Friday, August 25, 2006

Even This Shall Pass Away

My dad is a very wise man.  He always had pearls of wisdom to cast on all of my ups and downs in life.  He rarely lost his temper when we were young.  He is a treasure trove of stories; his travels around the world as an international businessman could probably fill volumes.  Now he is enjoying his retirement, although I think his physical ailments (lingering effects of non-Hodgkins' lymphoma a few years ago) prevent him from being the athlete that he used to be.  He used to run 1/2 marathons in his late 60's and early 70's.  If only I had inherited that athlete gene!!  I got the curly hair gene.  (It's okay dad .. I really don't mind!)

His job took us to Japan, Belgium, the Philippines and Singapore.  He left his family in Pampa, Texas to join the US Navy at the end of WWII (it ended while he was in boot camp) and served his time on a mine sweeper in the Pacific.  He tells stories about sitting on the bridge, looking for mines.  When they saw one, they would shoot at it with a rifle and detonate it.  He studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas on the G.I. Bill .. where he met my mother.  His one and only job was straight out of college with a company called Ethyl Corporation (they used to make tetraethyl lead additives for gasoline).  In 1965 he was assigned to open an office in Tokyo, where we lived for 3 years.  His job was director of sales & marketing, although later in his career I think he used his engineering skills to design "blending units" for offloaded crude oil.  He spent many years negotiating with the completely corrupt Indonesian government and oversaw the building of a terminal on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines.  He used to go to countries behind the Iron Curtain when you just simply didn't do that!  He scared us to death with his story about crossing the border into Romania on foot in the early 1970's on New Year's Eve.  I think my dad was James Bond.  There was tragedy, as well ... the time that several men in Taiwan climbed into a railroad tank car that had been filled with an extremely toxic chemical, to clean it.  They all died from the fumes.  He tells the story of his first time in India ... arriving in Calcutta in the middle of the night, and being so moved by the abject poverty and filth.  I used to marvel at his passport, which had about 20 inserts that folded out intolong strips to accommodate all of his visas.

Every time I hit a bump in the road, he would tell me, "Just remember the lesson that you have learned."  He never yelled at me in frustration .. just sat back and let me live my life.  One of his favorite poems is this one, which I share with you today.  Its refrain has been the mantra of my life for a very long time.  It was written by a Theodore Tilton. Happy (belated) 79th Birthday, Dad!

Once in Persia reigned a king, who upon his signet ring Graved a maxim true and wise, Which if held before the eyes, Gave him counsel at a glance, Fit for every change and chance.  Solemn words, and these are they:  "Even this shall pass away".

Trains of camels through the sand Brought him gems from Samarcand; Fleets of galleys through the seas, Brought him pearls to match with these.  But he counted not his gain Treasures of the mine or main; "What is wealth?" the king would say; "Even this shall pass away".

In the revels of his court At the zenith of his sport, When the palms of all his guests Burned with clapping at his jests; He amid his figs and wine, Cried, "Oh, loving friends of mine!  Pleasure comes but not to stay; Even this shall pass away."

Fighting on a furious field, Once a javelin pierced his shield;  Soldiers with a loud lament Bore him bleeding to his tent; Groaning from his tortured side, "Pain is hard to bear," he cried,  "But with patience, day by day, -- Even this shall pass away."

Towering in the public square, Twenty cubits in the air, Rose his statue, carved in stone, Then the king, disguised, unknown, Stood before his sculptured name.  Musing meekly, "What is fame?  Fame is but a slow decay.  Even this shall pass away."

Struck with palsy, sere and old, Waiting at the gates of gold, Said he with his dying breath, "Life is done, but what is death?"  Then, in answer to the king, Fell a sunbeam on his ring, Showing by a heavenly way, "Even this shall pass away."

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