Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What was the co-pilot thinking?

          If you’re tuned in to one of the on-camera commentators, you may have been told why a young  co-pilot crashed a Germanwings plane with 150 persons aboard. Maybe you’ve been told what he thought about while passengers screamed, sealed in the huge aircraft behind him.

          Of course nobody really knows what Andreas Lubitz was thinking. Commentators tell us what they think he was thinking. They depend on memory, instincts and good intentions to provide swift oral locomotion.

          It is said that Lubitz consulted professionals for treatment of mental ailments, including suicidal tendencies, but no doctor unstrung his tangled mind or spotted the danger to others. Commentators who never met Lubitz, and never heard of him before the crash, fascinate us with stories and speculation about it, their own and the speculation of others.

          We want the commentators to fill in the blanks for us. We know that disturbed minds are never more determined than when they tuck their secrets away, hidden from psychiatrists, spouses, parents, siblings and friends. Lubitz may have spent his last hour with his secrets, without a thought for the plane and passengers.

          Mark Twain lets us peer into the mind of Tom Sawyer, and we know what he’s up to. But Tom doesn’t know. It hasn’t happened to him yet. Paul in his letter to the Romans says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” He considers this further in Romans 7:15-20, NRSV, concluding that “if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

          The psychiatrists, the teachers of pilots and other professionals are not examining patients and clients in order to spot sin. That’s more elusive than cancer and more controversial than life support issues. They are looking for mental disorders that may be what Paul, in earlier times, called sin.

          Lubitz will never be confused with the co-pilot described by Robert Lee Scott Jr. in his 1945 wartime book and movie, “God is My Co-pilot.” Nor can anyone be confused about the frantic prayers addressed to that eternal co-pilot by passengers and crew hurtling toward a sudden end.

          Lubitz is being examined in absentia. Who will probe the minds of the passengers?


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why the 90s are cool

The distance from one base to another in major league baseball, measured in feet:  90.

The time played in soccer, in minutes: 90.

Some of us this week celebrate birthdays measured in years: 90.

When I tell you this, you may ask, what is my angle?  My angle, in degrees: 90.

It is nice to be 90 because at 90 it is nice to be.

You don’t have to be quite 90 to remember the Burma Shave signs along the two-lane highways, spaced one after another with a few jaunty words on each one. If the Creed were on a Burma Shave sign it could look like this:

A speck in the eye
a tear on the speck.
God in the sky,
Satan in heck.
Love in a flicker,
ash in a flash,
Life even quicker,
a hundred-year dash.

What makes a 90th birthday memorable is the number of children (John Wall and his wife Pamela Heyda, Marie Veldman and her husband Mark, David Wall and his wife Toni), grandchildren (Jacob Wall and Dan, Kristen, Michael, Matthew and Katie Veldman) and other kinfolk, along with friends from school days and friends from now and all the friends in between. The mystery is not why writers think anybody wants to read about their birthdays. The mystery is why anybody does read them.

In the 294 days remaining until New Year’s you may want to ponder that question. Maybe a reader is attracted by the fact that my March 12 birthday is shared with W. H. R. Rivers, an English neurologist and psychiatrist, whose birth in 1864 helped establish the use of three initials instead of a first name. On that date in 1947, Mitt Romney was born. Just a year after my birth in Jamestown, N.Y., George Ariyoshi was born, destined to become the third elected governor of Hawaii. There should be lots of coincidences in our horoscopes.

The thing is, as more and more people have drifted away from faith in God, people have drifted away from astrology. The willingness of obstetricians to schedule delivery on particular times and days has diminished some of the astrological mystery, and then there’s NASA.

My first job on a newspaper included getting the syndicated horoscope column properly marked up for a Linotype operator. Would a teenager consider scrambling the astrological predictions, running the Pisces forecasts under the Virgo sign perhaps? Maybe.

But there’s no maybe about the splendor or the suffering of life. For me there is no maybe about the splendor of God as creative mind, or the suffering of God as love, or the presence of God as spirit. And, as soon as yours arrives, a happy birthday to you.

[To be continued March 2025]



Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Kids who melt lead

Kids who melt lead

Whatever happened was quickly forgotten. But it triggered a new memory that hung around for a lifetime. It sent a four-year-old boy into loud and tearful rage as he curled up in his bed. His father bent over him and the boy sniffled the words, “I wish I was dead.”

The young father yanked a blanket across the child’s face, blocking his nostrils and mouth and giving him a moment of breathless terror. “That’s what it feels like to die,” said the father.

It was a teaching moment for the dad, who never gave it another thought. It was different for the boy, and I never forgot it. My dad loved me, never handed out slaps or spankings or any kind of physical punishment again. What I remember a lifetime later is not the slaps I didn’t get, but 60 seconds of tough love gone haywire.

My dad and mom had lost two children in infancy, and then an incurable disease took my adopted brother when he was five and I was three. Three children were dead, and then my dad heard his one surviving child wish he were dead.

The Great Depression was getting started. My dad had been a popular pipe organist in Jamestown, N.Y., movie houses during the silent film era. When sound pictures were invented he had to find other projects. Installing a theater sound system had taken us 104 miles from Jamestown to Coudersport. I remember deferring a few meals.

My mom was around 20 years old, having been married on her 15th birthday.

Life was pretty good, most of the time. When I was four I entered Rose Crane’s kindergarten, developing a quick crush on an older woman, age six. What I wanted most in kindergarten was to learn how to read, so I could understand what was printed in the little balloons in comic strips. My grandpa, once a farmer and then a streetcar motorman back in Jamestown, read the daily newspaper from the front page weather report to the last obit and classified ad. I knew that he knew things I would know if I could read.

Those Depression years were tough for neighbors who used to ask my grandpa whether they could pick dandelion leaves from his lawn for food, and my classmates who were seldom warm in the winter, and a woman distraught when she was caught taking a few dollars from church to buy shoes for her kids.

I think I had just turned seven when I moved in with my grandparents, then in their 70s, in Celoron, a suburb of Jamestown. It became famous for one of its 700 residents, Lucille Ball.  My mom went to work as a live-in housekeeper in Jamestown and my dad sold Hammond organs in Buffalo, 60 miles away.
Parental love sometimes took form in games and toys, many of them great fun, but mightily scowled upon today. There was a toy wood burner, shaped like a soldering iron. A kid lucky enough to have one just plugged it in until the tip became hot enough to burn wood. Then the kid could burn pictures into sheets of wood. After I plugged in my lead soldier toy, a little pot of lead was heated until the lead melted. Then I poured the molten lead into tiny molds to make soldiers. The chemistry set offered truly special possibilities.

Dwight Eisenhower once said that when he was a child his family was poor, but didn’t know it. I didn’t know it. The reason I’m thinking about this today is that my 90th birthday is, like one of those silent movies, a coming attraction. My children and grandchildren and friends provide nifty energy that makes life good, and they remind me of unacknowledged and usually unknown boosts from my parents, George and Doris. My mom lived with my wife and me when she turned 90, so I know that the heart grows fonder even if it’s growing fainter.

When I was a kid attending Saturday matinees at the Palace Theatre there was often an amateur show onstage, and it seemed to me there usually was at least one female contestant singing, “Ah, sweet mystery of life…” I knew that life was mysterious even before that. It is still a mystery, and still sweet.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Always Time for Healing

Published in Sharing: A Journal of Christian Healing, January/February 2015.

I’ve been asking God why on earth I’m here. In the huge mass of uncounted and unaccountable created beings, why me? God is eternal love, a constant presence, creative mind, everyone’s father and mother, giver of all life.

So why, one March day in I92S, did God give me life and turn me loose? God is the great healer, and still God allows fevers, fractures, wounds and burns to challenge medical scientists. God is the great provider, yet there’s homelessness, hunger and wretched poverty.

Maybe it has something to do with God’s vocation as eternal mentor and teacher, patiently waiting for learners to appreciate God’s texting. The password to all knowledge is Christ.

Now, after more than 32,000 days of this life, I ask God why all the fuss? I think with thanks of the prayers and purpose people have given me. Why have they done this?

God, who doesn’t need a wristwatch or even a calendar in the realm of timelessness, let me wait a long time before answering my question.

God has given me almost 33,000 days so far, and let me discover that the most important one of all is always today. Always time for a healing. I was not created for spiritual or intellectual triumphs.

Having abandoned the rib method, God used me as a factor in the birth of three remarkable children and six grandchildren, also remarkable. God needs each one of them, and that’s why they’re remarkable. They give, with their spouses, meaning to my years.

There’s a different and equally satisfying experience for those who are not parents, by choice or not by choice. Not everyone becomes a parent, but everybody starts out as a child, and according to words millions revere, each one is a child of God.

 A.E.P (Ed) Wall is a Life Member of the International Order of St. Luke, which publishes Sharing magazine. "Sharing is an interdenominational, international magazine of Christian healing, dedicated to the healing of body, soul and spirit." Melissa Velasco is Editor/Art Director. Publication office is P.O. Box 780909, San Antonio, TX 78278-0909.
Reprints require written permission from Sharing magazine at sharing@orderofstluke.org.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hate to love?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a saint in ways that count, ways that encourage affection and tolerance. Every great person has detractors. Critics have thought Lincoln should have written a longer speech at Gettysburg. Others thought Gandhi was foolish to make the spinning wheel his symbol of hands at work. And you know what they did to Jesus.

They do it still, crucify, shoot, burn and bully folks who feed, house, medicate and hug the impoverished. Are lives so empty that people see others primarily as race objects? It can happen to anybody. I hear casual putdowns of white males on TV and radio and think of the white judges, presidents, lawmakers and National Guard troopers who fought to wipe out segregation and guarantee equal rights in athletics, education, employment and government.

I thought about my great uncle’s Civil War musket, which was a parlor feature when I was a kid, and my grandma’s happy duties as chaplain of the local Women’s Relief Corps chapter, supporting Union vets of the Civil War.

Not all American whites who despised slavery and the horrors of police-enforced segregation were members of abolitionist Civil War families. Many came, after the Civil War was over, from other parts of the world, and many of them joined in the struggle for racial equality. Some were clerics, some were students and other activists.

Everybody know there are lots of racists, many but not all of them white, but despite their numbers they lose one battle after another. Reconciliation is within reach, unless we screw it up.

I visited a Southern segregated black middle school in 1940, thanks to a principal who knew that even a skinny kid (yes, skinny) might really be a student reporter on an assignment. I had heard about the meanness of segregating books, and the principal led me to a library annex filled with worn-out and sometimes outdated textbooks, no longer useful in white schools, awaiting repair before being given to his students for use until desegregation of the school or disintegration of the books, whichever came first.

I remember seeing a few black tourist courts, as they were known before the word motel, coined the year I was born, was in common use, and the side-by-side separate drinking fountains, the repulsive conduct of some white cops and clerks. I remember notices at hotel entrances telling Jews that the property was “restricted.” I remember a boast from a minister that Catholic priests had been tarred and feathered; priests didn’t even have to be African American to be hated.

Segregation laws and flaws applied to churches, along with newspapers and institutions. A few organizations stand out as supporters of radial freedom and responsibility. Everybody knows about the NAACP. The words seem quaint today: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. When I first joined Eleanor Roosevelt may have been its most prominent member.

Humanity changes slowly. It is changing in America now, and will go on changing for the better. That’s not true everywhere. Lots of us agree that God is Love. We get to choose, hate or love.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Look who's praying for you now

The everlasting engine of life is rich in names — God, Father, Father/Mother, Love, Spirit,  terms of instinct in a vocabulary almost extinct. Such are passwords, easily remembered, lifting lids and opening books, raising curtains and unlocking gates. Try Jesus, try Mary, try holy men and women from any continent or contingent, and hear the rewarding click as the doors open, and we’re in heaven. It looks familiar. It is where we were and where we are.

God is a parent who does not do our homework or rig games for us. When I was a little kid I used to visit my pal Harold Lind at his house, and sometimes his dad would haul me into a game of checkers while Harold completed his chores. Chores he set for himself ranged from writing in his diary to reading a short story published in our daily newspaper. His dad beat me time after time. He never let me win. He didn’t think his own kids or a visiting kid could learn how to live if somebody cheated on their behalf.

So, I think, with God, whose answer to a prayer may be, “I love you too much to do your exercises for you while you just watch, wither and weaken.” God’s ratings do not always measure up to expectations, and that is an odd blessing for agnosticism.

One of the first books I owned was called the Bible Story Book, and it was on my bedside table when I was six years old. I was supposed to read one story each night before turning in. I was also supposed to fill in the blanks on a Lifebuoy Soap calendar to affirm fulfillment of hygiene. I was more faithful to Lifebuoy than to the Bible Story Book, but I read some of the stories. This was before television, and there was no radio in my bedroom, and there were some stirring pictures in the book. There were David and his slingshot, Goliath and his grimace, the Egyptians being drowned, a lion’s den and a fiery furnace. What happened to Jesus was uglier than anything in a Saturday matinee serial.

The Christmas story is one that everyone knows and loves, a story that affirms the presence of God in a savage and brutal world in need of mercy, forgiveness and love. How many of us look to God for mercy, forgiveness and love? But, it is God who looks to us to practice mercy, forgiveness and love. God’s prayer is that we will confess, convert and consecrate our minds and bodies.

That’s one of the inexhaustible messages of Christmas, one that like most of the others enlivens the dream of Merry Christmases.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

So long, New Republic

I can’t remember the last time I cancelled a magazine subscription. Readers sometimes cancel because they’re angry. I cancelled a lifetime connection today when I asked The New Republic to erase my mailing label and send me a refund. I was paid up until July 2016.

You’ve probably read about management decisions which led the editor and staff to resign. It was one of my comfort magazines for 60 or 70 years, predating the comfort food industry by a generation. Atlantic and Harper’s are still in my mailbox regularly. The New Yorker remains one of my favorites, but magazines do change with the times. When I was 10 or 11 years old The Reader’s Digest was sold in my school. the price was 15 cents and there were no ads. A few years after that the Wallaces, husband and wife founders of the Digest, invited me to lunch at their Pleasantville, N.Y., offices.  I went to work for them, but moved on before later managers added advertising and a more impersonal corporate atmosphere.

My favorite New Republic column was ascribed to a journalist with initials, T.R.B., but no name.  During my Hawaii years the writer was Richard Strout, and I felt like a lottery winner when one day he was in town and called on me for help . I wrote a Sunday column of foreign news and comment. Stout had never heard of me, but he spotted my byline and I happily provided whatever he needed. He was happy, too, and invited me to call on him next time I’d be in Washington. We were both members of the National Press Club, so it would be simple to meet.

Soon after that I became director and editor-in-chief of the National Catholic News Service, now known as CNS, just a short walk from the National Press Club. I got in touch with my pal, but when he heard about my new job he backed off. Journalists are not immune to religious concerns, and it seemed to me that Catholics were not his favorite journalists. But he had the convictions and assurance of a towering journalist whose opinions were highly valued, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, who graduated from Harvard six years before I was born. He wrote for The Christian Science Monitor for 60 years, and for The New Republic for about 40 of those years. At age 92 he died at Georgetown University Medical Center.

He was one of my favorites, and not just because he was an FDR enthusiast. At least he was spared the apparent vaporization of much of the spirit he knew at The New Republic.