Friday, February 29, 2008

Couldn't have done it without my friends

Well, baseball spring training is beginning once again.  I must admit I am a baseball junkie -- evidence of a misspent youth.  From the time that I was about 10 years old, I loved the Dodgers and hated the Yankees.  I must admit however, that I always admired the Yankee manager, Casey Stengel.  He was cast in the same mold as Yogi Berra, the great Yankee catcher, in terms of their literary acumen.  Neither man would ever have been mistaken for having obtained their Ph.D. degrees in English literature or grammar.

After the Yankees won their first World Series with Stengel at the helm, he modestly admitted to a group of reporters, "I couldn't have done it without my players!"  I feel much like Casey in that I couldn't have come this far in my life without my "players/friends."  A friend is, "one who is attached to another by affection or esteem -- a favored companion."  [Merriam-Webster online dictionary]

Of course my most favored companions over the years have been my family and friends, but there have been other friends to whom I also have been attached by affection and esteem. "In a library we are surrounded by many hundreds of dear friends paper and leather boxes."  (Ralph Waldo Emerson) (1803-1882)
In 1962 while in the Army, I was stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco which was like an exclusive country club right by the Golden Gate Bridge.  I worked an eight hour shift and after 5 p.m. each day I was free to do whatever I chose.  The San Francisco Giants were playing at Candlestick Park and I would ride the bus system to every home game.  Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marchal, and a number of other great baseball players in their prime were part of that team.  I was almost converted into being a Giants fan but I had too much Dodger blue in me for the conversion to be complete. 

Almost every Saturday however, I would ride the bus system from the Presidio to the San Francisco Public Library where I would spend the entire day.  Each time I entered that impressive structure I experienced a feeling of awe and reverence similar to that which I feel when I enter the temple.  On one of the walls in the large reading room was written these words, "We will be known by the company we keep."  I knew those words were there as a reminder to all who entered therein that the "company" referred to was our "friends," the books we would read that day.

On one occasion, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was asked what books he had read that had influenced him the most.  He replied that he could no more remember all the books he had read than the meals he had eaten, but they had made him what he was. 
Thankfully, because of a mother who instilled within me a love for reading good books at a young age, I have kept company with some of the best "friends" a person could ever have over the years.  Those friends, in addition to my flesh and blood friends, have supported, sustained, and enriched me all of my life, but especially since I sustained my injury 19 years ago. I identify with the sentiment expressed in the following: "If the riches of the Indies, or the crowns of all the kingdoms of Europe, were laid at my feet in exchange for my love of reading, I would spurn them all."  (Francois Fenelon (1651 - 1715)

Abraham Lincoln once described a friend as "... someone who gives me a book I haven't read." (Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years, Carl Sandburg.)  In the spirit of friendship let me share with you several books that deserve reading and could become some of your dear "friends."

I think the thing that has triggered this observation is that since September I haven't been able to read the printed page.  I was devastated initially, but good friends have taught me to learn how to download e-books on my computer, and access many other audio books that are available in a number of different formats.  The following books I have listened to recently have been well worth the time expended:

(1) Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick.  Philbrick, besides being an eminent historian, is also an avid sailor and lives on Nantucket Island.  This book is about the sinking of the whaling ship Essex which sailed out of Nantucket Island on a whaling expedition in the 1820s.  It was rammed and sunk by a huge bull, sperm whale off the coast of South America.  His book is based on the journals kept by the three survivors.  Herman Melville based his book, Moby Dick, on the same journals.  It is extremely well written and more exciting than a novel.  (2) Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick.  This book is so highly thought of in academic circles that Nathaniel Philbrick was invited to speak to the BYU student body about the Mayflower in a student devotional/forum last fall.  You are probably smarter than me, but this book revealed to me my ignorance regarding the pilgrims and Indians from 1620 through the next 80 years or so.  I had to read it twice to get things straight in my mind, but again it was well worth the time invested.  (3) Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose.  This is the story of Easy Company 101st Airborne Division -- the Screaming Eagles of World War II fame.  He follows them from basic training to D-Day and on to Germany.  A wonderful synopsis of this book is found in Elder Wirthlin's beautiful article in the February, 2008, Ensign entitled "Band of Brothers."  (4) Beyond the Band of Brothers by Major Dick Winters.  When Ambrose died several years ago he left all of his research notes he used to write Band of Brothers to Dick Winters who began the war as a first lieutenant in Easy Company and finished the war as a Major and one of the leaders of the 101st Airborne.  His book is more intimate, and to me, more interesting than Ambrose's book because Winters was in every battle from D-Day to Germany.  His first-hand, eyewitness account, is incredible.  (5) A Team of Rivals by Goodwin.  I can't remember her first name.  If you thought Abraham Lincoln was a great man, your love and appreciation for him will grow leaps and bounds as you read this important book.  Seward, Chase, and Bates all wanted the Republican nomination for president in the 1860 election.  They paid no mind to Lincoln who snatched the nomination from them at the 11th hour.  This is a study of all four men and how Lincoln made each one of them an important part of his cabinet.  None of the three could ever have done what Abraham Lincoln did in keeping the Union together during the Civil War.  Goodwin's research of primary sources reveals Lincoln as a brilliant and astute administrator blessed with great compassion and magnanimity.  When he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in April of 1865, the defeated South lost its greatest friend and advocate.

There are others I could suggest, but enough is enough.  I hope you still consider me your "friend" after wading through all of this.  All of these books can be checked out of a public library by the way.


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