Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reading on my Kindle e-book. Being a frugal sort, I generally download books that are either free or that cost less than five dollars. However, when I saw a new book by one of my favorite writers, Pico Iyer, priced at thirteen dollars, I tossed aside my miserly nature and ordered it.

          People who know me might consider such action a miracle.

          According to the dictionary, a miracle is an event that appears unexplainable by the laws of nature, and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God.

All so-called sacred books tell of miracles. Donkeys speak, men rise from the dead, and lepers are made well. Other miracles involve mystical appearances and disappearances, and even individuals walking on water.

          You may know the story about the Jewish rabbi and the Catholic priest who were good fishing buddies.

          One day the two of them were out on a lake in their skiff when a storm blew up. The rabbi tightened his prayer shawl, mumbled some words in Hebrew, stepped out of the boat, and proceeded to walk to land.

          The priest watched open-mouth and thought it’s a miracle. Well, if he can do it, so can I.

          So the priest straightened his clerical collar, said three Hail Marys, and stepped out of the boat.

          He promptly sank.

          When he came up for air he heard the rabbi shouting.
          “Step on the rocks! Step on the rocks!”

In Pico Iyer’s book he tells of his Indian mother saying that being kind to others is the greatest miracle of all. 

She related a story about Ananda once questioning the Buddha about miracles. What is the greatest miracle? Ananda asked. Is it walking on water, or conjuring jewels out of thin air, or changing one’s body temperature through mediation, or sitting alone in a cave or a mountain top?

The Buddha said, “. . . The greatest miracle is touching the heart of another human being. Being kind to others is the greatest miracle of all.”

          That’s good advice, but before you are able to be kind to others you must learn to be kind to yourself.

          At one point when I worked for a West Coast publisher I had a temporary boss I’ll call Jim, which was not his real name. Jim was very good at juggling schedules, adjusting budgets, and handling other administrative matters. However, he was not skilled in personal relations.

          One day I entered Jim’s office to discuss some editorial issue, and noticed that he seemed to be worried, grimmer than usual, even downright sad. Hoping to cheer him up, I said, perkily, “Good morning, Jim. You look a little down in the mouth. Anything I can do to lighten your day?”

          Jim snarled and said, “I’ll thank you to mind your own business, Mr. McDowell.”

          Now some people might think, in response to such an outburst, All right, asshole. Catch me trying to be friendly.

          But I smiled and thought, All right, asshole. Catch me trying to be friendly.

I turned around and left Jim’s office.

          I guess the moral of that story is some people exemplify the fabled pearls-before-swine model. You know, knowledge should not be put in front of people who do not appreciate its value.

Some people turn their backs on a kind word.

We can’t count on anything.

No matter how good life is, there are no guarantees. Take, or don’t take, individuals for what they are. You can’t expect individuals to be how you would like them to be.

As much as holy books tell us, there is no absolute right or wrong. No unconditional good or bad. A kindly mother may drown her children. A man of the cloth, or a politician, or a sports coach may be a child molester.

One of my high school classmates was a fellow named William Heirens. He was a brainy student, but so unassuming and so quiet we nicknamed him “Wild Bill.”

A couple of years after I graduated, Chicago newspapers will filled with lurid stories about a serial murderer on the loose who preyed on female nurses. Having murdered and dismembering at least three women, the killer wrote a note in lipstick that said, “Catch me before I kill more.”

In good American fashion, that phrase has been picked up and used as a title for songs, bands, books, and electronic games.

In time the slayer was captured, and he served a prison life sentence, dying in March 2012.

The lipstick murderer was my classmate “Wild Bill Heirens.”

Pico Iyer wrote: “Our destinies can unravel even as we think we’re writing them.”


Post a Comment

<< Home