Archive for the ‘inspirational encounter’ Category

A Man Called Ove: A Book I Recommend

October 17, 2017

Swedish author Fredrik Backman has written a wonderful book in A Man Called Ove. I read it as I was preparing to travel to Sweden in June with my wife Bernie. These past two weeks I’ve been reading it again, this time aloud to Bernie, who is learning to deal with macular degeneration and cannot read as easily as she once could. I’m enjoying it the second time around as much as the first, maybe more.

Many readers will be taken with the way Backman develops the character of Ove, using almost no adjectives to describe him. He simply tells little stories about how Ove acts and the things he says. Ove is, simply put, a classic curmudgeon.

The novel unfolds slowly, moving back and forth in time, giving you a glimpse of what he was like at younger ages as well. At every turn the story the author tells is a unique and memorable combination of humor and pathos.

I’m recommending A Man Called Ove here for a different reason, however. In addition to whatever else it does, this book leads the reader to an understanding of grief—particularly a stereotypical masculine style of grieving—that is expertly portrayed. Yet it also lays out, side by side, another style of grieving that is often displayed by the female characters in the book. Fredrick Backman helps us understand the validity of both styles, different as they are.

It would be a shame to give away Ove’s story here, so I won’t. That means that I also cannot give away how he deals with his grief, sometimes without much thought, and sometimes after serious examination.

Experiences of loss visit much of Ove’s life and help make him who he becomes as he ages. And one massive grief later in his life becomes an avenue that leads him—ever so slowly and unexpectedly—toward the possibility of healing.

Read how Ove responds to early losses and you’ll see how patterns develop in his life. Read how he adjusts, or doesn’t adjust, to changing life situations and you may recognize how you and others around you do the same. Read how he attempts to live in a way that honors what he has been taught by his own parents, compared to how he sees his wife live her own life. Read how he daily copes with his massive loss and you’ll see a certain heroism in his ways.

The book has its dark moments—what story about serious loss does not? You may not always like how Ove behaves. Yet I believe you’ll gain an appreciation for this honest, intelligent, validating portrayal of human grief that will in time lift you as well as inform you.

I can’t help but believe that A Man Called Ove will prove in time to be a valuable book for understanding and appreciating the purpose and possibilities of grief, in its many different expressions. Read it and see how your way of grieving is represented by the various characters. Listen to others and see what you can learn from them too.

And then go out and live.

He Was the Other John—Remembering a Wonderful Man

July 8, 2011

How do you fully pay tribute to a man like John Schneider? What must you be sure to say? And what do you dare leave out, for the sake of brevity?

The method I’ve chosen is this: a short writing in nine concise chapters, a writing I imagine John would look upon with both a smile and a blush. I intended to name this writing The Gospel According to John. Upon doing a literature search, however, I saw that that title had already been taken. So, instead, we’ll go with this title: The Gospel According to the Other John.

Chapter 1, verse 1
Verily I say, you can search the world over for a school that plays intercollegiate sports worthy of your unswerving devotion and you will never make a finer choice than Michigan State University. You will not find two colors side by side that make your heart beat faster than green and white. You will not find a team mascot who calls forth your testosterone-laced cheers and shouts any better than the one named Sparty. [Reader’s note: John was an avid sportsman as well as on the faculty of MSU.]

Chapter 2
If you have been given what it takes to be a gifted teacher, then use your gift liberally. Engage students in the classroom, encouragingly, effectively. Educate participants in workshops and conferences, locally, nationally, internationally. All the while wear your rare wisdom so lightly that it’s almost unnoticed, though it’s deeply sensed and long remembered. And always, always relate nonjudgmentally and compassionately in these relationships, yearning for everyone who comes to you to find their own truth, to discover their own best self. And be, as long as you live, a true example of all great teachers–be one who is continually searching, continually learning, continually growing.

Chapter 3
Whatever you do, have a love affair with life. Relish the heavenly sights and the celestial sounds of earthly creation, and do this on a daily basis. Be forever enamored with the land and the light all around you, with the simple luxury of the Lake Michigan shoreline.  Whatever you do, watch for beauty wherever it manifests itself—in a landscape, a flower, a song, a story, a photograph, an artwork, in a face, or a hand, or two hands together. Whatever you do, let laughter ring. Even if you tend to speak quietly and thoughtfully, always let your laughter rise up from deep within and, when it wants, let it bellow. Sway to the beat of that unfettered drummer within. Whatever you do, launch out with your overflowing spirit and your child-like presence into the individual moments that you are given, knowing how precious those are.

Chapter 4
Live a life of integrity. Become a model for trust, without ever intending to be a model at all. Always speak the truth. And never go looking for a confrontation, but never back away from one if it clearly involves a matter of justice, a matter of what’s plainly right, a matter of alleviating unnecessary suffering.

Chapter 5
Without drawing attention to what you’re doing, be a person of generosity. Give freely of your means, give lavishly of your love, give humbly of your labors, without need for any accounting. When you can help bring New York City firefighters from 9/11 to Traverse City so they can experience renewal and healing, then give. When you can add your skills to support local programs for returning Iraq veterans, then give. When you can tie one end of a rope around your waist and the other around a central tree, and then laboriously mow an exquisite labyrinth in the field beside your house, and keep it mown week after week, for anyone to use anytime they want, then give. When people call, asking for your listening ear, then give.

Chapter 6
Make friends, enjoy friends, treasure friends, keep friends. Carefully maintain your connections, through the years and across geographic boundaries. Be an inveterate bridge builder between all sorts of people with whom you come into contact. Be the sort of person who, when you die, and telephone calls must be made to inform the wide network of human relationships, person after person will respond, “Oh, he was one of my dearest friends.”

Chapter 7
Adore your children, and be ever so proud of them at every age of their lives. Underscore their uniquenesses. Empower their strengths. Go with them, wherever their unfolding development calls them. Put butter on their sandwiches when they’re young, send them boxes of cherries with loving notes when they grow older, and steadily convey your belief in them for as long as you have words, or for as long as you can gaze into their eyes. As for your grandchildren—what is there to say? Hold them, love them, coddle them, care for them. And make sure you take a full dose of ibuprofen before you see these young ones, so you can toss them in the air and roughhouse with them on the floor before your aging body begins to complain.

Chapter 8
In the second half of your life, marry your soulmate. Marry someone who’s every bit as generous as you are, who laughs just as freely as you do, who is your mirror image when it comes to seeing the healing potential in all human beings, who is your spiritual equivalent. Write notes to her often, expressing your affection, offering your encouragement, and naming your wonderful good fortune in ever finding her. Be the kind of life companion about whom your wife will say, “I had 23 years with the most remarkable man I have ever known. It was he who helped me become the person I wanted to be, just as he did for so many other people.”

Chapter 9
There will inevitably come a time when you will lose—lose a home, a marriage, a job, your health. There will come a time when someone you love very much will die. When that happens, remember to ask yourself three questions.

First, what have you lost? Become clear about the extent of what is now gone. Remember that if you have loved deeply, you will hurt deeply. Remember that sometimes a person touches your life in such profound ways that they leave behind a very large hole. When that happens, go ahead and feel the loss. Grieve. Grieve in your own wonderful way. Be alone if you need. Be with others if it helps. But give yourself the time and the freedom to do your letting go.

The second question to ask yourself, if not today, then tomorrow: what remains? What do you still have that has not been taken? What remains that can never be taken? What have you been given, by this person, by this relationship, by all your experiences together, that still fills you, even in your emptiness? And look around for who remains, so you can lean on one another, and share with one another, and hope for one another.

The third question is, what is possible? Is it not possible that the one who no longer walks the earth beside you can now walk ever so closely inside you? Is it not possible that the love he shared can now be multiplied because he has come to reside in so many whose lives he has touched? Is it not possible that the truth for which he stood and to which he bore witness can be lived out wherever you go–that deep grief can be transformed, in time, into equally deep joy, and that rich laughter can one day sound again, made richer by all you have felt, all you have known? Is it not possible that the celebration of one man’s life can represent the celebration of all of Life itself–Life with a capital “L”? And is it not possible, even on a day like today, that this is beginning even here, even now?

So ends this reading of The Gospel According to the Other John.