Sunday, January 22, 2012

On a Life Through Age 18: Recognizing the oneness of mankind

My son asked me to share more about my personal history. So I wrote him this as a "first chapter." -gw

My earliest memory was sitting by my mother on a footstool as she read me a story. I was around 5. I always felt secure as a child. My mother gave me strength and a feeling of security. My father was one to tip-toe around a little. He was prone to profanity of all kinds and temperamental. But I felt loved by him. I was a completely planned child, the one he was going to "spoil," because he hadn't had the chance to be around my brother and sister because of World War II.
I was by the time I was in 6th grade, an "only child," as my brother and sister had both left for college. I developed solitary interests, had my own room and desk, wrote my first "letter to the editor" at age 12 which was published in the Chicago Tribune, did well in school, liked to do school reports some of which I still have, went to school dances, and the youth center, took square dance lessons, had girlfriends starting as early as 3rd grade.
I had a secure homelife in Downers Grove. My parents loved me. My dad had a good job. We took a summer vacation every summer camping for 2 weeks until I was 15, and decided I didn't want to go anymore.
I was confident, had no self-esteem issues. I had friends in high school who were valedictorians and salutatorians, at the top of the class, although I graduated 93rd out of a class of more than 900. My girlfriend in high school was from Argentina. Her parents had doctorates in physics and chemistry. Her brother played classical piano. I played in two folk music bands, played guitar and sang. One was in Chicago, to which I would travel by train by myself for practices. I kept journals in high school which I still have today.
I did demonstrate some rebellion against my father in the last two years of high school. I felt he couldn't relate to me. I "ran away" to New York City just before my high school graduation, because of school pressures and, somehow, my relationship with my father. I was there a day, then immediately hitchhiked for home, being gone for 4 or 5 days total.
After that my father really tried to get to know me better, although he wasn't very good with people skills. That summer he would come in my bedroom and sit down on my bed and ask me questions and encourage me to take subjects like philosophy and anthropology, "impractical" subjects for getting a job, and the opposite of what he had done in college. He wanted me to study subjects that he couldn't allow himself to study when he was young. I gave him a hard time by telling him I wouldn't go to college, but I ended up going to the University of Illinois where both Dick and Phyl attended.
When I arrived on campus I was immediately happy. It was just the kind of experience I was ready for. Within two months I attended my first Baha'i meeting. That began a study of the Faith that continued for two years, before I fnally became a Baha'i. I was a James Scholar with my grades for at least three semesters of college. I took a number of honors courses. I did well in college, except for college physics, the only D I ever got. Again, I had girlfriends, although I wasn't focused on having them. I attended the University Baha'i group every Friday night. I was a fixture there. I organized campus activities against the war in Vietnam. I organized a talk on campus to which my psychology professor came to present. I marched on the Pentagon in an anti-war rally in 1968 to which 200,000 other people came. I declared my Faith in Baha'u'llah shortly thereafter after a presentation on The Seven Valleys, still one of my favorite books. I participated on the Baha'i Area Youth Committee for Southern Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. I traveled to meetings that were as far away as Nashville TN.
During the summer of my senior year I was invited to attend a Youth for One World Seminar at the Baha'i National Seminar, a week-long gathering. That is where I really solidified my faith. There I met Vernyce, whom I decided to marry. We moved to Portland, Oregon, where she was going to start school that fall. I was still a couple of courses short of having enough credits to graduate.
So let me stop here, to note, that growing up I was privileged and had almost demands put upon me except to go to school. I experienced no hardship, no poverty. And I had no siblings close in age with whom I had to work things out and learn from. I was never around young children. My parents set the example of participation in organizations, religious freethought organizations by my father, because he didn't like religion, and anti-war organizations by my mother who saw herself "working for peace." I saw myself as wanting to do my part in changing the world. I just didn't know how. My favorite magazine was the National Geographic (still is my favorite). It taught me about the oneness of mankind.  

Tacomans celebrated the oneness of mankind at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at the Tacoma Dome. -gw

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