178: From Within Ourselves to Stem Cells, We’re Searching Life for Meaning

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his week of reflecting on memorials — and on our own lives — has been a powerful experience for many of our readers. Today and tomorrow, you’ll see some of your own recent reflections — today, talking about the core meaning of our lives.
    First, today, I’m going to share messages from three readers — then, we promised you earlier that we’d tell you about a remarkable new documentary film, just released on DVD this week, that explores this same theme. Because of your eloquence, readers, we’re only going to give you a brief word about this new film today — then we’ll wait to publish our fuller review of the film until Monday.
    THANK YOU, READERS! You really overwhelmed us with thoughtful voices!
    How did you speak to us? Well, many of you responded: via “Comments” (you can click to Comment at the end of any of our stories), via Email, via phone calls (our office number is 734-786-3813), via Facebook (both ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm and Publisher John Hile are reachable on Facebook).      Readers relate to us in many other ways as well:
    Our office address, if you’re using the U.S. Mail, is ReadTheSpirit, 42015 Ford Road, Suite 234, Canton, MI 48187.
    I’m also reachable on GoodReads, if you care to send notes about books on that site.
    We’ve even got a YouTube channel for our videos, where you can share these videos with friends.
    Finally, if you want a free Monday-morning preview of what we see on the horizon — sign up for our free ReadTheSpirit Planner via email. Some readers respond directly to the Planner.

So, here is the first of our three Reader Voices today:
    A reader in a rural community sent one of the most evocative notes about Memorial Day that I saw anywhere this week. It’s a moving remembrance because this reader is so honest about his own daily struggle with life’s meaning.
    He asked that we allow him some anonymity in this story, so I’m not using his name, but here’s what he wrote:

    My first recollection of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was known in my family, was when I was about 5 or 6 and there was a parade down the main street in my hometown that went on down to the local cemetery, where the band played, a short prayer was given and then a single trumpeter played “Taps,” while I looked at grave markers and headstones from the Civil War and for veterans of the Civil War.
    After a short walk back to the house, we started to have friends come over and backyard barbeque ensued. The adults talked about “the war,” (WWII), and a couple of family friends my grandfather’s age talked about the “Great War,” (WWI).
    I don’t remember anyone talking about Korea, and Vietnam was still only a small brushfire where we only had “advisors,” and not many were even aware where Vietnam was, or that we had any troops there.     I was at the age that war was mythical and the pilots, soldiers and sailors were all heroic characters.
    Somewhere along the way, I began to think about my legacy.
    What will people remember about me?
    And now, nearly 50 years later, I still wonder about that. Once in my life, I was involved –involved in politics, in government, in social justice. I was sure that I would leave a legacy.
    Today, out of government, on the edge of politics and social justice, I wonder if anyone will remember me.
    What will my legacy be?  Probably a brief memory for my relatives, something akin to my memory of my great uncles and aunts, and hopefully a long memory for my son.
    Legacy?  No, regretfully, I don’t think so. In that respect, I feel that I failed in my life’s challenge.
    Living anonymously in a small town in America in my 50s was never where I thought I should or would be. Life is a day to day event, and sometimes even tomorrow looks far off.

This reader, who we thank for sharing this reflection, was not alone.

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e thank, as well, Phil Smoke — an Ohio State University student whose personal reading list includes Thoreau, Bonhoeffer, Lewis and Shane Claiborne (you perhaps can see the spiritual linkages in those writers, who he lists on his Blog, called simply Phil Smoke.)
    Phil helped all of us yesterday by filling in a blank that was left in the Conversation With Cyrus Copeland. In the Q and A, Copeland pointed out that it was Courtney Love’s eulogy for Kurt Cobain that demonstrated the contemporary power of eulogy and inspired him to complete his first book. But, alas, Copeland pointed out that Courtney Love never gave permission for her eulogy to be published in one of his books.
    Yesterday, Phil Smoke did the research work online and provided a link to that stunning eulogy in his Comment at the end of yesterday’s Conversation. (Click on the link to the Copeland Conversation, then scroll to the end and you’ll find Phil’s link. Word of warning: As Copeland says, it’s an angry, expletive-sprinkled eulogy by Courtney Love. Honest, electric stuff.)

Then, writer Debra Darvick added another stirring memory of Memorial Day. We added it as a Comment to our Monday reflection on the lives of JFK and Robert Frost. But I’ll also include it here, because it’s so relevant to our story today:

       When her son Tommy came to visit the classroom, all the girls in Mrs. Condrey’s third grade classroom swooned.  He was SIXTEEN!!  So cute! He smiled at us! I no longer remember what he looked  like. Most likely blond.  And blue eyed.
    When word came to us in sixth grade that Tommy had been killed in Vietnam, we whispered to each other, “Oh, too bad” and turned back to the vocabulary words Miss Patterson had assigned us to master. She was old, Mrs. Condrey.  After all she was a teacher, wasn’t she? And if her son was in a war, then he had to be old, too.  And old people died. Such is an 11-year-old’s logic in the face of something as frightening and incomprehensible as death.
    I have thought about Tommy quite a bit over the years, especially as my son has grown older. Old enough to have reached fighting age. I am probably a good 15 years older than Mrs. Condrey was when her son died in Vietnam. By now she may already be with him.
    I’ve never forgotten either of them — Mrs. Condrey, because she read to us each afternoon and was the only teacher in the school with bright red hair; and Tommy, because he was her son. I know now what it is to love a son, something that in sixth grade was as incomprehensible as death.

    As your daily writer and editor here at ReadTheSpirit — I’m honored that people like these three readers took the time to share such moving reflections with us. Thank you all!
    If you’re intrigued by Debra’s voice, check out her Blog. Plus, we’ve been recommending one of Debra’s books for some time now. It’s called “This Jewish Life,” and it’s considered so insightful that an interfaith program included her book in an essential collection of books on Judaism.

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inally, because we promised this to readers earlier this week, let me close by recommending a brand-new documentary — released on DVD this week. I think it’s one of the strongest journalistic presentations of the hotly contested stem-cell debate that I’ve seen in recent years. On balance, it’s a pro-research documentary — but it features voices from both sides. Most importantly, it focuses on scholars from Northwestern University and spends a good deal of time including various religious perspectives on these issues.
    The film is called, “Mapping Stem Cell Research: Terra Incognita,” and after many years of designing and leading classes for youth and adults — I can tell you: This is a powerful tool to use in small groups. It’s appropriate — and, more importantly,  it will interest — teen-agers and adults as well.
    Come back Monday for a fuller review and reflection on what’s really a milestone in journalistic reflections on this issue.

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