Monday, January 23, 2012
"Do What You Can With What You Have, Where You Are"
week, one of my good friends, Tom Judson, a 40 year teacher of
government and world history at Orange high school, knowing of my love
for reading biographies of great people, suggested that I read the book,
"Unbroken." It is the biography of Louie Zamperini, from Torrance,
California, who ran in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin as a 19-year-old,
became involved in World War II, was captured by the Japanese and
suffered incredible hardships without giving up or giving in. I have
only read the first three chapters, but have already been impressed by
the young Louie. I can hardly wait to read the remainder of the book,
and i am grateful that Tom recommended it to me.
years ago I was watching BYU TV and listened to President Gordon B.
Hinckley speak to the BYU student body at their weekly devotional. It
was one of the last talks he gave before passing away. I was impressed
that at age 96 he was still able to speak with such intelligence and
clarity. It was his opening remarks that caught my attention. He said
that on one occasion, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was asked what books he had
read that had influenced him the most. Emerson 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.
As I reflected on
what Emerson said, as quoted by President Hinckley, it struck a chord
within me as being a true statement. I suppose all of us are shaped,
not only by the meals we eat, but by the books we read, or maybe don't
I have been blessed in my lifetime to have been
exposed to some of the greatest books ever written which certainly have
shaped my thinking and even my behavior I believe. As I look back over
my life, it is the Scriptures that have impacted my life the most. My
favorite reading these days is in the Scriptures – especially the Book
of Mormon. I gain vital daily spiritual strength from my reading this
Book. I could hardly get through a day without this Book of Books.
mother introduced me to many great books as a young boy, and then I met
Dr. Nan Grass while attending BYU, who for an entire two semesters,
five days a week, taught me to love the great literature of the English
language in her marvelous course, "Major British Authors". Through her
guidance I began to love the writings of Shakespeare, Alfred Lord
Tennyson, Browning, Lord Byron, Matthew Arnold, John Milton, John Donne,
Chaucer, and a host of others.
And then, still a
young man, I came to Southern California in 1970 to be the institute
director at the Institute of Religion at California State University at
Los Angeles. I was able to determine what I would teach and one of the
first classes I chose to teach at the Institute level was entitled
"Presidents of the Church". At that time there was a very meager lesson
manual for that course which was a great blessing because it forced me
to read a biography on each one of the presidents we would be
discussing. This began a passion that I still have to read biographies
of great people. I would read the biography of one of the Church
Presidents and then around the dinner table each evening I would tell my
little children stories from the lives of the prophets. They were a
very receptive audience and came to know a great deal about the
presidents of the Church. Little did they know how much they were
helping me to teach my Institute class by trying out stories from the
lives of the prophets on them.
The lives of these great
men, along with the great literature I had been reading, shaped my
thinking and inspired me to always want to be a better person. I am
always looking for good biographies to read. How blessed I have been to
not only read the biographies of great Church leaders, but also of men
like George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln,
Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Harry S.
Truman, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and many others as
Since my accident and loss of physical mobility I have
also come to love history, and through my reading have witnessed the
building of the Panama Canal, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Transcontinental
Railroad, been on the Lewis and Clarke expedition, circumnavigated the
globe with Magellan, experienced the incredible year of 1776 and
Washington's crossing of the Delaware, seen World War II through the
eyes of a "Band of Brothers", and on and on it goes. How dull and
boring my life could be if it were not for the magic of reading.
my reading, one of my favorite historical characters has become
Theodore Roosevelt. I am just amazed at this man. I think my
subconscious self would like to be like Theodore Roosevelt. I have read
a number of books on his life.
Some time ago. I came
across a not so well known book about Theodore Roosevelt written by a
lady by the name of Candice Millard and is entitled "The River of
Doubt". Not being elected president in 1912, he accepted an invitation
to go to South America to do some speaking, on the condition that he
could also do some exploring as well. He was 55 years old at the time.
This book about his adventures and adversity in traveling down a river
("The River of Doubt") in Brazil that no one had explored and was not
even on a map is exciting and reveals so much about the character of
this great man. He suffered greatly in the vast Amazon rain forest
(1913-14) and died a few years later, much younger than he would have
had he not taken this trip.
Theodore Roosevelt had
traveled extensively in his lifetime. He led his Roughriders up San
Juan Hill in Cuba, had fought grizzly bears, had a big cattle ranch in
the Dakotas, and was tough as nails. I think his trip to Brazil
tempered him somewhat and taught him a great lesson about life, as
evidenced by a statement he made near the end of his life. "Do what you
can, with what you have, where you are." [Theodore Roosevelt, 26th
president of the United States, 1858-1919]
studied his life, this statement appears to me to be so untypical of
this adventurous and vital man. However, I believe any human being who
learns to do what he can, with what he has, where he is, has discovered
one of the great keys to a happy and fulfilling life.
I believe I
have tried to adopt Roosevelt's philosophy into my own life since my
accident. I haven't always been successful in doing so, but those days
that I do all I can, with what I have, where I am, are rewarding and
Although my body is mobility
impaired, through the magic of reading, my mind knows no limits.
Through reading I have become acquainted with some of the greatest
people with the best minds that have ever lived, and have vicariously
experienced many of the world's most important events in history. Isn't
it incredible what 26 little letters in our alphabet can do?