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  • Reverend James Squire

Back Stories



 

As human beings it is in our nature to be curious about the back story of people and history.  It is why memoirs are so popular to show us what really happened in a person’s life or the flow of history. Sometimes the more scandalous the better. I have always been a fan of Henry Fonda but after learning of his five wives and his treatment of them causing one to commit suicide, I will never be able to see him in the same light. For the next weeks, we will be filled with more information of the back story of Trump and his various extramarital affairs and his shady business practices regarding payments made to Stormy Daniels.

 

Recently I was reflecting on some of the back stories that I have encountered in my own life. A bit ago I wrote a blog about having dinner with Trudy Rubin, the journalist, and Chinese scholars from Penn and Stanford, I felt as though I was back in school again hanging on every word of exchanges regarding so much that I didn’t know. Trudy Rubin is one of my heroes. Her column in today’s Inquirer helped to me understand what is really happening in Iran and Israel. I didn’t know that Netanyahu has tried to co-op the United States for years into a broader war in the Middle East. Trudy was a friend of Navalny and communicated with him last in 2018. Much of what she shared about his courage and mindset is not found in books or on the news. Hours for me passed like minutes. I would have stayed all night. She shared her knowledge of the behind the scenes of the politics of Ukraine, Russia, and the Middle East. She visited those places and had a rich back story.

 

I will never forget the first class I attended at Berkeley at Yale. It was a course in Church History. The Professor was Dr. Edward Rochie Hardy who taught at Cambridge as well. He was one of the “whiz kids” from New York City. He graduated from Columbia at 15 and studied 17 languages in his boyhood. He received his Ph.D. at 22 and was ordained when he was 24.

 

He entered the room and said, “Gentlemen, here is the text for the course. He held up Keith LaTourette’s History of Christianity, blue cover, red type, several inches thick, and small print. He went on to say, “I expect you to know this in its entirety. My lectures will be about everything that isn’t in that book. I expect you to know both!” That was my welcome to Yale. I thought to myself, “Jim, You are not in a small working class town anymore.” Dr. Hardy’s lectures were amazing as he told us the back story of the events that shaped and connected history in a cogent fashion. It was the most exciting history class that I ever had because he told the back story that brought history alive. He never used a note. I couldn’t get enough of it. I was constantly saying to myself, “I never knew that!” which still today is what I want to feel when I finish a non- fiction book.

 

Recently, I got a gift! One of our former exchange students at EA from Germany came to our home over the weekend to see Vicki and me. He had a conference in Washington that brought him to our country. I lost track of what he was doing so I was interested in his back story. Felix is now a member of the German Parliament. He is making a huge difference as he is charged with bringing disparate groups together to see what they think and how Germany could be a better country. He is now a lawyer by training. He loved our history department when he was with us for a year, and they loved him. He was curious about how things were working in our country.

 

I peppered him with questions. I learned that Germany has the same political challenges with extremes on the left and right as we have. They have supported Ukraine in every way imaginable as they are clear what Russia’s next steps will be unlike our Congress thinking supporting Ukraine is something that is optional.

 

It is very easy for me to remember when Felix spent his time with us at EA. It was 1989 for on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down as a first step for German reunification. We stood in our breakfast room and celebrated. What joy he had with this news. Felix spent a lot of time with Thaddeus, our oldest son, as they had much in common. They had time together as well when he was here.

 

I should mention that Felix is 6’10” tall. He must duck through our doorways. When he was with us at our home on the Chesapeake, we couldn’t find water skis that had a big enough fit for his feet. His character has not changed. He is polite and every bit the gentlemen. He too has a back story that includes being married to a chemist and having two children, and he loves to learn and figure out the politics of nations as well as being a bridge builder among a diverse set of German people.

 

He told us that his year at EA was the best year of his life. I am not short, but it was comical I am sure, to see him bend over to give me a hug before he left.

 

One of the things that I would do was to look out at the congregation during a chapel service at EA. As I looked at the assembled group, I knew the back story of so many and realized once again that there is more that is interesting beyond what people share with the world around them.

 

One of the things that I loved was having speakers from our school who would share in their chapel addresses aspects of themselves that no one knew. I would tell them that a great chapel address is one that only they could tell. For example, one student seemed to have everything, looks, popularity, athletic, and smart. He asked me if he could speak about his depression in chapel. As a result of his address, other students who were depressed felt safe to tell someone about their personal experience and get help. His back story freed others.

 

We had a piano in the chapel and students would come in from time to time to hang out and play. One of those students was someone who was perceived as not taking things seriously. I knew differently. I wanted people to see all that he was. I arranged for him to play the piano in an assembly in our theater. Everyone thought it was going to be a big joke as they jostled with one another when they arrived. I stood behind the seats the theater. When he started to play, a hush came over the crowd. His back story was that he was a serious musician. I was grinning ear to ear.

 

He went on to become an important Hollywood agent. Some time ago he sent me a text with a video of him playing the piano with his friends standing around. He looked into the camera and said, “This one’s for you, Chaplain Squire!”

 

We don’t forget back stories!

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