast Kent, England.  Born to the large land-owning upper classes of British society, he was well educated at the renowned schools Eton and Trinity College.  He went on to distinguish himself in service to His Majesty’s government.  He was a delegate to the Congress of Breda [1] and Ambassador to the Netherlands.  Returning home, he served as First Lord of the Admiralty (in effect the civil head of the Navy).  Later, he also served as Secretary of State for the Northern Department and also as the Kingdom’s Postmaster General.

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich

Though impressive, it is not for any of these achievements or services for which Montagu has become immortal – and for which his name is spoken virtually daily by every English-speaker.  Montagu’s father was an Earl, and Montagu inherited his title.  That flat region of northeast Kent is called Sandwich.

Montagu was the 4th Earl of Sandwich. One evening at a social engagement (some say a session of gambling) the Earl is said to have asked his orderly to bring him a slice of meat between two pieces of bread – as a matter of convenience to keep from getting grease on the cards.  Although the facts of the story – in fact its very occurrence – are often contested, the Earl’s name was eternally lent to an emerging fad: The Sandwich.

— – —

 

2. On Christmas Day, there was born to us a wonderful gift.  A gift direct from heaven.  For on December 25, 1821 a tiny girl was born in a simple house on a farm in rural south central Massachusetts.  From a young age she developed the knack – and the love – of caring for others in medical need.  First her family, and then the people of her community.

When the Civil War first broke out, she began tending the wounded near Washington DC, especially after the Confederate rout of Union troops at Bull Run (Manassas).  As the war continued its deathly spiral she was able to get medical supplies directly to the bloody front lines herself — a task that, disappointingly, no man was able to conceive and achieve.

After the war, she traveled the country, speaking about her experiences and the need for proper and better medical care. She explained that it wasn’t just wars and battles that led to the need for medical care on a massive scale.  Disasters of all sorts bring this need.  We could be prepared for such disasters and the human need they bring.  Finally she was heard, and in 1881 the American Red Cross was founded.

Clara Barton’s name graces schools and streets and communities across the United States.  In 137 years the American Red Cross has provided unmeasurable support to people in every sort of disaster, in every sort of way.  From wild fires, to earthquakes, to floods – and from hurricanes to HazMat spills – the Red Cross provides medical service, housing, food, transportation and counseling to those in great need.  Foresightfully, the Red Cross also helps prepare communities for disasters well before they occur.

— — – —

3. For a complete change of pace we look to Annelies Marie, born in Frankfurt, Germany.  She was indeed a very precocious child.  Like many intelligent, witty and maturing pubescent girls, she was quite a handful for her loving parents, who were trying to steer her through the awkward years from gangly youth to comely young lady.  She acted up and acted out as she experimented with her self perception and with her outlook toward the world and her family (parents and one older sister).

To help cure her of what her parents perceived as an over-developed attention to herself, they gave her an autograph book as a gift on the occasion of her thirteenth birthday.   Autograph books, considered quaint and old-fashioned today, were used at the time to collect autographs of friends, family, acquaintances and any famous people you could get to sign it.  In addition, it was customary to collect their writings, quips, quotes and even poetry.

But Annelies would turn even the autograph book into an ongoing investigation of herself.  No, she decided. It would not be an autograph book used to focus on others; instead it would be her diary.  In it she shared everything about herself and her life: from the most mundane details of her life as a frustrated teenager, to her unabashed desire to metaphorically live forever – to create or do something so majestic and so wonderful that, even after she died, the world would not (could not) forget her.

Annalies Marie died tragically young, just before her 16th birthday.  Yet, her name and her life are known the world over. And always will be.  Annelies and her Jewish family left Frankfurt in 1938, due to the severe oppression imposed by the Nazi regime.  They relocated in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, where young Annelies wrote not in German, but in a beautiful expressive Dutch.  Her father’s family took its name from the ancient tribe of Charlemagne (Karl der Grosse), a tribe that also gave name to the city of her birth: Frankfurt.  The Franks.  …. Yes, that Frank.  Yes, that Anne Frank.

We cannot forget you.  We must not.

The Earl of Sandwich.  Clara Barton.  Anne Frank. Like everyone else who has ever lived, they have a sort of earthly life after death.

Live large my friends. Think big. Do the right thing. Don’t spend much energy wondering what others think. Any Life After Death may give us a form of eternal life.  But our physical life here is short.  Very short.

Joe Girard © 2010, 2019

[1] Congress of Breda: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congress_of_Breda

Brief and Fragile

Food makes its way through the 30-foot alimentary canal at an average rate of 0.00023 miles per hour. Kind of slow. That’s about one-third the speed of a standard garden snail, if it could crawl for 24 hours without stopping, which is about the duration of an average trip down the canal. But snails usually don’t do that (they are ambitiously lazy), so – one assumes – food moves through you at about a snail’s pace.

After chewing, the first part of the digestive process along the canal is the protein enzymes carried by one’s saliva. In addition to the enzymes that begin breaking down carbohydrates, the mucus they produce helps facilitate swallowing. Although we each have thousands of salivary glands, there are six major glands that produce most of our saliva, and they come in three pairs:

  1. The Parotid Glands, which are wrapped around the mid- to aft part of the mandible (lower jaw)
  2. The Submandibular Glands, located just above the Adams Apple, each about one inch off center, to the side, sort of astride the chin area.
  3. The Sublingual Glands, which – as you might suspect – are under the tongue. They are toward the front.

These glands produce some 90-95% of our saliva. The submandibular glands produce about two-thirds of that; most of its juice is enzymes for digestion, not watery mucus for swallowing.

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My wife and I just returned from a long out-and-back road trip to the Pacific Northwest. The primary reason was to pick up some of her mother’s furniture. Over a few days, we were able to visit with several dear friends and all her family who still live in the area. The weather was spectacular: we were able to really enjoy some typically Seattle touristy things: Lake Union boat tour, Pike Place Market, Elliot Bay and Snoqualmie Falls.

We also made a wide swing on the return leg to see Crater Lake. A place we’d never been to – but always wanted to – despite several previous vacation trips through Oregon. Simply stunning. Gorgeous. We had fantastic weather … again.

When a couple who are dear friends of ours (she arranged for Audrey and me to meet in 1982) found out where we were (thanks Facebook!), they made the three-hour trip from northern California to visit with us in Oregon. Hadn’t seen them since April, 1984.

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I was reminded on this trip, yet again, how brief and fragile an individual’s life is here on our home planet. And not just because we made another trip to Tahoma National Cemetery, where we visited Audrey’s parents’ final resting place, and again walked the beautifully maintained grounds to look at various tombstones and enjoy quiet “alone time”, meditating and rolling thoughts around while on the sacred tracts.

Even considering that many of those buried there died in military service, or shortly thereafter, the average lifespan shown was only about 70 years. That’s only about 1% of the length of recorded history. Yet only about 0.1% of the duration of the Homo Sapiens Sapiens sub-species. And only about 0.000001% the age of the earth.

Life is brief.

Yet on a beautiful Sunday evening I was also reminded that life is fragile.

I’m in pretty good shape. Good diet. Extraordinary exercise discipline. Good BMI. Good BP. Solid core. Probably should drink a little less.

Yet on that Sunday evening I felt unusually tired and lay down for a short power nap. Short? I was down over an hour.

Upon awaking, my tongue felt thick and uncoordinated. Aside my tongue felt sore. I did the stroke test: smiled in the mirror. All good and symmetric. I went outside the house for a social gathering, greeted everyone, and took a piece of cheese from what remained on the snack plate. They had been waiting on me to commence with the meal. I felt awkward.

But I felt more awkward when the cheese would not go down my gullet. And some got stuck under my tongue. I suddenly felt difficulty breathing and talking, as well as swallowing.

I put my hand up to my throat – why? – to find that underneath the left side of my jaw was enormously swollen. Pushing painfully into the swelling I could discern a substantial hard mass. Lymph nodes?

When I showed Audrey – she who could see how large it was – she decided immediately: we are going to an Emergency Room. So off we immediately go to Overlake Hospital, Bellevue Washington.

As the swelling continued growing, the gentle yet attentive Doctor Chang told me that these things often get worse before they get better. As that would be life threatening, he gently suggested that I should spend the night in hospital.

I responded: Gee Doc, I don’t know. This is our first date.

He smiled, briefly. Then shot me a serious look.

“OK, if I need to.”

At first, he thought it was an immune reaction to a medication I have been taking for many years. Apparently common. But, as a precaution against a possible infection, he ordered a CT scan.

Over two hours later the results came in. Yes, I did have an infection (even though I had no fever). Right near the infection that nearly killed me after a dental procedure some four and a half years ago. I still bear the scar on my jaw, under tooth #18.

So … here’s what happened. The enzymes and such carried by salivary glands can crystallize into tiny, tiny stones. Which can block the duct. Which backs up. And then gets infected. That dang left submandibular salivary gland! Of course, I should have known (actually, I had no freaking idea; I had to look all of this up).

What causes this? Apparently, age is a big indicator: I’m no spring chicken. Also, dehydration. Well, it had been very hot and dry in Colorado recently, and I’d been working out … a lot. So, it all fits.

I had a very positive reaction to the IV anti-biotic and steroids. In a few hours I was released – well after midnight – to the care of my loving wife.

Now, suppose we had been driving through the middle of nowhere (as we often were on this trip) or on a long hike or backpack trip – without cell service.

That would have been very serious indeed.

On oral anti-biotics the swelling reduced to nil over a few days. A week of pills and it’s all gone. So, don’t worry about me.

I get my annual physical next week. Can’t wait to tell them about this one.
_______________________________________

Life is fragile. Life is short. Hug, call, or write someone special in your life. I’m writing to you.

Wishing y’all get all your days, which are numbered at only about 29,000, on average. That’s not a large number.

Peace
Joe Girard © 2018

 

To contact Joe just email him at joe@girardmeister.com

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Last At Bat, Good Sport

Three remarkable young women
+ Two unlikely events
+ One selfless decision
=
One unforgettable moment in sports history
Plus two great life lessons

“Being nice matters and I think sometimes our society forgets that.” – Mallory Holtman-Fletcher

Central Washington University is a medium-sized state university of some 10,000 students.  It is a solid school, providing a breadth of education to students for about 150 different majors. It provides fantastic value; it was recently rated by The Economist magazine as providing the most positive economic impact on its students of all colleges and universities in the state of Washington. It offers 17 NCAA sports, usually competing at the Division-II level. You don’t hear a lot of noise from or about CWU; they just go about their job, doing it well and moving along just fine, thank you.

Central Washington University’s Historic Barge Hall

Students and alumni of other Washington state schools often disparagingly refer to CWU as “Car Wash State.”  But CWU, staff, students and grads don’t mind much.  And they don’t retaliate.  It is a respectable school.

Ellensburg, Washington – located just over 100 miles east of Seattle, across the Cascade Range, where the mountains blend into the drier Kittitas Valley, and then to the even drier and flatter semi-desert of eastern Washington – is the host city to CWU.  Ellensburg is a small, functional and well-located town of under 20,000 hearty souls.  Ellensburg is a lot like CWU to me: there is no chest-thumping, no braggadocio, no flash.  Just simple efficiency.  Folks from Seattle and other towns west of the Cascades often like to knock it – sometimes as they breeze past on Interstate-90 – as a nothing, sleepy town.  As the equivalent of fly-over country for road trips.

Due to a fleeting, shiny fleck of personal history, both CWU and Ellensburg will forever occupy a tiny, but special, place in my heart.  A soft spot.  Let’s call that soft spot a piece of cake.

Due to one of the most unlikely series of events (and sportsmanship) in all of NCAA history – if not all of sports history – that Ellensburg/CWU piece of cake now has a nice crown of icing.  Very tasty.

There are a lot of sports that I don’t pay much attention to, except maybe into and through the playoffs when the best teams are playing, and they have something important to play for. NCAA Women’s Softball is one of those sports.  I’ll catch a glimpse when in a sports bar, or channel flipping. Then I’m like a moth around a late-night light: I just can’t help myself. My attention is drawn to the pure athleticism and grace of the players under pressure; the pace of the game; the strategies and the drama.  Perhaps their reflexes are the most impressive.  Pitchers can throw the ball – underhand mind you – at speeds that approach major league pitch speeds.  But the pitching rubber is some 14 feet closer than the majors! What a softball pitcher can make that ball do as it speeds along that distance of 46 feet at 80+ mph is astonishing! The pitches rise; they dip; they slip, and they slide. How do batters even touch the ball?

One thing that always amazes me is the size and physique of so many of the young women.  I’ve always thought that most of the better players could swap uniforms with their school’s football players and you could use them as actors in making a realistic movie about linebackers.

I knew of the following story, and at least one other somewhat similar.  Somehow, I forgot almost completely about it.  But sportsmanship in competitive dramatic moments came up in a conversation with my wife recently, and my non-linear brain pulled up this story and quite a few details.  At first, I contorted my brain to try and recall much more. Well the internet is an astounding resource.  After finding many more details there, including some school records, I was overcome with the urge to write it down.

__________________________________________________________________________

When the Western Oregon University women’s softball team traveled to Ellensburg to play a double-header against Central Washington University on April 26, 2008, the teams were neck-and-neck for the season conference title, which would end in about a week.  It was a special day at CWU: Senior Day.  Their seniors were being honored as they would be playing the final home games of their career.

Playing first base for CWU that day was senior Mallory Holtman.  During those last few weeks of the season she was playing through terrific pain.  She really needed two knee surgeries. Those would have to wait; she did not want to let herself or her team down.  She wanted one last chance for a conference championship. She was certainly one of the stars of the team – in fact the entire Great Northwestern Athletic Conference.  At the time she was the conference’s all-time home run and RBI leader; she is still the all-time conference leader in those statistics. At season’s end she was chosen the GNAC Player of the Year, leading it in home runs and batting nearly .400.

Across the infield was friend Liz Wallace, another senior and team leader – also hoping to help lead CWU to the league championship and playoffs. Liz stood second to Mallory at almost every offensive statistic, and she held down the very important defensive position of shortstop.  She had played in almost every single CWU game over her four years there.  The day and the games meant a lot to these young women.

___________________________________________________

In 2008, Western Oregon was having one of their best seasons in years.  In fact, their best season ever. They had momentum and they could feel it.  And on that last Saturday in April they had just rolled into town from Idaho, having taken both ends of a double-header from Northwest Nazarene, in Nampa.

Petite and plucky Sara Tucholsky was a senior on that 2008 Western Oregon squad.  She had been through the WOU bad times with good cheer.  [The previous three years the team’s won-loss records were 14-33, 17-32, and a promising 26-25].  And, although she had only briefly been a full-time player –  during part of her sophomore year – she was certainly enjoying being part of this team.  It was a team of extraordinarily deep talent and chemistry. When she got a chance to play, she gave it her all – athletically, energetically and enthusiastically.

At only 5-foot 2-inches tall Sara stood nearly a head shorter than most other players.  Add to that her rather slight frame and she would never be confused for a linebacker, no matter what she was wearing.  This season, as during most of the previous three, Sara played only sparingly, sometimes against a non-conference foe, or – like today – in a double-header during a long stretch of games so that some players could rest.

Western Oregon took game one easily by a score of 8-1, behind star pitcher, team MVP and conference all-star Katie Fleer. (Fleer won 25 games that year).

For game two, Sara was inserted into the 8th batting position and right field.

Her career batting statistics until this day raised no eyebrows.  They were fodder for little conversation.  Her college batting average was a humble .149, and she had but one lonely extra base hit in those four years – a double that fell in way back in her freshman year.  Not only did she not have a single college home run, she had never hit a home run – ever.  Not in high school, not in youth sports.

When Sara’s first turn to bat came up in that second game of a double-header, April 26, 2008, in the top of the second inning, her batting average for that 2008 season was an unimposing .088 – a mere three singles in 34 at bats.  Yet she battled on.

She had diligently taken her turn at regular batting practice; taken advice from coaches; worked on drills.  She exhibited a commitment to improvement when many others would have given up.

With one out and two runners on base Sara now made her way to home plate.  A few jeers and giggles came from the crowd when her lack of height and brawn became evident during her stroll. She gave herself a little pep talk: ignore them, be brave, be focused, don’t give in, do your best, Sara – whatever that may bring.

She dug in to the right-handed batter’s box.  The first pitch was a rising fast ball, about letter high.  A borderline pitch. Sara let it go.  Strike one!

Well, whatever happened next, she told herself, she wasn’t going to let that happen again.

She doesn’t remember where the next pitch was.  Sara simply remembers swinging.

And that’s when the first unlikely event happened.  Sara made solid contact.  Very solid contact. Contact like she had never made before.  Right on the sweet spot.

The batted ball soared out to centerfield and kept going … and going.  The two base runners paused so they could tag up when the ball was caught– Sara certainly couldn’t hit the ball over the fence.  Could she?

She did.  That ball cleared the fence.

While the other runners jogged around the bases to home, Sara – a very jubilant lass – jumped and skipped as she ran to – and past – first base.  In her excitement she initially missed the base.  Every player and fan knows that a ball hit over the fence is not a home run until the batter touches all the bases, in order.  Even though she had never hit a ball over an outfield fence before, Sara of course quickly realized she had missed the base. She stopped. Then she turned around – maybe a bit too quickly in the excitement. She had to return to, and touch, first base.

And that’s when the second unlikely event happened.  Sara let out a short yelp – and crumpled to the dirt. Something was terribly wrong with her right knee.  As it turned out, she had torn her ACL.  She crawled back to first base, practically in tears.

And now the dilemma.  Sara could not be expected to crawl around the bases like that, let alone walk or trot.  The rules of baseball and softball do not permit physical assistance by a player’s teammates or coaches. If so, she would be declared out, and her home run would not be counted. If she were replaced by a pinch runner, it would be a dead ball substitution: The replacement runner would begin the next play at first base, Sara would only be credited with a single, and her run would not count.

After a few minutes of discussion – frustrating discussion between WOU coaches and umpires – there occurred the third surprise event: the unselfish act.  Perhaps not quite as unlikely as the long hit and the sudden crippling injury, but one of the most wonderful decisions and events in sports EVER.

Just as Western Oregon’s coach was about to put a replacement runner at first base for Sara, Central Washington’s star first baseman, Mallory Holtman, asked if she and her teammates could help Sara around the bases.  They conferred with the umpires, who concurred that this would be within the rules. Holtman, joined by teammate Liz Wallace, carried lame Sara the rest of the way around the diamond, pausing a moment at each base and gently lowering Sara so that her left foot could tap second, then third base … and then home plate.  Whereupon Sara was handed over to her teammates.

Three great young women [photo credit: NCAA.ORG and Blake Wolf]

It was now official! Sara had hit a three-run home run!  Those were her only three RBIs (Runs Batted In) for the entire season.  It was, of course, her last at bat in college.  Her improbable hit – and CWU’s extraordinary act of sportsmanship – were the unlikely difference in what turned out to be a 4-2 victory for Western Oregon.

________________________________________

The idea of carrying Sara around originally occurred to Holtman.  And she had the gumption to approach the umpires and WOU coaches on her own. But she has always brushed off the praise.  She’s always insisted that it’s something anyone could have thought of; and almost everyone would have done.

The event was highly documented and discussed at the time.[1]  The three young women won an ESPY for “Best Sports Moment” of the year that summer.[2]  They all would go on to a few years of notoriety, giving motivational speeches, usually Sara and Mallory, who formed a lasting friendship as a result. The video of their performance is still burned into their memory and that of many sports fans.[3] 

2008 ESPY Winners: Best Moment in Sports

Western Oregon indeed went on to win the conference championship.  It was the school’s first conference championship – in any sport.[4] They were eliminated from the Division II sectionals a few weeks later by another conference rival, Humboldt State (from California).

All three young women soon graduated.  That was ten years ago. They are all now married and, near as I can tell, still live in the Northwest or West.

Mallory Holtman went to graduate school at CWU, became the school’s assistant softball coach, and just over two years later, became the head coach, beating out nearly 50 other applicants for the position, aged only 25.  She recently retired from the demands of that position to spend more time with her family.

Liz Wallace is very involved in youth softball, helping to develop the coming generations of good athletes, and good sports. She also works as a human resources administrator. She’s living the life of a military spouse, so locating her at any time can be difficult. 

Sara works as Area Manager of recruiters and representatives for various therapy services: physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology, etc.  She still gives motivational talks.  She volunteers for various agencies, including Ronald McDonald House.

Sara and Mallory remain friends, although they live about four hours apart.

The two CWU young women [5] — Mallory and Liz — gave us all something to cherish and remember –  whether or not we are sports enthusiasts.  It’s this lesson: We must consider our fellow humans as part of the same team – before we can consider them competitors.

The second life lesson is thanks to Sara: no matter how down you are, no matter how bleak the outlook, you are never defeated if you don’t give up.

To this day Central Washington, Ellensburg and those three very special women don’t brag about it.  That’s class. Actions speak for themselves.

Peace

Joe Girard © 2018

 

Acknowledgement to my good friend Marcy, who helped with proof reading and editorial suggestions. She is a delight. It turns out she rather enjoyed the story for personal reasons as well: her cousin attends CWU. I apologize, Marcy, if any typos, errors, or uneven reading have crept through into the final draft. Your effort, as always and in all regards, is greatly appreciated.

 

Notes:

1)     The umpires were in fact wrong.  NCAA rules did permit a substitute runner in such a rare event to continue running the bases in a dead ball situation such as this. It’s an understandable error, and the sports world is better off for it. The rules have been amended to make this clearer.

2)     ESPY = Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly

3)     Watch a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jocw-oD2pgo

4)     However, as a club sport, the WOU men’s lacrosse team won the non-NCAA sanctioned PNCLL conference that year, 2008.

5)     I almost used “Young Ladies” here and throughout.  It was sort of a title, as in “Lord and Lady”, or “M’Lady” – as they had certainly earned a title.  Upon reflection I was led to conclude the term could be considered disparaging, so used “Young Women” instead.

6)     Box score for the game: http://www.wouwolves.com/custompages/Softball/SCStats/2008/wou41.htm

7) Yes I know that I named an earlier essay Last At Bat, but I couldn’t help myself. So this essay got an appropriate subtitle: Good Sport

 

Some resources:
NCAA: Where are they now?

Sara Tucholsky – An Inspiring Softball Story

Western Oregon Softball historical stats:    http://www.wouwolves.com/sports/2018/1/15/SB_0113093741.aspx?path=softball

 

Honor

Honor your Father and your Mother
– Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16

Some stories and lessons are so important that they are repeated.  So it is with many things in the Bible. So it is with many things in life.

For example, the creation story is told twice (in both Genesis 1 and then again in 2) – and they are not exactly the same, although the messages are similar. A wonderful book that explores these messages within the context of the marvelous mystery, joy and perseverance of the woman-man relationship – and the elusive mysteries of the human heart – is Bruce Feiler’s “The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us.”  I recommend it.

The story of the Ten Commandments is also told twice: once in Exodus and again in Deuteronomy.  And elements of these are referred to throughout the bible.  Take for example the Commandment “Honor your Father and Mother.”  Seems straightforward enough, and for the most part it is.

Honoring one’s parents is important enough that Paul restates it in Ephesians 6-2.  He wisely goes on to write, by the way, in the next sentence: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” Also, wise advice.

My parents are gone now.  I was blessed with good parents (and pretty good genes, too; evolution – that thing really worked for me).  They cared. They modeled good social skills.  They were loyal.  Above all, they really, really tried to be good, involved, caring parents – clearly showing as much love and patience as they were capable of, nearly all the time. Nearly.

I’ve written tenderly about my parents, referring to them more than a few times.  In “What Dreams May Come” I expressed a notion that, when it comes my time to pass, my dad will come to fetch me from this world. Recently, in “I Got a Name” I traced some of my mom’s life trajectory; and in “Letting Go” I re-lived some of my dad’s special experiences through my own eyes and emotions.

Hitting pop-flies and fly-balls to kids is difficult

One of the unusual things that most impressed me about my dad was his ability to hit self-toss fly balls and popups with a ball and bat.  This is not a skill that comes naturally to anyone.  If you are not athletic, then the awkward swing-and-a-miss is almost guaranteed every time.  If you are athletic, and have played some baseball (like my dad), then the natural swing produces line drives and groundballs.  Popups and fly balls are supposed to lead to easy outs.

When I was 6 years old I started playing organized baseball.  From my earliest memory my dad had thrown me pitches to hit and played toss with me.  But in a real game, I was bamboozled by the easy can-of-corn flyball.  It was embarrassing. Reading a flyball off a bat in a game was completely different than catching a soft toss.

He knew I was ashamed.  Heck, he probably was, too. So, he took me out in the back yard and tossed me higher popups.  We soon progressed to self-toss batted popups that he would hit 30-50 feet.  As I got older, he could hit them 75 feet, then 100 feet, then 150 feet.  Whatever distance kids my age were hitting flyballs, he could duplicate in our yard, or – later – in a nearby field.  It was quite an impressive skill.  He was a coveted assistant-coach on my youth teams, as he would willingly spend hours hitting flyballs to any kid who wanted to practice. My teams had the best outfielders.

As the years went on, I was pretty much the best fly-ball shagger I knew.  That I developed this talent and confidence was attributable almost solely to my dad dedicating himself to developing the skill to hit  such popups and flyballs.  And the fact that I would bug him to do so whenever there was a chance to practice; he rarely said no.

I only had one child who ever asked this of me.  I tried my best, and over many hours, managed to only become mildly successful at it.  I can attest that it is a difficult and unnatural skill; my well-developed baseball skills were almost a handicap.  Yet, I never said no.

Yes, Dad could be a very patient man.  He proved that in 51 years of marriage and raising six kids. Yet he was demanding at the same time.  He always insisted that I make a good throw back to him, even after a great catch.  No lollipops.  No dribblers.  “You want my time, you have to put forth your best effort.”

It wasn’t always so, however.  When I was in the third grade our family had its 5th delivery from the stork.  That was five kids in only 8-1/2 years (a 6th came only 3 years later).  My dad was painting one of the bedrooms after a minor re-model and furniture adjustment to get all of us into the tiny rambler. I was “helping” – which means standing around, asking dumb questions, and learning by watching how to be a man, a father and a husband.

He was almost done with the job.  Perhaps I had begged him to hit me flyballs when he/we were through.  Quite likely. He thought he had poured enough paint into the roller pan to finish the bedroom, but it turned out he was a bit short.  Maybe 10 or 20 square feet of the last wall remained.

Finally, my chance to help.  “Dad, can I bring the can up from the basement for you?”  Exasperated, tired and a bit amused, he said OK.

I went down to our unfinished basement, where my dad had a small work area, and fetched the can of paint.  It still had the lid on it.  Perhaps I’d be more help if I removed the lid?

I pried the lid off.  In the process, somehow, the can teetered over and fell onto the concrete floor.  Oops.  I quickly got it upright, and stood there gawking in amazement at the mess I’d made.  This was not an accident I could get out of; could not blame it on my sisters or bad luck.  I had screwed up.  And I didn’t know what to do. Except own up and take responsibility.

Spilled can of white paint. Ugg.

Sheepishly I went back upstairs and told my dad what had happened.  He did that heavy-breathing-through-the-nose thing, made the “shhh –” sound without finishing the word, and we traipsed downstairs to see the mini-disaster.  That’s when it happened.

My dad saw the paint can sitting there next to a white puddle on the floor. He pulled his right foot back like a football player for a 60-yard field goal and kicked that can as hard as he could.

To his amazement (and mine) the can was actually nowhere near empty.  My reflexes had been quick enough to save quite a bit of pigment.  Most of what was left splattered all over the cinder block wall of the basement.  It was like a magnificent piece of single-color modern op art.

We stood there a moment, dumbstruck and shocked at what had just happened.  Then my dad hustled over to the can, which had crashed and bounced lamely off the wall, and was lying on its side. He set it upright and looked inside. It still wasn’t quite empty.  Neither of us said a word.

There still was a cup or two of paint in the can, which my dad calmly dumped into the roller pan.  He went upstairs to finish the bedroom – amazingly there was still enough paint to complete the task, even after two paint-tastrophes. I stood there alone — shocked, ashamed, flabbergasted — in the basement. I couldn’t move from the incredulity of the last two minutes’ events.

After the room was done, “we” cleaned up my spill from the concrete floor.  But my dad never cleaned those spots off the wall, or painted over them.  Even though we stayed in that house over nine more years.

We never talked about that event again, until just before he died.  In those slow agonizing months before death you know it is coming, you just don’t know when.  You want desperately to spend time together, and after all those months you run out of things to talk about. Yes, we talked about all those hours hitting and catching fly balls. Childhood friends. Old girlfriends. Courtship. Marriage. Raising kids. Staying married. Family road trips. Whatever came to mind. (Why hadn’t we talked about much of this decades before?  When it could have helped? Oh well).

Finally, out of topics and dreading silence, I worked up the courage to ask about his recollections of the can-o’-paint incident.  Even after 50 years — and knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door — he recalled it vividly.  Yes, he was sorry and ashamed.  And that’s why he left the paint spots up all over the wall – he wanted to be reminded of how rash and impulsive and destructive he could be.

Brilliant!

And that’s another thing that impressed me about my dad was the ability he developed to monitor and curb many of his natural negative energy tendencies. It was partly because those paint spots told him the lesson, over and over again.

I know that I received a lot of traits from my parents.  Some inherited and some by nurture.  Among them I lean more toward my dad in terms of being impatient, making quick decisions and taking impulsive actions.  If jumping to conclusions and flying off the handle were sports activities, I’d be in great shape; I’d be Olympic caliber with little training.

I consistently need to respect and be aware of that. I have dark moments.

I also know that I have good genes and have had very good role-modeling from my parents.

I consistently need to respect and be aware of that, too. I know to do the right thing.

Some lessons are so important they need to be repeated.
So it is with many things in life …
Even if you have to repeat them to yourself.

Here’s to parents and parenthood: the good, the not so good, and all the blessings.

And here’s to honoring your Father and your Mother.

Peace

Joe Giard © 2018

Letting Go

I can vividly remember the house I grew up in, in Brown Deer, Wisconsin, just north of Milwaukee,Wisconsin.  It still amazes me to no end that my parents raised six kids in that tiny rambler.

White and blue, with a modicum of brick façade, it sat, conveniently, part way up a gently sloping hill.  It was downhill from our house, along North 49th street, down to “the creek” where 49th stopped for a few blocks and you had to turn onto Churchill Lane.  The creek, in turn, flowed from there a mile or so to the Milwaukee River: that brown, slothful, murky body of water that I sometimes walked to for fishing — until I turned 16 and needed a fishing license. Along the creek friends and I would sometimes plunge in to catch frogs and crawdads.  I guess that’s what young boys do. It’s astonishing I didn’t get ill more often.

I called the hill convenient.  That’s because the gentle slope helped all of us learn to ride a bicycle.  Each of us progressed from trike to bike, with training wheels of course.  Day by day dad would raise the training wheels until we could demonstrate that we’d keep our balance without the wheels touching pavement very much.  Then one training wheel would come off.  We were on parole.  After another few days, or a week, the big day came: dad took off the other training wheel.

This is where the hill came in handy.  You need a bit of speed — especially as a beginner — to steadily balance a bicycle.  The hill helped.  The hill plus dad, running alongside for 50 or 100 yards, holding the bicycle, helping with speed and balance.  Back up the hill we’d walk, pushing the bike. Then again. Then again.

Each successive iteration dad held the bike less firmly, until — finally — he was just trotting alongside … smiling widely.  He did this for each of six children.

____________________________

My wife and I had three children, whom we raised in two different houses in Colorado.  Each house sat on a street partway up a slight hill. How convenient.

Those were some of the simplest, yet happiest, moments of fatherhood.  I can still see myself, thinking of my dad’s beaming face, trotting alongside each child.  Did they know how loved they were?  In their own joy and pride … could they sense any of the same in me?

Finally it is time.  You let go.

Sometimes they still fell, or forgot how to use the brakes, scraped their knees and hands.

Then you meet them at their needs.  Retreat to simply running alongside, or gently holding.

And finally it is the last time.  You let go.  One last time.  You stop running after them…

You smile, knowing that they, with their back to you — swerving wildly — are probably smiling too.

____________________________

That was decades ago. They are all grown now. I’m pretty good by now at letting go. There are still a few things I should let go of.

But those memories?  Never.

Joe Girard © 2017

Six Kids, Spring 1968

Dear Diary

Dear Diary,

First and foremost, I’m declaring myself “healed” from the brain injury. It has been a most interesting and revealing three and a half years since “the crash.” I suspect that some effects will linger indefinitely (zaps and swirls), but the worst is over. I so declare it!  I’m functional. I can drive. I can think clearly. All … the … time.

Dear Diary

I have gained immeasurably, mostly renewed appreciation for many things at the highest levels. For my wife. For my oldest son. For siblings, nieces and nephews. Cousins. For my life. Health. For so many friends past and present.

Speaking of past. As hinted at earlier, many hours of “healing quiet” led to a fairly detailed reconstruction of my life. I compiled a very long list of people.

To qualify for “the list” required that the person be most likely alive (or that I could find a close relative). Further, (a) I owed them a long outstanding Thank You; or (b) I owed them a similarly aged apology; or (c) they were a friend or special acquaintance with whom I’d lost contact because of the winds and vagaries of fate.  In several cases, it was all three reasons. Seems, dear Diary, like I’ve written that before, most likely in Happy Anniversary, Baby, my most soul-baring entry, among many, in your pages to date.

Oh, Diary. At this point my pretty-darn-good memory became rather a burden.  The list was long.

Alas, I was not able to contact everyone.  Some keep a low profile.  Some have names that are too common.  Still, thanks to the internet (Facebook and LinkedIn were big helps) and some sleuthing (sometimes I felt like a stalker), I was able to contact a vast majority.  I have loosely labeled these as “Repairs.”

In some cases I was able to reach close family members. Or friends of theirs I could recall. These also qualify as Repairs.

Unfortunately, most on-line “people finders” eventually want money to get beyond simple, insufficient, tantalizing information.  I wouldn’t do that, which limited my success, I suppose, in some cases.

The List included old professors, mentors, lady friends, roommates, teammates, officemates, workmates, golf buddies, business partners. All touched my life in positive and meaningful ways.  In one case I am in very positive, but light, contact with a wonderful couple who will never recall who I am — not sure I want them to; so I have not revealed to them the reason for our correspondence. (Maybe I am a stalker).

Some of us are now connected on Facebook or LinkedIn.  Mostly just by email.  A few were by cards and in two cases, just a short phone call. Weird.  I felt like a 16-year old boy again, asking a girl for a date, all the way from the phone ringing, all through the phone chat, and until we hung up.

Like the continual diminishing of my head injury symptoms, achieving this is like an oppressive weight being expunged — or at least lightened — from my soul. Sometimes we’ve rehashed old memories; in some cases that seemed unprudent — still, in those cases, I was able to replay good times and bad in my head without tormenting them.

I confess, Diary, that it was fruitful to relive joys, mysteries, disappointments and frustrations.  It’s all in the past, and all for the better.

Nonetheless, the List and the Repairs are nearly at a close.  A few tasks will linger, but that’s life.

In coping with the task, I compiled a list of quotes to inspire me.  To soothe me.  Below a few are shared.

While they talked they remembered the years of their youth, and each thought of the other as they had been at another time
— John Williams

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. — C.S. Lewis

Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better. — Steve Maraboli

A clear rejection is always better than an insincere promise. — unk

Friendship is always a sweet responsibility … — Kahil Gibron

Well diary. That’s it for now.

Oh, one last thing, Diary.  I may be “healed” but don’t think that this means I’ll be scribing upon your pages more often.

Joe Girard © 2017 {yes it’s weird to put a copyright symbol in a diary entry. 🙂 }

 

Other quotes:

You not wanting me was the beginning of me wanting myself.  — Nayyirah Waheed

… when a door closes it can feel like all doors are closing.  A rejection can feel like everyone will reject us.  But a closed door leads to clarity. It’s really an arrow.  Because we cannot go through that door, we will go somewhere else.  That “Somewhere Else” is your true self.  — Tama J Kieves

Titanic Redemption

“From Tragedy to Redemption: Where to from Titanic Failure?”

Or

“The Amazing Life of Charles Lightoller”

“Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
A
ct, – act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead.

Lives of great men all remind us,
That we can make our lives sublime,
And departing leave behind us,
Footprints on the sands of time. 

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again!”

–       Several verses borrowed from Longfellow’s “Psalm to Life

 

From the 100,000 foot level, in general, human lives by and large do not vary much from one to the next.  On the one hand, we are all blessed with talents and gifts and opportunities; on the other, we all have handicaps and obstacles and unfair struggles.  We rise, we fall.  We try things, we experiment, we succeed, and we fail – sometimes titanic failures.

And yet, lives are not so much the same.  It is in the periods of time following failure and doubt that separate lives of the ordinary from lives of the marvelous.  Consider the time after disaster, after failure, after ignominy; these are the milestones where the gift of free will – about our attitude – can so affect our futures, … and the lives of others.

The courses of lives are then steered by answers to the question:  how long are we able to persevere, to believe in ourselves and prepare ourselves, awaiting the opportunity for redemption – even if that opportunity is a truly singular moment?  For some the answer is: as long as it takes.

______________________________________

It is a uniquely beautiful April night in the north Atlantic.  Clear skies gaze down upon two young men, the lookouts in the Crow’s Nest, some 100 feet above the ship’s main deck.  They eagerly await the passing of the next twenty minutes until midnight when their shift will come to a merciful end on this crisp, cold night.  The atmosphere is so clear and calm that the multitudinous stars of God’s glorious and infinite creation are not even twinkling.

Below, on the main deck, most of the senior officers have just retired for the night, ending a long, exciting, exhilarating, yet stressful day.  Command of the breathtakingly huge and beautiful ocean-liner is left to the first officer, third in command overall.

At 41.8 degrees north – farther south than the California/Oregon boundary – and nearly 51 degrees west, the crew has received, via Marconigram, reports of ice in the very area that they now traverse.  Yet so confident are the senior officers, based on 100 years of North Atlantic experience and their crew’s ability to detect and avoid danger, that the magnificent vessel bounds along at 22.5 knots, her greatest possible speed.

A billion-to-one convergence of circumstances will soon prove that the crew’s confidence was wrong – in fact, dead wrong.

  • Experience had shown that icebergs are easily spotted by their effect on the wind; the wind was absolutely dead-calm that night, a situation seldom before encountered.
  • Experience had shown that icebergs are easily spotted by the waves that break against their sides; the ocean was – unprecedentedly – as calm as a monk.
  • Experience had shown that icebergs reflected even the faintest moonlight; there was no moon that night.
  • Experience had shown that experienced lookouts using simple optical aids could spot icebergs at night in clear skies by the faintest reflection of stellar light that originated millions of years distant; yet the ship’s equipment inventory lacked even a single set of binoculars for the Crow’s nest for this voyage.

No other nautical disaster has had so much written about it.   The sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912 remains undoubtedly one of the greatest stories of all time.  Excitement, arrogance, glamour, disaster, death, larger-than-life characters: Titanic had it all.  It even remains one of the greatest sources of stories-within-stories of all time.

  • I enjoyed the 1995 movie Titanic, even though it was rife with factual error and fictional license, thanks to the totally fabricated abbreviated love-story portrayed by the absolutely breathtaking Kate Winslet (despite the portrayal of her opposite by Leonardo DiCaprio).
  • Raise the Titanic, by Colorado’s own Clive Cussler was one of my favorite reads around 1980 – just about when I finally started steadily again – and was turned into a rotten move about the same time.

You cannot possibly read all there is to read about the Titanic, fiction OR non-fiction.  But this is not about the Titanic.  This is about redemption.  This is about the infamous ship’s most senior surviving officer:  Charles Herbert Lightoller.

Charles Lightoller, 2nd Officer on Titanic. Copyright to http://www.titanicuniverse.com/

He was the 2nd officer on ship, the fourth most senior officer.  Just as “Lights” Lightoller was about to slide off to sleep, the lookouts spotted the iceberg.  They immediately notified the bridge.  About 50 seconds later, despite evasive maneuvers, the Titanic struck the iceberg along its starboard side.

Lights was, of course, immediately notified.  In fact, he already had a sense of what had happened.  There was not much for him to do at first, and he remained virtually alone for tens of minutes.  Accounts vary, but it was surely evident within 40 minutes of impact that the “monument to hubris” was doomed to ultimate demise.   In fact, merely two hours and forty minutes after impact, the Titanic was totally submerged.

Lights was given responsibility for loading of the portside lifeboats (the even numbered boats).  By all accounts, he performed splendidly and calmly.  He was persuasive, unnerved and professional: boats were loaded with women and children only.  Some survivors recall that he did this to such an extent that some lifeboats were deployed less than full; but such accounts vary widely.  Lights was provided a gun, which he was not loathe to display, to insure that men did not enter the lifeboats if women or children were available.

After all available women and children were safely away, he permitted the final lifeboats to be substantially loaded with men.  He refused to enter a boat himself.  And the band played on.

Shortly after 2 AM the final rigid lifeboat had put to sea, one last collapsible lifeboat was being filled.  It was then that the Titanic – already listing and pitching heavily – lurched and took water across the deck.  Lightoller was pitched into the ocean.

While trying to find his bearings in the 30F (-1C) degree water, Lightholler was sucked against one of the intake gratings of the Titanic’s boilers, their giant volumes creating a suction as they plunged beneath the water surface.  While struggling mightily and vainly to free himself, one of the massive funnels (smokestack) began to come free, allowing water down into the boilers.  This sudden reverse of pressure propelled Lightoller free of the intake, toward the surface and the final collapsible raft, which was floating upside-down in the water.  While he and other survivors clung to the collapsible, wondering how to get away from the sinking ship, the loosened funnel fell from the Titanic, crashing into the water near the collapsible, and pushing them away from the ship as it eerily slipped into the calm sea, below calm skies.

Until the arrival of the RMS Carpathia, around 4 AM, Lightoller kept his fellow survivors calm.  As night grew to early dawn, the ocean began to swell heavily; Ligholler kept the inverted lift craft stable by instructing the several dozen survivors to move from side to side across the still inverted boat.  During those hours, some of the initial survivors perished.  Near dawn, the Carpathia pulled 708 survivors from the water.  He was the last.  [Ironically, the Carpathia was sunk by U-boats in WWI off the coast of Ireland].

_____________________________________________________

Charles Herbert Lightoller was born the last of seven children to Frederick and Sarah Jane (nee: Widdows) Lightoller, in Chorley, Lancashire, England, on March 30, 1874.  Sadly, his mother died from the complications of his birth, aged only 31.  His father re-married twice, outliving each wife, and fathered six more children with his third wife.   Weary of the younger children and seeking adventure, his father abandoned Charles when he was only thirteen, moving half-way around the world to New Zealand.

Keeping the proverbial English stiff upper lip, determined to make something of himself, and determined to lead a life of excitement, young Charles signed on as a sea-faring apprentice aboard the Primrose when he was not quite 14.  Thus began his life of excitement, indeed.

Heading to India, the Primrose was caught in a storm while rounding Cape Horn.  Pushed to 65 degrees south in late June, Lightoller saw the ship skirt along Antarctic ice floes.

His second sea trip was as crew member of the sister ship Holt Hill.  A terrific storm forced them to put into port in Rio de Janerio in the midst of a smallpox epidemic AND a revolution.  Later the boat ran hopelessly aground on a tiny uninhabited island in the Indian Ocean.

By the time he was 21 he had also survived a case of African malaria and was recognized for fighting an on-board fire.

For some reason, many British were intrigued and drawn to the adventure of the Yukon Gold Rush.  In 1898, Lightoller abandoned a promising sea career to prospect for gold.  As with the vast majority of fortune hunters, and characters of Robert W. Service (Sam McGee, Dan McGrew), he ended up a dismal failure, broke, and thousands of miles from home.  Returning through the plains of Canada, he worked as a cowboy for a while.

By age 24 Lightoller was back in England, penniless, and re-starting his life in a sea-faring career.  In 1900, age 26, he started his employment with the famous White Star Line, which was to contract and own the famed Olympic class of trans-oceanic liners: the Olympic, the Britannic and the Titanic.  These were designed and advertised as the most luxurious of all ocean liners.

Lightoller quickly became a highly regarded officer of the White Star Line, serving as high as first-officer (third most senior behind captain and chief officer) on many assignments.  He was fun loving, well liked, and respected.  He progressed well in his career, serving as first officer on such prestigious ocean liners as the Majestic and the Oceanic.For the honor of serving aboard the prestigious Titanic, Lightoller took a “demotion” to second officer.

Career after the Titanic.

Lightoller arrived in New York on April 18 with the other Titanic survivors.  On and off for 14 days he was questioned and gave testimony before the US Congress.  Shortly thereafter, an inquiry by the Board of Trade in England went on for 18 days.

A reading of the testimony and questions indicates that there was probably polite professional courtesy on all sides.  Yet the content of many questions clearly showed a combination of ignorance about sea navigation and frustration at the lack of caution exhibited by the staff.  And there were slight inconsistencies in his testimony describing some timing and where he was when certain events occurred.  But he always kept his wits:

Senator Smith: “What time did you leave the ship?”

Lights: “I didn’t leave it.”

Smith: “Did the ship leave you?”

CHL: “Yes, sir.”

The hearings led to several useful recommendations regarding the use of wireless (continuous and not to be distracted by commercial traffic) and capacity of lifeboats (to be based on head count, not tonnage), briefing the passengers on lifeboats (like flight attendants today).

Lightoller returned to the White Star Line, although mention of his name usually caught attention.  It is hard to imagine that Lightoller’s presence was anything more than barely tolerated in most company and general discussions.  I’m thinking officer of Lehman Brothers, or AIG here.  He was the walking, talking, living face of the arrogance, the hubris, that led to the Titanic disaster.

The Great War broke out in August, 1914.  Lightoller, now age 40, was assigned as lieutenant on the Oceanic, the same ship he had been serving on, which was pressed into service and converted to an armed merchant cruiser.  He served on several more ships before being given command of a destroyer and later a torpedo boat.  He is credited with successfully driving away an attack of a Zeppelin on civilian sites and sinking a U-boat by ramming it.  By war’s end he had earned two Distinguished Service Crosses and been promoted to commander.

After the armistice ended the Great War (See my essay 11th hour) Lightoller returned to his career with White Star.  As with all surviving crew of the Titanic, Lightoller soon found that the event was an anchor on his career.  As with the other surviving officers, White Star was unable to find worthy assignments for even such a distinguished and experienced seaman.  Lightoller grew disillusioned and retired.

Retirement.  Lights put himself to work in his post-sea career.  He tried his hand at chicken farming, as hotelier, and even as real estate speculator.  Based on his fame (or infamy) he wrote and successfully published his autobiography which was well received.   For this he was successfully sued by the Marconi Company for some of his explanations about the Titanic – explanations that were interpreted as negative comments about the wireless operators, all Marconi employees.  This is a bit odd, since the recommendations from the inquiries, which were implemented, in effect made the same insinuations about the wireless operators.  He was forced to pull the book from publication.  (However, I found it online [2])

He also bought a 50 ft boat that he used in a side business for tourists and sight-seers, and for the fun of getting out to sea whenever he could.  His wife since 1903, an Aussie he had found and courted on one of his early round-the-world trips, named it Sundowner; Aussie-speak for “wanderer.”

Forward to 1940.  Operation Sichelschnitt (Sickle cut)

World War II broke out on September 1, 1939, with the Nazi invasion of Poland; quickly followed by the Soviet rush to claim her portion of that unfortunate country.  Despite declarations of war by France and England, Europe went uneasily silent until April, 1940.  Then the Third Reich moved quickly to take and occupy Norway and Denmark; while the Soviets expanded by forced annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

By May anything could happen, and on May 10 it did.  The Nazi German army launched Operation Sichelschnitt – a clever facsimile of the Schlieffen Plan, a plan that had nearly won WWI in one fell swoop in 1914.

Early in WWI, the German’s Schlieffen plan called for a rapid surge against and through neutral Belgium, followed by streaking behind French lines to the west and south of Paris – which could be attacked from the rear.  This nearly ended The Great War in the first weeks.  Unfortunately for the Germans, they turned east too soon, and ended up meeting the French outside Paris on its Northern outskirts – a direct frontal battle ensued, rather than an attack against an unprotected flank and city.

Now, in 1940, the first major blows of Sichelschnitt were blitzkrieg attacks against neutral Holland and Belgium, luring the British and French into thinking this was a re-enactment of the Schlieffen Plan – an attempt to swing wide in order to attack Paris away from the Maginot line.   By taking Holland, which they had not done in WWI, the Nazis enhanced the ruse, seemingly intent on firmly securing their right flank to anchor the wide sweep.  (Not swinging wide enough is the main reason, according to many military historians, that Germany turned to soon and narrowly in WWI).

The Allies had studied history and were well prepared – for the last war.  The British Expeditionary Force sent nearly a quarter million men, together with nearly as many French, from the France-Belgium border northward to protect Belgium’s neutrality and thwart the wide sweep before it could begin.

Once these Allied forces were fully committed, and began to engage, the Wehrmacht unexpectedly launched its main attack behind and to the right flank of the Allies – through the difficult terrain of the Ardennes.  German modernized mechanized divisions were able to punch through this terrain in Luxembourg and race westward across the northern French countryside straight to the channel behind the British and French forces; – together with the first army group from Belgium this effectively trapped about 400,000 British, Canadian and French soldiers.  The entrapped allied armies eventually withdrew to the small coastal town of Dunkirk near the France-Belgium border.   A complete and total disaster – one that could force even a Britain led by the newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill to withdraw from the war – was imminent. [American participation, of course, was nowhere to be seen; Pearl Harbor was over 18 months away].

There was no way for the British armed forces to rescue all of these men, even at only a few miles away across the channel.  Yet rescuing them was terribly crucial to continuing the war against Fascism, against Nazism.  It was the last week of May, 1940; and it was nearly the last week of the war.  And yet … Hitler left a small opportunity: To preserve his army for the later swing to Paris, he was persuaded by Hermann Göring, Field Marshall of the Luftwaffe, to hold the army back from administering the final, fatal blow.  The Luftwaffe with near total air superiority would bomb and strafe the Brits to annihilation.

Thus the actions of men set up one of those magical moments in history:  the people rise up to rescue their government.

Save an army, save the government.

Save the government, save the world.

In addition to several dozen ships of the Royal Navy, an armada of over 700 water craft – most of them owned by private citizens and private operations – engaged in the largest sea evacuation in history.  Churchill called it “one of the greatest military defeats of the centuries”; he meant that as a good thing.

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When the government came to appropriate Lightoller’s personal boat – his precious last connection to the sea, his Sundowner – his response was “no way.”  He intended to pilot that boat himself.  He and his oldest son set off for Dunkirk.  Across the channel they went.

While waiting in the shallow harbor, a Luftwaffe bomb landed so near that seams of the wooden boat’s fittings shifted and began to leak.  No worries; Lightoller loaded 137 men (140 total with his crew and himself) nonetheless onto a boat designed to carry no more than a few dozen.

Lightoller was age 66 and veteran of virtually every sea-adventure one could have; the best was the last.  He set the leaky yet functional Sundowner toward England – the Luftwaffe overhead.

In the days of dumb-bombs and dumb ammunition, planes attacking ground and sea assets would line up their bombing and strafing runs moments ahead of the actual attack to “guide in” their delivery.  Boats’ wakes left easily visible lines to help them do this.

Lightoller and his son kept a lookout for planes looping around on them.  As each plane dove down, accelerating to a vector with such speed that they were fully committed, Lightoller suddenly turned the surprisingly responsive boat; every attack narrowly missied the Sundowner.  Halfway across the channel, the Luftwaffe gave up – returning to Dunkirk.

After Dunkirk, Lightoller returned to a quiet private life.  He ran a small boatyard.  He remained married.  He died in 1952.

Lightholler’s Sundowner, one of the hundreds of “little ships” that saved the day at Dunkirk, is safe at the Ramsgate Maritime Museum, UK

Charles Herbert “Lights” Lightoller (1874-1952): Adventurer; survivor of epidemics and multiple shipwrecks including the Titanic; extinguisher of shipboard fires at sea; gold prospector; cowboy; world traveler; hotel operator; chicken farmer; real estate speculator; author; cruise boat owner and operator; shipyard operator; faithful husband (49 years); father; war hero in uniform and out of uniform;  titanic failure and (most important) 28 years later, a national – if not world – redeemed hero.

May we always have real heroes, even if their stories are forgotten.

Joe Girard © 2009, 2017

  1. Immediate family: http://boards.ancestry.ca/surnames.lightoller/11/mb.ashx
  2. Read Lightoller’s autobiography: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0301011h.html
  3. Lookouts:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fredrick_Fleet

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reginald_Lee

  1. And the band played on: http://www.titanic-titanic.com/titanic_band.shtml
  2. Boards of Inquiry Testimony: http://www.titanicinquiry.org/USInq/AmInq01Lightoller01.php
  3. Picture of Lightoller’s Sundowner: http://www.east-kent.freeserve.co.uk/PictureGallery/RamsHarb1/sundowner.htm http://www.janeandrichard.co.uk/photos/20021227/img_3777/
  4. Ancestry help: http://boards.ancestry.ca/topics.obits2/16435/mb.ashx
  5. Excellent on line essay: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4442/is_200807/ai_n27899260?tag=content;col1
  6. http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=54&t=26505
  7. The character Mr Dawson in the 2017 hit Movie “Dunkirk” played by Mark Rylance appears to be based largely on Charles Lightoller.

 

Afterward:  I’ve read so much history, especially WWII stuff, that I am astounded that I have not come across the life of this astounding man until recently.  There are other pretty good pieces on him.  I just felt like I had to write one of my own.

In Search of Meaning

1. “For the meaning of life differs from man to man,
from day to day and from hour to hour.

What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general
but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”

— Viktor E. Frankl (Man’s Search For Meaning)

As mentioned earlier I endured nearly eleven years of being pracitcally illiterate during my adolescent and young adult years.  Obviously I missed out on a lot.  During my ravenous quest to catch up — and become literate in every sense of the word, including culturally and intellectually — I came across Viktor Frankl’s classic of Existentialism: “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

Someone told me it was important.  They were right.

No synopsis can do it justice, although many have tried.  With many millions of copies sold since its first publication in 1946, you can and should read it yourself, if you haven’t already. In fact, it’s time for me to read it again.

Frankl completed the manuscript of nearly 200 pages in only nine days.  He was an Austrian Psychiatrist who had only weeks before been liberated after enduring three years of “housing” in Jewish ghettos and four concentration camps — including Auschwitz and Dachau.

It is short, but dense and challenging in several dimensions: emotional, thought provoking, revealing of human nature. Recollection: It is translated from the German, so sometimes reads a bit stilted and awkward.

If we learn nothing else from Frankl’s deeply reflective work: A) We have it so good we don’t even know how good we have it; and B) Our life has meaning … if we decide that it does; in some cases, making that decision is a prerequisite for life itself.

Those dark 11 years: One of the things I evidently missed out on was a meaning to life.

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Indeed, I — in the late autumn of life — now feel a bit lost for “meaning.” Meaning varies not just “from day to day and hour to hour” as Frankl said; it varies with the seasons of life. Now at the end of a “successful” career — and as a more-or-less empty nester — I find myself musing on this very topic.  Frankl reminds me — reminds ALL OF US — that this is up to each one of us, to decide for ourselves.

I have a friend who has ALS.  Holy moley. That’s an existential crisis if there ever was one. Compared to Frankl and my friend … heck, compared to almost all of humanity who has ever lived … I have no problems.  Like Frankl, my friend has embraced a marvelous attitude about his situation.  He relishes the reality and the challenge. And he remains engaged with the concept of meaning in his life. He realizes he still has choices … and he is making them.

2. “Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
— Viktor Frankl

Well before my ALS-stricken friend’s awareness of his upcoming struggles with this horrible disease, he made a decision to begin raising service dogs for children with “silent” disabilities, such as diabetes, seizure disorders and severe food allergies.  The results of this work are truly life-changing … and incrementally world-changing.  In time, our Kiwanis Club adopted this effort as our Flagship Project.

He remains engaged in training dogs, families and new trainers … despite his failing health. He sets an intimidating and inspirational example.

Reflection. To make a difference: affect someone’s life positively. I believe that the “save the world” approach is a poor investment of time and treasure.  At least for me. Best to help one or a few people at a time.  And to make a difference that impacts the future, be a positive influence on a young person’s life.

My stricken friend has this for an email tagline, and I may start borrowing it.

“A hundred years from now, it won’t matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in or the kind of car I drove…..but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”  —  Forest E. Witcraft

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With all the furore over DACA lately, superimposed on the disasters of hurricanes and earthquakes, it’s re-assuring to remember that America is overwhelmingly, by and large, a generous and merciful nation.

Americans participate in donating their time and money at a higher rate than almost any other place in the world. Although only 60-70% actually give money during any year, when rated as percentage of GDP, the US is the world’s most generous nation, donating to organizations both domestic and international … all efforts to improve the human condition across the globe. This of course does not count government foreign aid.

Toss in the fact that Americans are also most likely to help a random stranger and they are the world’s most generous folks as well.

In time, God permitting, and after many months, the affected communities will recover, thanks to human resilience, generosity and mercy.

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I’ve changed my home page to show a few of the charities my wife and I support. The explanations and links are duplicated below.

[Feel free to comment or Email Joe.]

We’ve been blessed in many ways, including being financially healthy enough to financially support meaning in life. Reprised, here are some of our Favorite Charities, almost all focused on children.

Foothills Kiwanis Club Foundation: Primary activity is providing service dogs for economically disadvantaged children with invisible ailments like seizure disorders, diabetes and severe food allergies.
Also supports many child-related organizations with funds and manual labor, including Sweet Dream in a Bag, who provide personalized bedding for children in social and economic crises.

Alert Service Dogs for Kids: photo copyright of Foothills Kiwanis Foundation

Rocky Mountain Honor Flight: Treating WW2 and Korean War vets with extreme dignity and gratitude by providing “red carpet treatment” for tours — with personal escorts — of monuments and historic sites in Washington, DC.

Smile Train: Repairing cleft pallets in third world countries. The stigma of this unfortunate defect is too difficult to understand and puts victims at an impossible social and economic disadvantage.

NAMI – National Alliance on Mental IllnessDepression is epidemic.  Suicide is at the highest rates in several generations.  And it is the second leading cause of death among 15-35 year olds. This age group is as disaffected as they have ever been.  I weep when I consider the long term consequences of this on families, social fabric, our nation and the world.

Maji Safi Group: Bringing clean water and safe hygiene practices to villages in Tanzania.

Ethiopian Education Fund: enable disadvantaged youth and young adults, especially girls, in the Kaffa zone of southern Ethiopia to realize their full educational potential. Just one or two more years of education can make a huge difference.

Real Choices Pregnancy Centers: Helping woman in pregnancy crises in all aspects.

Wish there was peace on earth, but it seems now that it cannot happen anytime soon — at least in our lifetime.  May it come some day decades hence … and may we pull together to make that more possible.

Cheers,

Joe Girard © 2017

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