The Power of Words

How’s this?” he asked, showing the ad to Charlotte.

It says ‘Crunchy.’ ‘Crunchy’ would be a good word to write in your web.”
Just the wrong idea,” replied Charlotte. “Couldn’t be worse. We don’t want Zuckerman to think Wilbur is crunchy. He might start thinking about crisp, crunchy bacon and tasty ham. That would put ideas into his head. We must advertise Wilbur’s noble qualities, not his tastiness.

When counseling people about to be married, I stress one point in particular:  Mind your words. People may forgive spoken cruelties, but they will never forget the sound of your voice saying them.  Neither will they forget the sound of you praying for them by name, or praising them to their friends.

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The Real Abe Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was born on this day, February 12th in 1809.  Today he is regarded as perhaps the greatest President in the history of the United States.  That was not always so.   It’s hard to imagine now, but at the time of his presidency, Lincoln was popular with the people but snubbed as a rube by the “upper class.”  In contrast, Ralph Waldo Emerson was considered the brightest intellectual light of his time and the epitome of sophistication.  The two men met in Washington on February 2, 1862, introduced by US Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts – a friend of both.

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What Sylvia Plath Wanted

 

I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And what do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life.

~Sylvia Plath, from her journal

Sylvia Plath died on this day, February 11th in 1963 at the age of 30.  For one loved by so many (even today) she seemed desperately alone.  In many ways, she felt closer to her books and writers of another age like Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence than the human beings around her.  Ironically, she is known as one of the originators of confessional poetry and her writings still resonate with many who feel trapped inside of their own minds.

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Salesmen Still Die A Little, Every Single Day

“Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am.”

~Arthur Miller from Death of a Salesman

Great American playwright Arthur Miller died on this day, February 10th in 2005.  His masterwork, Death of a Salesman is the story of Everyman, Willy Loman; a success-obsessed man who eventually loses his job. Afterward, desiring to be supportive, Willy’s son takes him out for an evening. As they prepare to leave, his wife tells their son

“Be kind to your father, son; he is only a little boat looking for a harbor.”

In one masterful sentence, we understand man adrift.

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The Disappointment of Great Expectations

There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth.

~Charles Dickens, from Great Expectations

Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on this day, February 7th in 1812. Great Expectations is said to be Dickens’ masterpiece and that’s quite a statement, for he was prolific in the production of timeless literature. Our lives are likewise filled with great expectations, but like characters in Dickens’ novel, we are frequently disappointed because life rarely matches the lofty dreams of our youth. The childhood fantasies that took us to riches and glory are eventually abandoned as adulthood brings bills, stress and lives much dimmer than those grand imaginations.

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A Moveable Feast

The version reviewed is the revised edition (“restored”) by Hemingway’s grandson in 2009. It wasn’t universally appreciated, mainly because people resist change, especially when it comes to a famous author’s famous work. I’m not going to go into the details here but go Google the topic for yourself and you can read the pros and cons of this version over that one. Let’s just say this version is kinder to young Hemingway’s grandmother.

Much of the back and forth debate is typical of family dynamics. Hemingway went through a lot of women and the original version of the book was published in 1964 by his fourth and last wife, who edited his work with an eye toward herself. It’s hard to fault her for being human and that seems to be the same truth for the new edition edited by the grandson.

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Roger Williams; A Life of Religious Liberty

God requireth not an uniformity of Religion to be inacted and inforced in any civill state…true civility and Christianity may both flourish in a state or Kingdome, notwithstanding the permission of divers and contrary consciences, either of Jew or Gentile.

Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience, Discussed in a Conference Between Truth and Peace, 1644.

Roger Williams landed near Boston, Massachusetts, on this day, February 5, in 1631, aboard the ship Lyon.

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Children and Death: These Precious Days

Children are often confronted with harsh realities for which they are inadequately equipped. Innocence is fragile.  Some of our earliest memories include bracing traumas of loss, and like every human being, children try to cope.  In extreme, some children must face not only the death of a loved one but also their own as terminal disease closes in. They turn to God in their own way and often find Him in simple things, like books and their pets.

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Childhood Books as Progressive Revelation

Children are inquisitive and insatiable for knowledge.  This can be problematic, for it often tilts to trouble as any reader of Mark Twain will attest.  We all have childhood stories of ‘that time when’ our appetite for adventure over-exceed good judgement. Fortunately, lucky children also find companions in books with whom they can safely fight pirates and sail starships.

Truth is best understood in progressive revelation, as Emily Dickinson has it:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

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What is Beauty?

“Beauty is the splendor of truth,” observes Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s (born on this day, February 2nd in 1882) A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and to explain his passion for beauty, Stephen draws upon the thoughts of Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas, among others.  Metaphysics asks the question – “What is real?” and philosophy and literature have long since tried to answer.  What we call love at first sight is that mysterious moment when our eyes tell us we are gazing at something (usually someone) so beautiful it at once fulfills a longing in our hearts and answers questions we have no words to ask.

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