Sometimes we encounter mysteries. It’s 9/11/18, it fills today’s news with accounts and events recalling that once-in-a-lifetime day 17 years ago. We share recollections of the event, the response, and the incredible (but all too short) surge of united faiths and religions. With we have learned, there are still questions and mysteries about that day.
Amid all those memories, my mind reached back. It reached way back, to a little advertisement that appeared a half-century ago. It brought back to my mind a tiny ad; one that led to a major change in my life and outlook.
It was 1968, and I was a teenager. I loved to read stories in scientific and technical magazines. Even the ads were interesting. One, that I’d forgotten for ages, came back to mind today.
Faith, hope, and fear
The late ‘60’s were strange times and, for many, 1968 was the peak of the strangeness. World War II was 20 years past; the Korean Conflict a little less, and Viet Nam was heating up. The Cold War had stayed cold but seemed likely to get warmer. Big names in the news were Johnson and Nixon. McDonald’s had just opened its 1,000th restaurant; the Ford Mustang was four years old and the minimum wage was being raised from $1.40 to $1.60 an hour. It was the age of the flower children (AKA hippies).
The times confused the faith community. The national society was in upheaval. They had assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr., and then Robert Kennedy that spring. People were losing hope; fear and confusion were rampant. It was a lot for a junior high kid from a poor family to comprehend. In fact, it was beyond comprehension. But, along with my peers, I knew of these events and concerns. None of us had any clue of how to deal with them or what would be happening to us. It was a tough time.
My response and relief came from reading. I read everything I could find. The only luxury I recall was trips to the drug store where the most wonderful thing on earth waited for me — the magazine rack. My frequent sojourns tormented my family. But I found comfort and excitement among the huge variety of magazines and paperback books the little store offered. I would linger, lost in the wonder of it all. Then, I would wait until the last moment to select the perfect treasure to buy and carry home.
Learning, bedtime, beginning to believe
The articles fascinated me; sometimes it would be science, or astronomy, but most often, electronics. Somehow I craved knowledge of the inner workings of televisions and radios; especially clock radios. How time and sound could work together amazed me. The transistor was still new wave; the radio and TV sets I knew had wonderful glowing vacuum tubes inside. The mystic light and wondrous innards of those tubes and the comforting warm, ozone laced, smell of the electronics had an euphoric charm.
Many nights I violated my bedtime cuddled close to the radio with a magazine in hand. The radio shared music, new-fangled talk show programs, and news of the world and far away places. Some of the stations carried ministers whose sermons and messages gave glimpses of the spiritual, and sometimes not-so-spiritual, side of things out there in the big new world.
As noted, if it was printed, I read it. My intake included a little box ad that appeared in one of my magazines. It was titled, “I want to give this to my fellow man while I am still able”. Then it spoke of the advertiser’s success in life and discoveries he had made. It concluded with an altruistic statement. He wanted to share the benefits of his experience with others. He offered contact information for anyone interested, but no other details.
Decline the offer but save the thought
My allowance did not provide for answering magazine advertisements. I never learned what secrets the gentlemen had to share. Nor did I ever gain the benefit of his knowledge. However, the experience left an impression in my mind.
His ad did not produce the response he wanted. But, it left a lifelong impression with an impressionable young kid. It taught there is a duty to pass some benefits from one’s life on to others. I think we call it “pay it forward” in these modern days.
Looking back, I hope whatever he was offering benefited someone, and he felt accomplished with the desire he stated. His message seemed sincere, there was something in that tiny ad that had a ring of truth, of value.
A special gift
Among my thoughts at the time were questions about what he was offering. What could it be? What would be so precious that someone would feel a duty to share it? Perhaps it was a financial success plan. Or maybe a diet or health secret. I like to think it was a spiritual truth of some sort.
In my musings, I have pictured a faith oriented plan he had found that brought happiness, security and blessings. What secrets would a world-wise gentleman have for other people?
As the years pass, we all should accumulate understandings and ideas that help us move forward. Christians should have an array of supports to depend on. Ideally, we would nurture and grow these seeds from our faith. At their best, these bring strength, hope, and assurance during rough times and glorious promises for our eternal future.
My teenage thoughts were not so well developed. But I recall an awakening of sorts, a new awareness from the mystery he raised. That grew into a large part of my outlook on life and my spiritual growth.
Trust a stranger
I’ll never know the gentleman; never learn what he had to share; never tell him the impact he had on me. As life went on, I was blessed to have benefactors, mentors, learned guides who, with nothing to gain for themselves, provided priceless life lessons, wisdom, and guidance.
The opportunity to pass knowledge along to the young ought to be a cornerstone of life. Some would say it is an obligation. Wiser people throughout the ages have carried this essential endowment from one generation to the next.
One of the greatest experiences a person can have is to spend time with a child, sharing knowledge, values, skills, or just a presence. Children are sponges, they soak up information even when they seem preoccupied. Every moment so spent is priceless.
Adults can forget that children are human. They are more than tiny adults, they are the promise of the future, the legacy (positive or negative) we will eventually leave.
Protect, prepare and pray
I had no relationship with the advertiser. However, I found it in one of my precious connections to the outside world and (it would turn out) to my future. I doubt he intended to have such an impact on a youth. But, regardless, he did.
There was no contact between us; just his advertising in a magazine I bought. On the larger scale, we who have something to offer should protect our relationship with those who will receive it.
We should prepare our example, our knowledge, or our life-lesson. There should be a positive relationship between sender and recipient. When that is missing, a productive connection and reception is unlikely.
Mystery or miracle
The kind of sharing we can provide should be on a firm foundation of prayer. As my experience, something that is planted might not sprout for a half-century. Does that make it less valuable? Certainly not. A 2012 article in National Geographic News recounted the discovery of 32,000-year-old seeds in Siberia. Scientist were able to grow plants from these ancient seeds; and those plants produced their own seeds. My 50 year experience is nothing compared to that; but it is special to me, nonetheless.
We are told, anyone of adult age now has lived in two centuries and two millennia. Let’s take a final look back. King, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon are just names in history books for most people today. Vacuum tubes are museum pieces. $1.60 an hour is an unimaginable wage by today’s standards. A 1968 Mustang, in top condition, can bring a six to seven-figure price on the collectors’ market.
There’s no telling what impact we might have when we transact (even unknowingly) with the next generation, or the one after that. All mysteries do not have to be solved. Sometimes, just a clue can make a difference. Occasionally it can make all the difference.
If we have benefited from those now past, we have a sacred duty to do our best to pay it forward to those who will come after us.