Category General Nonfiction

12 Enduring Takeaways From J.M. Barrie’s “Courage”

We are fresh off graduation season and its urgent exhortations for young men and women to sally forth and boldly make their mark in the world. Just over ninety-five years ago, the writer J.M. Barrie, yet to produce his enduring masterpiece “Peter Pan,” sounded some of the same notes but went most all of today’s grad speakers quite a bit better in his inaugural address upon being named rector at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland.

As a speech, “Courage” clocked in at a longish (for these days) one hour-plus, but by virtue of its text being shared and then bound into book form, it has been provided to us as a quickie half-hour or so read, available free here on the Internet. Among its many virtues is this, I will surmise: Once you read it, I doubt you will ever think about courage in quite the same light again.

He states his reason for reflecting on it forthrightly enough:

“You must excuse me ...

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The Puffed Up Self in Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”

“Our Delight in Destruction,” read the headline from a recent philosophy blog in the New York Times. (Yes, actual philosophers blogging in readable English in a daily newspaper—hope lives!)

This was just a day after I had come across and held to my eyes a treasured volume, “Irrational Man,” a 1960s-era study of the great existential philosophers who detailed the human penchant for, well, not always behaving in the optimal fashion to promote our own best interests (nor the well-being of those around us).

And through both those works, a long chew through Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” a far-reaching, soul-stirring anthem celebrating, no matter how “destructive” or “irrational” it might appear to those other thinkers mentioned above, the absolute primacy of the Self, the lone self-reflective individual, our own deepest heart of hearts, for whom the Bard of Concord intoned:

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Summer Fecundity

The not unpleasant smell of rotting fruit alerts the senses when one ventures into my backyard on these early summer days. “Our time is now,” that well-known maxim exhorted by coaches in pre-game locker rooms across the land, is nowhere more true than among the two prolific plum and pluot trees in said yard, which, like some urgent stream after a storm, can’t expel their bounty fast enough. I need a crew available at my immediate beck-and-call to scoop up the falling flesh that relitters my yard every day, no matter the removal effort that left it clear just hours before.

Plop plop plop they rain down, even as I am on hands and knees depositing their bruised brothers and sisters into my bucket, their waystation en route to the compost bin and their ultimate return to earth as dirt for next summer’s bounty.

Sorry, soup kitchen, church members, neighbors and friends with whom I otherwise may have sh...

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The Twelve Best Excerpts From “The Best Things Ever Said About God”

God: the literary and conversation topic that just won’t go away.

Even when we’re not talking about God, we are.

Trying to improve, are we? Find greater purpose, figure out our next step, start to give back, leave a legacy?

God, God, God, God, God.

Wherever go matters of ultimate concern, there goes Grappling With God.

Great fiction: all about God, explicitly or not. (Though often about her absence.)

In his introduction to “The Best Things Ever Said About God” (20000, Harper Collins), more or less agnostic attorney-turned-writer Ronald B. Schwartz calls his book:

 “…a miscellany for doubters and believers alike—though at neither extreme—and purged of freeze-dried sermonettes and vainglorious citations to chapter-and-verse proof that God prefers tea to coffee...

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The Tragi-Comedy of “The Big Short”

Seeing the movie adaptation  of “The Big Short” last night transported me back to a decade ago, when I made a regular habit of leaving my road bike in the garage and hopping instead on my upright city bike to cruise my hometown. Cycling is much like walking in giving you slices of life and peeks into windows and garages to take a measure of Americana. The slices just go by faster.

I can distinctly remember the internal commentary going on in my mind at the time as I moseyed in leisurely fashion through typical middle class neighborhoods of well-appointed tract homes, of the three-and-four-bedroom variety, with double garages on relatively small lots. They were workers’ homes, “owned”—at least until the banks stated reclaiming them—by plumbers and teachers and shop owners and radiology techs...

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