Chronicles in Ordinary Time 56: The Value of Altruism

“Before the names Theodore, Eleanor, and Franklin were indelibly etched into the American consciousness and the course of human history was forever changed by their individual endeavors, a prominent family made a point of teaching the value of altruism, the power of perseverance, and the virtue of helping out one’s fellow man.”

Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts: an Intimate History

TR
I’ve been enthralled, watching Ken Burns’ “The Roosevelts: an Intimate History” on PBS. TR has been one of my heroes for years; and the above drawing does not really do him justice. I will probably try it again at a later date.

While I hate to admit it, I don’t always ‘hit the bull’s eye” when I create drawings. This one is my first pencil drawing in the last month; maybe less. I’ve been working digitally since then. If I don’t draw regularly, I get rusty. I’m working on a new set of illustrations for a children’s book; so it’s time to get the ‘oil’ back into the joints…

Theodore Roosevelt was a complex man; from a complex family. Born with severe asthma, doctors didn’t expect him to live past his fourth year. His father, Theodore Sr., was unwilling to allow this to happen. As an infant he carried Theodore night after night, so that TR could sleep vertically and breathe more easily. His father drove him through the streets of Manhattan at night, at high speed, to force air into his lungs. When TR was a boy, his father encouraged him to work out in a gymnasium in his home; forcing his chest to expand. When, as President, he was shot in the chest by a would-be assassin, his doctor stated that he’d never seen a man with chest so well developed. The bullet was lodged less than one-quarter inch from his heart as TR gave an hour-long speech to a hushed crowd. He had checked to see that his lung wasn’t punctured; the rest was simply ‘leaking’ that needed to get plugged, when appropriate…

One historian states that if TR was a child today, he’d probably be given Ritalin, and would become a terrific car salesman, and we’d never hear from him. TR was a flawed man; many of his beliefs conflict with 21st Century ideals. The irony is that he set the stage for many of our 21st Century beliefs. He was an imperialist; he earnestly believed that America had a place on the world stage; comparable to the British, French and Spanish Empires, that still existed in his time. He read 1-3 books per day. He could recite from those books, 5 years later. As a college student he became an expert on the Naval War of 1812. He had immersed himself in world literature, and developed the belief that Warfare was the place where man achieved Glory. The histories of war are always written by the winner. As World War I killed his youngest son, and severely injured his other sons, he learned about the personal cost of War to the families of the soldiers. He learned that War is not Glory.

Theodore Roosevelt Sr. taught his son that those who were privileged in society had the obligation to use their wealth for the benefit of those who were not as fortunate. The wealthy should invest themselves in the Arts and Sciences, since society does not realize the value of the Arts and Sciences to society. TR became one of the foremost Naturalists of his time. TR changed the face of politics in America. Politicians in the 19th Century were considered a class of society with which a Gentleman did not spend time; TR had decided he wanted to belong among the Governing class of people. He believed that the virtue of helping out one’s fellow man was a ‘divine calling’ for a person of privilege.

TR’s cousin Franklin idolized him; and wanted to emulate TR as much as possible. TR could easily have served three or more terms as President; he chose to make a promise to the American public he later regretted–after his election to what was substantially a second term in office, he promised he would not run again for another term. George Washington served two terms in office; it was considered ‘improper’ to serve more terms than the nation’s founder. After one term served by his hand-picked successor, TR decided to enter Presidential politics once again, splitting the Republican vote with his Bull Moose/Progressive party, awarding the Presidency to Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. While TR became a ‘persona non Gratia’ in the Republican Party in 1912, there was talk of TR running again as a Republican in 1920; the year in which he died; an old man who had never fully recovered from a near-death foolish expedition in South America.

The Roosevelt name became one of the most revered and most hated names in American politics. I am now benefiting, in a new way, from Franklin’s belief in the virtue of helping out one’s fellow man, in that I now am a recipient of Social Security Income. The American people owe Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Compensation, Minimum Wage/Maximum hours and dozens of other benefits to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A huge portion of the American landscape exists today as a tribute to the Roosevelt Presidencies.

I am still figuring out what a ‘semi-retired’ life as a partially-disabled person looks like. I owe too many people too much money for me to stop working; but I can now be more selective in the work I take on. Travel is difficult; my lack of sensory nerves in my mouth make ‘culinary experiences’ somewhat lost on me. One of my sons is a Sous Chef, a maker of what I understand are outstanding dishes. Sadly, to me, it is simply ‘food’. His skills are wasted on my appetite.

This is not the ‘retirement’ I imagined, when I bothered to imagine. However, it’s the hand I’ve been dealt; and I have a choice as to how I live out this life.

and the monstrous creatures of whales

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