Wednesday, March 25, 2009

7 ideas for Life

Advice from the Counterculture
by Dennis Prager

Following is the commencement address Dennis Prager gave to the 1997 graduating class of Pepperdine University.

would like to offer you seven ideas. That’s all I want to do. If you fall asleep during one of them, there are six remaining. If you fall asleep during five, maybe you’ll get two ideas.

But I want to just give you seven ideas culled from one human’s life that I think can be very powerful in the way you live your lives when you leave this institution.

In no order of importance:

One: The Greatest Struggle Is with Yourself
The greatest struggle in your life is not with society; it is with yourself. This idea is not taught in America today. We are taught that we are victims of a society that is sexist, racist, ageist, anti-Semitic, anti-Asian, anti-Hispanic, anti-woman, anti-old, anti-young — anti just about everyone. The temptation is therefore overwhelming to see your problems and challenges in life as being with America and not with yourself.

There is a man in Florida, a psychiatrist — he is, fortunately, not representative of his profession — who tells women, “Never take an anti-depressant, even if you are diagnosed with biological reasons for depression, because no woman is depressed for biological reasons. Any woman who is depressed is depressed because of sexism.” There are therefore thousands of women who do have biological origins of depression who will not take a medicine such as Prozac or some other psychopharmaceutical drug because they think their problems emanate from sexism.

Whatever you are, there is something to blame in today’s society: “I shot my parents, but it wasn’t my fault.” You yourselves have lived through this.

Please understand: In this society, my greatest challenge is Dennis, your greatest challenge is you. And if you can make you better, you will make this society better. Please don’t buy the rhetoric that the external is the problem. In a free and affluent country like this, we are the problem.

Two: Trust Your Common Sense
Mark Twain was right when he said, “Common sense isn’t common.” Nevertheless, please use this great gift of God, your common sense, when, outside of the natural sciences, you hear the words, “studies show,” and you find that the studies show the opposite of what common sense suggests.

As someone who is twice your age, who has been on radio fifteen years, and has debated these issues daily for fifteen years, may I tell you that I have never once come across a valid study that contravened common sense.

Nearly always studies either substantiate common sense or they are wrong. That is a general rule of life. That doesn’t mean, don’t take studies seriously. It means take common sense most seriously.

People call me up and tell me “studies show” that it doesn’t matter if a child has a mother and a father, that it is just as good to have one loving parent or two fathers or two mothers. “Studies show” this. That’s nonsense. Of course it matters if you don’t have a father or don’t have a mother. Does it mean you are doomed if you don’t have one — if one died or if one left? No, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed. The human spirit is powerfully resilient, thank God. Nevertheless, it’s a flawed “study” if it claims to show both parents aren’t necessary. A greater study — life in every civilization — leads to a different conclusion. The study of life shows that it is good for a child to have a mom and a dad.

This issue is a big battle in America today because of the powerful forces that say, “It’s just as wonderful for a single woman to be inseminated” or “It’s just as wonderful for two women or two men to raise a child,” as it is for a child to have a mother and father.

And know that this issue has nothing to do with women’s rights, and nothing to do with gay rights. It has to do with something too few people talk about — children’s rights. Children have a right to have a mother and a father. That’s common sense, simple common sense.

I was told when I was in your place, in college, in the heyday of certain ideas in the late ‘60s, that “studies show” that boys and girls are not inherently different, they differ only because parents give boys guns and give girls dolls. So the dummies who believed that “studies show” that boys and girls are essentially the same decided to raise their boys with dolls and their girls with trucks. And what happened? The boys broke the dolls’ arms, and the girls cuddled the trucks.

Of course, there are enormous differences between boys and girls — life and common sense show this, not necessarily “studies.” A woman professor at Stanford wrote an article in the New York Times about ten years ago. She wrote that she was one of those who believed that boys and girls are essentially the same, that all the differences (except the obvious biological) are all societally induced. Then she had a son, and then a daughter, and she saw how wrong she had been.

The greatest of the “studies” is the study of life, not some abstract study. Keep studying it, and trust your common sense.

Three: Race is Unimportant
Be guided by an idea of a Jew who went through a Nazi death camp. He miraculously survived, though his wife and his parents were gassed.

After the Holocaust, he was asked, “Do you hate all Germans?”

And he said, “No, I don’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because,” he said, “there are only two races, the decent and the indecent.”

Remember that, and you will never, ever, for one scintilla of a moment, have a racist belief. If you divide humanity between black and non-black, white and non-white, brown and non-brown, yellow and non-yellow, you are, by definition, racist. If you divide the world simply between decent people and indecent people, you can’t be a racist because every race has good and bad members. If you divide by moral rather than racial terms, you are liberated from even the possibility of ingesting the toxin of racism.

Remember that statement. His name is Viktor Frankl. I read his book Man’s Search for Meaning, when I was in high school, and it was one of the few books that changed my life.

Graduates, in this race-intoxicated society, please know that as countercultural, as politically incorrect as it is, race is trivial. Race means nothing. The color of a human’s skin is as trivial as the color of a human’s hair. That is not today’s politically correct belief. But it is the belief rooted in every sacred tradition from the East to the West — including my Judaism and your Christianity. God does not know the color of skin. God knows the character of a human heart. Period.

Four: Don’t Leave Your Values at Home
Whatever you do in your professional life, don’t leave your values at home when you go to work.

Most people in my profession are decent people — who leave their decent values at home when they go to work. At work, they produce a lot of garbage, garbage that many of them don’t want their own children to see. But they produce it because the gods of ratings — the god of Nielsen, the god of Arbitron — demand it.

The hardest of the Ten Commandments is not the commandment against adultery, nor the one against murder, nor the one against theft. It is the commandment against having false gods. Among most of those in my profession, the gods of Nielsen and Arbitron are worshipped far more than God.

You have to determine, when you walk out of your home, what god you will worship. And that is tough. It is tough to keep your integrity at work.

If you become a lawyer, it is tough. It is tough not to fool around with a courtroom in order to win a case. It is hard not to fiddle a little bit with the truth, though not really tell a lie, in order to win for your client. It is hard in business to be honest and not make a false claim for your product.

It will be tough for you. It is easy to succeed. It’s tough to succeed with your integrity intact.

Five: Beware of Bad Ideas
We are living in the last three years of the bloodiest, meanest, cruelest, most torturous and barbaric century in the history of human life. Please never assume that moral progress is inevitable. This century is the century of gas chambers and gulags. This is the century of totalitarianism, red and brown.

Do you know why most evil takes place? Not because people are bad, but because they have bad ideas. Be careful to avoid bad ideas.

I’ll give you a quick way to measure if an idea is good. Ask two questions: Does this make people kinder? Does this hold people morally accountable? Nazism could not answer that it makes people kinder. Communism could not answer that it holds people morally accountable; all you had to do was hasten the revolution.

I don’t know of an improvement over Leviticus 19:18. “Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God.” No new idea has supplanted that one.

Six: Behavior Matters More than Intentions
That you mean to do good or that you are sincere doesn’t mean a thing to the other six billion people on earth. The only thing that matters to all of us is how you act. God cares about your heart, but the rest of humanity cares about your behavior. Saying “I want good to be done” but not doing any good; crying for the poor, but not giving charity or hiring a poor person — none of your good intentions mean a thing.

And on the other side, having selfish intentions and doing good is okay. It’s better to have good intentions, but if good comes out of what’s selfish, that is what counts. The good that is done, not intended, is what matters.

Capitalism is rooted in selfishness much more than Communism, but communism murdered nearly one hundred million people this century, while capitalism has been the engine of democracy. So be very careful when you judge a system not to judge its intention or its rhetoric. Judge its results.

Seven: Religion is the True Counterculture
People think counterculture is dressing weird, or having every possible part of the body pierced. That’s not counterculture. If you do this, I’m not commenting on whether you should or not. But don’t think for a moment that this is taking a stand for some counterculture or that it takes guts.

I’ll tell you what takes guts in America today. The ultimate counterculture is to take God and religion seriously. Do you want to stand independent? When I turned down an extremely lucrative offer of having an afternoon drive-time radio show, the most lucrative part of radio except for the morning drive I said, “I can’t. I do not broadcast on my Sabbath. When the sun goes down on Friday, I stop working.”

That’s my counterculture. My religion says you have to observe the Sabbath, and somehow or other I have found this to be more important than even a better job in my profession. I have been amply rewarded by that decision: I have a Sabbath with my family; I don’t work seven days a week; I don’t live in front of my computer; my wife isn’t a computer widow and my kids see their father.

Yes, it takes guts and even sometimes the loss of a job, though that has never been involved, thank God, in my life. But that’s counterculture.

When you can say, “No, I’m sorry; as tempting as that is [whatever that may be], I cannot do it,” others respect you, and you will respect you. When you know to whom you are accountable and you ultimately march to the beat of a higher drummer, you lead a more peaceful life.

The temptation to do what everybody else does is enormous, yet it is a guarantor of unhappiness, not just a guarantor of doing the wrong thing. Be true to your faith. It will ultimately work. And it’s perhaps even more powerful that I, being of a different faith than you — I am a religious Jew — am saying this to Christians. It’s more powerful because I obviously have no theological ax to grind.

I need you. I, a fellow American, need you to be a good Christian. As the Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis said about Jews, “A good Jew will be a good American,” I am telling you that a good Christian will be a good American.

I interviewed those black heroes who saved the white trucker Reginald Denny during the riots. Three of the four of them were active Christians. But the media, my profession, doesn’t report that. It shows you only the bad, the nihilistic. They don’t report about the religious impulse that animated such people because it doesn’t serve their own interest. Media people are almost all radically secular. But it was very moving to me to meet these people.

I conclude, therefore, with a prayer from my own religion. I will say it to you in the original Hebrew, but I will, do not fear, translate it for you. And as we pray in Judaism with a kippah, a yarmulke. I will put mine on and offer it to you.

May God bless and guard over you. May God shine His countenance lovingly upon you. And may He give you a peaceful life.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


5 Reasons To Travel When You're Young
Traveling is unarguably one of the most gratifying experiences a person can have in their lifetime. Traveling awakens the soul, stirs the senses and paints the world in a new light. It may seem like a pastime for only a certain kind of person, but in all actuality, anyone and everyone can and should travel.In my opinion, it's better to travel sooner than later in life for a few very key reasons:
Traveling can help you figure out what you want to do with your life: Exposing yourself to new places, people and cultures can awaken your sense of purpose. Learning about what's out there in the world can help you determine what feels like you - and what doesn't.It's also especially useful in helping people realize that there's no one way to live a lifetime. Every culture is different and so is every person within those cultures. If you wait till later in life, you run the risk of realizing your potential too late. Don't let opportunity pass you by; explore the world while you're young.
It promotes independence (and hones survival skills): Catching flights, keeping track of passports and navigating foreign-speaking cities, can force you to think on your feet and make decisions quickly. Being away from your comfort zone really pushes a person to think independently.
It eliminates resentment later in life: How often do you hear someone much older than you comment on how they should have done something when they were younger? No one wants to be sitting in a rocking chair at age 80, wishing that they had taken that trip when they had the chance. Don't let someone or something stop you from traveling. A chance to experience the world now is greater than any excuse you can come up with for not going. It's worth it and you'll be glad you have those memories later in life, trust me!
It makes you a more interesting person: Nothing sucks more than talking to a person who has absolutely nothing to say. Traveling can create amazing memories and it serves as a great conversation starter. You'd be surprised how many times travel comes up in conversation, whether it be at a party or at the office. Think of how great it would be if you can jump in next time and compare experiences. Whether you are talking about your recent safari in Africa or that time you swam with dolphins in the Caribbean, it makes you seem knowledgeable and worldly which, let's face it, is totally hot.
You work hard and deserve it: Life can be crazy these days. With the overload of gadgets, work hours and social networking demands, it's no wonder we haven't broken down as a nation, cracking from all the pressure. Today's youth works harder than ever to achieve more than ever, and there's no better way to reward ourselves and take time out than with a good old vacation.Remember, all that hard work is done in vain if there isn't an equal dose of play to go with it. You don't want to look back in 15 years and realize you wasted you're younger years doing nothing but work, right? So save that hard earned cash and go somewhere you've only dared to dream about- today. Turn fantasy into reality and give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it!I'm sure that one of the main reasons that a young adult would refrain from traveling is lack of funds or overwhelming feelings of not knowing where to start. Traveling doesn't have to be expensive or overwhelming for you to have a great time. There are some affordable deals out there for just about every trip you can imagine; it's all about timing and planning.Understand that airfare is always cheaper in certain months, as are hotel rates and nightlife packages. Travel agents can be really useful in helping you find the best deals and packages. Plus, they know exactly what hotels and attractions to send you to, depending on what your interests are. Also, don't discount your friends and relatives. You never know who has an Uncle with a timeshare or an extra apartment in Miami that their parents rent out during the year. The more you ask, the more you shall receive.Make it a priority to do your homework and planning a vacation will ultimately be fun, exciting, and rewarding - an experience that you will certainly never forget.

8 Harsh Truths

8 Harsh Truths that Will Improve Your Life
They say life is what we make of it. By the end of this post, I hope to have helped you decide whether that statement is true or not.There is no doubt that life has its ups and downs. However, how we deal with them can sometimes make all the difference. Today I want to share eight harsh truths that I've come to learn from life. There's also a message in each that I think we can all learn from, and when applied, will improve our lives infinitely.Some of these lessons may be old-hat for you. If so, look for ways to refine the idea to ensure your getting the most out of it. On the other hand, you may completely disagree with an idea or two and that's great! Let us know your thoughts so we can all learn from each other.
Friends Come and GoWhen I was in high school, I always imagined spending most of my life with the same people. Then when I realized I had to move to college, that all changed. Once again, I made some close college friends but left them all behind when I moved from the UK to South Africa.Friends will always come and go in your life; even though I'm back in the UK now, all my friends are in university around the country and not exactly in meeting distance. It can be a hard thing to accept, but many of the friends you spend time with now, might not be around in the next few years.Important Lesson: There are an abundance of amazing people out there for you to meet and build relationships with. If you don't have many friends, don't stress, there are literally billions of friendship possibilities.
You Won't Always Get What You WantI remember one Christmas when the only thing I had asked for was some second hand turntables for DJ'ing. I didn't ask for anything else so I was pretty sure I would get them. However, they didn't come and I ended up having to save for 10 months on my own in order to purchase them.You won't always get what you want in life: people are going to be late, people will let you down, items you want won't always be available.Important Lesson: Don't look for happiness in material possessions and if things don't go your way, learn to accept them. Life's too short to stay miserable.
Many People Will Love You, but Many Will NotWhether you are a celebrity, a charity worker or just a normal guy, there are going to be people that love you and what you do, but there's also going to be plenty people that don't like you. There are many possible reasons such as jealousy, similarities to them, or just not being someone's 'type'.Important Lesson: Not everyone is always going to like you, and that's fine. If people want to spend time talking about you then that is their problem. You are perfect as you are. You shouldn't need everyone to like you to have some form of self-esteem.
Nobody Can Transform Your Life Like You CanWouldn't it be lovely if we didn't have to go up on stage, but we could just read a paragraph of a blog post and become a perfect public speaker? Or, wouldn't it be nice if our friends could do daring things, and we would benefit from them as well?The support and help of others can only take you so far, you're going to have to do your own thing to make big changes in your life situation.Important Lesson: Do things for yourself and learn to stand on your own two feet. People you rely on won't be around forever, and you don't want to have to use others as a crutch to get anywhere in life.
You Are Going to FailI built more than 7 websites before I created one that actually started making me any money. I even put hundreds of hours into my own company that I actually closed down last month. Whether it is exams, projects, companies, or even the odd pub quiz, there are times when you will fail to meet your goals.As the saying goes - "Only those who are asleep make no mistakes".Important Lesson: You can learn a lot from others, but it is your own failures that are going to teach you the most valuable lessons in life. Learn from your failures, embrace them, and use them to drive you on to success.
Rain Will Sometimes Cancel PlayOn some occasions when you have your shorts on and you're ready for the beach, it's going to rain. Or, when you get to that first hole and you're ready to tee off - the clouds will open. Things aren't always going to go how you would like them to.Important Lesson: Don't stress about the things that you can't control. Learn to live with things that happen. You can't change the past, but you can change how you react to things.
There May Be No TomorrowAt least, not for you anyway. We never know what is around the corner, a car crash, a heart attack; heck...even the end of the world is possible. Let's face it, although we would all like to live till we are 70 years old, that's certainly not always the case. There will be one day that is our last.Important Lesson: Make the most of each day. Make sure the people you care about actually know it, don't worry about little matters, just make sure you spend time doing the things you love.
Someone Else Will Always Have MoreWhether it is money, partners, friends or even blog subscribers, there will always be areas where other people have more than you. That isn't to say you can't become abundant in whatever you want (i.e. someone always had more money than Warren Buffett until 2008 when he was noted to be the richest man in the world).The wanting of more actually holds a very important lesson...Important Lesson: Just because someone has 'more', that doesn't mean they are happy. Read the biography of any celebrity and they will tell you they enjoy their process of earning money, rather than what money can do to make them happy. In other words, focus on what you love, not what the thing you love can get you.BONUS: Linking all the lessons here together is actually quite simple, and I can share the majority of what you need to know to enjoy life in a few simple bullet points:
Live life for the moment
Accept what is, even if things don't go your way
Happiness is here, right now if you stop resisting and start accepting

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong's Guide to Getting What You Want in Life
Lance Armstrong is one of those remarkable humans that has a story strong enough to inspire others to take action. He is the type of person whose struggles make your common complaints appear minimal in comparison. If you haven't heard Lance's story, then you've seriously missed learning from one of the most dedicated and heroic figures of modern times.Allow me to give you a quick update. In 1996, Lance was diagnosed with testicular cancer and was found to have tumors on both his brain and his lungs. After successful surgery, Lance didn't just waddle through life and get to live a lifestyle similar to the healthiest of us, definitely not...he topped that by a long shot.Since his surgery in 1996, he has gone on to:
Become a professional road racing cyclist
Win the Tour de France 7 times, breaking a record of 5 by Miguel Indurain and others
Not only did he win it, but he won it consecutively from 1999-2005
Named Worldwide sports athlete of the year in 1999
He won ESPN's Best Male Athlete award 4 years in a row
...and so much more.To be fair, if I continued the bullet-points they could really go on forever. Not only is the Tour de France one of the most grueling race courses in the world, but being able to win it 7 years in a row and after life saving surgery is nothing short of miraculous.But as you are about to find out, Lance doesn't believe in miracles. I have been so inspired by Lance's dedication that I thought his lessons would be great advice to anyone looking to get the most out of life. Whether young or old, I think anyone can benefit from his outlook...Know that Pain is TemporarySometimes, to get what we want out of life we really have to work for it; we have to battle through the hard times. I'm sure all of you reading this can relate to a time in your life where you had to literally push yourself to keep going.However, you must also realize that pain is temporary so unless you have set impossible goals, your struggles and efforts won't last forever. The results will come to you.
“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”Realize you Have Two ChoicesWhether it's seeing the positive in things versus the negative or deciding to go for something or not, there are a lot of great possibilities in life on the other side of two choices. For Lance, those two choices he decided to focus on were a great testament to his mindset: you either give up or you die trying.
“If children have the ability to ignore all odds and percentages, then maybe we can all learn from them. When you think about it, what other choice is there but to hope? We have two options, medically and emotionally: give up, or Fight Like Hell.”Go for What You Want Now, Before it's Too LateWe really never know what is around the corner. Our partner could become pregnant, there could be a family emergency where we need to lend funds, or we may even be in a critical health situation that physically stops us from completing our goals. We often wait till it is too late in life before we go for the things we want. We save money for our pensions and decide we are going to live then; the downside to that of course being that we are in our worst physical shape.
“Without the illness I would never have been forced to re-evaluate my life and my career. I know if I had not had cancer, I would not have won the Tour de France.”Don't focus on Potential FailuresOne of the things that really gets me down in life is the people that manage to talk themselves out of brilliant ideas and situations before they've even tried them out - before they've even given things a shot. Sure, you could fail at whatever you would like to accomplish; you could fail miserably. On the other side of the coin, you could also burn your hand on the toaster tomorrow morning but you're still going to put the bread in the machine.Don't look for reasons not to do something, look for everything that is going to help you succeed in doing it.
"If you worried about falling off the bike, you'd never get on."Put Everything into your GoalsIn my opinion, half-hearted efforts are going to get half-hearted results. If you don't put the time or effort into something, you aren't going to get your desired outcome. Whatever it is that you want, literally immerse yourself in the life of having it. Study the subject, set practical hours to work on your goals and actually stick to your plan.If you do feel like giving up, just appreciate that other people going for the same thing are feeling that as well, and while they might let those feelings take over them, you won't.
I figure the faster I pedal, the faster I can retire.Lance is one of those people I've admired since hearing his story and watching the dedication he puts into training, day in and day out. To me, he is the epitome of success where hard work generates results.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


On Being a Pallbearer
By Paul Gregory AlmsWednesday, January 23, 2008, 6:45 AM
Recently, I served as a pallbearer for my grandfather on my mother’s side. I had never served as a pallbearer before. I have served as a Lutheran pastor in many funerals in the past fifteen years. I have been a son at the burial of my father. I have attended hundreds of burial services. But being a pallbearer was a unique experience.
I quickly realized that there is good bit of the ridiculous in the task. One does not do too terribly much. Pall bearers are no longer necessary in any tangible way. The service they once supplied (carrying the casket from church to graveyard) has been replaced by various mechanical devices, the automobile chief among them. A funeral these days can get along quite well without those six men marching in and out of the church or chapel. Pallbearing is vestigial, a once utilitarian necessity now carried out from habit.
The tradition carries codes and ways of acting. You step into a role and do what has been outlined for you. You realize that countless other Christians before you have carried the same burden, walked the same aisle. The task itself and many of its components are archaic, fast losing significance for those who witness them. The pall itself, for many a puzzling custom with little if any meaning, proclaims a tie to centuries long silent. That a simple white garment decorated only with a cross could be a final statement seems remarkable these days. A pall is wildly out of touch with the individualism and ostentation so in vogue. However, that is what pall bearers do; they bear the pall. They carry the dead, covered only with a baptismal emblem. That is what has been done for centuries.
To be part of it, to march in two tidy rows down the long aisle of a church with casket and family and clergy is to find oneself in a line, not just the line walking in and out of the church, but a procession of the living and the dead. From time immemorial mankind has gathered to mark death. All have had to deal with the fact of a corpse. In such times there is something sacred about we do. How we treat the dead says an awful lot about how we live. For the strong and able to serve the helpless dead, to honor frail remains, reaches deep inside us to something basic to humanity. To carry a heavy box filled with a father or mother or brother connects us to countless ancestors who have carried the mute dead. We are unlike them in so many ways, yet the experience of death unites us, the desire to honor the dead ties us together.
Many customs and traditions in many areas of life are disappearing from among us. Liturgy in the church, national “rites” such as the Pledge of Allegiance or taking off one’s hat at the National Anthem, and countless other shared activities are being lost. There is some advantage to the rejection of a “we’ve always done it that way” mentality. But there is also a danger. More is lost than simple habits. We become more and more isolated, more alone when we mark times and feelings such as birth and marriage and war and patriotism and death in idiosyncratic ways. It becomes “just us” and our decision. Any other greater meaning is gone. When we do things that have always been done, even when it seems antiquated or strange (such as pall bearing), we are affirming that we are not free agents who have landed on the planet in the last twenty years. We have fathers and mothers, grandfathers, great grandmothers, ancestors, who worked and gave birth and believed and raised children, and we are the beneficiaries of that struggle. We have a past to which we are connected through ritual and the shared experience those rituals bring.
A custom such as pallbearing is like a great tidal wave that rolls through the centuries. Each generation joins in it and is carried by it. In so doing the individual is connected to those who have gone before him or her by swimming in the same waters, being propelled by the same currents. This connectedness to the past through rituals and actions is a part of who we are as men and women who are born from other men and women who were born from other men and women, and so on. We are not the first to face death. We have ancestors. Mankind has always sought, at crucial times, to forge some connection with these forbears through doing the same thing they did. It is a part of a communal memory. We remember ancestors by acting like they did when we are born or die or are married.
The rush to be “individuals,” to express ourselves or have our own identities, has in the past century engulfed and destroyed many traditions such as pallbearing. Flamboyant displays of personal preference have turned weddings and funerals into extreme manifestations of self. We dare not do a “traditional funeral,” for we are told that such was not who the deceased “really was.” The soon to be married go to great lengths to design a wedding that is “their own” unlike any other. Ironically, in the hurry to be ourselves, we lose more than we gain. We shake off our connection to the great wave of the past and are diminished not enlarged. In stepping out of the stream of history, we isolate ourselves and become shallow puddles of self rather than members of a great deluge of lineage and relations.
Pallbearing involves all of this. It is an ancient custom no longer necessary but one that remembers the dead and the dead before them. I walked in the same way, carrying my grandfather as he had walked, carrying his brothers as those before him had done. To do this same thing, to walk the same path as they, meant I was more than a solitary individual grieving alone. I was a part of a human community stretching back centuries, all of us facing death together.
Pallbearing is archaic in other ways. I served with male cousins and sons of my cousins. This is one of the few roles I have yet to see a female perform. I am sure pallbearing is performed by females in many places, since most all-male roles are fast disappearing. Being a pastor (in many if not all ecclesiastical locales), a warrior, a statesman, and much else, is no longer synonymous with being a man. All this sounds very chauvinistic, I know. Much of this change, if not all, is good. I have four daughters. I have no desire to close doors of opportunity for them. Yet it cannot be evil to think that there must be something that is still reserved for men alone. The words “Be a man” still echo when one is carrying a casket. To stand up straight and do what must be done is an honorable calling. The urge not to weep, to look forward toward the altar as one processes in, and not to succumb to one’s emotions must still call forth admiration somewhere.
Carrying a casket is not only a metaphorical carrying of the past. It is a physical bearing of a particular human body. One feels the weight of the dead. One carries someone who can no longer carry himself. There is, in fleeting moments, real exertion involved. The funeral home tries to make it as easy as possible, with carts and rollers in the hearse and at the cemetery. But one must, at the proper time, grab the casket and lift. One is lifting an actual person who lived, who had a body, who married, worked, spoke, and all the other things flesh and blood people do. To carry his now dead bones means something. Those fingers and hands and bones have weight. They toiled and were strong. My grandfather lost most of two of his fingers working in a Houston, Texas, factory. I saw those stubs lying on his chest in the strange funeral home light the day before he was buried. Those fingers always struck me as signs of strength. He kept on working. He never applied for disability. I don’t recall but I suspect he didn’t miss many days of work after the accident. It would have been too much for him to sit around and look for sympathy. There was too much to do. That those fingers are now weak and waste away is but a command to his sons and grandsons and great grandsons to lend their strength to one who has fallen.
To carry my grandfather to his tomb connected me to him even as he lay silent, the casket closed and draped. It brought to mind his visits to our home when I was a boy and he was already in his sixties. His muscles were taut and his frame hardened by labor. He was a man of things, of machines and pastures and cattle, very different from me, who has always centered on books and thinking and classrooms. He treasured pickup trucks and property, measured in acres and the number of chores that could occupy his time. Lately he was unable to do any chores, and his pickup sat idle in his son’s driveway. Others carried him to the piece of property where, finally, after decades of ceaseless activity, he rests.
The now silent ninety-four-year-old whom we carried to a hole in the ground was a man of passions and energy. Much of it was often misdirected. He would sometimes explode in rages of anger and jealousy. He hurt those who were close to him. Yet he was a Christian. Baptized and, in his clearer moments, focused entirely on Jesus. Hebrews 13:8 was a favorite passage: Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today, and forever. The KJV and The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod were anchors for him amid much change. He bought a house in the 1950s in north Houston that was soon overrun by crime and poverty and sinking real estate values. He found himself in a world that kept changing its rules, kept sinking into a mire he couldn’t fathom. He faced children who moved away and divorced, grandchildren who seldom visited. It was, for him, a world in chaos, a world passing away. All he could do was hold on to that Jesus, the one who didn’t change, the one he glimpsed in the memorized German hymns of his youth, in the cadence, almost but not yet broken, of church year and communion service.
To be a pallbearer was to serve that man, to give a gift to him in his death. It was to say: “Here is one thing that will not change, at least for now. Here is a tradition we will enact, a ritual we will uphold.” To be his pallbearer meant, for a few moments, witnessed only by a few aging Lutherans in a southwestern American city, to stand in tribute to that God-given faith of his. It was a faith that grasped desperately at the eternal hidden in the temporal, in human things like factories and hymnals and funerals and caskets and burial plots. It meant to carry his remains to the dirt he had so often obsessed over. It meant to carry him who had never wished to be carried, who had always stood and walked and worked. It meant to say to him, finally, “What you wanted, what you raged to find, what you worked for is now yours, now rest from your labors.”
That is what a pallbearer does. He bears someone else’s burden. He bears the family’s burden, the burden of the dead. He does so out of respect, out of love for those who have gone before him. He does it because that is what is expected of him. My grandfather did it. We did it. God willing, others will do it for us.
Rev. Paul Gregory Alms is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church (LC–MS) in Catawba, North Carolina. Posted in -->