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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

The word assassin is often believed to derive from the word Hashshashin, Arabic ħashshāshīyīn, also Hashishin, Hashashiyyin, or Assassins), sharing its etymological roots with hashish.  It referred to a group of Nizari Shia Muslims who worked against various political targets.  Founded by Hassan-i Sabbah, the Assassins were active in the fortress of Alamut in Persia from the 8th to the 14th centuries, and later expanded by capturing forts in Syria.  The group killed members of the Abbasid, Seljuq, Fatimid, and Christian Crusader elite for political and religious reasons.

Although it is commonly believed that Assassins were under the influence of hashish during their killings or during their indoctrination, there is debate as to whether these claims have merit, with many Eastern writers and an increasing number of Western academics coming to believe that drug taking was not the key feature behind the name.  The earliest known use of the verb “to assassinate” in printed English was by Matthew Sutcliffe in A Briefe Replie to a Certaine Odious and Slanderous Libel, Lately Published by a Seditious Jesuite, a pamphlet printed in 1600, five years before it was used in Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1605).  [Wikipedia]

      So I’m shaving, doing the usual routine: wash face, rinse, apply shaving cream or soap, begin the cutting/shaving process.  I shave the way I have always remembered to do it–my dad having taught me long ago the essentials, then with blue blades and razor (now with Mach3 Turbo).

razor blades

I begin with left side-burn, down to halfway my face.  Rinse razor.  Right side-burn, down halfway.  Then along left cheekbone to middle of chin.  Rinse.  Along right cheekbone, etc.  Rinse.  Cheeks.  Chin. 

Now my story begins as I stare into the mirror at my half-shaven face.  Raising my chin to see what I am doing, I place the razor back near my throat, above my Adam’s apple.  I drag the razor over my skin, through the foam, cutting down the one-day-or-more facial hair growth, my “beard.”  One stroke.  Another to my jawbone.  Then the razor glides smoothly over scar tissue, three to four inches long, midway from throat to under chin.  (“Did you try to kill yourself?!” echoes within my head.  On the inside of my left wrist I have a scar.  Diagonal across the wrist, with suture scars.  “When did you do that?”)

I continue with the stroke of my razor, through Barbasol shave cream, with scraping noises, and water running, rinsing.  Sometimes I linger longer with soap, a cup, and a brush–for variety.  My contemplation of the scar only happens sometimes.  I don’t know why.  But it makes me think of memoriesofatime.

Attempted Assassination #1:  Once upon a time, before I could tell stories, and long before I remember such early stories, my mother tells me that I fell down the basement stairs.  I was carrying Coca-Cola bottles.

coca cola bottles 1940s.jpg

The story is a bloody one, with gory details of a very young boy climbing up the stairs, presenting his mother a bloody wrist.  She thought that was the wound.  Until she saw the blood on my shirt.  “HYSTERICS!” she later told me.  A gaping wound.  I recall her telling “everything hanging down” and so many inches from the inside of my mouth and so many inches from my throat and windpipe.  It must have been frightful for my dear mother, and for my grandmother with whom we lived.  I’m lucky, and glad I don’t remember the details.  “But I’ve got the scars to prove it.”

During one of my many part-time jobs, I worked as an orderly in a hospital emergency room.  One winter a snowmobile accident victim was brought in.  He was well pickled and well preserved with alcohol.  But while sporting in the dark, he and a friend crashed into a barbed-wire fence.  This man had his throat flayed open, displaying his windpipe before me as I moved him from the ambulance gurney to the ER table.  THAT was frightful!  He felt no pain as he was being attended to . . .

Attempted Assassination #2:  South Side of Chicago.  Cold, no snow.  Saint Justin Martyr Elementary School (now closed; just history).  I’m in 4th grade in the 1950s.  Our school had a meeting hall, no cafeteria, but a hall for parties or family gatherings.  Also it was used for movies for us kids.  I was one of those kids lucky enough to see a very real film.  The films were infrequent, nearly never.  But this 4th grade time was different.  Three or four grades of us children could be seated into the hall built below the church above.  Not many more could fit.  So there we were, probably watching The Bells of Saint Mary’s in preparation for the holiday season.  (A movie a year was probably one too many for the Sisters of Mercy, our teachers.)

End of movie.  “All rise” (to the sound of that cricket-clicker) in silence.  “Pick up your chairs . . .” And we stacked our chairs.  The “Great Hall” was ready to be emptied.  “Lines, please.”  We lined up, and were led out of the room by grades, our smiling Sister Doloretta standing at the door as we left.  “Jimmy,” she said, “would you please go and turn off that light switch.”  She pointed in the direction of a light across the naked hall. 

I ran to the switch, flicked it suavely, and turned to . . . utter darkness.  I had turned off the last light in the basement.  I could see, however, away from me, the light coming through the open exit door and the dark shape of my nun-teacher.  Eager to get out of that place to be with my classmates, I ran to the light.  BAM!  “What the..?”  Millions of bright lights and stars in my head.  I was on my back.  “What?  OW!  That hurt!”  Tears, I held my left hand to my eye.  Oh, the throbbing pain.  I made my way to standing next to one of the ceiling support posts.  I crashed into that, head-on, left-eye to nose.

I wobbled to the light and the Dark Shadowed Sister of Mercy.  “Oh, my!  Look at that bump!  What happened?”  I mumbled an answer as she led me to the classroom.  (There was a touching moment I must share here.  Before we left, she pulled me to her, and held me tight against her hard, stiff-starched bib.  Surely I must have shed some tears on the white starched part of her habit.)  Those in the classroom were quiet when we arrived.  They looked at me, the spectacle.

So here was the First Aid, no kidding:______________.  No cold pack, no ice.  “Sit at your seat.  Put your head down.  Down on . . . a Scotch tape can!

scotch tape can

Believe it.  I applied pressure of my throbbing, welting, pounding injured eye socket onto a Scotch tape can.  I tried my most uncomfortably best to lay my head onto this metal can.  (Sister did come to wipe away my forehead and my tears.  My classmates were silent quiet.)

It was nearly noontime, lunchtime.  (The movie was planned that way, to be finished before lunch.)  I was being sent home.  My sister, Janice, was in 6th grade, waiting for me, to go home for lunch.  I had a note for my mother explaining the incident.  By now, my eye was swollen closed.  My sister and I walked home the six city blocks, hand in hand, as usual.  My mother seeing me?  “HYSTERICS!!”  “Were you trying to kill yourself?!”  “What happened?  Oh, my poor, poor . . .” The scar is in my left eyebrow.

Attempted Assassination #3:  Summer 1964.  At the end of my first year of teaching 9th grade English at St Viator High School (Arlington Heights, Ill.).  The first summer of being newly married (after October 1963) with baby on the way (to arrive in August).  The first summer to have a part-time job to supplement teacher salary: Jewel Tea Company. 

I answered an ad for warehouse workers.  I unloaded, from boxcars, packaged and canned foods onto pallets, the food then warehoused for later loading onto delivery trucks.  Five days a week inside a giant warehouse, I opened unlocked boxcars that had been moved into the building.  The opening for the car was level with the deck, the platform.boxcar unloading

Boxcar Unloading

It was tiring, dirty, hard work, no doubt about it.  The pay, nevertheless, was good.  I was young, able, 185 pounds, strong, able to lift sixty-pound bags of sugar.  (We, my partner and I, were able to empty a sugar car in an hour–a Jewel Tea record!) Sugar cars, ketchup, fruit cocktail, canned vegetables of all kinds, flour, and more and more.  Imagine grocery store shelves.

Every once in a while, the large door handle would not lift open the door.  The contents inside the car might have shifted, blocking or jamming the door.  Or just age and rust and dirt outside.  The handles, locks, and seals were lifted up with two hands, then swung out and away from the door–on some cars.  This acted as a lever, to slide open the door in its track.

boxcar detailed image Boxcar Door Mechanism

One morning, I had to jump down between and behind two cars to get to the car we were going to unload.  I found myself between the cars and the wall, slowly making my way to our work car.  “Hurry!  Time is money!”  (Yes, we could get incentive bonuses.)  I then quickly moved in the dark, the only light coming from under the cars from the platform.  It was as though I were walking in a tunnel with a very high roof.  BAM!  Stars.  All the stars.  I was knocked backwards, gradually losing my composure, and was down sitting on my butt.  Pain!  Intense pain in the middle of my forehead.  Burning.  “Are you down there?  What’s taking so long?”

A handle was down, pointing out and away from the car.  Someone had tried to get into the car at some point, but left the job unfinished and the handle for my head.  “I’m all right.  I’m hurt.  I’ll be there.”  Blood dripping off my nose, I could feel the wet on my face.  I stood up and crawled over the couplers of the boxcars.  My partner pulled me up onto the platform.

The supervisor was there and carted me to the nurse.  “Trying to kill yourself?!”  B-I-G bump.  Swelling.  Iced.  Bandaged.  Rested on a cot for a few hours “for observation.”  Then I was sent home with a note, some dressings, and some painkillers–and told to take the next day off.  (I drove myself home under the influence.)  My pregnant wife: “What happened?!”  “I hit my head.  I’m all right.”  I have a Y-shaped scar to prove it all, buried in my forehead, between my eyebrows.  (I almost lost my head.  Well, maybe not.)

ConclusionSome may think my brain is addled from the damage I could have incurred from these incidents.  I was never checked for concussions.  However, in between that first bloody fall down the stairs, until now, I have had my share of bumps and knocks, especially with cabinet doors and car doors, even once or twice falling out of bed landing on my head.  However, all nothing major.  I’ve had no outstanding incidents of head trauma that have made me slow . . . that I’m aware of.  Now that toboggan accident . . .

* * *

Black’s Law Dictionary:  Assassination is “the act of deliberately killing someone, especially a public figure, usually for hire or for political reasons” (Legal Research, Analysis and Writing by William H. Putman, p. 215).  [Attempted killing of oneself is not attempted assassination, of course.  The incidents described herein were not of my doing; they “happened”–or someone or something was attempting to assassinate me . . .]

©  James F O’Neil  2019

 

 

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“The basic exercise is for us to list about a dozen meaningful events [from birth to our current circumstance] in the movement of our life up to the present point in time.  . . . it gives us a perspective of our life as a whole from the time of our birth to our situation at the time when we are listing our Steppingstones.  The listing of the Steppingstones of our life is the basic step in positioning ourselves between our past and our future.”  [“Steppingstones are the meaningful events that mark off the movement of a person’s life from that person’s own point of view . . . not objectively important . . . always personally important . . . perceived through the eyes and through the experience of the person who is living the life.”]  –Ira Progoff, Life-Study (Dialogue House, 1983)

* * *

Ira Progoff (1921-1998) was an American psychotherapist best known for his development of the Intensive Journal Method; his main interest was in depth psychology.  A humanist, who studied privately with Carl Jung in Switzerland, he founded Dialogue House in New York City to help promote this method.  In 1966, Progoff introduced the Intensive Journal method of personal development, the innovation for which he is most remembered.  The public use of the method increased, and the National Intensive Journal Program was formed in 1977.  It supplied materials and leaders to provide Intensive Journal workshops in the United States and other countries.  The Intensive Journal education program was expanded upon in 1983 with the publication of Life-Study.  [See Wikipedia and http://intensivejournal.org for more introduction to the Method.] 

“. . .  I was drawn further toward the conclusion that a private journal is the essential instrument for personal growth . . . I began in 1957 to use a journal as an adjunct to psychotherapy in my private practice.”

[My purpose is to have you use]  “techniques to help you become your own person and find a way of living that will validate itself to you both in terms of your inner sense of truth and the actualities of your outer experience.”

“The Steppingstones of our life are those events that come to our minds when we spontaneously reflect on the course that our life has taken from its beginning to the present moment.”

List no more than a dozen:  1.    2.    3.    4.    5.    6.    7.    8.    9.    10.    11.    12.     

“We go back into the past of our lives, not because of fascination with the past . . . not to lose ourselves in the field of memory . . . [but] in order to reconnect ourselves with the movement of our personal Time/Life, and so that we can move more adequately into our future.”

“The listing of our Steppingstones is the first step that we take in order to position ourselves in the full continuity of our lives.  Each set of Steppingstones that we draw together reflects the interior view of our life as it is perceived from the vantage point of a particular moment.  By being expressed spontaneously and concisely without self-conscious analysis, the Steppingstones list gives us a direct, inner perception of the movement of our life.”     

* * *

At a Journal Workshop: The Basic Text and Guide for Using the Intensive Journal Process (Dialogue House, 1975)

The Practice of Process Meditation: The Intensive Journal Way to Spiritual Experience (Dialogue House, 1980)

Life Study: Experiencing Creative Lives by the Intensive Journal Method (Dialogue House, 1983)

The Progoff Intensive Journal ® Program:  http://intensivejournal.org/index.php

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By James F. O’Neil

“To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humour of a scholar. . .   Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.  Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be digested. . . .  Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. . . .”  –“Of Studies,” Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

+ + +

My first research paper, as I re-call, was finding out about Scotland.  This search had to be started in sixth or seventh grade.  I discovered lakes, cities, and climate–and probably something about wool, whiskey, and politics.  I had only the encyclopedia: that’s all we had back then.  I learned the basics from that first paper.  (I have often referred to that kind of paper as “The Switzerland Paper”: about banks, lakes, and chocolates.  And that is basic.)

swiss chololate

SOME SWISS CHOCOLATE

During high school, I am sure I wrote a few research papers (“term papers”); but I recollect one in particular for an education class: I wrote about Friedrich Froebel and the founding of the kindergarten.  I may have had eight or ten sources.  Yet what I do remember more than anything else–not the long hours writing nor the time-consuming typing on my portable 1955 (manual) Underwood typewriter nor the submitting the paper, but the thrill of being in a library, a great library, doing serious research.  I delighted being in the Chicago Public Library (downtown) and also at the Newberry Library, a special place for researchers then over age sixteen. 

newberry library chicago wikipedia

NEWBERRY LIBRARY, CHICAGO 

Throughout college, the papers came and went, and on into graduate school and post graduate work: papers, papers, papers: Shakespeare, sonnets, Jesus and school administration, Arthurian romances, the G.I. Bill, teachers and in-service activities, manic depression and school administrators, chaos and adultery, public service, the aorist tense in Greek, “Poe the Philosopher,” water symbolism in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man–and more, many more.

Some papers I hated as chores; most I loved as opportunities for knowledge and writing experience.  From this, despite the grade and the time spent, I learned time-use, planning, and library skills.  More than that, I learned organizational skills and meeting deadlines.  All this was not easy; learning sometimes hurts.  (And, I am sure, there were tears of frustration–but never a late paper.)

From this, I also developed a sense of researching–and my three questions: What do I already know?  What do I want to know?  And, What do I need to know?  Where those questions came from, I do not know.  But they have always worked for me.

Of course, I had to learn documentation skills: “the old Turabian” was all we had back then.  And I learned it–and even wrote a little research handbook for students.  Now MLA, APA, and OWL far exceed anything we had–but so has the amount of knowledge increased, with electronic access to this knowledge.  How lucky I am now to see this, to use this, to be a part of global knowledge and learning.  “I just love the Internet!”

But the smell of books, walking the stacks, sitting and reading and taking notes in England at the Cambridge University Library, or at the US Library of Congress, the libraries at the University of Minnesota, and in any small-town public library does more for me than sitting at the computer, drinking coffee, doing a Google Search.  “I love the smell of a musty book in the morning!”  Nothing like doing research . . . But I found that it takes heart, organizational skills, and a sense of the past: where I came from, where I have been, what I have done.  All this enters into my questions: What am I doing this for?  What do I want out of this?  To me, that is what doing research is all about.  “What’s it to me?”

Having done professional stained-glass work, I learned the most difficult aspect of craftsmanship was not cutting the glass, not the pattern making, not the assembly–no matter how large or small the project–but choosing the right glass, the right textures, the right colors. 

glass Ready for Foil

GLASS RESTORATION PROJECT: CUT AND READY FOR COPPER FOIL, THEN SOLDER

Choosing the right glass is likened to the most difficult aspect of doing a research project: choosing the right topic.  “Choice of topic: the hardest part of all,” I say. 

I have never chosen anything dumb or stupid; I have chosen (for the most part) wisely.  Not everything came back an A, of course.  Can’t have all A’s.  But can’t have all gold medals, can’t always win the Super Bowl, can’t always be #1, and can’t always be perfect.  However, I have learned I can do my best, and have that sense of accomplishment (relief?) when I submit the project.  AHHH!  Done.  And on to the next, for there is always a next–no matter how big or small, no matter in school or on the job: “Look this up for me, will ya’?”  “You have a paper due . . .”  “I need to find . . . Can you help?”  “As a member of this parent-teacher committee, . . . ”

“Hafta’ what?”  Know facts.  Document.  Have opinions.  Present feelings.  Solve problems.  Search.  Learn.  And make a presentation: to the family, a board, a committee, a boss, a reading club, a course instructor, a hearing officer, a judge–on and on and on.  There is no easy way.  And it all begins with the basics, with “My Switzerland Paper.” 

And these are my thoughts today on doing research.

©  JAMES F. O’NEIL  2019  

PS: All of the above is rated at the 6th grade reading level: my computer figured that out; but I used to know how to do it without the computer.  I researched it . . .    

PPS: I was once told that a “good” 1500-word paper takes about 40 hours–plus typing–from choosing the topic to the last bit of punctuation.  (Getting it right takes time.)

 

 

BY JAMES F O’NEIL

“To be educated is to know how much one wishes to know and to have the courage not to be tempted beyond that limit.  [ . . . culture] teaches that there is much one does not want to know.”  –Michael Oakeshott (1901–1990) in The Ideal of Culture by Joseph Epstein (Axios 2018)

English philosopher and political theorist, Michael Oakeshott wrote about philosophy of history, philosophy of religion, and aesthetics; philosophy of education and philosophy of law.  He was Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics, and was a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.  He was the author of many works, including Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, On History and Other Essays, and The Voice of Liberal Learning.

Some of my high school classmates and I in the past year had an opportunity to comment upon what we thought of our education, curriculum, and teachers.  The results were overwhelmingly positive towards our liberal arts education and the courses we were enrolled in.  My transcript reads like a medieval or Renaissance Trivium or Quadrivium Liberal Arts Program: grammar, logic, rhetoric; and arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy (well, not much astronomy).

Now when I look back, our Liberal Arts curriculum was, to some extent, “lofty,” compared with that of students in other schools (like Lane Tech in Chicago)–those studying “practical arts”–or studying architecture.  (Some might have been attending private schools for pre-med, heavy on science and medicine.)

After four years, then, I graduated with a transcript heavily loaded with Latin, Greek, writing, reading, some science, history, music.  Some faculty believed that our course of study would have as an end purpose to “create” “cultured gentlemen.”  Some of my classmates, remembering these days and years, 1955-1959, more than fifty years ago, agree with their feeling of being “cultured.”

“To be cultured ideal of cultureimplies a certain roundedness of knowledge and interests . . . [yet] no one is fully rounded . . . fully cultured . . . and . . . culture, itself, remains an ideal . . . still worth pursuing. A cultured person has a standard, a recollection, through literature and history and philosophy . . . of greatness.  The cultured . . . insofar as possible, restrict themselves to knowing what is genuinely worth knowing.”  — Joseph Epstein, The Ideal of Culture

 

 

And what, at the end of four years of high school, did I have?  What did I receive, what could I do?  For one, I was self-taught in many areas: I did not know how to type (I still have not yet mastered a keyboard!), and had to teach myself.  I never learned in a classroom how to fix my lawnmower, but did install a carburetor on my ’54 Ford, and a water pump and generator on my ’57 Olds “Love Buggy.”  I had Chilton’s to help me there; reading was essential, and following directions required.

chilton's 1954-1963

CHILTON’S AUTO REPAIR MANUAL

I never played football (no football team), was a horrible basketball player (I did dribble and drool, however, from time to time); a little swimming, running, and gymnastics from gym class.  Some wrestling (heavyweight).

Nevertheless, I was able to read and speak some German; translate Cicero and Horace and some other Latin literature; and read Plato, Homer, St. Paul, and other Christian writers in Greek.  (So much of that now is “Lost in translation”: I cannot do it.)  I belonged to a Book Club, and read from a list of Summer Reading each year (complete with Book Reports submitted).  (Is there a magic list of books out there that guarantees “cultural literacy”?)  And read [“red”] and read [“red”] and wrote.

I remember so admiring some of my teachers, my favorites, as “cultured gentlemen.”  How did they know so much?  Be so smart?  Teach music, then Greek?  Play the piano, and read and teach and speak Latin?  Such talents.  Teach us writing skills in one class, German conversation in another.  Religion and Spirituality (Catholic school) in one class, then English composition in another.  Some were my models, my heroes, and one or two my “saints” who let goodness and worth and value shine through.  And then it was over. Graduation.

“Off we go!”  No military service.  Into college I went: liberal arts: English major, philosophy and education minors: 143 credit hours.  More “liberal education” (I’m known in the Alumni Directory as “James F. O’Neil BA, LAS ’64”: Liberal Arts and Sciences.)  Then after a few part-time jobs while I was “finding myself,” a full-time teaching job in a boys’ high school, English, of course.  Then a few years later (after my MA ’66), teaching English as a career in college settings: Am Lit I, Comp 101 (never the Romantics; no one wanted Milton and the Eighteenth Century: “I’ll do it.”). Maybe after a few years, nearing tenure, a course in Contemporary Novel.  After a while, I moved on . . .

After years in a community college position, getting quite adept at teaching technical writing to nursing students, police officers, business majors, and others in Associate in Science programs, I got a call to “come up to the majors.”

“Do you have what it takes?” asked one.  “It will require much preparation,” another cautioned.  “You seem to be qualified from your credentials and your experience,” the Dean remarked.  “We could use you this next term while Professor XYZ takes a leave.  Are you interested?”  “I say ‘Yes.’  I’m in.”  Thus began my new life as a teacher of humanities, for some years, for a while at least–until I retired.

* * *

Our textbook, for years: CULTURE AND VALUES: A SURVEY OF THE HUMANITIES, Ninth Edition: This text takes you on a tour of some of the world’s most interesting and significant examples of art, music, philosophy, and literature, from the beginnings of civilization to today.  Chapter previews, timelines, glossaries of key terms, Compare + Contrast, new Connections and Culture & Society features, and “Big Picture” reviews all help make it easy for you to learn the material and study more effectively.  Links to full readings and playlists of the music selections discussed in your text are available online in MindTap, where you will also find study resources and such tools as image flashcards, guides to research and writing, practice quizzes and exercises, and more.

Was I ready?  Could I do it?  I could not read music.  I was in the high school choir, in the church choir; but I always memorized the notes.  (I could sing, though–a lovely 1st tenor.)  I loved music and song!  I knew my composers, and classical pieces.  I learned rhythm, melody, and harmony.  What else?

I knew the difference between LISTEN to this and HEAR this!  I had had a record player from once-upon-a-time, had the first CD player in town (Yamaha $539), always had FM music playing.  I wrote a paper about West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet!  In high school I attended operas, and concerts, and had begun a record collection.  I really am/was a movie lover.  A reel lover!  And I had a few subscriptions to movie magazines at one time.  (My favorite actress?  Kim Novak, of course, when I was VERY young.  And, yes, Casablanca is a favorite–as is The Hours.  Did I fail to mention Meryl Streep?)

How much more did I have to know to be able to lead a class of students through a college semester, HUM 2230 17th Century to the Present?  I would have to do much reading; but the syllabus was already prepared, the textbooks were chosen,  I would simply have to gather up my wits about me (years of standing before classrooms of students and writing lesson plans), and prepare my Pearls of Wisdom.

Using the text, with my “culture” and “learning,” I created a course that would follow major themes of architecture, art, music, film, literature, philosophy, history, and religion‑‑primarily those from Western traditions.  I was even able to end the course with James Hilton’s Lost Horizon and with Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End.  The course was supposed to enhance a student’s interest in examining some of the most compelling questions (and facts) about living the life of culture–physically, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally–by reading, viewing, listening, and–most importantly–by thinking.

And so it went, one semester, then another.  I got better and better at it.  More confident, that is, in my qualifications to teach humanities.

This Backward Glance over it all, My Memoriesofatime as a Humanities Teacher, was occasioned by that recent high school survey, causing me to bring it bring it all together here: All those courses enumerated on my transcript.  The college teaching listed on my résumé.  (A major bonus occurred in 2000, when the president of the college asked me to begin an honors program that would incorporate classes at Cambridge University.  While there in England during summers, tutoring students, I was able to attend seminars in music, art, literature, and history.  I was overwhelmed and honored.)

My first thought was to title this story “The Pitfalls and Dangers of a Classical Education.”  My story would have begun about the little boy from the South Side of Chicago, growing into a student of Latin, Greek, and German, and the classics.  The young reader of How to Read a Book would become a lover of literature, even an attendee at the Chicago Opera House.  Then he would evolve into a classroom teacher, with Palmer-Method penmanship, and SQ3R study skills.  Perhaps a too ho-hum story, about a little learning being a dangerous thing?

Then I thought, maybe my story would be “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent.”  This story would be told, not by an idiot, but by a seventy-eight-year-old man, no tale of sound and fury, but the story of a great-grandson of one of the Chicago Haymarket Rioters, a Bohemian kid from Chicago, a hard-working paperboy, Boy Scout, Baltimore-catechist, literature-lover, grammarian, teacher-husband-father, graduate student.  This story includes anecdotes about hospital orderly work and, yet, at the same time, his reading Chardin, Joyce, and Milton.  In this story, he formulates “My Three Favorites of All”: Othello, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and The Power and the Glory.  Then age sets in.

No, age has not set in.  Not in this story, for I do not yet “wear my trousers rolled.”  (I do wear shorts a lot.)  In fact, I consider myself a rather distinguished fellow: still concerned about teaching the classics in the classroom; still reading history essays and studying film; writing book reviews–and my own bloggy-“memoirs.”  (At the same time, the technology of media and YouTube have helped me and my hands install faucets and a garbage disposal.)youtube image

THE FAMILIAR “GO!” OF YOUTUBE

I dabble a bit, yet, in philosophy, less in theology. Even less in modern contemporary novelists (whose books might be purchased but sit on a shelf unopened, or are archived in my Kindle.)  I am, perhaps, even a bit “still crazy after all these years.”

“All these years” is my strength, the 45-plus years in education with my Renaissance-type education and training, my skills and techniques as classroom teacher, seminar instructor, and my being an educated man.  This story is mine.

At the end of the film Saving Private Ryan, one of my all-time “favorite” war films, the veteran of D-Day walks among the crosses and graves at Normandy. saving private ryan poster

He, Private Ryan, comes to that white cross of his squad leader Cpt. John Miller, killed many, many years before, June 13, 1944.  Private Ryan, in emotion, says, “I hope . . . I earned what all of you have done for me.”  Ryan has led a good life; he is told he is a good man.

 

What more could I ask for?  My life experience is nothing at all comparable to what those soldiers endured.  Yet I can be empathic during these last moments of the film.  I can say of my teachers, with honesty, that I hope I’ve earned what they have done for me.  I, too, hope I have instilled “culture” into others as it was instilled, I believe, into me.  And that likewise, I do hope my many students can . . . well, . . . you know . . .

©  James F. O’Neil 2019

 

 

Because I could not stop for Death —
He kindly stopped for me —
The Carriage held but just Ourselves —
And Immortality. //
We slowly drove — He knew no haste . . . //

Since then — ’tis Centuries — and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity —   –Emily Dickinson

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”  –Marcus Tullius Cicero

“The true purpose of education is to teach a man to carry himself to the sunset.”  –Liberty Hyde Bailey

“Death is not the greatest loss in life.  The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”  –Norman Cousins

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge.  That myth is more potent than history.  That dreams are more powerful than facts.  That hope always triumphs over experience.  That laughter is the only cure for grief.  And I believe that love is stronger than death.”  –Robert Fulghum

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.  If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”  –John Donne, Meditation 17 Devotions upon Emergent Occasions

“I am dancing around the ‘D’ word, but I don’t mean to be coy.  When you cross into your 60s, your odds of dying, or of merely getting horribly sick on the way to dying, spike.  Death is a sniper.  It strikes people you love, people you like, people you know.  It’s everywhere.  You could be next, but then you turn out not to be, but then again, you could be.”  –Nora Ephron, “Considering the Alternative,” Vogue (2006)

“To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already three parts dead.”  –Bertrand Russell

” . . . when all is said and done, none of us will be measured on how much we accomplish but on how much we love.”  –Krista Tippett, Speaking of Faith (2007) 

 

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BY:  JAMES F. O’NEIL

“. . . yet in these days, when an extended curriculum tends to curtail considerably the amount of Latin read, it seems to me that anything which may help boys to some knowledge of Latinity in a short time is not wholly useless.”  –Preface, Latin Phrase Book, Trans. H. W. Auden, 1894 [Reprint 1990].

How much Latin should a person remember who has studied the classics and languages, say 25, 35, or even 50 years ago?  Quis curat?  (“Who cares?”)  Does it matter anymore that a person study Latin at all?  Humerus is the humorous bone.  Why know differently?  Funny, no?  Make no bones about it: Don’t forget the radius and ulna, too.

I have many semesters of Latin (and Greek) noted on my transcripts, high school and college.  I have sung in Latin, prayed in Latin, translated into Latin and Latin into English.  I have even had the good fortune (Deo gratias!) to pass the Latin examination as part of my Master’s degree program (M.A., Magister Artium).  Years of daily study, from basic rex, regis (as in “king” and “of the king”) to the study of Thomistic philosophy and theology in Latin, prepared me for a three-hour written translation of some classical piece of Cicero, without a dictionary.

I am still Latinized, cannot avoid it in my life, nor could not avoid it as an English lit/humanities major: Never would I have been able to manage my way through the works of Chaucer nor those of John Milton without some Latin.  Moreover, Latin even contributed to the success of one of my previous blogs, “HOW’S YOUR LATIN?”  OR, SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY: https://memoriesofatime.blog/2013/11/08/hows-your-latin-or-sleeping-with-the-enemy/   This gave a bit of my Latinity, and my living with a Dead Language.  Nor can you avoid it–even if you have not studied a classroom word of it.

Yet you have: “Vocabulary test on Monday, don’t forget!” your teacher says as you begin to race out the classroom door on a Friday afternoon.  You know you had to study, memorize, and remember.  And the SAT, the PSAT, the ACT vocabularies: lists of roots and prefixes (like pre-fix: “before”) were the fundamentals (fundus: “ground, earthy, foundation”).  Recall now: anti-, ante-, intro-, extra-, inter-, ad-, mal-, mel-, etc.  (Oh, that’s one: et cetera: “and so forth.”)  You studied from morning to night, a.m. and p.m. (ante meridiem: “before noon”; post meridiem: “after noon”; “before”; “after”; diem: “day,” as in per diem: “per-day” expenses).  Some of you studied long and hard, to illness (perhaps even to “mono” illness) requiring medication PRN, or BID, or TID.  Huh?  Every eight hours?  Ter in die.  Every twelve hours?  Twice a DAY is bis in die.  Maybe for that serious pain, hydrocodone pro re nata, as needed, or whenever necessary–when the Tylenol does not do it!

Ergo (“therefore,” those three dots used in geometry, or the conclusion in philosophy or logic: “Therefore, all men are animals.”), it may not be so easy to be without Latin in our daily lives.  Medicine, geography, law, politics, religion, everyday living, literature, movies, sports, etc.–each contains various Latin expressions as part of the vocabulary of the subject, i.e. (id est: “that is”), particular words recognized by users in that area.  Usually one has to first begin a study of a subject by studying the vocabulary of the subject.  (I cannot forget those long lists of vocabulary in Latin classes, every week.)

Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur.  —Caesar’s Gallic Wars.  This is how my formal study began, in 1955 or so.  Church Latin began years before that, however: reading, singing, and listening to Latin at Mass and at Church services. 

I am certain that most of you reading this blog now can look at the Latin of Julius Caesar and guess at a few words, can even recognize a few meanings.  And in this very paragraph, look to see some Latin (not “paragraph,” however: that’s Greek: para-: “beside”; graphein: “writing”: a short stroke or mark was made alongside text to indicate a new “section”).  Look: “certain” (certus: “sure”) and “re-cognize” (re: “again”; cog: “knowledge”).

You can see it’s a living language for me, not a dead subject.  I can watch George C. Scott, the actor, in the movie Patton, walking in the silence in North Africa among the ruins of an ancient city.  I realize what he is there for, portraying this warrior general, George S. Patton, to annihilate (nihil: “nothing”) the enemy.  And I recall my Latin heard, learned, from somewhere, CARTHAGO DELENDA EST!: “Carthage must be destroyed [deleted]!”–now an expression of total warfare.

patton patton

General George S. Patton, U.S. Army

DELENDA.  A keystroke.  Delete: A key on my computer keyboard . . .  (Thirsty here, I take a sip from my bottle of Aquafina [“water”; “pure”] . . .) Now I don’t go around in my life obsessed with Latin or searching for Latinity.  It comes about, comes to me.  It excites me to remember something I learned long ago, still remember, have memoriesofatime, or still use.  Well, maybe not necessarily “excites,” but just makes all that previous effort so worthwhile.  That I did learn something, that I do remember something, that I can read (or hear) and make some kind of living connection somehow with ex officio, vox populi, habeas corpus, ex cathedra, fiat lux, extempore, semper fidelis!, dexter, semper paratus, ad astra per aspera, sine die, de fide, in loco parentis, sinister, gravitas, aurora borealis, summa cum laude,  contra, Taurus, ad hoc, bona fide, placebo, ad nauseam, etc., et al., ad infinitum . . .  You do get the point.

And thus, my friends, SATIS (“enough”).  My revels now are ended.  My Little Living Latin exercise ends; I make my exit (exit: “he leaves”; exeunt: “they leave”).  For certe, Toto, sentio nos in Kansate non iam adesse.  

ADDENDUM

CAESARCommentarii-de-Bello-Gallico

Books and sources abound for further study of the Dead-Living Language.  A Google search (or Amazon quest) reveals copies of major works in Latin, often with English translations (q.v.: quod vide: “which see”):  http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/index.html

Latin is still being taught in many secondary (and primary) schools, and in programs in higher education, here in the United States and in Europe.  So much the language of medicine (anatomy), law, and science, Latin is useful also in the study of words themselves, etymology, from Greek to Latin to French or Middle English.  Useful, fun, T-shirt-able, important, serious–whatever the need: “What good is Latin?”  Well, for one, it’s to help us understand our view of things, to help us “get” it, to even ponder how we think about . . . life itself?

carpe diem t-shirtCARPE DIEM T-SHIRT

. . .

**Latin for Dummies (2002) “makes learning fun and brings the language to life.”

**Latin for the Illiterati (2nd ed 2009) is a reference to common Latin words and phrases.  Not a dictionary, but rather “a compendium of words, expressions, familiar sayings, abbreviations, with an English-Latin Index.”

**More Latin for the Illiterati: A Guide to Medical, Legal, and Religious Latin (2003).

**Latin Phrase Book (1990 Rpt. of 1982 ed.).  A Longwood Academic reprint book I found is a translation (1894) from the sixth German edition of Lateinische Phraseologie by Professor Carl Meissner, organized into seventeen topics, with Latin and English indices.

©  JAMES F. O’NEIL  2018

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