Deep thoughts can solve life's simple puzzles

It’s time for some serious thinking. Please think along with me!
The great Jewish theologian/philosopher Martin Buber died 50 years ago this month, at 87. On the anniversary of his death, I had just said the 50-year kaddish for my physician father, who lived to only 59.
I haven’t read Buber in too long, but I hope I’m remembering this correctly: We humans tend to make sacred those things that have been, or are, of the most value to us. Think about the sacred cows of India.
Then think about our Torah.
Back in the mid-’80s, Lynda Sexson, University of Montana faculty member, spent a semester as a visiting professor at UT-Dallas. I was fortunate enough to be in her seminar — the very first class I took in pursuit of my master’s degree. Not too long before that, the University of Virginia Press had published her book, Ordinarily Sacred, which echoed Buber with what’s been called “a theology of everyday experience.”
Her work shows how the roots of so many world religions’ most important traditions can be found in the commonplaces of everyday living. But we have to open our eyes to find them and truly see them.
My father was not a religious man in any usual sense, but he had a deep (if not always publicly proclaimed) belief in God-directed inevitabilities, and the duty of us human beings to stop complaining and cease shirking our personal responsibilities for dealing with them.
“None of us knows what we’re going to get,” he used to tell both his patients and his children. “We get what we get. And the longer we live, the more we get. If we can manage to live long enough, we have a chance to get everything!”
He wasn’t speaking only medically, but philosophically too, because he would always end this little homily with “So take whatever life hands you, and do the best you can with it.” Indeed, what else is there, really?
On my father’s half-century yahrzeit, I thought of those words, and others of his that have shaped my own thinking. “Education is the ne plus ultra of life,” he would say (sending me scampering to the dictionary the first time I heard that Latin phrase).
And his belief that reading is the key to education translated into action: Every Tuesday when I got out of school, he closed up his office and together we made a trip to the library.
Professor Sexson sent our class out, not to the library, but to NorthPark Mall, to “read” what was happening there. What did we see when we really looked at the people and their behavior? Could I define the importance and meaning to the proudly toting carrier of a big, brand-new bag emblazoned with the name of some exclusive shop?
I learned that day to consider acquisition as a “religion” of sorts; the discovery that a place and the people in it could be read, like books, profoundly changed the way I have made observations forever after.
In a recent email exchange, my cousin David — not a philosopher or a physician or a professor — shared this most insightful comment about know-it-alls: folks who read neither books nor people, but cling to their own unexamined, unsupported decisions about everything and refuse to change them, no matter what evidence may be presented otherwise: “I sometimes wonder what living in their world is like,” he posted. “Having your mind made up on every issue in advance sure must leave a lot of time for other things besides thinking!”
David’s profession is photography; he reads images every day of his life.
In the worlds of Buber, my father, and Lynda Sexson, thinking is everything. It’s a product of reading — books, people, the whole ordinary world in which we can discover what is important, even sacred. Today, I’m quite sure that thinking is indeed life’s ne plus ultra …

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