Dr. Smith’s Last Lecture

One of my avid readers requested more from Dr. Smith’s Last Lecture (a Hillsdale tradition, in which a professor gives a lesson as if it were his last). So below I have typed out my notes. It’s not possible that they would do justice to the lecture — a friend and I left the Heritage room weeping and had to go home and lie on the couch and think about our lives. It was the most beautiful and moving speech I have ever heard. If any of you remember any more of the wonderful things he said, feel free to add them in the comments. 

“Letter to my sons”

Given life again, I would waste it for you.

#2 Consider often the work of Providence.

#3 Study tempests in times of calm.

#4 Never try to give and withhold yourself at the same time.

#5 Examine your own eyes. Think about your way of seeing. You can live only seeing yourself, and it’s terrible. Ask God to heal the eyes of your heart.

#7 Beware of complaining and offense-taking. They are often nothing but sound and fury. Once a bitcher, always a bitcher. Learn to govern your tongue.

#9 Don’t be a slave to tequila. Love freedom. Bear fruit. Have courage; have an education in it; see its beauty.

#12 Wonder. Let the passion of seeing your own ignorance move you to seek truth.

#13 Let the arrows of beauty pierce you.

#14 Treasure your reason. And remind it that it is never the measure of all things.

#15 Fulfill duties. Esto vir. Be a citizen of citizens.

#17 Some books are worth more than great cities. Find a guide you can trust.

#18 Love the Word of God passionately. Only take care to read it in the right spirit. You must adapt to it.

#19 Say “bullshit” to anyone who says he doesn’t have a conscience.

#20 Confess your sins. Examine yourself every day with brutal sincerity and courage. Love truth and the crises it creates.

Never let it be said that you talk to the guy at the coffee cart more than you talk to your own brother.

#21 You have a vocation — ask for light about this.

#22 Love your work. What folly it is to moan and groan. Convert the prose of life into beautiful verse.

Hamlet was wrong: The undiscovered country is not death, but life.

#23 Pray, and give alms.

#24 Make good friends and keep them in good and bad times.

Risk your life for love. Struggle to be holy.

Learning to love… the city

“Many a time I have seen my mother leap up from the dinner table to engage the swarming flies with an improvised punkah, and heard her rejoice and give humble thanks simultaneously that Baltimore was not the sinkhole that Washington was.”
— H.L. Mencken

After three summers in Washington, D.C., I think I can safely say that I will always be a country girl. I enjoy laying in bed at night and hearing mourning doves, cicadas, and the occasional far-off dogs’ moon-howling contest. I like having cows for neighbors.

Nevertheless, as someone who prefers happiness to grumpiness, I am trying to cultivate a love for the city — specifically, a love for Washington, D.C. It may be difficult, as you can see from the Mencken quote above. In the words of two friends, D.C. is a “Founding-Fathers-selected swamp” with “streets laid out by a blind kid with an Etch A Sketch.”

But to start cultivating my love, I’ve decided to become a connoisseur of office building architecture (my favorites right now are the U.S. Institute for Peace and the federal judiciary building). And I’m hoping to take more pictures of the city and build a vast knowledge of neighborhoods. And I really do love D.C. after dark. When I walk home from church Sunday nights, the streets are quiet, slumbering. I can see through people’s windows as I walk by — bookshelves, kitchens, ships-in-a-bottle bathed in warm light.

I’m inspired to love D.C. by Mark Helprin’s love for New York. He’s one of my favorite authors, and he wrote a book that is in many ways a love song to that city. Below is just one of the many beautiful passages from that book, Winter’s Tale. Maybe one day I’ll be able to write about D.C. like this, or at least about the country like this.

“Manhattan, a high narrow kingdom as hopeful as any that ever was, burst upon him full force, a great and imperfect steel-tressed palace of a hundred million chambers, many-tiered gardens, pools, passages, and ramparts above its rivers. Built upon an island from which bridges stretched to other islands and to the mainland, the palace of a thousand tall towers was undefended. It took in nearly all who wished to enter, being so much larger than anything else that it could not ever be conquered but only visited by force. Newcomers, invaders, and the inhabitants themselves were so confused by its multiplicity, variety, vanity, size, brutality, and grace, that they lost sight of what it was. It was, for sure, one simple structure, busily divided, lovely and pleasing, an extraordinary hive of the imagination, the greatest house ever built.”

A favorite story

At my current job I write mostly hard news, quick stories, usually between 350-400 words. It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s what’s necessary for the paper I work for. But I really miss writing features, which are longer, more nuanced pieces with details and descriptions. I was looking back at some of the articles I wrote for The Collegian, and I came across this one. I think it’s my favorite story I wrote in college, so I thought I would share. Enjoy.

Working under a steel umbrella

To shake your hand, Shawn Anderson takes his gloves off. They are stained black — the color of the tattoo on his forearm, the color that has smeared most of his work clothing.

{photo by Andrew Dodson/The Collegian}

By Liz Essley

Monday, February 9, 2009

The 40-year-old mechanic has spent most of the day looking up at the greasy underbelly of a minivan. It drips melted snow along its side, making Shawn Anderson look like he works under a giant steel umbrella.

“See that? The gasket is bad right there,” he says as he points out a part in the underbelly.

Anderson, of Hillsdale’s Apex Automotive, has been fixing cars for 24 years. He started when he was 16. He has no specialty – he works on everything. And he’s good at what he does. He can remove and replace a V6 engine in five hours. It takes other mechanics around 10 to 15.

His task today is to replace the gasket and do some exhaust work on the vehicle above him.

To help him, he has a giant red toolbox, over six feet high and three feet wide. It’s not for child’s play.

“I keep my tools at work so [my son] can’t tinker with stuff,” he says.

Anderson has helped to raise eight children from two different relationships, but only his youngest son, Kenneth Taylor, 10, is at home now. “The little one” dreams big, Anderson says, and wants to be either a country singer or a mechanic when he grows up.

“He’s got a wild imagination,” Anderson says, smiling slightly.

Both Anderson and his wife work to support Kenneth.

“It’s tight, but money’s not everything. We’re poor but we’re happy,” Anderson says.

Anderson started working as a mechanic after he dropped out of school in eighth grade and started hanging around the Midas shop near his home in Ann Arbor, Mich. It was there he made the friends who taught him the basics of the trade.

“I used to hang out with the guys, started sweeping floors, and worked my way up from there,” he says.

He is self-employed at Apex, and can come and go when he chooses, but he usually ends up working from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Three other mechanics work at the shop; each has his projects lined up against different corners of the large garage.

Tim Bills, the owner of Apex, says Anderson has a huge amount of knowledge about his work and takes pride in it.

“The thing about Shawn is, he doesn’t really make it look hard. He’s quick,” Bills says.

Anderson took a big pay cut when he moved to Hillsdale two years ago, he says, but it was worth it for the “quiet community.”

“I love it here,” Anderson says. “I wanted to move to a place where you can leave your keys in the car when you go to the grocery store.”

Anderson lived in Hillsdale for a few years as a small child and remembered it as a peaceful place. Now he likes spending time at Lake Bawbeese in his spare hours, fishing and grilling out.

But he likes fixing cars, and doesn’t plan to leave it anytime soon. When will he quit?

“Once I hit the lottery.”

Nesting

“There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” — Ecclesiastes 2:24

One of my new activities as a real live adult is what my roommate Hannah and I like to call “nesting.” You see, it turns out there a million bajillion things one needs to have just to eat every day, let alone sleep or stay clean. And then once you have all those basic things (skillet, pillows, toothbrush holder, etc.), having a home that you actually enjoy being in and to which you would like to invite others requires “nesting.”

Nesting is soothing to the soul. As someone who watches her day’s work get thrown in the trash can every day (the ephemeral newspaper), it’s quite satisfying to work on something that will last, at least for a while. For example, I put together this desk the other night while watching Gilmore Girls with Hannah. In my amateur opinion, nesting is best accomplished while watching Gilmore Girls.

Nesting also gives you a fantastic sense of accomplishment; you suddenly feel that if you were left alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but an ax you could make it. For example: Who knew I could install blinds? If I can do that, I’m sure the Canadian wilderness is NBD, as they say.But nesting is in vain, I think, unless it is done with a good purpose. One of the best things I’ve ever heard about nesting came from a wise friend (Zach Howard) who is married to another wise friend (Betsy Peters Howard). He said that his marriage, his home, his car — everything he had in life — were his “available means of persuasion” (think Aristotle) for persuading people of the gospel. Thus, kitchen so I can cook: great. Kitchen so I can cook and show others the love of God: way better. I don’t always remember that, but I hope to get better at it.

I’ll end with a picture of some delicious tomatoes I made tonight, and a thought from Dr. Smith’s Last Lecture: “Love your work. What folly it is to moan and groan. Convert the prose of life into beautiful verse.”