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September 2022

This is one of the more unusual memoirs that I’ve read. Patsy Harman is a nurse-midwife, who co-owns an OB-GYN practice with her doctor husband.  (Even though they run an OB-GYN practice, they no longer deliver babies, as their malpractice insurance rates for deliveries have skyrocketed.)

Harman’s memoir combines reflections on the business side of the medical practice with personal anecdotes from her own medical life, as well as that of her patients.  Even thought I don’t agree with Harman on all of her stances on social issues, I thought she was a wonderfully caring practitioner, and found myself wishing I lived closer to her Appalachian home so I could go to her office!

Ernest Shackleton’s quest to cross Antarctica could not be completed by the Endurance crew alone.  The Ross Sea party, led by Captain Mackintosh, were tasked with depositing supplies for Shackleton to pick up on the other side of the South Pole.  Without these supply depots, Shackleton and his men would starve to death half-way through their journey.

While the Endurance and her crew were beset in ice, Mackintosh and his men were facing their own life and death struggle.  They were separated from their ship and supplies and stranded on the Ross Ice Shelf.  Knowing that Shackleton’s life was in their hands, they refused to give up, and at great sacrifice to their own health and lives, managed to deposit all of the supplies that Shackleton would have needed, had he been able to begin his cross-continent journey.

Once again, I am overwhelmed by the strength, devotion and sheer determination that these men showed in the face of such a great challenge.  It’s haunting to think that their supply depots, laid at such great cost, were never used, and remain encased in ice and snow to this very day.

Hannelore was safe at her school in Germany when her mother and brothers received a letter saying that they were to be deported.  Knowing that her family would have a better chance at survival if she were there to care for them, Hannelore voluntarily turned herself in for deportation as well, thus beginning a nightmarish journey through the concentration camps of wartime Europe.  Hillman bravely records her haunting memories in order to ensure that her loved ones will not be forgotten, that the sacrifices of good people will be remembered and that the horror of Nazi Germany will never be repeated.

A few weeks ago, I read and briefly reviewed a fictionalized account of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition: Shackleton’s Stowaway.  That book was phenomenal, and made me curious to learn more.

Lansing’s account of the Shackleton expedition did not disappoint.  I rarely read non-fiction, and even more seldom will I read a non-fiction history book.  Lansing’s book was not a dry history book, but a fascinating, fast-paced account of Shackleton and his men.  I had a hard time putting it down, and now I’m hooked on this amazing story.

Next up, I plan to read Endurance : An Epic of Polar Adventure, by F.A. Worsley, Captain of the Endurance, and Shackleton’s Forgotten Men : The Untold Tragedy of the Endurance Epic, by Lennard Bickel, which tells the story of the men who were tasked with dropping off supplies for Shackleton to use as he traveled across Antarctica.

A true story about two very different men of faith. One was a Jewish rabbi, Albert Lewis, who grew up in the Jewish faith, and served as rabbi in the same synagogue from the time he became a rabbi, to the day of his death.   The other man, Henry Covington, was neglected as a child, lived a life of crime, yet ultimately sought forgiveness and became a Christian pastor to the homeless.

I’m struggling to find the words to express accurately how I feel about this book.  There are things about it that I love:

  • Albom honestly writes about his own faith, how it developed as a child, how it changed as he became an adult, and how he grew through his relationship with the rabbi and the pastor.  Albom’s feelings at the beginning of the book mirror that of many, no matter what their faith.  He describes it this way:

…by the time I graduated and went out into the world, I was as well versed in my religion [Judaism] as any secular man I knew.  And then?  And then I pretty much walked away from it.  It wasn’t revolt.  It wasn’t some tragic loss of faith.  It was, if I’m being honest, apathy.  A lack of need…I didn’t need to ask God for much, and I figured, as long as I wasn’t hurting anyone, God wasn’t asking much of me either.  We had forged a sort of “you go your way, I’ll go mine” arrangement, at least in my mind.                                                                                                                       pp.12-13

  • Albom writes about 2 men who are worthy of being written about.  Today, so many books are written about people who have done absolutely nothing with their lives except for becoming famous.  Rabbi Lewis and Pastor Henry were and are good men who have helped countless people in their own unique ways.  It’s refreshing to read about real people doing real good, not for fame or glory, but simply because it’s the right thing to do.
  • The book makes you think:  What are you doing with your life?  What is really important?  Where will you go when you die?  What do you think about people of different faiths?  How do you treat them?  Do you have hope in the present?  In the future?

While there are many positive things about Albom’s book, I can’t say that I loved it.  In spite of all the good things that Albom learned from the pastor and the rabbi, and in spite of all the personal growth that Albom shows, he didn’t acknowledge the only thing you really need to know about God.  Pastor Henry shared it with him, but somehow, Albom doesn’t see it.  At one point, Henry is talking about his past life and the sins he committed.  Henry says:

You can’t work your way into heaven.  Anytime you try and justify yourself with works, you disqualify yourself with works.  What I do here, every day, for the rest of my life, is only my way of saying, “Lord, regardless of what eternity holds for me, let me give something back to you.  I know it don’t even no scorecard.  But let me make something of my life before I go…And then, Lord, I’m at your mercy.”

pp. 220-221

Salvation is not earned, and it cannot be obtained through good works.  It is a gift from a merciful God, paid for through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. (Romans 10:9)  I’m going to say something that is not politically correct at all, but it is what I believe, based on the Bible:  Good people do not go to heaven.  People who believe in Jesus as their Savior go to heaven.

The ending of the book was just sad for me, and not because it ended with a funeral.  It was sad because I know that so many people will come away from reading this book more lost than ever.  They will have read a hopeful, inspirational story about two men, they will have learned about living a good life, about talking to God, about treating others with respect, about respecting traditions, and about thinking about someone besides themselves.  As wonderful as all of that seems, our righteous acts are like filthy rags before God.  Only Jesus can save.

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