Here are the first few pages of the novel I'm working on tentatively called "A Conscientious Life."
Table of Contents----------------------PrefaceChapter 1: Early YearsChapter 2: College YearsChapter 3: Father's FuneralChapter 4: The Psychiatrist's CouchChapter 5: Bad Things Happen to Good PeopleChapter 6: The DreamChapter 7: Work and HomeChapter 8: The Neighborly SalesmanChapter 9: Carl's DemiseChapter 10: Lost!
THE EARLY YEARS
Six year-old Jonathan Stark walked slowly and carefully across the front lawns during the Cub Scout project. With him were members of his Cub pack sauntering along in mostly obedient fashion following their scout leader. They were picking up bags of food they had requested the week before for the “Cubs for the Homeless” drive. The pack leader was a ruddy-faced rotund woman prone to intermittent loud barks as her troop tried to stay in line. Kari felt a compulsion to run the Cub Scout troop because nobody else seemed to want to. It was a trip down Barker, Cherry, Adams, Schultz, Stoll, and Monarch Streets and then along Ondorf, St. James, Haux and Park Avenues. A vehicle drove down each street and avenue to collect the booty. The pick-up truck was driven by Kari Bender’s husband Dirk. His friends called him Razor because he was hardly ever clean-shaven. Dirk’s cigarette smoldered just a couple of inches away from his chapped lips. Dirk played a conservative talk show on the AM radio called ”Clark Smitherton, America’s Patriot.” He revealed what looked like an arrogant smirk when Clark talked about “the liberals” and how they were ruining America and the proud place America was meant to be. The loud voice over the radio carried to the side walks and to the ears of some of the young scouts. The tone and anger seemed to bother young Jonathan, but he was far too young to put his feelings into words. The course nature of the articulation over the airwaves seemed to pierce the quiet September morning.Toby was Kari and Dirk’s oldest son and he boasted that he would someday drive a cement truck like his Daddy. He was also a bit of a show off and handled any opportunity for negative or positive attention like a true showman...a showboat. He was known as the first grader who nudged and tested the other children, but he didn’t appear to be a mean-spirited kid who enjoyed making people suffer. He bullied Jonathan frequently, but it was not malicious. “Why are you so quiet? Are you still a baby?” He knew Jon was smart and deep inside was jealous of the intelligence he would never have. When teased, Jonathan would give a pensive look and wouldn’t jump into any kind of retaliatory response. It was a face incredulous yet covertly accepting. Jon though it was better to be quiet than to tempt a bully. In fact, “Never tempt a bully” had long been his motto. He was learning to be quite good at playing along.Jonathan’s mother Karen was a petite and intense looking woman who moved with her husband to Meadeville three years ago. She felt that Meadeville’s pleasant countryside was the kind of peaceful and rustic atmosphere perfectly conducive to raising an upper-middle class family. Karen was also an artist who painted on canvass when she had time, but she rarely had time, because she poured so much energy into her family obligations. Karen, college educated and prematurely gray, walked softly but carried a big stick. Meadeville was incorporated in 1857 and was a railroad town for much of its history. To this day, the Railroad Inn has the best food in town. Howard was the town to its immediate south, directly south of Lake Omaha. Howard was about ten times bigger than Meadeville’s population of 5611 people. Back in 1970, Karen was confident her life and her two young boys would take her family on a journey of meaningful proportions. Jonathan’s father Daniel was an all-state basketball player at Kirk City High School in central Wisconsin in the 1940's. Daniel was a modest man of Horatio Alger type achievements. He was in the top five of his class at the University of Nebraska Dental School. He was a quiet, intense and complex man who loved his classical music (especially Haydn, J.S. Bach and Mozart) and sailing. He never boasted about his accomplishments. He was a quiet observer of life...a humble man. Dr. Stark worked long hours but cared intensely (like no one would know) about his boys. When Jonathan was in the elementary grades in the 1960's, his mother Karen took night classes at King Hill Community College to become a part-time nursing assistant. In 1966, Jon’s little brother was two and a lot of work for his parents. Murray was bigger and more muscular than his older brother. Jon bore a bit of a scrawny build and was more of the bookworm type. He was transparently shy and the opposite of pretentious.One of Jon’s favorite things to do with his father was to watch the TV show called “The 21st Century” with Walter Cronkite. Jon studied the solar system in 3rd grade and memorized all the diameters of the planets and their distances to the sun. The boy’s enthusiasm for space earned him an “A” for that unit in Mrs. Magnuson’s third grade classroom. Jon and his father would talk together about how wonderful the future will be when new technology and scientific achievements “transform our lives in the decades to come.” (Later in life, Jon would be very appreciative of how positive his father was in encouraging a sense of wonder about the future and this fascinating world of ours.)Dr. Stark sometimes nursing an after work Manhattan on the rocks or Bourbon in hand would often talk about young Murray being the jock, but no predictions were made overtly about Jonathan. He was called “special” a lot. He didn’t quite know what that meant. How did he rank in the family scheme of things? Murray already seemed to be possessed with a somewhat brash sense of self, while Jonathan was more careful, more introspective. Then there was that word that always popped up on his report card, “conscientious.” He didn’t have a full sense of what that word meant, and how could he at the tender age of eight? His sense of self was still in serious question. His self-concept had a lot of evolving to do. Jon worshiped his father and felt his compassion strongly for the working man, for those less fortunate than himself. He talked to Jon about his respect for those who would go to jail for justice like Steven Biko and Mahatma Gandhi. He also talked a lot about the political courage and compassion of the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Daniel said he was deeply saddened by the death of JFK because he could “convey so much hope to so many people.” He talked often about his idols who risked their lives and sometimes went to prison for their political beliefs.“As long as there is a soul in prison I’m not free.”Eugene DebsWhen Jon was eight, his father felt the need to serve his community in a new and different capacity — to run for school board. For a long time, he disapproved of how the Meadeville Superintendent of Schools Tim Oreilly seemed to be in secret collusion with the school board president on many of the critical education decisions yet to be made. The administration and school board members wore buttons that said...”CHILDREN FIRST!” but, many people knew it really was the Superintendent Oreilly and the Tim Hanley agenda. It seemed as secretive as the Nixon administration. Hanley was president of the school board, and was criticized by the public for seemingly going along with every big decision that was the brain child of Dr. Oreilly. It was this factor that made the eldest Stark very nervous. He was nervous about so much power in the hands of so few in town. Hanley’s brother owned Grand Junction Motors. The company bought 40 acres of school property at a good price in the 1960's and opened a car lot. Environmental groups protested because a city park was supposed to go there, but Oreilly shot them down in the local newspaper, the Smith County Leader. He said the environmentalists were “pathetic tree huggers” and “misinformed idealists.”Some said Superintendent Oreilly had a shady background. Oreilly’s father Arlen owned “Arlen’s Good Times Supper Club.” There were rumors of drugs, gambling and even some prostitution at the establishment, but many of the richest people in town went there on a regular basis. Jon was too young to perceive the reality of the corruption of the human soul which may have been going on there. Arlen died in his late 70's of a disease nobody would talk about. It was never revealed. Dr. Stark would take Jonathan and Murray to Arlen’s a couple of times and in later years he would reflect on how affected Arlen seemed when he talked to people. When his father would take him to the restaurant as a young child, with brother Murray in tow, Arlen would say with a gregarious smile, “Dr. Stark, so nice to see you!” He would then turn to the bar and engage in extremely loud talk. There was something deeply wrong with that man, thought Jon. It appeared he enjoyed talking to his Dad because of his status as a dentist and not for who he was. The anger was something young Jonathan could not yet articulate.Karen said she wasn’t anxious to have her husband involved in another big undertaking, but she wanted him to do something he felt was his responsibility to the community. She also might have been worried too much that Daniel was away from the family enough and that more meetings may not be good for the boys. But she felt that if Daniel was happy, the whole family would be happy. With the heart of a dutiful and obedient mother, she carried on and didn’t rock the boat. Karen’s Mom (Grandma Janice everyone called her) said several times, “Karen does everything for Daniel.” The boy didn’t stop and analyze that too much. He also had a sense his Mom was psychologically confined in some way, but couldn’t define it. Young Jon also thought there was something wrong with his Mom’s lack of 100-percent freedom. She had the material things, but was she psychologically free? Was she totally free to be herself? Was this a nebulous or nefarious thought tucked deep in the recesses of his mind? He felt guilty for even thinking it.Two years later Jon, who could be classified by some as partially xenophobic, was almost out of the elementary grades. The door to the classroom opened abruptly. Jonathan’s 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Brumwell, stepped back in after consulting with someone in the hallway. Eyes of students were studiously pointing toward the chalkboard, except for young Jon’s whose eyes were drifting on this windy spring day. 10 year-old Jon, with a somewhat pedantic glance, seemed wholly captivated by a bronze statue through the classroom window. It was a robust bronze of the late Democratic Senator Harvey Stausen, a man from Meadeville who became a U.S. Senator through his brilliant speaking skills, his grit and stubborn determination. He was portrayed by the statue in the midst of fiery oratory. Stausen had also been an assemblyman and was mayor of the town before succumbing to the horrors of cancer. Whether he was at Norm’s Hardware Store, at a park dedication or a Chamber of Commerce meeting, Stausen had a smile for everyone he met. The quote on a plaque at the base of the structure read, “Inspiring the hearts of men begins with believing in all people.” Jonathan was mystified by the saying and the brave and serious look on the statue’s face. The young boy also wondered for awhile, why such a saying needed to be put on a statue, when believing in people should be common sense. Why must it be advertised on a sign? Yet he held a heavy reverence for that statue that he couldn’t yet comprehend. The expression of compassion and bravery on the Senator’s face would be something Jon would remember often when down and out from time to time. It would give him a psychological lift throughout his life, especially when beset with a tragedy. Gazing at that bronze statue sometimes gave him courage to face the day.Throughout his early school years, Jonathan was quiet and compliant and resisted the opportunity to call undue attention to himself. He got good grades (especially in math and in science), but was not in any sense of the term an over-achiever. He was more of an appeaser than a challenger, a bit like his mother. He was ultra-careful and the opposite of boastful. Jon felt a very powerful bond to his mother, and to his father whom he knew to be a very quiet, complex man (possibly a genius,) seemed distant a little bit too often. His love for his father was enormous but spiritually obtuse. Jon had wished he was closer to his father but there was a psychological barrier there that he could not articulate. Over the past couple of years, Jon grew further from his Dad psychologically, as Dad got more involved with the school board, and mentally more distant. It was something Jon knew was happening, but could not articulate in his mind. There were all those meetings. Did he have to go to so many meetings? It seemed like there were too many of them. Dad grew more aloof over the years, and was continuing to favor Murray’s sports prowess rather than his conscientious first-born son. Daniel’s aloofness, close to the austere, could be masking an emotional fragility.
Jonathan rode with his parents to Orientation Weekend at Tilden College–a quiet rustic ride, 40 miles from Meadesville. Dr. Daniel Stark, now with a gray mustache and gray goutee, looked a little nervous and out of place. He glanced at Karen, with that somewhat hard to read look. Karen with her half grey hair blowing near the half opened car window said, “Where have all the years gone?” The now 17, almost 18 year-old Jonathan was wearing fragile wire-rimmed glasses, gazed at the pristine Glidden countryside. A sign said, “Home of the Glidden Ghosts, 1976 WIAA State Football Champions.” Jon’s attention wasn’t on the sign, but it was more in touch with the serenity of the rustic countryside. The journey would take the Stark family vehicle through Glidden then on to Clayburg, then a straight shot down County “AA” to the outskirts of Tilden, population 4122. It was a little smaller than Meadesville, but not much. The smell of the atmosphere on this breezy afternoon was full of the benevolent scent of flowers of all colors and sizes, millions of gramineous molecules adrift toward their random destinations.The family’s dark green Ford was freshly washed. Daniel always liked freshly washed vehicles. The Grand Junction Motors sticker on the back of the vehicle was glittering in the summer sun. It was a windy and sunny day. The pastoral rural landscape revealed scenes of rural America. The white picketed palisades, the immaculate silos and the cluttered farm house yards were all part of the scenery. Wide-eyed and impressionable Jonathan had a copy of Time magazine on his lap. That was his mother Karen’s favorite periodical. He liked the writing and he felt it was a good way of keeping up with world events. At least he felt informed. Molded by shy elementary school years, Jon always felt more comfortable with a world of ideas than a world of people. Human relationships were still very scary for Jon, and he had virtually no experience with the opposite sex. He hated to take any risks at all with his life. He also had little experience with alcohol, but sometimes did drink to give into social pressure, appeasing the crowd when necessary. Jon’s mind wandered to past memories of his Dad. It was assumed by some in the family that Jon had inherited much of his reserved nature from his kind-hearted father, but also got his intelligence and sensitivity to people from him. He also had some of Uncle Gerald’s sense of humor. (Gerald was capable of ultra-pungent satire, especially when it came to his politics. Occasionally he was enamored with a sense of guileful enthusiasm and his thoughts would take off in interesting directions. Jon loved that part about his uncle, that his thoughts would go in such fascinating and sometimes unpredictable directions.) Jon’s father showed a kindness to folks, no matter what their lot in life. He had remembered the barber that his Dad would take him and Murray to when they were preteens and junior high-schoolers. Glen Rayson was described as a “real” person. He was very folksy and also had a racist streak. Jon, while getting his hair cut, would often wonder why his Dad would befriend someone like this, more unsophisticated and unrefined in many ways than his family, in many ways an ignoramus. It was an understatement to say that Rayson was rough around the edges.“I am lulled into a state of dreamlike lassitude by the warm stillness of a summer afternoon. With energy at its ebb, I am replete with the rainbow hues and musky scents to be savored in this oasis of greenery.”Margaret Lathrop from “Reflections of Summer”It was a brilliant summer day. The President of Tilden College gave a talk to the freshmen and their parents on that hot steamy August afternoon of 1977. It was a speech with enthusiasm characterized by a bold but almost pompous type of seriousness. President Charles Campion was himself a former Tilden football and basketball star. After the short speech at Memorial Union Hall, the Starks stood in line to meet the president. There was fancy fine china, coffee and tea on expensive red and white table cloths in the HW Bush Lounge which emanated a strong sense of clerisy. Raspberry and strawberry pie was cut in unciary fashion. Campion smiled like a politician running for office as he crushed young Jon’s hand. He glanced at Jonathan’s name tag and then at the eyes of his anxious parents. He noted the sign, “Welcome to the home of the Bulldogs.” A nervous grin dominated Jonathan’s countenance. The boy showed no evidence of schadenfreude and politely smiled. A roommate who was chosen for Jon was from Hawaii and looked like a cross between Charles Bronson and Starsky from “Starsky and Hutch.” He had a strange look about him and seemed to be mumbling to himself, kind of like a common street bum. A look of honest trepidation now overtook Karen Stark’s face. After the orientation dinner, the Starks said their goodbyes...Karen with a couple of tears in her eyes...one for the uncertainty, and one out of fear for what her son was preparing to embark on. The unknown was frightening. She felt he may not have been ready for this kind of independence, but didn’t say a word. Jon then trudged up to his room with his two big bags, headed from Room 422 of Hawkins Hall. The hallways echoed all evening with the sounds of loud conversation...it was the sound of freshman freedom, with some free-floating anxiety transparent in all of the overtly loud semi-confident but faintly insecure voices. All young Jon wanted to do was to get back to his room and get his things back in order.Even though Hawkins Hall was loud and unruly much of the time, Jon would concentrate on his studies and would glance out the window at the many different kinds of trees planted on campus along the curved walkways, the birches, the oaks, and the maples a plenty. Words from his favorite writer and poet he had just discovered by the name of Margaret Lathrop seemed to sum up the rustic atmosphere of the campus walkways:“Whenever I walk into a forest or even a wooded area, I am immediately aware of being in the presence of some intangible but very real entities. I am awed into silence by their immanent proximity. It is as if I have intruded upon a secret conclave of elders who spend their lives pondering the mystery of the universe. In their midst there exists an all-pervasive sense of some ancient wisdom that we humans have yet to acquire.”During his freshman year, Jonathan found that writing for the newspaper was something that made him feel genuinely alive and that he was somewhat good at expressing himself in a simple but clear fashion in writing. He started writing political and feature stories and found he was interested in many controversial topics around campus like the debate over African-American rights, labor issues, and gay rights, just to name a few. It made him feel involved. He also took a liking to feature stories involving the special events on campus like the poet who spoke in early 1978 at Clarence Hall. Less than a dozen people showed up. The poet had been published in major magazines and had been nominated for a national award called the Beacon Star award, which would put her in the company of some of the best in the world. Jon’s story wasn’t about the event itself, but about why people didn’t show up.“It seemed that there was uneasiness, and a quiet apathy surrounding the event. It was like Charlotte Isaacson was being overshadowed by a subtle type of discrimination against too much intellectualism on campus. Perhaps it was her ‘close to brash’ attitude favoring women’s rights that rubbed them the wrong way. She was too honest perhaps to be politically correct about these thoughts on campus. Perhaps Isaacson’s ideas like this did in her potential campus populism in this conservative campus atmosphere...’Women pushing, women choking, women stumbling on the mastery of a fictitious horizon, the mastery of something meaningful. Always working, always supporting, and always giving into a man’s egotistical whim. Half-way there, but never there until someday a paradigm shift will intervene.’ These kinds of ideas, perhaps like Nikki Giovanni’s poetry, were even too heady for 19-20 year old upwardly mobile conservative Americans. The cognitive narrowing is too sad for words.”Jon had later learned that Tilden President Charles Campion had lobbied not to have such a “radical” speak on his campus. Jonathan loved the freedom that the college media would afford him and the fact that he would not have to pigeon hole himself into a career track that would take away too much of his individuality. He took pride in making his own careful, quiet decisions—-even if they were decisions that involved avoidance and some degree of rationalization.During his sophomore year at Tilden, Jon found an inspirational English teacher, an instructor who seemed to have no sense of arrogance like most tenured professors did. This instructor displayed an uncommon humility, a sense of humor and personable nature. Dr. William Hixon enjoyed humor as well, and was able to pose hypothetical questions about novels which instilled a sense of wonderment about the authors. Immersed in his own populism, he was more like “The Smothers Brothers” than “Masterpiece Theatre.” This the students liked very much. There were always intermittent bursts of laughter in his classrooms…not from silly jokes, but from sharp and thunderous jolts of insight.In American Literature class, Jon was fed a steady diet of Steinbeck, Hawthorne, Faulkner, Updike, and even J.D. Salinger. He didn’t care that a lot of the lofty ideas of the greatest writers of all time seemed above his intellectual capacity. Jon, the latent linguaphile, still felt a great energy when he was able to be in touch with when he read the genius authors, a greatness of a higher order. He thought highly of Dr. Hixon, for his scientific objectivity in examining bit by bit of the “all-star” writers. He was also engaging in a Socratic sense. He was continually posing questions of characters, as in Moby Dick, “Was there a proper contrast set between the Christian Starbuck and the less than ethical characters in the novel?” Or he would gracefully present a question about Updike, “Is the author sending a message about the downside of American culture in the development (or shall we say disintegration) of the character Rabbit Angstrom?” Jon never understood, however, why Dr. Hixon underplayed Updike’s obvious brilliance, saying he was easily overshadowed by such writers as Joyce or Steinbeck. Maybe he reveled in playing the devil’s advocate for discussion’s sake. Jon was painfully aware, though, that he didn’t speak up in class enough. He was painfully reserved, even when discussion was focused on his favorite American writer John Updike. He could hear his father’s words echoing in his mind, “You have to speak out more.” or “You have to get into the game.” His grandmother’s words, “You’re just as good as the rest of them, so get in there and participate!”Another favorite professor of Jon’s was Dr. Eric Applebaum, the Sociology teacher who seemed to have an uncommon acceptance of him and of people with different viewpoints. Jon knew Dr. Applebaum was brilliant when he first stepped into his Sociology 101 class at Milton Hall. Jon, however, felt very sorry for Dr. Applebaum’s obvious social ineptness. He was a bit like Dr. Risler, who taught the beginning chemistry classes on campus. He seemed so intelligent. Some students postulated that he had too many thoughts inside his head simultaneously, and was not always able to get those thoughts out in a convincing or even moderately understandable fashion. Those who were not in touch with this were heard to say, “This guy is very boring and monotone, or perhaps he is just an egotistical idiot.” Jon was profoundly sad about the ignorance of these students, that they didn’t seem to “get him.”At Milton Hall, Applebaum held extensive office hours and was a lot better in communicating with students one on one. Milton Hall was one of the creakiest buildings on campus, but held some of the smartest professors at Tilden, like the entire philosophy department, who someone said was ranked in the top five in the country, ahead of several Ivy League schools. The chair of the philosophy department was Dr. Arthur Dobbs. Jon took a special interest in him. Jon loved his mysteriousness, his intellectual steadiness and his open and engaging questioning method in class. Dobbs was also a great advocate of learning history. He would always say, “Learn what is in my class, or you are doomed to repeat it.” Jon sort of appreciated this dry sense of humor. Dobbs helped Jon get interested in Immanuel Kant and his categorical imperative that there are fundamental truths upon which systems of knowledge can be based.In Frank Mills’ history class he would learn about Thomas Paine and his request to Americans of the 1700’s to revolt in the name of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He liked how Mills read Rousseau in class and often quoted Emerson to his students. Mills believed that “education is empowering,” and would repeat that phrase often and with conviction.More observations on Dr. Applebaum, he wouldn’t just grade papers, he would type out a two-page summary of criticisms and advice. This made Jon think of how much this sociology professor cared about each and every student. He wasn’t afraid to tackle the controversial topics either. Some of the subjects Dr. Applebaum liked to talk about most were the death penalty, the environment, birth control, euthanasia and various Supreme Court cases. He was a classic liberal and unafraid to back up his ideals with a brand of logic as pure as Fort Knox gold. He agreed with Isaiah Berlin who said “Freedom for the wolves means death to the sheep.” He hinted that Reagan would take the country too close to an “unkind fascism.” Pro-choice on a campus that was more pro-life, conservative and conventional. (A campus election showed Ronald Reagan the winner over Jimmy Carter by a 60-40 percentage margin.) Jon admired Applebaum’s courage a lot...but, from afar. Jon felt that Reagan with his rapacious appetite for war, seemed widely respected as this kindly cowboy trying to save the nation from communism. He felt that many on campus didn’t see his ferocious nature and were overly pacified by his “smiling cowboy” image.Perhaps the most conservative of Jon’s professors was Dr. Hobson, who believed strongly in the roots of conservatism. He praises conservative thought quoting Edmund Burke, stating that the right had a “disposition to preserve and an ability to improve” society. He said the left is too full of extremists and radicals and that conservatives were wise because they stood for organic rather than revolutionary cultural evolution. He quoted another conservative who said that to try to “prune and shape and force change is to invite unforeseen catastrophe.” Jon came away from his classes still thinking that conservatism was a bit dry and boring.During Jon’s sophomore year, he and Ben Riseman decided to room together. Ben seemed nice enough and Jon didn’t consider them best friends, but he was someone Jon could trust. Ben grew up on a farm and possessed a common sense intelligence that a person could trust immediately. He would lend a hand to anyone in trouble. He was honest and refreshingly transparent compared to much of the upscale Tilden student body. He also liked his sister Debbie, who would visit from time to time. Debbie apparently had a crush on Jon, and she gave him her senior picture one day. Jon never followed up because he felt awkward about the rules of dating. He never really understood them. Jon liked Ben’s easygoing and good-natured rustic ways and his good family upbringing. He was 4th out of 13 very hard working farm children. Jon had a deep respect for Ben’s strong family values and work ethic.In his sophomore year, Jon met Carl Tabor, who transferred from Cornell University—Carl was interested in many things Jon was and the two had many bull sessions about philosophy and politics. Carl had a great interest in astronomy, but his major passion was American Literature. He was fashioning his own major, American Literature 1850-1980 and Dr. Hixon was to help guide him in his goal of being a high school English teacher, or better yet....a college English professor.Jon and Carl would talk about their favorite books. Jon had a real genuine liking of John Updike, especially his short stories. Carl would talk about his literature classes and the two would compare notes of literary criticism. When they chatted about philosophy, it was often about the ideas of Des Cartes, Thomas Jefferson, Hegel, Kant and even Robert Green Ingersoll. Jon found some of Ingersoll’s quotes fairly unnerving and somewhat troubling, and Carl the self-styled secular sophist, would try to put the thoughts into perspective. Ingersoll wrote about religion:“If a good and infinitely powerful God governs this world, how can we account for cyclones, earthquakes, pestilence and famine? How can we account for cancers, for microbes, for diphtheria and the thousand diseases that prey on infancy? How can we account for the wild beasts that devour human beings, for the fanged serpents whose bite is death? How can we account for a world where life feeds on life? Were beak and claw, tooth and fang, invented and produced by infinite mercy? Did infinite goodness fashion the wings of the eagles so that their fleeing prey could be overtaken? Did infinite goodness create the beasts of prey with the intention that they should devour the weak and helpless? Did infinite goodness create the countless worthless living things that breed within and feed upon the flesh of higher forms?”Carl would emphatically say, “There is no proof whatsoever that GOD exists.” Jon would counter by saying, “There is no empirical proof, but there could be a knowing beyond the senses that is a sublime awareness.” The two would often agree to disagree. Carl also liked William Shakespeare and would share with Jon how he thought the legendary writer was thousands of years ahead of his time because of his insight into human relationships. Jon never bought into this process of making Shakespeare an idol. However, he loved this quote:“To be, or not to be: that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing, end them. To die: to sleep; No more; and, by a sleep to say we end The heartache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die; to sleep;”Dr. William Morgenstein was the head of the English Department at Tilden. Carl thought highly of him too, almost as highly as William Shakespeare himself. Sometimes Morgenstein would deliver a lecture with the energy of a Sunday sermon, like Father Kiley had done in his hometown of Dewitt, Iowa at the Reformed Church. Dr. Morgenstein said of Shakespeare, “The man knew many truths which are sublime and timeless, which no doubt transcend 20th century thought and which sometimes predict the events of this impatient and materialistic age.” It seemed that Carl thought of Dr. Morgenstein as a father figure, and almost a prophet. Carl had tried unsuccessfully to get Morgenstein as a faculty advisor.The poets the two young men would talk about most were Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson (Carl’s favorite) and E.E. Cummings. Jon shared his love for psychologists he studied like Carl Rogers, Marin Buber, Rollo May and Sigmund Freud. The two young men would love to talk about god and religion."The atheist staring from his attic window is often nearer to God than the believer caught up in his own false image of God."Martin BuberThey both had different views about what that quote meant. They both agreed that there were some contradictions and moral problems involving organized religion. Jon not only liked the psychologists, but philosophers like Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. This Emerson quote he hung above his desk in Room 301 of Brockman Hall:“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”As he would occasionally gaze at the saying, there was still a painful awareness that he was more of a thinker than a doer in life, and this deeply disturbed him. How was he supposed to do all this that Emerson was asking? He was not living the way he was supposed to. He felt he was supposed to take more risks, but didn’t know quite what to do. Deep inside, Jon felt he was too painfully cautious and inadequate. There was playfulness in his soul, but it was buried deep inside. Why was he so afraid to tell the world who he was? Carl would refer to an Emily Dickinson quote often and it would make him think and how important it is.“If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Into his nest again, I shall not live in vain.”Emily DickinsonJon felt he still had a major “direction” problem. He didn’t have a declared major and he was moving headlong into his junior year at Tilden. Deep inside, he wanted to make a strong impact on humanity. He had so many good intentions, but was never really able to connect with people to the degree that he wanted to, to make things happen in his life. He felt like his life was slow motion...too slow to get on the right page, because he felt like he was just too far behind. He hadn’t met up with the correct situations, interacted with the right people, didn’t have the right plans and wasn’t going in a direction totally of his own choosing. He admitted to himself that he was more of a watcher of life than an active participant in the process...something sadder than words could say. He was painfully aware of it all, but did not know how to break out of his chain of carefulness. Pat Temmis once told him he was a smart person, but didn’t “do anything.” He was hurt by that comment, more than he could ever express. He saw Pat as the winner he was supposed to be. At the age of 19, he had already made up his mind that he was going into anti-trust law. His father, also an attorney, was a big influence on young Pat’s life. He was also a very active responsible member of the Tilden College Alumni Board. Jon thought his life was very lifeless and mundane compared to Pat’s life. He felt inferior to Pat.What about girls? He didn’t know the first thing about girls, and felt so incredibly awkward in their presence. He really didn’t have a good read on what they were thinking, and this made him very nervous. He felt he was a better predictor of the behavior of the male sex, but was embarrassed that he didn’t have a clue about the other half of the human race. Jon was more of the bookworm than the adventurer. He wished he was more like Phil Goodman, the musician, who would thrill people with his guitar skills, playing James Taylor, Jim Croce, the Beatles and George Benson, wooing the women at the Johnston Hall Sunday night coffee houses with his intense strumming and heartfelt lyrics. Phil also had a great sense of humor, imitating Steve Martin and George Carlin during his collegiate gigs. Jon was also abit jealous of Joe Cosluss, of the Phi Delta Phi Thetas who seemed so natural with women. It was almost like he had this extra sense and knew exactly what females wanted and expected. The Phi Delts sometimes acted like barbarians, but many of them seemed to have an innate feel for the souls of women, to be able to get to intimacy quicker and with more care. Jon felt like he was out in left field. He felt like an alien with women.Young Jonathan daydreamed once in a while about writing the great American novel. He thought of a lot of possible story lines. Carl would tease him about having “silly screenplays inside his head.” He would also say Jon’s life was an open book but that it “lacked a table of contents.” Jon thought it would be interesting to write a novel about the first woman president, and all the psychological ramifications of how tradition would respond to a “first man.” He also thought about writing about the first gay president, but thought it would be too radical and not at all easily digested by the mainstream population, perhaps not even by the New York Times Book Review. Carl knew his friend was a dreamer, but accepted him for who he was, “warts and all.” That was a phrase that Jon’s Uncle Gerald used sometimes. Gerald was quite a character, but there was absolutely no doubt he was blessed with a heart of gold. He cared greatly about his nephew.Uncle Gerald was a great supporter of Jon’s during the college years and would meet him for coffee at Perkins Restaurant on Jean Street every month or so, saying when they met, “Nephew Jon, How’s life treating you today?” Gerald was in his late 50's, balding and gray. He was full of sayings, anecdotes and dry humor. He was usually smoking a pipe, with a deep cherry tobacco smell. He was also a great pun master. One of his favorite lines was,”I’m a tax and spend liberal and darn proud of it.” Sometimes he would make comments that would puzzle him too. He once said he loved his car more than he loved himself. He just loved that Volkswagen beetle, but then, he had always been in love with cars. Gerald was also very fond of ordering items from the Miles Clarke catalog. Every thing from spatulas to grill covers. He said he liked it because it was had so many practical things and was “family friendly.” If a family member received a Christmas gift, it would most likely be from the Miles Clarke Catalog. He also respected the company because he had heard from many people that they are respectful to their workers. Jon had a special respect for and curiosity about Uncle Gerald, his mother’s younger brother, and respected his courage to be himself, no matter what anyone else thought. He knew his uncle was more than blood, he was a true friend.Do not walk in front of me I may not follow. Do not walk behind me I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.Albert CamusUncle Gerald was someone whom Jon could ask almost any question and he thought it was good to have his uncle firmly on his side. One thing he expressed to his uncle was that it was dawning on him that he didn’t have any best friends, friends who cared about him enough to help him when he needed help. In some strange way it seemed that many people were intimidated by Jon and what he would see in them. Like his uncle, he seemed to have a way of looking through people’s false airs and seeing them for who they really were. That made some people uncomfortable. Jon began thinking about much courage complete trust actually takes. True friendship is very rare. It was difficult for Jon to place complete confidence in someone else.Jonathan knew some great changes would happen in his life and he knew he had to be brave for each challenge.“We need to teach the next generation of children from day one that they are responsible for their lives. Mankind's greatest gift, also its greatest curse, is that we have free choice. We can make our choices built from love or from fear.”--Elizabeth Kubler-RossJon felt a special connection to several of his teachers at Tilden College, and that gave him a kind of quiet courage. A professor who puzzled Jon but who also inspired him was Dr. Bob Othesford. Othesford taught some of the upper level psychology courses and loved to take students out to the observatory stations in northern Wisconsin and in Michigan to observe wolves and other wildlife. His uncle, who was also a professor at Harvard, observed killer whales and had an observation station in Alaska. His specialty was animal behavior, but he also had a childlike curiosity about human behavior. He also gave talks around campus about ghosts and about haunted houses which came to life when he spoke to young people, usually in front of a crackling fireplace somewhere. He thought, “What would Bob Othesford think about religion? He was most likely an agnostic because he was so honest and questioning.”Jon was a very childlike and impressionable 19 years of age and he knew it. There were so many questions, including questions about the mystery of human intimacy. He also was afraid of this intimacy and what it would teach him about himself, especially his limitations. He didn’t want to face that. He was more in control of his own life than he thought, and it was his lack of action that got him in the most trouble. That was a cruel kind of irony indeed.The biggest questions Jon had were, “What is the nature of GOD? If there is a GOD, who created him? And why were some people so set in their opinions on religion, convinced that non-believers will go to hell?” He always wondered what Albert Einstein’s full conception of God would be. This quote appeared in bronze at Tollifson Science Hall.“I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals, or would directly sit in judgment on creatures of his own creation. I cannot do this in spite of the fact that mechanistic causality has, to a certain extent, been placed in doubt by modern science. [He was speaking of Quantum Mechanics and the breaking down of determinism.] My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance -- but for us, not for God .”Albert EinsteinEinstein had said that any God would be like Spinoza’s God. A creator who “reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists.” Jon imagined that Einstein saw the world in an extremely unique, creative and brilliant manner.Jon and Carl would talk about world politics from time to time. The political party Jon naturally felt closest to were the Democrats, but he was not overly impressed with their sloppy organization on campus. He admired a Harry S. Truman quote that favored the democratic way of thinking and how they would lead:“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”In his young and impressionable political mind, Jon had a strong feeling that Democrats were the party of inclusion, and in the long run this was superior to any kind of superficial class-oriented politics, which he thought the far right represented. Was it this simple? He thought sometimes that the Republicans cared more about money and Democrats cared more about people. At Jon’s tender young political age, this seemed almost like common sense. At some level, he knew it was a gross over-simplification. He also thought current Republicans wanted to blend religion and government together too much of the time, that they were too focused on faith and not enough on reason. Jon thought there was something inappropriate about that, something our forefathers would not have wanted if they were alive today. What would John Adams have thought about the current Democrat and Republican parties and how they interacted? What would he think of the divisiveness that many times runs counter to mature democratic discourse that was envisioned by our founding fathers? The extremists in both political parties seemed to be tragic caricatures that held fast to their views and allowed no real debate. Jon thought this was a serious barrier to real democracy.It was clear to Jon that the Democratic Party embodied the diversity through strength concept better than the Republicans. He also knew that the dems could never devolve into fascism, where the GOP was quite capable of it if the wrong conditions were present at exactly the wrong time. The Democrats, he thought, could rule through inspiration rather than scaring the people. Jon knew the Tilden College Republican Party President, but didn’t really like her or understand her. Laurie Taurensmith’s metabolism was so often in high gear it would scare some people away. She did everything so quickly. She talked, walked and even ate too fast. She was so sure of herself. Laurie disregarded all “liberals” as silly dissenting people who were “naive” or “foolish.” Jon never worked up the courage, but if he had, he would have told Ms. Taurensmith that it was better to embrace all races and all religions and be the party of inclusion rather than the party of class warfare or the party of the country club. Is it easier to side with the party of big business, but much more difficult to have the perseverance to go against the grain? With a little courage, Jon could’ve expressed to her that so far, he thought that the bad guys with the big checkbooks were winning. Deep in his mind, he wished that he could convey this political ideology to more people, and deep in his mind, anything seemed possible in his life, if only he could choose a direction. Jon knew he could pick the smart path. He had a quiet kind of confidence in himself, which was not anything even close to braggadocio.Jon felt he was soaring to a kind of mental clarity that would make him his own kind of person with his own set of unique beliefs about life. Perhaps, he thought, he could be a political candidate some day...a superstar champion of the left. He daydreamed about being the hero of the common man, instead of setting practical goals.“The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible.”--Arthur C. ClarkeIt was a September afternoon in 1978 and Jon and Carl walked down the blacktop path from Harlin Commons to the dorms. Phil Goodman walked past them whistling a tune he had just written on his guitar. They then heard a strange noise behind them. Someone was making gagging sounds. He was hooting and hollering. It was that pompous fraternity boy from the football frat, Delta Phi Delta Phi Kappa. Billy Carson was the definition of the ADHD child gone completely haywire. That’s what Carl had said about him. He came up to the two with this strange maniacal look on his face, as if he knew the answer to a huge question that must have been puzzling him. Jon kept quiet while Carl did the talking. “What are you doing here...and what to you want Billy??Carl saw Billy as one of the ultimate campus hypocrites, one who headed Tilden’s Christian Club—and one who partied heavily with his football and Theta Chi Chi friends at least 2-3 times a week and made fun of many people behind their back. He would later fabricate much of his application to Princeton Law School. Some Christian. Jon thought that Billy had absolutely no credibility when compared to a great thinker like Thomas Jefferson:"Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear."- Thomas JeffersonOn Sunday, Billy would don a suit and with a half dozen friends with bibles in hand would try to corner impressionable frosh or sophs, lecturing to them about GOD, and what GOD had in store for their lives if they accepted Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior.Carson went eyeball to eyeball with Carl. Carson was the first to talk, his blue eyes blazing and his blond hair flying in the wind. “I’ve been noticing you boys, and your secular beliefs you have been broadcasting all over campus. It doesn’t look good I don’t think.” Carl was getting angry now and said,”What on earth are you driving at anyway? Did you get drunk over at the Theta’s again? It’s only 4 in the afternoon.” Billy’s tone was now sounding more like a sermon. “I think some guys in the Christian Club were offended by Carl’s letter to the editor in the Tilden Times school newspaper, offering that half-crocked view of agnosticism. You don’t realize how much damage you can do—ignoring the light of the Lord and professing your own individualistic hedonistic philosophy. Don’t you know that our country is a Christian nation?”Jon restrained Carl as he wanted to throw a wild punch. Billy’s Arkansas drawl was now getting seriously annoying. “Last time I checked, this was a free country and people were allowed to think and believe what they want.” Billy retracted...”I feel sorry for you guys–lost in your wishy-washy liberal world view crud. I’m getting sick to my stomach. Jon, you think you can hide behind your commie articles in the newspaper. Like the one about the poet who came to campus and nobody showed up because she was a radical feminist, maybe even a radical communist and a man hater. We don’t like wild ideas like that on our campus. President Campion was right. She is dangerous for young minds. What those minds need is the light of the Lord.” Carl fired back, “At least she isn’t coming out to the commons on Sundays waiting for naive freshmen and women, ready to pounce on them and brainwash them at a moments notice. At least she is not a member of the Ku Klux Klan!”Billy got the final shot in. “There has been some talk about you guys too. People are wondering if you two are embarking on an alternative lifestyle, a lifestyle not to the liking of a majority of Americans. You know what the Bible says about that. You don’t have to be a genius to figure that one out and you guys may have a lot of learnin’ to do.”Carl muttered under his breath...”I don’t have time for idiots like that. His ignorance is beyond belief.” The two walked away as Billy Carson flashed an impish red-neck smile that would have made all the ultra-right bigots in America beam in unison with contemptuous false pride.Carl was now determined to write a fiery letter to the editor that Jon would hand deliver to the editor of the Times, Ed Wilson. It was May 11th and it was the last edition of the school newspaper before students were let out on break for the summer.Dear Students at Tilden,I find it unconscionable that a person who represents a Christian group on campus could be so off track. Intolerance of differences on campus could grow like a malignant cancer if not checked. In March, the Campus Christian Club denounced the appearance of an award-winning woman poet on campus because of her apparent liberal bias. The president of the club and the president of this college, Charles Campion, deserve the brunt of the criticism here. Billy Carson told me just last Friday how dangerous he thought Charlotte Isaacson was for the students. A member of that Christian club, who will remain unnamed, said gays on campus should be turning to God and realizing their sins, adding that Tilden is no place for alternative lifestyles.A liberal arts college should have no time for such extremist bigotry and arrogance. Most of the latest studies on homosexuality state that a large part of sexual orientation is biological and not learned. Saying that these people can turn against themselves and turn to God…that they would be magically transformed is balderdash in its lowest form. If there is anything that a liberal arts college such as Tilden should teach, it is tolerance toward different races, religions, sexual orientations and when it comes down to it......different world views. I believe there is a much revered book which states, “Do not judge, lest ye be judged.”Sincerely,Carl W. TaborAfter a summer in Meadeville and a part-time job at Meadeville Pizza Palace, Jonathan felt psyched up for the new school year ahead. Jon felt like he had a sense of direction, with a new major and a refreshed attitude toward school. He had decided to major in psychology with a minor in journalism. He was very interested in the study of human behavior, like his father, who wrote a pamphlet for the American Dental Association on “The Psychology of Patient Care,” which was widely read by not only the Dental Association but the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association. It sold thousands of copies just in Wisconsin. Jon’s Dad was known for his warm and excellent relationships with his patients, his dental chair-side manner as he liked to call it. The mood was upbeat during that second week of September, with a warm fall wind blowing through the campus. The leaves of the trees were scattering in greater frequency along the campus walkways.There was a smell in the air of autumnal welcoming, a sort of an olfactory fantasy. That day, Jon was doing things that many normal 20 year-old liberal arts college students do. He was unpacking new textbooks and talking to Carl about economic theory, and the good looking girls in Kinsey Hall. Girls at Kinsey seemed a little "nicer" than the rest of the girls on campus, and much less arrogant. They were “real” and a lot of them liked sports. Carl had many times mentioned how “down to earth” most of them were.It was an average morning on campus...Jon getting ready for breakfast before his Abnormal Psychology Course. He also spoke with Carl about his upcoming test on DSM III disorders, noting that autism was a particularly vexing condition that he felt was poorly understood and maybe would be for some time to come. He took a special interest in the subject of autism. He also mentioned the note on Dr. Balek's bulletin board about a camp for autistic and other behavior problem kids in Connecticut that he was very curious about. It was called Camp Hope.Jon’s mind shifted from thought to thought. It would be a busy year ahead. He started thinking about his father for some reason. He suddenly felt guilty about not taking the initiative in not developing this relationship with his Dad who was an intelligent and complex man who didn't share feelings very easily. Time had gone so fast since Jon’s mixed blessing of a childhood, with Murray the jock now far ahead in the race for parental affections. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” he thought. He still felt a very solid bond with his parents, a bond he would later understand in far greater complexity and profound perspective. Why was he all of a sudden thinking about his Dad?The ring of the telephone echoed around the third floor of Brockman Hall. Soon Jon would know that it would be the toughest phone call he would take in his lifetime so far. It would be a strong test of his character. Burley Steve Burrey answered the phone on the third floor of Brockman Hall. Steve said “Hey J-man it is for you.” (J-man was a name Jon didn’t invent, but, Burrey just felt this strange need to call him that, and several others in the residence hall followed suit.)“Hello.”“Hello Jon, this is your Mom.” Karen was obviously very upset. There was a unique tone to her first words, as she struggled to get them out. Jon knew there was something very, very wrong. Her voice was raspy. He knew his mother never to have a raspy voice unless she was very upset over something. “Jon... You need to come home right away. Dad has had a heart attack or stroke and is going to Mercy Hospital. He was sitting at the kitchen table and passed out without saying a word. (Karen starts crying)I need your support Jon. Murray has been called home from high school. You need to come right away and drive carefully.” The click of the phone felt too sudden and Jon knew he had to get moving.Jon’s heart seemed to twitch one or two times every minute as he packed a small bag in room 301. His heart was beating faster. He would take Highway 23 straight to Mercy, about a 25 minute drive, the longest 25-minute drive of his life. As he drove, he thought of past times with his Dad, how he would stay up with him when he was sick (sometimes for hours until Jon felt comforted,) his silly habit of singing in the morning to wake up sleepy boys, and making “eggs in a glass.” He remembered when he showed incredible patience showing him how to tie a bow line, a good knot to know if you were docking a sailing or fishing boat. He remembered for some reason the stories his Mom would tell about his Dad when they first met. He remembered the story about how his Dad asked Karen’s friend Bunny in college if she would go out with him if he asked, and she said yes because he exuded a “country boy cuteness that could not be matched.” He was called “Danny high-pockets” and loved to wear flannel shirts.All the good memories flooded back and Jon was afraid of what he would see at Mercy’s emergency room. His mind started playing a slide-show of memories as he tried to pay attention to the situation at hand. Now another image came to mind, of Dad on the Flying Scot sailboat with contentment emanating from his sun-filled face. The sun flickered in and out of the cumulous clouds and the rattling of something loose outside the passenger door of his subcompact didn’t even catch his attention. He was firmly caught in his own mental web, a heady zone of contemplation, a poignant daydream. Jon felt so bad for his mother who could lose her trusted husband. Karen and Daniel’s souls were conjoined in many ways. Both were well aware of that fleeting feeling of being perfect soul mates for short intermittent bursts of time. Those fleeting moments were treasured very much.Questions ran through his mind like, “Have I tried hard enough to have a meaningful relationship with my father or did I take a lot for granted?” Or “What stress in his life was I responsible for or could have eased or erased?” “How will my Mom be able to cope with a possible tragedy here? Dad is only 48 years old.” He knew he would have to bravely cope with the future and help his family as best as he could. He was prepared to call up as much bravery as he could muster. A song came into his head. It was the theme song from a disaster movie about a sinking ship he knew well....the words “there must be a morning after...there must be hope after the storm.” He felt like he was immersing into a kind of poor man’s purgatory. He flashed back to a time when his parents had called him a “broken man,” after he flunked a Philosophy of Science test last semester. His parents may have been a little bit confused about his lack of motivation in college. Thoughts were swirling around in his brain. Episodic memory seemed to be flailing out of control.