A Light in the Heart of Darkness

I do not routinely engage in social media.  Several weeks ago, my daughter Stef – who does – called to tell me a person in England reached out asking if she was related to the “E.S. Kraay” who wrote The Hamsa.  Understanding my ineptitude with social media, Stef explained to me how I could respond to the inquiry on ‘messenger.’  An hour or so later, I was talking to my new friend in England, Pat Easton.

Pat Easton

Pat is a proud member of the Great British Home Chorus Friends [GBHCF], a virtual choir that evolved from the COVID lockdown in the UK last year.

To mark this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom, the choir performed and recorded “Who Guides All the Ships?” a Yiddish poem by Zishe Landau (1889-1937) set to music composed by contemporary Israeli singer and composer Chava Alberstein, daughter of Holocaust survivors.  As the choir sings this haunting song, individual singers light candles of remembrance and others hold pictures of victims of the Shoah.  This is what inspired Pat to find me…

The Hamsa
Bronislaw Czech

Pat appears at the 1:35 minute mark in the right middle frame holding a picture of Bronisław Czech, the protagonist in my novel The Hamsa.  Like most of us, Pat knew little about this unknown hero and wanted to learn more.  Her search led her to The Hamsa.

She had acquired the book prior to our connection, and graciously sent me the YouTube link to the Great British Home Chorus Friends’ performance.  I watched with great emotion as the choir, led by soloist Polina Shepherd – an accomplished Yiddish performer, composer, and choir leader born in Siberia who now resides in England – literally ripped my heart out with Landau’s poem set to Alberstein’s poignant melody…

Who guides the ships That sail the sea?
God guides the ships That sail the sea.
Who sends the gentle breezes That blow in the evening?
God sends the gentle breezes That blow in the evening.
Who plays with the children And takes some of them away?
God plays with the children And takes some of them with Him.
And who’s that we hear singing Around us day and night?
It’s the little children singing In heaven day and night.

Yeheil, a victim of the Holocaust

I listened with a humble heart, awestruck by a project that involved so many talented people starting with Zishe Landau when he wrote the poem 80 years ago… Chava Alberstein, moved to create the melody… Polina Shepherd, who pulled hundreds of singers like Pat Easton together to create this beautiful tribute…

I moved back in time to 2008 when I wrote The Hamsa… and farther back, still to the three Olympic Games  – 1928, 1932 and 1936 – when I competed with Bronisław Czech… and finally, to the time I shared with him in Auschwitz as I wrote about his final days…

As Pat explained in a recent email, “We really have met through Bronisław. I think it’s special that 77 years after he died, we are talking about him and what he and so many others went through and this is what the Holocaust Memorial Day project is all about.”

I am reminded of a passage in The Hamsa when Father Michael tells Bronisław, “They can take everything you own, everything you hold dear, but they cannot take your dignity unless you let them.  There is a light in the heart of darkness.”

Indeed, there is, and it shines through once again in this beautiful tribute from Pat Easton and the singers from the Great British Home Chorus Friends.  Thank you, Pat, thank you, Bronisław, thank you, GBHCF, and everyone who was a part of this performance.

tVM Book of Hours

I am pleased to announce that The Vitruvian Man’s Book of Hours is now available at Amazon and other online retailers.

A thin 80 pages and a mere 7,500 words it contains 84 ‘offerings’ distributed through three daily hours – sunrise, midday, and sunset – each day of the week.  My hope is that it finds its way to nightstands, coffee tables, and other locations within arm’s reach that will encourage people to reach for it and spend a few minutes every day in spiritual thought.

It is currently available as a paperback.  We have not made a decision on the eBook.

The Vitruvian Man’s “Book of Hours”

I was taught to pray as a child in the ‘50s kneeling at bedside growing up in the Berkshire Hills.  I learned to pray as an adult in the ‘10s walking through the Sonoran Desert.  There is a difference.

When we are taught to pray, we do as we are told.  When we learn to pray, we are inspired to do it, look forward to it, do it often, and find comfort, solace, and direction in the act of praying.

I believe humankind does not pray enough.  There are few – if any – reasons why this is true, but there is an avalanche of excuses to explain it.

As a historian of sorts, I have long been exposed to and know about the ‘Book of Hours,’ a prayer book that monks and nuns were required to recite as far back as the 12th century.  The recitation is centered on the reading of psalms and prayers.  I first became aware of the ‘hours’ when our parish choral director gifted me a copy of the breviary – the official prayer book of the Catholic church – in 1963.  I still have that breviary though its plastic protective cover is cracked and brittle.  Sitting next to it on my bookcase is Thomas Merton, A Book of Hours, a book I have used daily for over a decade.

I have come to understand that divine inspiration is not limited to people or things religious.  Victor Hugo was as divinely inspired to write Les Misérables as whatever hand was inspired to write Genesis… Leonard Cohen when he wrote “Hallelujah” as David to write the psalms.

I began ‘working’ on my personal ‘Book of Hours’ a decade ago by collecting words that inspired spiritual thought and provided the seeds for meditation and contemplation.

In the past year since the publication of The Faith of Job in February 2020, events have driven me to complete my book of hours.

My objective was to create a simple prayer book that anyone could read without getting bored, that would capture the reader in such a way that they would return to it daily, and in reading it, they would pause and take the time we so infrequently use to contemplate our own existence, our relationship with God, and our relationships with each other.

The book is complete and will be available shortly.

The book will be published as The Vitruvian Man’s Book of Hours.  In the late 14th century, Leonardo de Vinci made a drawing that depicted the proportions of ‘the ideal man.’  The picture is known as the Vitruvian Man because da Vinci surrounded the illustration with notes from the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius.  Ten years ago, I initiated my website The Vitruvian Man.  My intention was – and remains – to write about things that influence a person to be sound of heart, mind, and body.  The ancient Greeks called it kalos kagathos, the nobility of the human being.  A human being is incomplete if prayer is not a part of each person’s life, hence The Vitruvian Man’s Book of Hours.

I will make an official announcement when the book is available.

Crossing the Line

I have never been a fan of ‘political correctness.’  If you have something to say, say it.  Every individual who hears it or reads it has his God-given freedom of choice to accept it, agree with it, discard it, or whatever.  No individual has the right to change it.  If he does not agree with what I say or what I write, she has no right to change it.

Garrison Keillor

Although I do not agree with everything Garrison Keillor says or writes, I enjoy listening to him and reading his work.  This morning, however, he crossed the line.  I will forgive his trespass, but I will not forget it.

Rudyard Kipling

One of my favorite poems is the iconic “If” written by the British Nobel laureate poet Rudyard Kipling in 1895 and first published in 1910.  Mr. Kipling wrote his poem in 32 lines – four, 8-line stanzas.  It tells us how to live a fulfilling and satisfying life.  The poem concludes…

IF
by
Rudyard Kipling

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

I was appalled as I heard Mr. Keillor read it on his “Writer’s Almanac” this morning.  Although he left “If all men count with you, but none too much” unchanged, he had the brazen gall to alter the final lines of Mr. Kipling’s poem to…

“If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With full attention to the surrounding world,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – what is more – you are a woman, my girl.”

I have asked myself over and over, “Why would so respected and well-known an author and orator like Garrison Keillor believe that he has the privilege to change one of the greatest poems ever penned?”

I am hurt.  I forgive Mr. Keillor, but I will never forget what he did on this morning in 2021.

The Writer’s Craft

You don’t wake up one morning and decide to be a writer.

The need to communicate is in every creature’s genes.  Its physical attributes dictate the way it can communicate.  All creatures communicate if only to ensure or extend survival.

Social media has expanded the technology that enables humans to communicate.  Positives and negatives abound on both sides of the equation.

A writer takes the need to communicate a step beyond that which drives all humans to express themselves.  A writer writes because he has something to say, is driven to share it, and is compelled to say it with words.

I write every day.  I have several book-length manuscripts in some stage of development – one, nonfiction and a handful of stories, two are sequels to previously published works.  I do not anticipate completing any of these manuscripts in 2021.  I write, edit and manage four websites – two of my own, a friend’s business website, and another friend’s non-profit website.  I contribute articles to one other website.  I advise two businesses and this mandates weekly reports and annual reports.

I write every day.

Stephen King advises writers…

“Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.”

In my words, if you don’t read, you can’t write.  The two activities go hand in hand.  You can read and elect not to write, but if you want to write well, you must read.

I’ve told you what I am writing.  Here’s a taste of what I’m reading…

  • In the last several years, I’ve read seven of Wendell Berry’s ‘Port William’ novels. I will read the final two – That Distant Land and Andy Catlett – this year.
  • I am currently reading Stephen E Ambrose’s 1975 dual biography Crazy Horse and Custer, The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors.
  • I read two quarterly magazines: Parabola and Plough.
  • I am looking forward to Steven Pressfield’s new novel in March, A Man at Arms: A Novel, described by the publisher as “an epic saga about a reluctant hero, the Roman Empire, and the rise of a new faith.”
  • I am reading the World Wildlife 2020 report “The Living Planet.”
  • I am reading Pope Francis’s 2015 ecological encyclical Laudato Si!
  • I am reading Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938 and am halfway through Alabama.
  • I am reading the archaeological record “Petroglyphs of the Picacho Mountains, South Central Arizona.”

My extended ‘to read’ list includes…

  • Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
  • May the Road Rise Up to Meet You by Peter Troy
  • House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
  • The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
  • The Man Who Walked Through Time: The Story of the First Trip Afoot Through the Grand Canyon by Colin Fletcher

I read slowly, and that list will ensure I lack nothing to read in 2021.

Whether you are a published author or a frequent media participant, I encourage you to continue writing and to improve your skills with a strong dose of good literature each and every day.  It’s as essential as eating an apple.

 

A Different Easter

Many of us are making our pilgrimage through fasting, praying and almsgiving – three spiritual pillars common to many religions.  In these challenging times, we may pray more, fast more – though not necessarily by choice – and offer more kindness and understanding to our brothers and sisters than we have at other times.

“Easter will be different this year,” my neighbor Rebecca says.  She is correct. Continue reading A Different Easter

FREE Olympian Audio Books

I was pleased with the email I received from Audible this morning announcing that during this time of challenge, Audible is making hundreds of teen and children’s audiobooks available for free as long as schools remain closed.  Great move by a good company.  That got me thinking…

The Sixth Day
Alistair McKenzie – actor, composer, playwright, director, producer, screenwriter

In 2013, LA actor, producer and director Alistair McKenzie and I collaborated on two audiobooks offered on Audible:  The Sixth Day and The Olympian.  Since then, Alistair has produced two other audios for this website that you can download from the ‘Complimentary Offerings’ page:  “Rosie, A Tale of Redemption” and “The Christmas Story” from Gaspar, Another Tale of the Christ.  I will forever be indebted to Alistair and the way he has brought my manuscripts to life through his spoken words! Continue reading FREE Olympian Audio Books

The Soul of the Book

According to Wikipedia, an epigram is a brief, interesting, memorable, and sometimes surprising statement.  This literary device has been employed for over two millennia.  Epigrams often appear as Epigraphs at the beginning of a book to suggest its theme.  The only books in which I did not employ an epigraph was my first, The Olympian, A Tale of Ancient Hellas, and my cop thriller, DWI: Dying While Intoxicated.  I subsequently added an epigraph to the Kindle edition of The Olympian.

The epigraph captures the soul of the book. Continue reading The Soul of the Book