So, you may be wondering what I did during my six weeks of renewal leave. First, let me say that six weeks goes by in a hurry. It seems like only yesterday that I was packing up the truck and heading to Lake Junaluska. During the first week I did some much needed work around our home at Lake Junaluska, the place where Beverly and I will retire in a few years. My other goal was to read, read for fun, not just what I needed to read in order to get ready for Sunday.
I started out with the goal of completing Carl Sandburg’s monumental six volume work on Abraham Lincoln. I only got through the first two volumes, The Prairie Years, published in 1926. Hopefully, I will complete the next four, The War Years, published in 1938 at some point. Part of the problem was I kept jumping over to other books that I wanted to read.
One book that I highly recommend is, When Breath Becomes Air, written by a thirty-seven-year-old neurosurgeon and writer, Paul Kalanithi. Kalanithi graduated from Stanford University with a BA and MA in English literature and a BA in human biology. He also earned an MPhil in history and philosophy of science and medicine from the University of Cambridge and graduated cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine, where he was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha national medical honor society. He returned to Stanford to complete his residency training in neuroscience, during which he received the American Academy of Neurological Surgery’s highest award for research. Kalanithi died in March 2015 just before finishing his training and postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience.
Kalanithi left behind a wife and an eight-year-old-daughter. The book was posthumously published by his wife and dedicated to his daughter. It was a powerful read from a young genius who suddenly realized that his final lesson was learning how to die. I couldn’t put it down until it was finished.
I also read Laura Hillenbrand’s page turner, Unbroken, about Louie Zamperini the champion Racer who ran in the Berlin Olympics. Zamperini was a young Italian American who was expected to run the first four minute mile but instead, like so many in the 1940’s, enlisted in the military. In May 1943 his B-24 crashed into the Pacific. After spending a record breaking 47 days adrift in a life raft, he was captured by the Japanese where his suffered horribly in the famous Japanese prisoner of war camps.
The amazing and moving part of the story was how Zamperini turned his life over to Christ at a Billy Graham crusade after several years of obsessed vengeance, anger and alcohol abuse. In telling Zamperini’s story, Hillenbrand tells the story of thousands of WW II veterans and POWs. It is a story of heroism, cruelty, life, death, joy suffering, remorselessness and redemption. Everyone should take the time to read this book.
I also read a couple of Leon Uris novels and I’m currently finishing the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, All the Light we cannot See, by Anthony Doerr about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation and horror of World War II.
Carl Sandburg, Anthony Doerr, Leon Uris, and Laura Hillenbrand remind me of the great sacrifice made by so many for this country. It also reminds me of the fortitude and faith that built this country. Let us never forget but also let us never allow anger, prejudice, or a cruel nationalism take us to place that detracts from the greatness of those who have gone before us or the sacrifice of those who learned in the end how to forgive and love.
Beverly and I celebrated thirty-five years of marriage with a trip to Seattle and Alaska. Upon returning I attended the Western North Carolina Annual Conference which I wrote about last week and then ended with a final week at our Lake Junaluska home. It’s good to be back and I hope to see you in worship this Sunday at Clemmons United Methodist Church. I also hope that each of you have a celebratory 4th of July and will be able to spend time with family and friends.