Monday, January 23, 2012

Do What You Can With What You Have, Where You Are

Monday, January 23, 2012
"Do What You Can With What You Have, Where You Are"

Last 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.

A few 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 read.

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.

My 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 well.
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.
Through 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]

Having 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 fulfilling days.

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?



Pat Tucker said...

My husband and I also love biographies and have read a few about Theodore Roosevelt. I would recommend George Washington Carver: The Man Who Overcame by Elliott--such a good book about an amazing man.

Cam said...

Thank you for your inspiring remarks at our HP Quorum meeting.