Not always greener

An old expression claims that “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” That expression describes discontent and envy. Whatever situation we experience, we always think that other people have it better. We accuse our parents of loving our brother or sister more than they loved us. We think that our jobs are the least rewarding and the hardest—that people with other jobs receive more recognition and higher salaries, even though they do less work. We see people succeed at things for which we struggle—not merely worldly things, but virtues like patience and humility and perseverance. We think that they must be happy, because, in addition to the pluses we see in their lives, we attribute to them our pluses, and so we elevate them above ourselves. We do not consider the possibility that we succeed where they struggle, that they might envy our successes as much as we envy theirs.

Like the expression, “A watched pot never boils,” the expression about the greener grass should not be taken literally. In fact, I’m pleased to report that my grass is just as green as the grass the neighbors have been tending.

July and August have been hot and dry in our part of the country. Most of the people living around me have been watering their lawns on a daily basis. They have been spending time and labor and money to keep their grass green. As we went without rain, the grass in my lawn went dormant. Instead of remaining green, it faded to a soft tan, much like its winter color.

But we had some cooler rainy days this past week, and my lawn has revived. My grass might not be as thick as the neighbor’s grass, but that is not due only to watering. I also have not fertilized my lawn or treated it with weed-killers. Frankly, I love the clover and violets and even the dandelions that coexist with the grass in my lawn. In the aftermath of the recent rain, though, my grass is as green as their grass. For that, I am both humbly and smugly glad.

If I could serve my Lord as faithfully and diligently as my neighbors serve their lawns, no one could doubt the depth and sincerely of my Christian faith. Instead, by refusing to water my lawn on a daily basis, I have needed to mow only once every three to four weeks instead of every week. My neglect repaid me with even more time for other tasks, while my neighbors remained enslaved to their lawns. We are promised more rain the beginning of next week. So I will have more opportunity to study God’s Word, to consider how best to share that Word, and to let that Word shape my life—while my neighbors wait for a break in the rain so they can get out there and mow again.

My grass is as green as their grass. They may have thought that I envied their lawns, but instead they may be the ones turning green with envy as they see my grass survive and even thrive under the blessing of my benevolent neglect. J.

A Living Cubs Fan’s Continuing Lament

We are now in a position to answer a question that was raised in 2016—and was also mentioned frequently before that year. “Are Cubs fans the same kind of people now that their team has won a championship, or did the record of futility make Cubs fans a special breed, apart from other sports fans?”

The Chicago Cubs were one of the first professional baseball teams, and in the early years of baseball they were one of the better teams. They set a record of success in 1906, winning 116 games (more than three-quarters of the games they played), but they lost the World Series to their fellow Chicago team, the White Sox. They went on to win the World Series in 1907 and again in 1908. They would win the National League pennant seven more times over the next thirty-seven years, failing each time to win the World Series. Their drought then would become more spectacular, so that by 1980 Cubs’ fan Steve Goodman could sing woefully, “The Cubs haven’t won the National League pennant since the year we dropped the bomb on Japan.” The year 1969 saw them squander a significant lead at the end of the season, falling behind the New York Mets. Six times they reached the playoffs between 1984 and 2008, each time failing to grasp the pennant. Many years between 1945 and 2008, the Cubs were woefully behind their competitors in the National League, allowing their fans to turn their attention to football by the time August arrived. But to be a sports fan in Chicago was generally unrewarding in those years. Someone like me, born in 1962, could live into the middle of the 1980s glumly aware that Chicago sports teams had not won championships in any of the major sports—baseball, football, basketball, or hockey—in my lifetime.

The Cubs in particular were labeled “Lovable Losers.” Fans filled the ballpark, Wrigley Field, on warm summer afternoons when the Cubs played at home. Some fans grumbled that the owners of the Cubs would not bother to produce a winning team so long as the fans showed up to watch their teams lose. Other matters were also blamed for the Cubs’ lack of success. Some said they were exhausted playing home games in the heat of the day while other teams benefited from playing at night. Some said that the team was cursed—a billygoat named Murphy, denied a ticket to accompany his owner to a World
Series game in 1945, was the legendary source of the curse. Big matters and small matters combined to make Cubs fans feel cheated of the championship their team deserved—especially in the years 1969, 1984, and 2003. But Cubs fans remained faithful to their team, raising questions about what would happen to them should their team ever break their losing pattern and win a World Series.

 The team was purchased by the Ricketts family after the 2009 season. Two years later Theo Epstein was hired away from the Boston Red Sox to be President of the franchise. Epstein rebuilt the team from the ground up, bringing young talent into the minor leagues while gradually reforming the major league club through trades and free agent signings. Joe Madden was hired to manage the Cubs after the 2014 season. In 2015, the Cubs made the playoffs as a Wild Card team, defeating the Pirates and the Cardinals before being swept by the Mets for the pennant. The next year, 2016, was the year that the Cubs changed history, ending their 108-year drought by becoming champions in dramatic fashion, winning the final game of the World Series after midnight on the morning of November 3.

During the Christmas holiday of 2016, my father and I talked about the Cubs. I expressed the hope that their championship team would be like the 1990s Chicago Bulls—who won six championships in an eight-year run—and not like the 1980s Chicago Bears—who won but a single Super Bowl despite the talent and popularity of their roster. Sadly, the Cubs turned out to be like the Bears. They returned to the playoffs at the end of the next three seasons, but they fell short of gaining another National League pennant, let alone winning another championship. Gradually, their stars vanished. Some, like Dexter Fowler, signed with other teams. Others, like Ben Zobrist, retired. Finally, during the summer of 2021, Cubs management traded away the biggest remaining stars—Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez. Gathering younger and unproven talent in their trades, the Cubs began positioning themselves for possible success in future years, while resigning themselves and their fans to another period of futility reminiscent of the Cubs of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Why did the Cubs fail to repeat their championship success of 2016? Some fans blame manager Joe Maddon. Indeed, some Cubs fans insist that the Cubs succeeded in 2016 in spite of Joe Maddon. He made questionable decisions, particularly in the last three games of the World Series. Maddon overused Aroldis Chapman to preserve the victories in games five and six, exhausting him to the point that he surrendered the tying runs of game seven. Then Maddon removed Kyle Hendricks sooner than he should have in game seven, bringing in Jon Lester and David Ross for sentimental (rather than strategic) reasons. Lester and Ross also allowed runs to score, narrowing the margin of victory before Chapman’s struggles.

Maddon and the coaching staff did not serve the players well in Chicago. Even during the playoff games of their championship season, many of the young batters were distressingly ineffective against opposition pitching. While they showed some ability to adjust to pitchers when seeing them multiple times in the same series, too often Cubs batters misread pitches, swinging at offerings well outside the strike zone, thus wasting multiple at-bats. The same problems continued to plague the same batters in following seasons. Modern batters in general, but particularly those who brought a single trophy to Chicago in recent years, seem more concerned with launch angle and exit velocity than they are with making contact with the baseball and directing it to the part of the field where the fielders are not already standing. The fact that Maddon’s term as manager of the Angels was terminated this summer reinforces the opinion that his leadership was overrated and that he caused more harm than good to the players he was managing.

Other fans suggest that the Cubs’ players lost their competitive edge—their “hunger”—after the dramatic winning season of 2016. Michael Jordan and the Bulls remained hungry (although even Jordan had to take time off in the middle of the championship run). Other teams also are able to maintain success year after year, preserving their desire to succeed even in wake of a championship season. Those teams seem able to replace players and keep on winning without having to tear apart the entire team and rebuild after just one championship.

Some fans believe that it’s just a Chicago thing, or just a Cubs thing. Continuing success is not a tradition in Chicago, at least not in baseball and football. Chicago fans support their teams, win or lose; it appears that, as a result, their teams lose more often than they win. It seems unlikely that many (or perhaps any) of the Cubs from the 2016 championship will maintain sufficient success in their careers to be voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Jon Lester might be a candidate for the Hall, given his earlier successes in Boston as well as his years with the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo could rise to the level of a Hall of Fame player if he has a few good seasons with the Yankees. Otherwise, the players that Cubs fans learned to love in recent years now past will likely be treated as merely average players, or some of them slightly better than average. Meanwhile, regarding the current team, Cubs fans wait to see whether they are pouring a foundation for future success or merely digging another hole in which to bury the hopes of their faithful followers.

Which brings me back to my original question: is it the same, cheering for a Cubs team that has one championship in its recent history, or has the glamor of supporting “Lovable Losers” been dispelled by that one good year? Are life-long supporters of the Chicago Cubs worthy of respect from the fans of more fortunate and successful teams, or are we no different from the fans of any other struggling team? I do not yet know the answers to those questions. J.

Lammas Day

August 1 is Lammas Day. This holiday was once an agricultural festival in parts of Europe, marking the end of cutting hay and the beginning of harvesting wheat and other grains. As the midpoint between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox, Lammas Day was well-placed for an excuse to celebrate, but the day has fallen into neglect in recent times.

Solstices, equinoxes, and the midpoints between them were always excuses for a party, although no single culture observed all eight occasions. Christianity successfully overwhelmed the winter solstice with its celebration of the Incarnation of Christ, being the twelve days of Christmas; likewise, the spring equinox was overshadowed by the feast of the Resurrection of our Lord, or Easter. A few contemporary Christians back away from those celebrations out of fear that our revelry has been tainted by pagan customs. Paul wrote to the Colossians that Christians are not to judge one another regarding food (kosher laws), Sabbaths (Saturday, Sunday, or some other time in the week), or holidays. We are free to celebrate as we wish, provided that Christ remains at the center of our celebrations.

In the United States, Memorial Day and Labor Day have replaced the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox as the start and end of summer. Independence Day, on the Fourth of July, has become the new midpoint for the summer season. The other three midpoints linger on the calendar as Groundhog Day, May Day, and Halloween. Lammas Day is forgotten, and the month of August is barren of days to celebrate. Some of us have birthdays and wedding anniversaries in August, and many families mark the month of August as back-to-school time. Poor Lammas Day has nothing to connect to those themes and observances.

On my Facebook page this morning I said a few words about Lammas Day. I also claimed that the harvest workers would dance in the fields, singing this song (click here). Maybe, just maybe, we can work together to create a new Lammas Day tradition to share with our families and friends, another day on the calendar for us to stop, relax, and rejoice. J.

Two movies of angst and discovery

Two movies from the early 1990s tell contrasting stories of men who have reached the end of their respective ropes. One of them, “Falling Down,” stars Michael Douglas as William Foster; the other, “Joe Vs. the Volcano,” stars Tom Hanks as Joe Banks.

“Falling Down,” made in 1993, stars with the main character sitting in his car, trapped in traffic somewhere in Los Angeles County. After trying to swat an annoying fly with a rolled-up magazine, Foster abandons his car and sets out on foot, announcing that he is “going home.” As the movie progresses, we learn that Foster is a veteran of the Vietnam War, that he has worked until recently in the defense industry but has lost his job, that he is divorced and his ex-wife is afraid of him and has a restraining order against him, and that this day is his daughter’s birthday and he wants to give her a gift. Along the way, Foster confronts various annoyances of modern life: overpriced merchandise in a convenience store, threatening young men in a gang-run barrio, a fast-food place which refuses to serve breakfast food even one minute past 11:30 a.m., deceitful panhandlers in a city park, and the like. Foster begins the day armed only with an attitude, but in each confrontation he gains additional weapons: first a club made from a baseball bat, then a pocket-knife, then a canvas bag filled with guns including automatic rifles. Meanwhile, his adventures come to the attention of a police officer on the verge of retirement, working his last day at the precinct office. This officer begins tracking Foster, learning who he is, and sensing the danger he represents. Both men are frustrated with their lives. Both men can imagine something better, although neither has a clue about how to achieve that improvement. The movie is clearly aims for their confrontation—symbolically, on a pier where land ends and ocean begins.

“Joe Vs. the Volcano” starts with a man working in a dismal job for a medical supplies company. His discomfort with life provokes physical symptoms which have sent him to a series of doctors. One doctor diagnoses a brain cloud, an ailment which will claim the life of Joe Banks in a few months without any overt symptoms during the intervening time. After Joe quits his job, he is visited by a wealthy entrepreneur who needs a hero. He needs a chemical that is found only on one island in the Pacific Ocean, but the primitive islanders will only permit mining for that mineral if the rich man’s company can procure a man willing to jump into an active volcano to appease the angry god dwelling in said volcano. Having nothing to lose, Joe accepts the mission. He is given a credit card with no spending limit and goes out on the town to remake himself in one day. Then he flies across the country, is welcomed onto the rich man’s yacht, and with the crew of the yacht (including the rich man’s daughter), travels toward the volcano.

Both movies feature a man living in the modern world with despair. Their lives are empty; they have no hope. Both movies use travel as a metaphor for life. The men move from setting to setting, encountering various people along the way, picking up pieces of equipment that will serve them on their journey. Both men inhabit a world that makes little sense, a world in which random things happen for no purpose, a world in which their own role and purpose seems ambiguous and undefined. Foster’s ex-wife is played by the lovely Barbara Hershey; Joe’s female counterpart is portrayed by a young Meg Ryan, who appears as three characters—a darkhaired coworker in the beginning scenes, a red-headed artist (also a daughter of the rich man) in California, and finally the blonde daughter of the rich man on the yacht. In both movies, the main characters survive a near-death experience during their journeys: Bill Foster is threatened by the neo-Nazi owner of a pawn shop he visits, and Joe Banks survives the sinking of the yacht. Both men must finally deal with their mortality at the end of their respective journeys—Bill Foster on the pier, and Joe Banks at the brink of the volcano.

“Joe Vs. the Volcano” is a comedy; “Falling Down” is a tension-filled drama. Yet both movies portray the existential angst of life in the modern world. Both movies confront the viewer with a man like most of us, a man doing his best in the world, a man who seems to have the deck of life’s game stacked against him. Both portray uncommon reactions to the pressure of life, in each case a journey, but one with comic overtones and the other with grim reality. Both movies use the journey as a symbol of life, how people move from experience to experience, traveling a road that can only end with the finality of death.

King Solomon wrote that all of life is “vanity.” Even acquiring worldly wealth, political power, knowledge and understanding of the world, and access to every pleasure is not enough. Solomon suggests that to eat, drink, and find pleasure in one’s job is the best anyone can expect in this world. But even the effort to “eat, drink, and be merry” is not enough. Heavenly treasures remain the only satisfying remedy for the emptiness and vanity of all earthly accomplishments and rewards. J.

Prince Louis at the Platinum Jubilee

While I have not had time to sit and watch the coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, I have seen a few highlights. (Such an event is not merely a once-in-a-lifetime celebration; it may very well be a once-in-history event. Can anyone else name a king or queen who ruled for seventy years?) The picture that remains in my memory is that of Prince Louis, the four-year-old great-grandson of the Queen, covering his ears and screaming during the royal fly-over at the beginning of the ceremonies.

That picture sticks in my head because I was once that child. I could not bear loud noises. Much as I enjoyed the Fourth of July parades every year, I hated those moments when the fire engines came down the street, blowing their sirens and honking their horns. I also was not fond of fireworks, and as an adult I have stayed away from firework shows. When the electric company sent out their trucks to trim branches from the trees and grind them into mulch, I was in agony. I remember running through the house, hands over my ears, screaming, just as the young prince was doing in London last week.

Other people—even close family—do not understand the pain that loud noises cause in some people’s lives. The prince’s mother, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, appears to be laughing. I hope she is not laughing at her son, but at something else happening the same moment. My family sometimes laughed at my reaction to loud noises. They apparently did not realize that I was genuinely suffering, that my reaction to the noises were not an exaggeration but were a sincere response to the pain I felt from those sounds.

Like anyone, I am startled by a sudden, unexpected, loud noise. When something shorted out at the power pole last evening while we were at the dinner table, there was a bright flash of light and a loud report, and we all jumped. But I got over the surprise as quickly as everyone else. Ongoing noises, even when they are not as loud, bother me more. Lawn trimmers and leaf blowers create a sound that resonates in my head, making me unable to read or do other work while they run. Music and conversations often break my concentration. For me, there is no such thing as background noise. I play music when I want to hear the music. I turn on the television when I want to watch something. When I want to work, to read, to concentrate on something important, I prefer a quiet house or office. Not everyone is like me. Not everyone understands the condition.

I hope that, as he grows, Prince Louis will find family members and other people who respect his reaction to noise. I hope that people will not speak of him as “spoilt” merely because loud sounds upset him. In general, as society becomes increasingly accommodating for people with “special needs,” increasingly aware of the diversity that goes far beyond appearance and language and culture, that there will be room for those of us who are sensitive, who cannot handle noise, who sometimes need some peace and quiet. The prince may offer an opportunity to promote that awareness. J.

Giving thanks

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for many things.

I am thankful to have food available—tasty food, healthy and nutritious food, food in great variety, for a family feast and later a light supper and the next day delicious leftovers. I am thankful for clothing and shelter—shelter with flush toilets, with hot and cold running water, with control over the temperature of the air in winter and summer and every day of the year, and with a wide variety of entertainment available at the push of a few buttons. These are not the greatest blessings I enjoy, but they are blessings all the same, and I am thankful.

I am thankful to live in a nation based upon liberty, a nation that protects its citizens from violence, a nation that shows compassion to those in need. I am thankful to live in a nation founded upon ideas and not upon military victories or the power of one ruler. I am thankful for freedom to think as I wish, to speak as I wish, to write as I wish, and to gather with like-minded people. I am thankful for freedom of religion. I am thankful that other people are free to disagree, even to insist that we have too much freedom, and that such opinions can be discussed and debated among ourselves.

With that freedom of religion, I am thankful to know the God who created all things and still upholds them by his power. I am thankful to know the God who tells us why he made us, yet who pays our debt when we fall short of his plans and rescues us from evil, even from the consequences of our own rebellion. I am thankful to know the God who calls us to repent and to believe, then gives us power to do those very things through his call. I am thankful to know the God who gathers his people around his promises, keeps us in the true faith, and promises eternal life in a perfect world to all those who hold to that faith. These blessings outshine all others.

I am thankful that my employer pays me not to come to work Thursday and Friday but allows me to observe the holiday of Thanksgiving with family and with the congregation. I am thankful for a four-day weekend in which I can sleep late some mornings, accomplish some tasks around the house, do some reading and some writing, and maybe even start unpacking decorations for Advent and Christmas. At the same time, I am grateful for those people (including two of my daughters) who will be working during this holiday, caring for those whose medical needs do not take a holiday. I am thankful that professionals will be available if needed should a problem arise. I am thankful for the man who came to our house Thanksgiving evening several years ago because our carbon monoxide detector was sounding an alarm. He checked for gas leaks and other dangers, and he correctly determined that the detector was at fault. I am thankful that we were not in danger that day, and that we did not have to wait for the holiday to end before we knew that we were safe.

I am thankful that family will gather and will celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving together, even if some members will arrive late to the celebration. I am thankful that we will be able to enjoy each other’s company and that we will also be able to contact those who are living elsewhere and share the joy of the holiday with them. I also am thankful that, when the weekend is over, the children will return to their various homes and living spaces and I will once again have a quiet house for reading, writing, and other leisure activities.

I am thankful for my online friends in the WordPress community, those who read my blogs and comment on my posts, those who leave their likes, those whose blogs I read and enjoy, those who share a piece of their lives online and are willing also to let me share my thoughts and experiences with them. May each of us, however we observe and remember this holiday, find joy in giving thanks and have a pleasant and enriching holiday weekend. J.

Are you paranoid?

The following quiz will help to determine whether you are paranoid, and to what extent.

  • When you cannot find your phone, you ask: A—”Where did I leave my phone?”; or B—“Who stole my phone?”
  • When a law is passed which does not meet with your approval, you wonder: A—“Why are they trying to fix what isn’t broken?”; or B—“Why are they trying to destroy the country?”
  • When you cannot find the ice cream scoop in the kitchen, you ponder: A—“Did my spouse/partner/housemate get absentminded and put it in some unusual place?”; or B—“Is my spouse/partner/housemate trying to annoy me by hiding it from me?”
  • When a news show hosts a discussion about an issue, and the proponent of your side seems annoyingly loud and poorly informed, but the proponent of the other side seems calm, cool, and rational, you consider: A—“Why couldn’t they have found someone better able to defend my position—me, for example?” or B—“Isn’t it obvious that they are trying to shape public opinion by making my position look bad?”
  • When a worker at the store seems cold toward you and unwilling to help you (and that worker has a different color skin, either darker or lighter than yours), your reaction is: A—“This worker must be having a bad day and must be tired after hours of waiting on customers”; or B—“This worker is obviously racist and is prejudiced against me and people who look like me.”
  • The author of this post is: A—“Examining society in general and drawing material from his own life and experiences”; or B—“Picking on me and subjecting me to mockery and scorn, just as everyone else in the world keeps doing.”

A little paranoia can be healthy. Approaching a stranger in a secluded area, a person should consider the possibility that the stranger might be dangerous, that it might be necessary to fight or to flee. Safe drivers remain vigilant for other drivers who will do unexpected and dangerous things in traffic. Citizens should always be wary that government, big business, and the communications/entertainment industry will use their power for their own purposes and not for the good of all the people. But too much paranoia is unhealthy. Trusting no one, feeling constantly under attack, looking under every bed and behind every couch for enemies leads to unnecessary fear, stress, and anger.

Paranoia is often a symptom of other unhealthy conditions. Paranoia often accompanies dementia in people suffering brain damage due to physical trauma, degenerative disease, or chronic substance abuse. Paranoia can be a signal that something is wrong; but the signal is often missed by doctors. After all, who is going to confess paranoia to a doctor? The doctor is most likely part of the plot, part of the danger, part of the reason that one has become paranoid in the first place. Perhaps They are trying to make us paranoid so they have a reason to lock us up and take away our freedom.

Studies show that childhood experiences can cause or worsen paranoia. Someone who was abused at home or bullied at school may have been conditioned to distrust people and to assume the worst of others. When I told my mother that other children were picking on me at school, she told me, “They’re just trying to get a reaction from you. Don’t show them that it bothers you, and they’ll leave you alone.” Years later, my counselor wondered why I didn’t speak with my neighbors about their habits that bothered me—using loud tools for lawn maintenance early on summer mornings, for example. But my thought remained stuck in my mother’s advice: if I let them know that it bothers me, they’ll keep doing it, and they’ll look for ways to be even more annoying, just to make me miserable.

We learn to suffer in silence. Along the way, we forget that the things that bother us usually are unintentional. Other drivers didn’t install bright headlights on their cars just to bother our eyes. Those two drivers who block the street to have a conversation from the front seats of their respective cars—they are unwise and inconsiderate, but they are not purposely creating an obstacle for others. And that man who put his shopping cart right in front of the next item you wanted to put in your cart—he didn’t know what you were planning to buy. If he stands there, reading the label on something he might or might not buy, he is not purposely wasting your time. He probably thinks he was doing you a favor, getting his cart out of your way.

When we let paranoia govern our outlook, we cannot love our neighbors as we love ourselves. When we let paranoia govern our outlook, we cannot love and trust God above all things. If God is in control, then They cannot defeat us. We rest in his arms. We trust his victory. We allow his perfect love to drive out fear.

It would help if those of us who are paranoid could band together and support one another. Of course, we first would have to learn how to trust each other. For years, people have tried to organize Procrastination Societies. They had good intentions, but they never got around to holding their first meeting. Likewise, we who are paranoid remain isolated because we do not recognize each other. We need some sort of secret greeting, some way to recognize one another. Perhaps, when we meet a new person, the first step should be to say the word, “Noid.” If that person responds by also saying, “Noid,” then we know that the two of us are a paranoids, and we can work together to help each other as we face the rest of this world, all those people out there who are out to get us. J.

A message to Garcia

In the course of my normal work this week, I came across a pamphlet called A Message to Garcia. The pamphlet, contained two parts, both written by Elbert Hubbard. In the first part, he describes how an essay he had written as filler for his magazine The Philistine had, to borrow a contemporary expression, gone viral. The second half contained the essay itself, reprinted once again nearly twenty years after its initial startling success.

At the core of the story is a soldier named Andrew S. Rowan. During the build-up of the American war with Spain, President McKinley needed to communicate with a Cuban rebel leader named Calixto Garcia. (After all, the independence of Cuba from Spain was one of the reasons the United States went to war, although the sinking of the Maine in the Havana harbor would also provide a rallying cry for the war effort.) At great personal difficulty, but without complaint, Rowan took the message from the President, traveled to Cuba, sought and found General Garcia, and delivered the President’s message. In his original untitled magazine article, Hubbard lauded the “can-do” spirit of Lieutenant Rowan and compared his diligence to the laziness of the typical American worker. In nearly every team of workers, Hubbard claimed, the majority would be incapable and unwilling to carry a message to Garcia. They would hunt for excuses, look for someone else to complete the task, and do their best to shirk responsibility. Only a few exceptional workers would follow orders and would get the job done. What our country needs is more Lieutenant Rowans, more men (and women) capable of following orders, of doing what needs to be done, of getting a message to Garcia.

In his introduction to the essay (which happens to be as long as the original essay), Hubbard describes how popular his brief, throw-away scrap of writing had become. Reprints were circulated among business leaders and were copied to be passed out to the workers. The Boy Scouts of America republished “A Message to Garcia” for all of its scouts and leaders. A Russian visitor, visiting the United States to learn how to run a successful railroad, was given a copy of the essay. He had it translated into Russian and distributed to all Russian railroad workers. Some of them carried copies with them when they fought a war with Japan; copies taken from prisoners of war were translated into Japanese and then circulated among government employees in that land. As of 1916, Hubbard estimated that forty million copies of his humble essay had been printed and distributed.

Things have not changed much in a century. My children have had jobs in fast food, in health care, in engineering, and in other fields, and they have encountered the same laziness that bothered Elbert Hubbard. Most workers, it seems, prefer to do the minimum work required to take home a paycheck; any special project meets resistance, with employees going out of their way to do anything extra for the business or for the customer. One characteristic of the Salvageable family is that we get the job done, we go beyond the minimum expectations of our managers, and we take pride in our work. We do our best for our employers and their customers. We can be counted to get the message to Garcia.

Sadly, the entire story of the Message to Garcia is a string of lies. Lieutenant Rowan had no message from the President for General Garcia; he was sent by military intelligence to assess the strength and reliability of Garcia’s forces in Cuba. Essentially, he was a spy. But, as soon as he met Garcia, he admitted that he wanted to return home, and Garcia sent him on his way. Rowan was not just a spy; he was a failed spy who did not get his job done. What was worse, on his way to Cuba he had spoken with reporters, and his secret mission was described in the papers before he even met Garcia.

Likewise, Hubbard’s assessment of his “viral” essay was greatly exaggerated. Probably fewer than four million copies of his essay were printed and shared, not the forty million he claimed. The Russian official’s visit to the United States took place two years before Hubbard’s essay was written. No Russian or Japanese copies of his work were printed or distributed in those countries. In fact, most railroad workers in Russia at the time were illiterate.

In the middle of the twentieth century, the idea of getting a message to Garcia was a commonly understood metaphor. Americans knew that getting a message to Garcia meant getting the job done, overcoming obstacles, and refusing to offer excuses. In spite of the lies and deliberate misrepresentations associated with the original event, we clearly need today a lot more faithful workers, men and women who care about the job and not just the paycheck, men and women who can and who will get the message to Garcia. J.

Civic planning at its finest

The main drive through town hosts a number of fast-food restaurants, as well as a variety of other shops—hair and nail salons, clothing boutiques, a car wash, a gas station, and the like. One of the places we used to visit sells hot dogs and frozen desserts, the latter consisting of frozen yogurt mixed with any desired combination of fruits, nuts, candies, and similar ingredients. We used to go there after supper once in a while to get a banana split or a chocolate concrete or a sundae, and we would sit outdoors and eat our treats and watch the traffic going up and down the road.

Three years ago some construction began right across the street from our favorite treat place. I felt a little bad about the construction because it was happening next door to a funeral parlor, or mortuary. I figured that the construction noise must be a disturbance to the families and friends gathering for visitations and visitation services at the mortuary. My dismay was relieved, though, when I saw that the new construction was designed to be one of those emergency medical clinics, the kind intended to replace hospital emergency rooms, able to offer quicker service because emergency treatment is all they do. What could be a more sensible partnership, I asked myself, than to have emergency medical treatment in one establishment and, if needed, a mortuary right next door?

The clinic opened and is getting lots of business. I have no idea how many referrals they are sending next door. But this summer, ground broke on another new building the other side of the clinic from the mortuary. I was interested, waiting to learn what would be joining the convenience line on that side of the street, and I recently found out that the newest establishment will be an orthodontist service. That makes a suitable neighbor to the medical clinic, especially since the long-standing business on the other side of the new orthodontist office is a school for the martial arts. So, if something goes wrong in martial arts class, they have an orthodontist right next door. If that isn’t enough, they have an emergency clinic next to that, and then a mortuary just beyond that. It seems like perfect city planning, the kind of row of businesses my children might have put into one of their SimCity exercises.

And what is on the other side of the mortuary, you might ask. Right next to their parking lot is a building with several offices, one of which is used by a law firm. So what could be better than to move from the martial arts school to the orthodontist, the emergency medical clinic, the mortuary, and then the law office? And, at any time in the process, one can always cross the street for a tasty hot dog and dessert! J.

Home again

 My family adventure of the last nine days contains three highlights: meeting my granddaughter, driving many miles, and seeing the Grand Canyon.

  1. Those of you who have met a grandchild for the first time already know what I would be describing. The rest of you might or might not understand. Either way, words fail to convey the most important moments of a voyage that lasted slightly more than two hundred hours.
  2. The voyage, from driveway to driveway, was roughly 1,900 miles, or a bit more than 3000 kilometers. We were in five states but saw license plates from 46 states (missing only Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Vermont). We experienced open highways and construction delays. We saw spacious skies and also drove through heavy rains in northern New Mexico and Arizona. (Who ya gonna call? Drought-Busters!) We observed smoke and ash from western wildfires. Our trip included mountains and canyons, hills and valleys, prairies and deserts and conditions in between, oaks and pines and mesquite and sagebrush and cacti (clearly planted in crop rows) and corn and alfalfa. At one point we drove through the region where Apollo astronauts practiced walking on the moon. (Only on the last day of our voyage did it occur to me that, at roughly the same time fifty-two years earlier, three men spent nine days in a little metal box so they could walk for an hour or two on the surface of the moon. They had no rest stops, no restaurants, and no motels—just a long trip in a small metal box.) We saw the Hoover Dam and Area 51. I stood—not at a corner, but in a gas station—in Winslow, Arizona. We should have turned left at Albuquerque.  
  3. When we told people back home that we planned a side trip to the Grand Canyon, they assured us that we would be amazed and astounded and awed. That concerned me—when people tell me how to feel, I often feel the opposite. But viewing the Grand Canyon was memorable and impressive. Rather than merely driving there and looking around on our own, we paid to join a tour group that traveled from Flagstaff, Arizona, up to the South Rim and back. Our driver and guide was a geologist who also leads hiking and rafting tours through the Grand Canyon. He drove us to six different locations on the South Rim, giving us twenty or thirty minutes at each location to view the Canyon and explore the area, while he parked the vehicle and then met us again, sparing us much of the hassle that many tourists face in that National Park. A generous lunch was included in the package, and our guide was able to share copious information about the geology, history, flora and fauna, and significance of the Canyon and its surrounding area, including personal anecdotes and observations. He mentioned, for example, that most of the deaths at the Grand Canyon are the result of heat and dehydration, not from falls into the Canyon. The guide said that an average of five people a year die in the Grand Canyon but that there have already been ten deaths this year. (A later Internet search gave an average of twelve deaths per year at the Grand Canyon, but that statistic included aircraft crashes and drownings in the Colorado River.)

For the journey, I brought books from my long-term reading plan and also drafts of writing I hope to publish. I found little time for the latter project, but I did keep up with my reading. Ironically, before going to sleep the night after we visited the Grand Canyon, my reading included the following selection from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse Five: “…and Billy was flung back into his childhood. He was twelve years old, quaking as he stood with his mother and father on Bright Angel Point, at the rim of the Grand Canyon. The little human family was staring at the floor of the canyon, one mile straight down. ‘Well—’ said Billy’s father, manfully kicking a pebble into space, ‘there it is.’ They had come to this famous place by automobile. They had had seven blowouts on the way. ‘It was worth the trip,’ said Billy’s mother raptly. ‘Oh, God—was it ever worth it.’ Billy hated the canyon. He was sure that he was going to fall in. His mother touched him, and he wet his pants. There were other tourists looking down into the canyon, too, and a ranger was there to answer questions. A Frenchman who had come all the way from France asked the ranger in broken English if many people committed suicide by jumping in. ‘Yes, sir,’ said the ranger. ‘About three folks a year.’ So it goes.” J.