How doors to harmonious relationships have been opened in history

Zachary Fisher was a tradesman, a builder.  Over his lifetime, he and his extended family have built many prominent structures.  If you are curious to know where they are, you can investigate their locations on the internet by looking up Zachary’s name.

Zachary Fisher

Zachary Fisher

However, from the perspective of Harmony Keys, Zachary Fisher did something far more important than constructing towers at prominent addresses.  He was a man who built harmony in the lives of people.  How did he do that?  Zachary Fisher became dedicated to aiding the U.S. Armed Forces in a myriad of ways.  One way was that he contributed millions from his own wealth to improve the lives of families whose loved ones have been injured or killed in the military service of our country.

Who was Zachary Fisher?  Let’s start with his father, Karl Fisher, a stonemason.  Karl emigrated from Lithuania to New York in the early 1900s and went to work in his trade.  Zachary was born in Brooklyn in 1910.  Very early in his life, Zachary, like all of his brothers, was trained by his father as a bricklayer.  At age 16, Zachary left high school to work in construction.  When WW II came along in 1941, he was rejected for service due to an injured leg.  In lieu of service, he aided the war effort through his construction skills by building fortifications on the eastern coast.  It was the beginning of his desire to aid the U.S. Armed Forces.

Over the years, Zachary had many projects to assist various parts our military, including the preservation of an historic aircraft carrier and the development of a naval museum.  Those projects involving equipment and buildings were important, but Zachary seemed to yearn for a very personal, close focus on military men and women and their families.  So in 1982, he and his wife, Elizabeth, founded the Zachary and Elizabeth M. Fisher Armed Services Foundation. Through the Foundation, Zachary contributed to the families of the victims of the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut in 1983. Since then, the Foundation has donated $25,000 to each of numerous military families who lost loved ones under tragic circumstances.  The Foundation also provides scholarship funds to active and former service members and their families.

In 1990, a wonderful stroke of opportunity presented itself.  Pauline Trost, wife of Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Carlisle Trost, spoke to Zachary and Elizabeth of the urgent need for temporary lodging for families at major military medical centers.  Zachary and Elizabeth immediatelyformed the Fisher House Foundation and initiated the Fisher House program, dedicating over $20 million to the construction of a nationwide network of free, temporary, comfortable lodging units for families of hospitalized veterans and military personnel.  One year later, in 1991, the first two Fisher Houses were built and ready to serve.  The first was near the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda; the second was near Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.  Today there are more than 60 units operating across America and one in the United Kingdom.

We had never heard of Fisher Houses and wanted to know more so we studied an interview with one of Zachary’s grand nephews, Ken Fisher and Ken’s wife,Tammy, which was conducted by Philanthropy Magazine in Fall 2010.  The following notes are based on that interview and on the Fisher House Foundation website.  The story is thrilling.

Department of Defense Photo

Learning to Climb Again

Picture this: The Fisher House Foundation builds multi-unit residential properties within walking distance of major military and V.A. medical centers.  Each unit has between 6 and 21 suites and can host 12 to 42 family members at one time.  Each incorporates kitchen, laundry, recreation, and library space.  Books and toys are provided.  Once the units are completed, they are turned over to the government.  When a service member or a veteran is hospitalized, his or her family can live at the house, free of charge, for as long as they need to stay, close to their service member or vet during recuperation.

Since inception, Fisher House Foundation has provided approximately 5 million nights of free lodging with home-away-from-home comfort, giving military families time to heal.  And the program is growing exponentially.

A striking fact about the outreach established by Zachary Fisher is that it seems non-partisan.  His generosity, and the grassroots philanthropy of his family, have been applauded and recognized over and over by leaders of many administrations:  Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, as well as Margaret Thatcher and the late Yitzhak Rabin.  In 1998, Zachary received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bill Clinton in honor of his wide-ranging contributions on behalf of the young men and women in the US Armed Forces.  In 2010, Barak Obama announced the proceeds from his children’s book “Of Thee I Sing” would benefit Fisher House Foundation’s “Heroes’ Legacy Scholarships” for the sons and daughters of fallen/disabled service members.

Without a doubt, Zachary Fisher was a man who built more than buildings.  He created harmony among human beings.

We signed up to receive the Fisher House Foundation newsletter.  If you would like to learn more about Fisher outreach and how you can help, contact Fisher House™ Foundation, Inc., 111 Rockville Pike, Suite 420, Rockville, MD 20850, (888) 294-8560,


Here’s a question for you:

Is it possible for people with different religions to learn to get along and even marry each other, living in peace and harmony?

Below are the words of Mary who wrote her views of my novel Gra Im Thu! I Love You! in which two Irish families, with two different religions, move to Salt Lake City in the early 20th Century.

“This is a great novel about two Irish immigrant families in Salt Lake City at the turn of the century. One family is Catholic, the other new converts to Mormonism. The novel deals with how two teens from these families fall in love, marry and learn to work out the cultural, religious and intergenerational differences between their families. A really fun first novel with lots of interesting historical details about Salt Lake City.”

What is your opinion about how people learn to respect each other’s religion and political beliefs?

What is the secret to learning to treasure our differences?          Image

What? You’ve never heard of Epictetus? (Epic-teeʹ-tus) You are not alone. I’m right there with you. I had no knowledge of Epictetus until I ran across one of his most famous quotes:

“We are disturbed not by things that happen, but by our opinion of things that happen.”

Epictetus had many practical words of advice which are relevant to modern persons like you and like me.

“So what,” you say. “Thousands of philosophers, seers, religious leaders, politicians, educators, and on and on, have given us their views. We have advice coming out of our ears.”

Well, just a minute. The puzzling factor with Epictetus’ advice concerns the unlikely evolution of his life. How does it happen that a simple human being, born a slave almost 2000 years before our time, could think ideas that seem relevant to our present-day psyche?

Let’s try to find out.

Epictetus was born in the southwestern region of what we now call Turkey between 50-55 AD. We old folks know that AD stands for Anno Domini, or in the Year of Our Lord, but you may find Epictetus’ birth year written as 50-55 CE which is now used by some to connote the Christian Era or Common Era. His exact birthplace is thought to be Hierapolis, Phrygia in what was known as southwest Anatolia at the time, an area which seems to have changed hands and allegiances often. It is difficult to sort out whether Epictetus was born a Greek slave or a Roman slave. Various chroniclers label him as one or the other. Stephen Walton, President of Ideonautics Corporation, and a man with interest in Stoic philosophy, refers to Epictetus as a Graeco-Roman Stoic philosopher, so perhaps we can think of Epictetus as a little bit of both Greek and Roman, whether slave or philosopher.

But we do have to ask the one HUGE question staring us in the face and we ask it with great wonderment: How did Epictetus morph from a slave into a philosopher?

Here’s what may or may not be true: Epictetus was born to a slave woman and therefore he was automatically a slave himself. His master was an important aide de camp for Emperor Nero. Sometime after Nero’s death in 68 AD, the master decided to free Epictetus, perhaps because the master realized that the youth, Epictetus, was a bright young man who would benefit from education. The master made arrangements for Epictetus to study in Rome with one of the greatest Stoic teachers of the time Musonius Rufus.

Under Emperor Domitian, in 89 AD, all philosophers were banished from Rome. Unabashed, Epictetus traveled to Nicopolis, a cultural magnet on the Adriatic coast of northwestern Greece where he established a school and became wildly popular among students of philosophy. He remained there until his death around 135 AD.

In his private life, Epictetus never married. However, it is thought that during his later years, he adopted a child who was in need. It is this act of love and benevolence that causes me to celebrate, with you, the life of Epictetus. This man, born a slave, perhaps wrought with so much lameness that he moved about with the aid of a crutch, loved life so completely that he recognized the importance of embracing the life of a child who needed him. Here was a man who truly brought harmony to those around him by demonstrating his love and by listening to others, learning from others, and teaching others.

The teachings of Epictetus were recorded by his student, Arrian, and the collection became known as the Discourses. A shorter version of the Discourses was called the Enchiridion or Manual or Handbook in English. It seems that some scholars frown upon the Enchiridion as being so brief that it precludes us from fully grasping the underpinnings of Epictetus’ thoughts. However, I, being unschooled in Stoicism, looked over the multitude of references on the internet about Epictetus and his teachings in order to find something I could understand. I found it. I wish to point you to a clear “modern” interpretation of the Enchiridion by a man I mentioned earlier, Stephen Walton. Here you can read what Mr. Walton titles “The Manual, or How to Control Everything You Can, a modern rendering of the Enchiridion of Epictetus” by Stephen Walton.


Did you receive a poinsettia plant for Christmas?  No doubt we all drank in their red, burgundy, white, pink, and spotted presence everywhere this season in stores and on dinner tables.

Photo by Scott Bauer.

In 2010, Americans spent $17B on poinsettia plants and probably a lot more than that this year in 2013, mainly because there are more of us.

The one I had for over a year recently died.  I was aiming to keep it around through this holiday season but it did not make it.  I was so disappointed.  I wondered if I killed it with too much water, not enough light, or by loving it to death. Out of curiosity, I looked up poinsettias to learn about their life span.

First of all, I found out that the poinsettia is not native to the U.S.  When Joel Roberts Poinsett was tapped to be the first U.S. minister to Mexico (1825 – 1830), he tromped around the Mexican forests in his spare time and fell in love with the crimson bush-like growth he found by the sides of the trails.  Mexicans called it Flor de Noche Buena (Christmas Eve Flower.)  In Mexico, Flor de Noche Buena is a perennial shrub that grows as tall as 15 feet.

Joel Roberts Poinsett, U.S. Secretary of War, ...

Joel Roberts Poinsett, U.S. Secretary of War, member of the U.S. House of Representatives, first American minister to Mexico, and namesake of the poinsettia flower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since Poinsett was not only a politician but an amateur botanist, he took some samples and shipped the cuttings back to his own greenhouse at his South Carolina home.  Over time, the plants flourished, multiplied, and became popular in the U.S.   They were so fashionable that they needed a name that was easier to remember than their botanical name Euphorbia pulcherrima.  In his book “Conquest of Mexico,” William Prescott, a writer, historian and horticulturalist, told the story of Poinsett’s love affair with the beautiful plant and coined the name “poinsettia.”  It stuck.

The story of Joel Roberts Poinsett is fascinating in itself.  World traveler, adventurer, politician, and dabbler in botany, he led an extremely privileged and colorful life.  But his “snippet of harmony” for this blog-writer is that he “discovered” the wonderful poinsettia and perpetuated its presence for all of us to enjoy in the United States.

Now my task is to see if I can do a better job keeping my next poinsettia alive!  However, according to the University of Illinois Extension, I would be lucky to keep my plant 6 to 8 weeks!! Mine thrived for almost a YEAR.  So I don’t feel so bad.  If you have a poinsettia, here are tips from the U. of Illinois Extension pages on poinsettias:

The length of time your poinsettia will give you pleasure is dependent on (1) maturity of the plant, (2) when you buy it, and (3) how you treat the plant. With care, poinsettias should retain their beauty for weeks and some varieties will stay attractive for months.

  • After you have made your poinsettia selection, make sure it is wrapped properly because exposure to low temperatures even for a few minutes can damage the bracts and leaves.
  • Unwrap your poinsettia carefully and place in indirect light. Six hours of light daily is ideal. Keep the plant from touching cold windows.
  • Keep poinsettias out of warm or cold drafts from radiators, air registers or open doors and windows.
  • Poinsettias require day temperatures of 60 to 70°F and night temperatures of 55°F. High temperatures will shorten the plant’s life.
  • Check the soil daily. Punch holes in foil so water can drain into a saucer. Water when soil is dry. Allow water to drain into saucer and discard excess water. Wilted plants will tend to drop bracts sooner.
  • Apply a houseplant fertilizer once a month. Do not fertilize when it is in bloom.
  • With good care, a poinsettia will last 6-8 weeks in your home.
1990 Emmy Awards NOTE: Permission granted to c...

1990 Emmy Awards NOTE: Permission granted to copy, publish, broadcast or post any of my photos, but please credit “photo by Alan Light” if you can. Thanks. Scanned from the original 35MM film negative. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Willard Scott loves to celebrate life: witness his heart-warming tributes to centenarians. Hired by NBC in 1980 to do weather for The Today Show, Scott was held in high regard by audiences.  One admirer suggested he give birthday greetings to people who had reached 100 years of age, or greater, as part of his weather report.  Scott liked the idea and began the tributes in 1983.  Even though he left the show in 1996, he periodically makes appearances to deliver the tributes which are now sponsored by Smuckers Jellies.

Because of his generous remembrances of the aging, and for other reasons, I hereby give Willard Scott the title: “A Man of the Centuries.”  An additional title belonging to Scott is that he is recognized by many to be the original  “Ronald McDonald.”  Before I delve into that amazing story, and speaking of titles, I might as well tell you, in the spirit of full disclosure, that I feel a special affinity to Willard Scott because my last boss-lady dubbed my husband with the nickname “Ronald McDonald.” My husband didn’t look anything like Ronald McDonald, nor like Willard Scott, but his first name was Ron.  He took a liking to my boss’s cheerful greeting, “Howdy, Ronald McDonald!” (she was from West Virginia) each time she saw him.  After she died, he often reminisced about her habit of tagging people with “character monikers.”  She called me “Snoopy!”

Willard Scott as Ronald McDonald, from the fir...

Willard Scott as Ronald McDonald, from the first of three pre-recorded television advertisements to feature Ronald. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But back to Ronald McDonald.   In Willard Scott’s book, The Joy of Living, (1982) Scott wrote that he was asked by McDonalds to create the role of Ronald McDonald. One wonders if the idea of Ronald McDonald was born from a previous children’s character that Scott brought to life called Bozo the Clown. For it was from 1959-1962 that Scott appeared on children’s programs produced by local DC TV stations as Bozo the Clown, and he subsequently enacted Ronald McDonald from 1963-1966.  We look at the photo showing Scott with a box on his head and a cup on his nose and realize that the evolving Ronald McDonald, somewhere along the line, hired a new costume designer and a different make-up artist.  AND today the modern Ronald McDonald persona, embodied by numerous actors, reaches far and wide into many kinds of special events, parties, and hospitals.  But let’s not forget that the trend-setter for the Ronald McDonald character was Willard Scott.   Just being himself, to this day, Scott brings cheer and good-will wherever he goes.

There’s another large part of Scott’s life that touches a major chord with me since I am a novice radio show host myself.  Are any of you old enough to remember the Joy Boys Radio Show?  Well, it was aired nightly out of NBC owned WRC-AM in Washington DC (1955-1972) and two more years out of another DC radio station.  Who were the Joy Boys?

Ed Walker (l) and Willard Scott, The Joy Boys ...

Ed Walker (l) and Willard Scott, The Joy Boys (1965) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They were Willard Scott and Ed Walker and improvised comedy was their schtick.  Ed was blind, in fact, blind since birth, so their method of preparation for the show was unique.  They discussed a situation to use as basis for the broadcast, then developed characters which their voices would portray, and Willard wrote out some lead lines to use as the “situation” unrolled on the show.  Before the show, Ed would memorize their discussion.  Then they’d go live and proceed to entertain, enrich, uplift, and encourage all those within earshot.  Just a couple of Joy Boys, the two men remained fast friends.

If I had a trophy or medal, I’d hand it to Willard Herman Scott along with the title “A Man of the Centuries” because he has reverence for the aging, he has a sense of humor, and he vigorously celebrates life.  Do these activities promote harmony in our society?  Indeed.  Carry on, Mr. Scott.

Today I drove my friend to the airport where she was boarding a plane headed for Disneyland.  Our conversation about Walt Disney and his brother Roy O. Disney, young visionaries in early animated film production, spurred me to get busy on my planned blog about Walt Disney.  I want to talk about why his contributions to society mean so much to all of us.

Walt Disney was a rare man in history, who focused on his family and friends, all the while creating characters and stories to entertain and bring harmony to the world.  He was truly a man of harmony.  Still today, his creations stimulate harmonious relationships in families.  Further, he was a man of the future: he designed a prototype community of tomorrow for improved urban living.Image

Roy O. and Walt Disney on the day they opened Disney Studios, October 16, 1923.  In this rare historical photo, the ladies are not identified.

In 1923, Walt and Roy opened the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio in the rear of a small Los Angeles realty company office.   They soon moved to larger quarters and renamed their company: Disney Studios.  By 1928, Mickey Mouse had been born, followed by a host of famous, lovable characters known to us all.

Walt Disney introduces each of the Seven Dwarf...

Walt Disney introduces each of the Seven Dwarfs in a scene from the original 1937 ”Snow White (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A mere eleven years later, the brothers released their first feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Their company flourished.

When World War II began, Walt and Roy focused their entire efforts on aiding American involvement in the war.  Donald Duck became very busy as the star of films to educate both the American public and military personnel.  After the war ended, Disney returned to producing family films.

The construction of Disneyland

Walt Disney views the construction of Disneyland

By 1950, Walt was deep into plans for his long-held dream to build Disneyland, although Roy was not so sure the project was realistic. Walt forged ahead, finding land, drawing plans, and seeking investors. Construction began on July 16, 1954.

Do you get the idea that Walt followed his dreams?  Keep in mind that he did so without impugning anyone’s reluctance to join him, and there were many detractors along the way.  Would you say he was an advocate for harmonious relationships?  Of course, we don’t know what he was like behind the scenes, but we do read that he was turned down by major television corporations, and laughed at by leaders who viewed his dream for a family entertainment park as “grandiose.”  He kept developing his vision and working with Bruce W. McNeil of McNeil Construction.  The entire project team, assembled by Walt, brought Disneyland to fruition on July 17, 1955.  The famous Disney characters greeted guests, and the party was launched.

Disneyland employee cafeteria in 1961

Disneyland employee cafeteria, 1961

If you closely examine the photo on the right, how many of the characters can you identify?  Is that Snow White in front picking up lunch in the Disneyland employee cafeteria?  And who is behind her?  That guy at the end of the line will have to take off his head before he can eat!

The energy, humor, and clear thinking that Walt Disney put into creating Disneyland was magnificent.  Whether he knew it or not, he was generating a positive influence on lives for generations to come.  We can look back now and say “the rest is history.”

Near the end of his life, Walt Disney had another burning idea which he felt required action.  Sometime in the 1960s, he began to think about the future life his many grandchildren would have … living in crowded, crime-ridden, modern cities.  He studied urban planning books and talked with leaders in urban development.  Purchasing 27,400 acres of Florida swamp land, he began to lay plans for another Disney park, but one which provided more than entertainment.  In fact, the entertainment section of the park would be in the far north corner of the property, and the community of the future would occupy the major front portion.  He wanted to build a clean, efficient, safe community where 20,000 people could rent homes and live in peace and harmony on the property.  Each adult renter would have a job in the community.

These plans embodied the inception of the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT.)  “EPCOT will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are emerging from the forefront of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed. It will always be showcasing and testing and demonstrating new materials and new systems.” (Walt Disney, October 27, 1966)

We all know the EPCOT which Walt Disney envisioned was never realized.  After his death in 1966, officials in the Disney corporation constructed a replica of the Magic Kingdom on the Florida property, built some hotels, and opened the Walt Disney World Resort in1971.  Much later in 1982, developers launched what is called the EPCOT theme park within Disney World.  EPCOT includes two major sections: Future World (technology pavilions) and World Showcase (international pavilions.)

Did Walt Disney fail because the EPCOT  he designed did not materialize?  No!  What he did was inspire others to pursue their own dream, but on a different scale and in a different way.  Walt Disney’s legacy is that he used his talents … his whole being … to bring harmony into his own life and into the lives of those around him.  Take a look at the crowd surrounding Walt Disney.  You and I are there.

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879 in Ulm, Württemberg, Germany.  Look at his eyes in this photo where he is believed to be three years old.  Notice the heavy lids and the triangular shape of the eyes, with the descension of the corners toward the ears.   Would you recognize those famous eyes anywhere?  Well, take a look at some of his later photos below.

English: at the age of three years. This is be...

English: at the age of three years. This is believed to be the oldest known photograph of Einstein. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Albert’s parents were middle-class non-practicing Jews and raised their son and his younger sister largely without religious training, although for some period of his life, Albert became a devout Jew.

Albert loved classical music as a child and played violin.  He was a superior student in his Munich elementary school, but was always plagued by his very slow speech habit.  Some believe he was carefully planning what he would say before he said it, an excellent habit for all of us to develop, wouldn’t you say?

English: Author: Anonymous Date: 1893 Source: ...

English: Author: Anonymous Date: 1893 Source: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In addition to his strict Prussian education, Albert was tutored at home by a family friend who introduced him to a children’s science book and it was then that Albert began to wonder about light waves, a subject which would fascinate him for many years.

You know Albert Einstein as the man who created the general theory of relativity.  He explained it in simple terms: “When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second; when you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.”  He had a knack for describing complicated ideas in easy-to-understand language.  That talent was foundational in his life-long effort to understand and explain physical phenomena.

Einstein’s nimble mind dwelt on more than physics.  He was a man who studied human nature and that is what interests us here.  Possibly based on his observations, he came to the conclusion, in the final analysis, that he would live his life for others.  He said, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”

Like any human beings, his life was not without foibles, mistakes, failures, and heartbreak.  In that regard, he was no different from any of us.  But he was unique in the sense that he was a genius in science and mathematics, and he possessed a giant gift of creativity and imagination.  Therefore, it may be instructive for us to look at some of his interactions with his fellow human beings.  When I first started to research his relationships, I did not like him much.  But I changed my mind, over time.  Perhaps you will have the same reaction.

Let’s begin with his first wife, Mileva Maric.

English: Albert Einstein and his first wife, M...

English: Albert Einstein and his first wife, Mileva Português: Albert Einstein e sua primeira esposa, Mileva Marić (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With a determination born out of a great love, Albert was fixated on marrying Mileva whom he met when they were both students of physics in Zurich.  Mileva was older than Albert.  She was from rural Serbia and an Eastern Orthodox Christian.  None of her qualities or circumstances were pleasing to Einstein’s parents.   Despite their vigorous objections, he continued to see Mileva and in January, 1902 Mileva went home to her Serbian parents and gave birth to their daughter, Lieserl.  However, it is not known if Lieserl died or if she was placed for adoption.  Many years after Einstein’s death, a letter was discovered in which Einstein wrote about baby Lieserl’s bout with scarlet fever.  In the book titled Einstein’s Daughter: The Search for Lieserl, author Michele Zackheim reports on her search for details about Lieserl’s fate.

In order to marry and support Mileva, Albert needed a job, but he had trouble getting work.  Finally he was recommended for a clerk position in the Swiss patent office.  His father, on his death-bed, gave his blessing for Albert to marry Mileva and they exchanged vows in January, 1903.   They had two sons, Hans Albert and Eduard, and they remained married until 1919, but all was not well.  What were the problems?  It is reported that Albert was away from home a great deal due to the increasing demands of his expanding career as a professor and theorist.  He and Mileva also argued about their children and about money.   Believing that his marriage was over for all intent and purpose, Albert began an affair with his cousin, Elsa Lowenthal, around 1913.  By that time, he had achieved a great deal of fame with his scientific papers and he had become the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics at the University of Berlin where he served from 1913 – 1933.

Ultimately, in 1919, Albert divorced Mileva and married Elsa.   They had two daughters, Ilse and Margot.  Elsa passed away in 1936.  Albert never remarried.

Elsa Einstein with her husband

Elsa Einstein with her husband (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although I may not condone some of Einstein’s behaviors with his family, I was not there in his shoes and I do not know what factors impacted his choices.  I do not believe that he and Mileva abandoned baby Lieserl .  The available evidence leads to the conclusion that the baby contracted scarlet fever and died.  Albert loved Mileva deeply.  But circumstances changed and perhaps Mileva changed.  We do not know.

What is clear is that Einstein lived life to its fullest.  He appreciated being alive.  When he suffered disappointments he picked himself up and regrouped, always thinking about possibilities.  Without question, he was one of the greatest theorists and thinkers of the 20th Century.  Read his famous quotes to learn more about his philosophy of life and how he dedicated his life for the good of others.  He gave of his mind to all of humanity.

Below is a rare photo, circulated on the internet, of Albert Einstein enjoying a day near the water.  May we all live life to the fullest. Viva Albert   (Please note announcement of Einstein’s death in the New York World-Telegram below.  Look at those eyes!)


English: News headline announcing his death Ca...

English: News headline announcing his death Category:Albert Einstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Photograph of American poet and profe...

English: Photograph of American poet and professor James Russell Lowell at his home, Elmwood, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photo taken by friend and fellow poet/professor Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. Scanned from James Russell Lowell and His Friends by Edward Everett Hale. Published by Houghton, Mifflin and company, 1899. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How many of you have attended two schools named in honor of the same person?  More specifically, how many have sat in the desks of two schools named after James Russell Lowell?   Shall we count ourselves?  Well, I am a party of one answering “yea” to the last question, at least at this point in time … for this blog.  Perhaps I will hear from others who have had such a remarkable experience.  I only recently put two and two together: one Lowell elementary school and one Lowell high school.  Here’s when and how the realization hit me.

Compelling full-moon brightness awakened me.  I lay in bed, contemplating whether it might be time to start the day.  No, the clock promised several more hours of sleep.  My groggy brain was  on hold, in and out of reality when, without rhyme or reason, a thought popped up about Lowell High School in San Francisco … my high school.  Quickly, in close succession, came the dusty memory of another public school in San Jose, California … Lowell Elementary, where I was a shy first grader, 70+ years ago.  Why these two somewhat related moon-bolts had never hit me before I cannot fathom.  They chose to link themselves during my midnight meandering through distant recollections.  Two Lowells.  Was I lucky, or what?

The next day, I searched for schools named for James Russell Lowell.  In addition to my schools in San Francisco and San Jose, there are schools in Boise ID, Brainerd MN, Brightwood IN, Chicago IL, Colorado Springs CO, Long Beach CA, Louisville KY, Milwaukee WI, Missoula MT, Philadelphia PA, Salt Lake City UT,  San Antonio TX, San Diego CA, Seattle WA, Sioux Falls SD , Tacoma WA,  Teaneck NJ, Watertown MA, Waukesha WI,  and I’ve not found them all.  Then there are the towns, cities, streets, campus buildings, as well as other edifices and locations named for James Russell Lowell.  The number must be astounding.

My next discovery was that I knew zilch about the man who was reputed to be an American icon of his time (1819 – 1891) … poet, professor, diplomat, editor, husband, father.

Thus began my inquiry into the doings of James Russell Lowell.  Specifically I wanted to know how he contributed to the way we get along with each other … little things he may have done to further our humanity, one with another.  As a way of conveying what I’ve learned about Mr. Lowell, please wander with me, back in time, to the years I attended each of my Lowell schools.

Lowell Elementary School  in San Jose was my first school and my first Lowell.  I was a wide-eyed five-year old, itching to go to “real” school so the year was 1942.  Pearl Harbor had exploded upon our nation, followed by the US involvement in a raging WW II.  San Jose was still a relatively small fruit-picking and fruit-canning town.  It was safe for a little girl to walk a mile to school, ALONE, through cannery yards, across railroad tracks.  Well, actually, I was being closely followed by my older brother … much older brother who was my protector and my hero.  Even though I attended Lowell Elementary through 4th grade, I only remember a few things about it.  I remember my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Breeden, who in 1945, upon the death of Theodore Roosevelt, asked who knew what the S stood for in Harry S Truman.  I could not believe that I raised my hand.  Our family had discussed the “S” and I knew it was just the letter “S” and did not stand for a name.  My classmates stared in disbelief.  Quiet little Joan knew that trivia?  However, my miniscule knowledge of Truman apparently did not spur me on to find out some facts about James Russell Lowell.  As I say, I knew nothing about Lowell until this day.

I now know that Lowell was not a politician like Roosevelt and Truman, but he was a distinguished diplomat who served as US Ambassador to Spain, 1877 – 1880 and Ambassador to Great Britain, 1880 – 1885.  No doubt, these accomplishments helped our country on the international front.

But I am more interested in Lowell’s earlier life as a poet and family man.  After graduating from Harvard Law in 1838, Lowell published his first collection of poems in 1841.  He was one of an exclusive group of five poets called  “The Fireside Poets” which included Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., John Greenleaf Whittier, William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Lowell.  Their poetry was suitable for families to read out loud around the fire.  This fact made a huge impression on me.  Let me ask you, how many of us read poetry around the fire these days?  How much literature published today is suitable for family recitation around the fire or around anything else?  I just finished reading (silently, by myself) an excellent historical novel about early America, but the author’s choice to include four explicit sex scenes made the book inappropriate for my 12 and 13 year old grandsons.  Otherwise, the boys could have learned a huge amount of valuable history about our frontier.  I suppose we could read the story aloud around the table and omit those four scenes.  Were the scenes necessary for the story’s accuracy?  I doubt it.  C’es la vie.  Apparently, Lowell’s verses were rated G for all to enjoy … at the fireside.

Lowell High School (San Francisco)

My second Lowell school was Lowell  High School in San Francisco.  Again, I knew nothing about James Russell Lowell at the time of my attendance from 1950-1954.  I do remember taking a stiff course in English grammar which was designed specifically to prepare us for the Subject A examination upon entrance to the University of California at Berkeley.  One of the exercises in the grammar class was to read articles assigned from the magazine Atlantic Monthly and diagram certain sentences in the article. The difficulty of this assignment caused me to remember the pain of it to this day.

First cover of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. ...

First cover of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. November 1857. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now I have learned that James Russell Lowell was the very first editor of the Atlantic Monthly in the year 1857, and you will note that my Lowell High School was founded in 1856!  I wonder if Mr. Lowell ever diagrammed any of the sentences during his time at the helm of the magazine.  I doubt it.  He was known as a Romantic Poet, perhaps more of a free spirit than a diagrammer!  I’m not complaining about diagramming sentences.  In fact, I passed the Subject A test and did not have to take remedial English at Cal.  Lowell High School teachers, in my time, were strict, smart, and  dedicated to the teaching/learning process.   I feel that Mr. Lowell would have been proud of the education process at Lowell High.

Finally, James Russell Lowell was a family man.  He married Maria White in 1844 and he was so in love with her that he told someone she was composed from half of the earth and more than half of heaven.  Can you tell he was a romantic poet?  Maria and James had four children: Blanche, Mabel, Rose, and Walter.  The only surviving child was Mabel.  All others died in babyhood/childhood.  Lowell grieved over each of their deaths.  His poem The First Snowfall was written after the death of Blanche.  In the poem, Lowell is speaking to his only surviving child, Mabel.  The sweet words touch our hearts, even today, for they are the words of  a grieving father who loved his family.

The First Snowfall

by James Russell Lowell

The snow had begun in the gloaming,
   And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
   With a silence deep and white.
James Russell Lowell, Library of Congress imag...

James Russell Lowell, Library of Congress image from Brady-Handy Collection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every pine and fir and hemlock
Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
Was ridged inch deep with pearl.

From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
Came Chanticleer’s muffled crow,
The stiff rails were softened to swan’s-down,
And still fluttered down the snow.

I stood and watched by the window
The noiseless work of the sky,
And the sudden flurries of snow-birds,
Like brown leaves whirling by.

I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn
Where a little headstone stood;
How the flakes were folding it gently,
As did robins the babes in the wood.

Up spoke our own little Mabel,
Saying, “Father, who makes it snow?”
And I told of the good All-father
Who cares for us here below.

Again I looked at the snow-fall,
And thought of the leaden sky
That arched o’er our first great sorrow,
When that mound was heaped so high.

I remembered the gradual patience
That fell from that cloud-like snow,
Flake by flake, healing and hiding

The scar of our deep-plunged woe.

James Russell Lowell - Project Gutenberg eText...

James Russell Lowell – Project Gutenberg eText 17948 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)The scar of our deep-plunged woe.

And again to the child I whispered,
“The snow that husheth all,
Darling, the merciful Father
Alone can make it fall!”

Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her;
And she, kissing back, could not know
That my kiss was given to her sister,
Folded close under deepening snow.

Lowell lost his first wife, Maria to illness.  He eventually married Frances Dunlap who had served as governess to Lowell’s daughter, Mabel.

James Russell Lowell was a romantic poet, editor, orator, diplomat, professor, and most of all a loving family man who knew the importance of bringing people together, to talk, to learn, to reminisce.  The founders of my Lowell Elementary School and my Lowell High School paid tribute to him and became part of his legacy.  As a graduate of my two Lowell schools, I feel like I am also part of the legacy of James Russell Lowell.


President Abraham Lincoln was descended from S...

President Abraham Lincoln was descended from Samuel Lincoln, and was of English and Welsh ancestry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Relationship Repair

Throughout history, humans have always pondered the basic question of how to repair a broken relationship.  It matters not who is involved, or how the break occurred, or when the rupture took place.  What matters is taking responsibility for the first step.  We can’t direct the steps of others, but we can take charge of our own decisions to move forward.  For example, President Lincoln, at the end of the Civil War, knew he must act to reunite a nation of people who struggled with feelings of bitter hatred.  He stepped forward and designed a reconstruction policy that would bring the nation together.  Each of us, In our own personal relationships, must consider our options, and then take action to repair or replace.

Anne Frank was only 15 years old when she died in 1945 at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Memorial for Margot and Anne Frank at the form...

Memorial for Margot and Anne Frank at the former Bergen-Belsen site, along with floral and pictorial tributes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite her shortened life, Anne had witnessed the very pit of human degradation.  She saw what mankind can wreak upon fellow humans.

Photo of mass graves at Bergen Belsen concentr...

Photo of mass graves at Bergen Belsen concentration camp, 1945. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In her diary, Anne wrote:

“There’s in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to start all over again. (May 3, 1944)

If you have ever read Anne’s diary, The Diary of a Young Girl (1947), or seen any of the plays or movies based on her diary, perhaps you will never forget what you read.

anne-frank-diary-open.jpg (540×372)

Perhaps one of most remarkable sentences she wrote in her diary was the following:

“I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.”

In that sentence, dear Anne Frank expressed the spark of hope that lights our way.  If Anne is right, then we know we can learn to respect and love each other in all of our relationships.  No matter what dilemma or dispute we may experience with someone else, if we remember that people are really good at heart, then we will find a way to resolve the issue peacefully.  At least we have to try.

Thank you, Anne, for your mature, thoughtful, solid, insights.

We will remember.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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