Richard French

April 18, 2017 A Blogpost for My Nephews Posted In: NOVEL

Late last year, I visited my sister and her family, whose home base is now on Cape Cod off the southeast coast of Massachusetts in the U. S. I don’t see her and her family very often, so I was glad to get reacquainted with my two nephews Mark and Jeff, who are in their mid-twenties. They bring life and good cheer to whatever group they’re part of.

I couldn’t help but think back to the days when I was a young adult myself. I recall stories and notions I acquired that have stayed with me through years and decades. For example, I remember an anecdote I read in a biography of the American president Calvin Coolidge when I was in college. His son had a summer job on a farm in Vermont carrying out menial tasks. Another worker said to him, “If my father were president of the U. S., I wouldn’t be working in a field like this.” Coolidge’s son replied, “If your father were my father, you would.”

With regard to politics, when I was about my two nephews’ age, I came upon a saying of the poet Robert Frost that I still like: “I wasn’t a radical when I was young, for fear of becoming conservative when I was old.”

With regard to emotions and state of mind, I recall a woman I knew when I worked in the banking business. She once said to me that the best way to be is to cultivate a tough mind and a tender heart. I don’t know where she got that insight from, since she wasn’t a great reader, but some years later, I discovered exactly the same observation in William James’s landmark work “Psychology”: tough mind, tender heart.

When it came to figuring out how to carry on in this world, I liked this anecdote about the novelist Thomas Hardy: After he was famous and well-established, he lived in an English country village. When a reporter came to interview him, Hardy took him on a walking tour of the town. Along the way, he stopped to talk with the postman and a shopkeeper and other townspeople. The reporter couldn’t understand why a man like Thomas Hardy would sped time chatting with ordinary, workaday folk. I never had much difficulty grasping what Hardy was up to.

This anecdote always reminds me of a verse in Kipling’s poem “If”. “If you can walk with kings and yet not lose the common touch,…you are a man.” (I hope that Jeff and Mark will take note that a major political party recently went up in flames because their leaders forgot that their predecessors built a strong community by becoming experts at the common touch.)

And then there is this poem by Emily Dickinson:

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us–don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

I’d also like Mark and Jeff to know two anecdotes from family life from years ago. When I was 18, my parents drove me to what would be my university in the American Midwest. As they were about to leave, my father, my nephew’s grandfather whom they knew, shook my hand firmly while we stood in a parking lot, and said to me, “Come home with your shield or on it, but not without it.”

In a similar vein, my mother, who was of Finnish heritage, taught me the meaning of “sisu”, a watchword for Finnish people, which means to keep on going and never, never quit on a good thing. A Finnish-Canadian man I met not too long ago advised me that “sisu” refers to persistence on steroids. (Of course, if they start more than they can handle, though I doubt that they will, that’s a different story.)

Deep in mid-life, I attended a Lutheran seminary in Indiana and then served as a pastor for 18 years in northern Ontario. I would want Jeff and Mark — and all people — to be familiar with the teachings of the Bible, which are summarized by one verse in John’s gospel (3:16): “God so loved the world the he gave his only-begotten Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”

That’s about all I have to say for now. Perhaps if I saw Mark and Jeff more often, I’d never think of writing a blogpost for them.

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