It’s still exercise

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Glenbrook Square - courtyard
Glenbrook Square – courtyard

Look, I’m not an idiot.

I absolutely must walk a few miles every day.

But at age 77, I’m not taking any chances of slipping on the snow or ice.

I’ve had a broken elbow. I’m not interested in a reprise by hiking through the park when the pavement is partly covered with frozen stuff.

So, as I’ve done for years under such weather conditions, I headed for Glenbrook mall on the other side of the city.

Three things I’m sure of. First, no matter how early, it will be open, dry and safe for walkers. Second, I won’t be the only geezer walking briskly around this half-mile route.

Third, my mall walk will be the most boring thing I do all day.

For exercise, the mall just can’t compete with the park. Yes, even in the winter when the leaf-bare trees have taken on a ghostly aura. Yes, even when the temperature is near zero.

All I ask is dry pavement. Then I head out, dressed in multiple layers of pants, sweatshirts and scarves. Believe it or not, Foster Park is still alive as Julie Andrews might well sing with the sound of music.

Sparrows, squirrels and a few crows never fail to greet me.

After such an outing, I return back to our ranch house tired but exhilarated.

Now my physical therapist advises me that I can resume jogging in March. I can tell my stress fractured heel remains tender.

Yet despite my dislike of driving across town to walk at the mall, I’m still thankful I’ve got a place to walk. It’s safe. Like all shopping malls, our mall has a huge bookstore.

I got 30 percent off the new John Irving novel. So this otherwise unwelcome trek, had an nice bonus. I see it’s nearly time for the PBS New Hour.

All in all, despite the snow and ice, I’d have to say it’s been a good day.

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From realms on high

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Christmas_tree_at_nightJust seconds after the dismissal bell rang, I grabbed my coat and headed for Clinton Street downtown.

Ten minutes later – at most – I found myself in the B.F. Goodrich store to watch the electric train chug around the track set up in the window display.

Bored with that after a while, I’d then head for the Firestone store across the street to examine their Christmas displays. In warmer weather, I would spend half an hour looking at the fly rods.

Now it was Christmas and within days of the annual vacation. I had different wishes one year after another. By age 12, I had lost interest in trains. Now it was shotguns.

So by this time, I’d head north for the big hardware store close to the river bridge. I wouldn’t tarry at Firestone. I’d hasten to the big hardware store. I don’t recall that name.

This store had a huge display of rifles and shotguns. My passion in that department was a 20-gauge single-shot Winchester. Every late fall I had joined Dad and his friends to tromp through muddy fields east of Defiance. But without a gun, my role was to retrieve any pheasant or rabbit somebody had shot.

My dream was the 20-gauge and joining the hunt as a full-fledge member of the hunting party.

I don’t recall that Dad and I discussed my dream. Somehow, though, he knew my heart’s desire. What I do recall is shopping with him to buy Mom a Christmas gift. That found us in a furniture store on Clinton Street and buying a lazy Susan style coffee table.

I’m wondering now if most other people have a bunch of memories about this time of year. For me it’s not just the wishes for presents. It’s shopping for just the right tree, which Dad and I did together. It’s the caroling with other kids from church or the neighborhood.

The beautifully decorated tree that nearly reaches the ceiling in our living room went up the day after Thanksgiving. I didn’t have any big job with that, only carting in the boxed-up branches of the artificial tree and half dozen cartons of decorations.

Wife Toni got the lights and colorful bulbs on the branches. As always, an angel sits on top, fully in charge of whatever festivities lie ahead for the season.

One of the FM stations plays Christmas music through the holiday weeks . Tonight, I hope to remember to turn on the stereo. But before the 25th of the month, we’ll be celebrating son John’s birthday and that of Cynthia, his fiancĂ©.

I’m not sure why I seem to have more vivid memories of this time of year than any other. Despite my share of ups and downs during my 77 years, I still enjoy the season more than any other. It remains a very special time.

It makes exercising more fun. And I’m betting all those miles hiking means I’ll stay healthy to celebrate Christmas lots more years. That’s my hope anyway. The meals, of course, never fail to be great.

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A walk on the wild side

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Here we go again. Winter. Yes even before Thanksgiving this year. I don’t mind the snow, which arrived Sunday, after I had walked a few miles in the nearby park.

What I don’t care for are the icy streets. To be sure, the city had cleared the main streets by early morning. Yet it looked to me that our neighborhood still had remnants of the yesterday’s snowfall on the streets.

Now if the streets were covered with snow, I could put boots on. Or if the snow isn’t deep, I just attach cleats to my running shoes. Today’s streets lacked enough snow for either boots or cleats.

Look, it’s not as if today’s is some kind of freak event of late fall. I’m prepared. And I have an option. The option is Glenbrook shopping center – on the north side of the city. I live on the south side.

It wasn’t so cold this morning that I had to let the Honda warm up before I headed north. I did turn the seat heater on before leaving the house.

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Well, as I expected, I found the old gang at the mall. I don’t have names. But I know many of the faces. These mall walkers might very well do all their walking at the mall no matter the weather, although I did greet a couple of guys I usually see in Foster Park.

Today, I walked for an hour. I kept up a pretty brisk pace, although I probably slowed a bit when I hit the 45-minute mark. I rationalize this by reminding myself that I already had performed 50 push-ups and other floor exercises at home.

Plus, I figured that by tomorrow the neighborhood streets and the street around the park would be clear and I could safely walk my usual route.

Today, there was an extra bonus that came with walking at the mall. Yes, it’s not quite Thanksgiving. But merchants know what they’re doing. Santa wasn’t there yet. All the other trappings of Christmas had been put up.

Reindeer and pretend elves, Santa’s sleigh and a spot marked to tell parents where they could have their kids line up to take a turn on Santa’s lap. It was all there, minus the kids who crowd around Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

I stopped briefly to enjoy the display. To be honest, when it comes to Christmas, I’m a child at heart.

I don’t want to hear complaints about how the stores seem to decorate for Christmas earlier and earlier each year. As far as I’m concerned, we could celebrate the holiday year round.

Mainly, today’s main issue was the snow and how I had to get my walk in at the mall. But this break in my exercise routine let me silently applaud the other walkers, several no doubt older than my 77 years.

Your doctor will give you the same advice. Most of them, though, don’t have the long years of experience that I have. I understand the resistance, the excuses, the struggle to get moving. You don’t need a health magazine or handbook. You probably don’t even need to clear your plan with your family doctor.

Just put one foot ahead of another and don’t stop. Take a water bottle along. Enjoy the scenery and the new friends you’ll greet. You couldn’t be giving yourself a nicer gift.

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The eloquence of voters

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Tom Henry, Mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana
Tom Henry, Mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana

Mayor Tom Henry’s election Tuesday wasn’t quite a landslide. But he won over Republican Mitch Harper by a comfortable margin. I was pleased by the outcome but not surprised.

Lots of good things have been happening under Tom’s leadership. I don’t mean just the exciting, visible stuff in the downtown. But work crews have been busy all summer and fall throughout the neighborhoods. That includes mine. The progress shows.

Voters here in Fort Wayne, while re-electing a Democratic mayor, managed to continue to elect a mostly Republican council. I don’t believe it’s because we like divided government. The main issue is that some years back, the city annexed growing suburban neighborhoods. That boosted the city’s tax base. It also brought in thousands of Republican voters. For Democrats, that proved to be a problem.

When I served on The Journal Gazette’s editorial board, I had the privilege of interviewing, I’d guess, hundreds of candidates for public office. To be sure, I’ve been retired for 15 years. But I still remember a few of the candidates who ran in Tuesday’s city election.

I got to know Mayor Henry when he represented his district on the City Council. In more recent years, I joined him and other friends to drive to Indianapolis to a Colts football game. I recall the Colts won.

The great thing about elections is simply this: They affirm our abiding faith in democratic government. People simply believe that their vote counts.

I’d like to think that the big group of non-voters still believes in our system. (More than half didn’t show, as always on an “off-year” election) You can be sure that when the presidential election rolls around in two years, they’ll be at the polls to cast their vote.

I wish every citizen would take the time to inform him or herself about the issues. Part of such an education should include reading one’s local paper’s editorials and opinion columns. I realize that Fort Wayne remains one of the few cities in the country with two, competing newspapers.

Even you live in a one-newspaper town, you can also get a variety of opinion through letters to the editor in your newspaper and the columnists. Often at election time, TV news shows will feature various candidates. Then groups such as the League of Women Voters often conduct public debates among the candidates.

My newspaper regularly offers extra space to letter writers around election time. We even invited readers to sit in on candidate interviews.

After the votes are counted, a citizen can find the results quite an education. What do people expect? How are the incumbents doing their job? What new faces would bring new ideas? Here’s another chance to become engaged in your neighborhood, in your community.

For my part, I just enjoy visiting with other voters in line and with those working the polls. It’s the only time of year I meet some neighbors. I leave the polls feeling good about voting and fortunate to live in such an open, free country.

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Writing the last chapters

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William Sloan Coffin interviewed in 2011 on “Prayer”

“No, growing old isn’t hard. It just takes longer.”

That was the great peace activist and minister William Sloan Coffin when he spoke some years back at Plymouth Congregational Church here in Fort Wayne.

Coffin passed away a few years ago. These days, now at 77, I’m reminded of his reflection on aging. A lot of the Doonesbury comic strip fans might not realize that Rev. Sloan who used to appear regularly in the strip was modeled after the Rev. Sloan Coffin.

Earlier, at a large peace conference at his famous Riverside church in New York. I joined another Midwestern journalist to interview Coffin in his office. As I found him at the Fort Wayne meeting, he was at ease and eager to share his thoughts. He played the perfect host for this conference.

I’ve certainly come to agree with Coffin on growing old. It does take longer. It takes me at least 15 minutes longer to walk my four miles in nearby Foster. It takes me longer to get ready for the hike. (No jogging while I recover from a heel fracture.) It takes longer for me to decide what to wear when my wife Toni and I go out for dinner or to a movie.

It takes longer to read a book. I think I might have to pause often to find my place. It takes longer to eat dinner. But it also seems to take longer to assimilate what another person has just told me in a conversation.

I’m not sure I’d agree with the poet who said, “Grow old along with me/The best is yet to be.”

I probably won’t follow Dylan Thomas’ admonition, “Do not go gentle into that good night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Whenever that dying of the light happens for me, in five years or 20, I doubt I’ll have any rage left in me. Unless of course the right-wingers take over the country.

Meantime, I consider myself very lucky. I’ve managed to stay in good health. I avoid eating red meat and don’t often have dessert. I do my push-ups and stretches on the living room carpet daily. I’m not much for going to a health club. I’d rather spend the time reading or writing than driving to and from a gym. But good health is a lot more than exercise.

I attend church services a couple times a month. (For Unitarians who don’t fear punishment after death that’s OK.) I go to various community meetings. Again, I sometimes skip them.

But I’m sure that the most important thing that sustains me is the support of my family, starting with my extraordinary spouse Toni but also with my daughter Robyn and son John and granddaughters.

I can’t neglect to mention the importance of my friends keeping me connected with the community and the world.

When I wrote editorials for the morning paper, people said, “Larry knows everybody in town.” That surely was an exaggeration. But not a lot. Anyway, that day is long past. But if I want to pass along an idea to a councilman, state official, U.S. senator, governor or mayor, I have no difficulty getting the person on the phone.

I do think that at 77 I’m a lot more at peace. I believe I’m calmer. Most nights I sleep like a baby. I’m more comfortable listening to other people without interrupting.

I’m not sure I’d rather be 67 or 57. I’ve found retirement a luxury most all the time. But a person needs to have patience with him or herself. As Rev. Sloan Coffin put it, “Growing old takes a little longer.”

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Angels unaware

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R-AngelsOf course you never know who you’re inviting into your home. You assume you know these people. But do you really?

Could it be, as the New Testament book of Hebrews suggests, you’re entertaining angels.

(I note here that the Greek word translated in English as “angels” can as easily be translated “messengers.”)

Ok. I’ll save the language lesson for another day. Since I gave up a belief in the supernatural many years ago, I don’t wonder whether the people sitting across the dining room table might be heavenly beings.

Still, even for this old humanist, dinner guests are special people. That emphatically includes the two women, good friends, who joined us for salmon and a chocolate sundae on our back porch last evening.

I had to laugh that I was the only one at the table without a Ph.D.

The evening put me in such good spirits I found myself washing the dishes this morning by hand, rather than loading the dishwasher. Either way, you always have to put them away.

When I toured the Midwest with the college choir, I was on the receiving end of the hospitality. (At the time I was studying for the ministry.) Church members welcomed us to stay in a guest room for the night. I still have warm memories visiting with these kind people late into the evening and over the usually generous breakfast.

From central Ohio to Michigan’s upper peninsula to northern Indiana, the highlight of such tours often turned out to be such visits. Looking back on all that now, I wonder how all those good people put up with a noisy and messy crew of college students.

Years later, when I toured Israel and other parts of the Mideast, I discovered how people there still practiced the biblical tradition of welcoming and entertaining strangers.

I was even offered tea and cookies in one home where the Israeli homesteaders in Gaza would soon be forcibly removed by soldiers to make way for the return of Palestinians as part of the Camp David peace accords.

Here in Fort Wayne, my wife Toni and I have entertained singers here for programs at schools and at the Grand Wayne Center downtown. We’ve even played host to Tibetan nuns visiting the city.

It never fails, I always feel myself enriched with company. Certainly my knowledge of others is expanded. In the end, it’s such a personal reminder that there are a lot of good people in the world.

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Sanctuary on Lake Avenue

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Carriage House, Ft. Wayne, Indiana
Carriage House, Ft. Wayne, Indiana

I’ve got to admit that this posting is personal.

It’s not just that I once battled depression myself and spent a few weeks in a psychiatric ward, back in the early 1970s. Or that my son John and daughter Robyn suffer from mental illness. Over the years, I’ve made so many friends who suffer and so many advocates that it’s like having an extended family.

That’s exactly the feeling I have about the Carriage House on Lake Avenue, here in Fort Wayne.

Yes, I have a special interest in this rehabilitation center. I’ve been on the board since the beginning, in the 1990s, before I retired writing editorials for The Journal Gazette.

Let me begin by noting that the Carriage House belongs to an international movement that has established hundreds like it worldwide. That includes cities such as ours throughout the United States.

The granddaddy of them all is Fountain House, on West 47th Street in New York City, which I’ve visited.

Clubhouses do their best to follow the international standards, set years ago. These standards have been proven to help persons diagnosed with a major mental illness.

For years, the International Center for Clubhouse Development has been sending my son John to other clubhouses to evaluate their work and to make recommendations to improve. He’s one of many throughout the country.

I should emphasize that the clubhouse model is unlike anything else that treats persons with a mental illness. As the directors of these centers will tell you, “You leave the illness behind when you walk through the door.”

You’re accepted for who you are not for what illness you’ve got.

Clubhouses don’t dispense drugs. Members receive their prescriptions from their family doctor or their psychiatrist.

Clubhouses don’t offer personal or group therapy, either. Members might or might not attend therapy sessions with a private counselor. They might or might not have a job.

A bare-bones professional staff at a clubhouse offers members a chance to help fix and serve a nice luncheon. Other members will help with office work. For years, one member has always made a financial report to the board.

Beyond these activities, you might find members cutting the grass or, in the winter, clearing the driveway and parking lot. Then there are the “T.E.” jobs: transitional employment. Our Unitarian congregation has employed a club member as the regular custodian since the beginning.

I believe we were the first employer in town for a club member.

The Carriage House is hard to miss on Lake Avenue. A large, converted private mansion, with a large addition, it’s set on a hill which day and night quietly announces its hopeful presence. Inside, it’s a different story.

Club members convene daily to discuss issues that arise in such a program that can see scores of people every day, Monday through Friday. Most of us on the board have a personal connection to mental illness.

In fact, several club members also serve on the board themselves.

I’ve been so impressed with how much the Carriage House has helped both of my children. Both of these middle-age persons have found new ways to contribute to their community.

Besides evaluating other clubhouses, John has taught nursing students about mental illness. Robyn, a long-time Spanish teacher, has been tutoring students on a private basis, often as a volunteer.

Countless other club members have found their way back into the mainstream, in jobs, completing schooling, supporting other family members who might have their own struggles.

But if I had to single out one thing that makes programs such as the Carriage House such a success, it’s the chance members have to develop real, accepting relationships.

I can speak from experience that mental illness can be so isolating. You can spend day and night ruminating. In this state, a person can easily fall deeper and deeper into depression and a sense of worthlessness.

Thoughts of suicide are too common.

A clubhouse takes a person out of him or herself and connects that person with others, with the world. I’m so sure it’s a great feeling to be so liberated. You can restore your self-respect. You can get back your sense of purpose in life.

To be sure, persons with a mental illness can find a way through other kinds of program. A few even get back into the mainstream on their own. For me, it was resigning from public school teaching.

But I know of nothing that addresses so many different issues and has helps so many persons with mental illness in so many ways. I just hope that more people who suffer in our town will find their way to that big white house on Lake Avenue.

It’s likely to change their lives.

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First freedom on review

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Tom Henry, 35th Mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana
Tom Henry, 35th Mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana

Sunday afternoon’s interfaith “Prayers for the City” service, the second annual, wouldn’t have happened in Burma, China, North Korea, Cuba or Iran.

To be sure, some of these countries even have freedom of religion written into their constitutions.

In this country, we mean it.

Mayor Tom Henry convened the event at the University of Saint Francis Performing Arts Center in downtown Fort Wayne.

The program featured leaders from a number of religious traditions. That included a Jewish rabbi, a Catholic nun, a Baptist preacher, the UCC minister, a Muslim imam, a Sikh, a member of the Miami Nation and my Unitarian minister, Rev. Shelly.

An interfaith chorus set just the right tone with “Unity,” taken from the Psalms. The verse set to music declares “How good and pleasant it is for kindred to dwell together in unity.”

Sister Kriss led the congregation in a prayer of Pope Francis that petitions God, “Grant us peace, teach us peace…”

We heard a Buddhist chant. A beautiful young Hindu girl danced, often on one leg, to Eastern music. Her peaceful pose helped reinforce the theme. She had everyone charmed.

The interfaith chorus sang one of the favorites my college choir often did, “The Prayer of Saint Francis.”

Local clergy took turns leading the congregation in a responsive reading. At the close, as we filed out to the Performing Center’s lobby for the refreshments, I was struck by how friendly, even energized everyone seemed.

I studied in colleges and a seminary where you often heard there was one church and you were in it. There was none of that at Sunday’s interfaith service. There was no narrow, bigoted spirit to be found in that center, that day. Yet there are lots of places in the world where your beliefs, practiced openly, can land you in prison or get you killed.

In this country, an interfaith service such as Sunday’s in Fort Wayne is as common as an interstate highway or the 11 o’clock news. We practice religious freedom here every day and don’t give it a second thought.

Thank you, Founding Fathers.

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In honor of Jim Brady

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Jim Brady (08/02/2006)
Jim Brady (08/02/2006)

I told Jim Brady that every time I wrote an editorial in favor of gun control, it seemed that people in Fort Wayne bought more guns.

Jim just smiled and told me to keep writing the editorials. He died this week at 73, news that touched me with special sadness.

In 1994, he was in Fort Wayne to speak at the annual Golden Pen Banquet. This is the occasion when The Journal Gazette’s editorial board honors readers we thought wrote the best letter to the editor of each month of the past year.

At the time the paper held the event at the private Summit Club downtown. That particular evening the room was filled with letter-writers, spouses or their significant others, as well as the paper’s editorial page staff. This particular we all were especially honored to be in the presence of a man who had become the national symbol of the campaign for rational gun control.

Of the four people a mentally disturbed John Hinckley shot March 30, 1980, including President Reagan, the most seriously wounded was his press secretary Jim Brady. His head injury might easily have cost him his life. A bullet damaged the right side of Jim’s brain. It left him unable to use his left leg and loss of some short-term memory. The injury also impaired his speech.

But I can attest that during his talk that February evening, we understood Jim clearly. As I recall, when he finished speaking from his wheelchair, we gave him a standing ovation.

Even before the near fatal shooting that March, Jim was a person who drew others to him. Nicknamed the “Bear,” he first served Gov. John Connelly’s 1980 presidential campaign as its spokesman. When Connelly lost his bid for the nomination, Reagan’s team enlisted the wise-cracking, amiable Brady to represent the former actor before the legion of journalists.

After the shooting, Jim spent 11 months in a Washington hospital during his long battle to recover his wounds. But he and his wife Sarah soon enlisted in the national gun control lobby, Handgun Control Inc. I was well familiar with the advocacy group. I pestered them so frequently, they knew of the gun control advocacy of The Journal Gazette. But the Bradys’ involvement soon gave the organization greater visibility and national influence.

Handgun Control became the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. By the time Bill Clinton was president, gun control advocates really had something to cheer. Congress passed a bill to require a five-day waiting period for background checks. Jim and Sarah Brady were on hand when the president signed the bill into law. Unfortunately, because of the opposition of the National Rifle Association and the pro-gun lobby, the law didn’t apply to gun shows or to private gun sales. The loopholes remain to this day.

Nevertheless, researchers say that the law, now known as the Brady law, has prevented more than 2 million gun purchases. Who knows how many gun deaths the law prevented? Few Americans can claim doing so much good for so many people.

So years after that terrible spring day in 1981, the fight for rational gun policy goes on. We still kill more people with guns than any country. That’s about 30,000 a year. So many homicides. So many suicides. Research has long established that guns haven’t bought people safety.

But all of us who have joined the cause for rational gun policy will always remember our most courageous ally and friend, Jim Brady.

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