When I was a young boy growing up in Chicago, the number on my basketball
jersey was always 33. For some reason, I considered it lucky and wanted to
wear it. At the age of seventeen or eighteen, 33 seemed to be an
impossibly old number, an age I someday hoped to attain. WW II, which
killed tens of millions of people, ended when I was in high school, but
great friction still existed with Soviet Russia. They were said to be our
mortal enemies and, the saying went, practiced Godless communism. A war
with North Korea was soon to come, and my expectations of making it alive
to 33 often seemed remote. But I blundered through college, served more
than four years in the military, the last one and a half as a navy frogman,
and emerged uninjured.
Life moved on, time passed, and the demands of providing for a wife and
family kept me too busy to realize I'd passed 33, achieved my goal, and was
still pulling the harness with all the strength.I had. Just the other day
I looked up and found I was 66. What had I done! What had I learned!
What could I pass on to the millions of younger men and boys just like
myself, none of whom would listen any more than I had listened. The answer
was: not much; probably nothing.
My academic training was that of a physicist and my career made me an
engineer. Consequently, it has been very hard to leave science and logic
behind, and to adopt a philosopher's perspective. The empirical and
deductive part of me says man is basically a sophisticated ape, a tribal
creature with an unusually well-developed cerebrum, and all our instincts
and unconscious behavior patterns clearly demonstrate that fact. Any
zoologist worth the name can convincingly argue the point with aplomb. The
evidence most men live all their days as selfish primates is irrefutable.
But another part of me says that a man does not amount to much unless he
aspires, looks for things far beyond the tribe, and tries to ally himself
with what he deems to be his creator. It is not clear to me what power
draws men beyond narrow thoughts of themselves toward the good of others,
but I do know that power exists. Sometimes it extends only to the
immediate family, and sometimes it reaches to masses of humanity, but a
form of it is there in almost all of us. In a manner of speaking, men
stand erect as high in trees as they can climb, grasping a branch with
prehensile toes, while elevating their heads toward the clouds. There is
an unreconciled dichotomy in man that only a few of the most gifted can
Looking as I have at America for six decades, now and then with reason,
I've noticed changes in people that don't seem for the better. Beyond my
inevitable aging, a process that universally makes a man pine for a time
when remembered things were pure and simple, because he then was pure and
simple, there really have been changes in peoples' attitudes. It does not
seem to be an improvement, and I've wondered just what might have happened.
Not until the recent death of Dr. Benjamin Spock was I able to put words
to my feelings. This sensible, reassuring man, who told parents to trust
in their own instincts and to give love and time generously to their
children, mentioned in his later writings two aspects of our culture that
cause great trouble. He said Americans have overemphasized both the
competitive and the materialistic aspects of our nature, while neglecting
what he believed was an innate search for the spiritual.
Physics has always been an easy study for me, but metaphysics, that which
is beyond concepts explained by logic, reality, and physics, dwells in the
realm of the intuitive. It is only in the dimmest way I can sense what Dr.
Spock meant, but I believe he is right. Man lives not by bread alone,
though our modern civilization refutes that biblical saying dozens of times
daily. We have become so busy, so occupied in making a living in this
complex society of strangers, that few of us put aside time for the
spiritual demands of the inner man. Living lives in which there is nothing
beyond ourselves worth striving for, we fail to look up and hold our heads
toward the clouds. Bending or breaking the rules to win at all costs, and
acquiring things we may not need becomes an unreasoned passion. Success in
both does not guarantee happiness and a sense of self-worth.
Fulfillment and feeling contented about oneself requires something more,
perhaps directly helping others, or perhaps the reassurance of working for
society and the common good, carrying out the perceived will of one's God
or Creator. That may be the only thing of value I can leave for the men
who come after to ponder.
As yet another Spock often said in episodes of Star Trek, "It is not
logical, but it is true."
Sam Orr email@example.com