Thoughts on the Death of a Close Friend

I’m going off my usual mental illness topics for this post.  Something like what I’m currently writing has been weighing on me for quite some time.  Yet it finally crystalized into actual thoughts within the last twenty four hours before this writing with the death of one of my best friends.  This man died in his early 80s and was a retired Lutheran minister.  Pastor Vern, as this man was known to everyone living in my apartment complex, was probably the wisest, wittiest, well read, and compassionate individual I met in my entire life. I knew him for eight years but I don’t believe I ever heard him say anything derogative or hurtful about anyone.  I know I can’t go even eight days without at least thinking something hurtful directed at others, but hopefully most of this is due to the aspects of my illness.

Being a career Lutheran minister, Pastor Vern no doubt had his views on religion and God.   Yet he was not as caught up in rituals, creeds, and beliefs when talking with me as he was on the basic principles of Christianity and other religious beliefs.  Those core beliefs, the ones he lived by everyday were simply 1) Love God, 2) Care About Others, and 3) Respect Yourself.  I suppose if one were to substitute or supplement  the world ‘God’ with nature or the earth, even the most convinced atheists would be hard pressed to deny that loving nature, caring about others, and respecting yourself are good principles to attempt to live by.

Pastor Vern, being one with a wide array of interests and knowledge, was a perfect friend for someone like myself.  He and I could easily talk about history, classical literature, philosophy, among numerous other topics for quite a long time.  We would usually be sitting outside, him smoking his pipe, and just discuss whatever happened to come up regardless of whether it had any logical order or direction or not.  Some of our neighbors who listened to our conversations no doubt thought us a little odd for rarely discussing such mundane things as weather, current events, or gossiping about others.  For myself and Pastor Vern, hardly any topic was not subject matter to be discussed.  We had an unspoken agreement that no matter how much we disagreed on any one topic, we would never become angry or speak harshly to each other.  I suppose this falls under the care about others and respect yourself principles.

He and I have both studied the basic teachings and principles of most religions with significant followings.  We both came to the conclusion that in spite of the differing rituals, social practices and customs, sets of creeds and beliefs, etc. that one thing they all believed were the ideas that a person would be better off in their own lives and dealings with others if the basics of ‘Loving God (or your creator/giver of life/etc.)’, ‘Caring About Other People and Living Things’, and ‘Respecting Yourself’ were principles that a person attempted to live by.

Yes, these are simple principles to the point that any six year old child can grasp these are important.  Sadly, most of us as adults severely complicate these and often don’t live by these ideas at all.  How much less strife and division would we have in our work places and places of business if managers, workers, and customers alike lived by even the caring about others and respecting ourselves?  How much less war, famine, disease, poverty would we have if even individuals, let alone the governments of the world, operated with these guides?  How much less needless destruction of our most valuable forests, farmlands, waters and wasting of finite natural resources would we have if we lived by even the ‘Love God/Nature/Earth’ idea?  How much less conflict and needless grief would we have in our personal lives if we cared about others and respected ourselves more?

I apologize for the mini rant in the previous paragraph.  I wrote that to try to apply to our own lives the principles that my recently deceased friend Pastor Vern lived by every day.  These are principles I attempt to live by though often inconsistently.  In closing I’m glad to have had a friend like Pastor Vern for the eight years I knew him.  I wish that everyone could attempt to live by such principles, or at least become acquainted with those who do.

The Story of Two Brothers and What Is Still Good About American College

I’m going to be treading off the beaten path again.  This time this blog will be telling the story of two brothers I’ve known from my parents’ church their entire lives.  They’re quite a bit younger than me, but I’ve gotten to know these two pretty well as their parents are family friends of ours and that home community is one of those places that tight knit enough that everyone knows everyone.  I’m very reluctant to share their names as they really don’t like to brag about their accomplishments, but many people I grew up with are the exact same way.  It probably goes with the farming/ranching orientation of my entire home state.

After finishing their high school careers with about every athletic honor, social honor, and I think many of the academic honors their small high school could offer, these two enrolled at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.  From there they got on the track and field team, with both of them training for multiple events for the Husker track and field team.

These two put in full time classes, long hours of training, as well as the required studying for classes.  I don’t know the exact dollar amount of their scholarships (of if they even qualify for track scholarships as they have been in the program for only one year), but from what I understand, I was getting more on an academic scholarship to a small, private college than most T&F athletes do.  I received $5,000 a year and all I had to do was keep a 3.5 GPA after four semesters.  Well, I couldn’t keep that even though I wasn’t doing a time consuming sport or activity like band or student council or student journalism, etc.  Getting back to these two young men, both of them made the Dean’s List their freshmen year.  One of them even had a perfect 4.0, which I can never claim.  To help pay for college, these two are doing farm work this summer.

These two have been excellent athletes since they were toddlers running wild on the church front lawn every Sunday.  They won state championships in their individual sports as well as football.  Yet they are more than just athletes.  They are also dedicated students.  They have always been active in the church and lived Christian principles to the best of their abilities.  They are hard workers as they’ve grown up on a farm and doing farm work since they were children.  In short, these two brothers are what’s good about a lot of things.

In the last couple weeks alone, we college sports fans have seen a star quarterback get suspended for academic misjudgment from Notre Dame.  We’ve seen, from the same University of Nebraska these two brothers attend and compete for, a football player get arrested for assault.  We’ve seen the p.r. nightmare that has become Rutgers’ athletic department administration.  We’ve just seen the University President at Ohio State carelessly spouting off at a fundraiser.  Now we’re seeing the family of the late former Penn State coach suing the NCAA.  I could go on about conference realignments, tv revenues, money hungry college presidents, athletes cheating in school, the pro leagues using colleges as de facto minor leagues, massively paid coaches, etc. But those stories have been told time and time again to where we think that is all there is to tell about the story of athletics at American colleges.

For every major bad story involving the odd mixture of academia, athletics, money, media, government, and the law, there are other stories that easily get ignored.  Those are the stories of the young men and women who compete/participate/work/study in the athletics, student activities and organizations, jobs, and schools we too often sell out as being corrupt, wastes of time and money, demeaning and low paying, and failing in comparison to our foreign counterparts.  In short, we refuse to see what’s good anymore.

In closing in this story about these two brothers, I think I will mention them by name.  While there are many young men and women like these two at every university in America, their stories never get heard because names never get put to them.  These two are Jed and Guy Fenske; scholars, athletes, model workers, and morally upstanding citizens.