Saturday, December 9, 2023

George Eastman

This is a post being moved from a blog I do for our church men's prayer group. I'm doing some housecleaning there and felt this one was worthy of being preserved. 

A Sad Death?

During a discussion about experiencing a happy death, I thought of an excellent example of what I have always assumed was a sad death, that of George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak. George Eastman was born July 12, 1854, and died March 14, 1932. His father, George Washington Eastman, died of a brain disorder when George was 8 years old, and his mother, Maria Kilbourn Eastman, began taking in boarders to support George and his two older sisters and pay for his education. George left school early and began working to help his mother support the family. He never married nor had any offspring but was devoted to his mother and sisters. His mother died in 1907, her final two years in a wheelchair, when George was 53. 

At age 30, in 1884, George patented the first photographic roll film, and four years later, the first camera designed to use that film to introduce photography to the masses. The business he developed and managed based on those inventions made him a very wealthy man. George became a leader in industrial relations, introducing "profit sharing" for all employees, a benefit I enjoyed during my 34 years as an employee, long after George's death.

George donated more than $100M ($2B in today's dollars) to various non-profits around the world. There was a focus on the arts, health and dental care for poor children, and two southern historically black universities.

Some spinal disorder in his final two years resulted in intense pain and difficulty standing or walking. He suffered depression, perhaps from his condition and remembering the lingering deaths and suffering of his parents. He committed suicide with a pistol shot to his heart and left this note: "To my friends, my work is done - Why wait? GE"

As an employee of Kodak, I never heard any reference to Mr. Eastman having any interest in faith or church or any connection with either. I guess I assumed he was just an unhappy atheist who committed suicide.

But I wondered if there was more to the story and Googled something along the line of "Did George Eastman have any church or faith connections?" That brought up a fascinating story by a long time personal friend of Mr. Eastman, George E. Norton, Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Rochester NY from 1923 to 1948. Included in that story were two faith related quotes from Mr. Eastman. The first is from a letter, a copy of which Pastor Norton had in his possession.

The second quote was made in person to Pastor Norton in response to Norton's statement, following some church criticism by Eastman, that Eastman was not a member of the church and consequently didn't know what he was talking about. Eastman replied, " "Young man, who are you, and by what right do you think you can read me out of the church. I was baptised in St. Luke's Church and I was confirmed by Bishop Cox. You can't read me out of the church."

The last paragraph in Pastor Norton's story was about the funeral of George Eastman:

So, maybe the death of George Eastman wasn't seen by him as sad. Maybe nobody had ever explained to Mr. Eastman the complicated theology of the Catholic Church, the benefits of its sacraments, the necessity of worship, and it's view of suicide. Maybe nobody had invited him in. But it appears that he lead an unselfish life that resulted in better lives for thousands who enjoyed employment by him, preserved important memories with his inventions, or benefited from the generous distribution of his wealth. And, lest we get hung up on the suicide issue, there is this from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Of course only God knows how George Eastman's life looked to him.

In the meantime, in hope for a happy death, let's focus on “seeking first the Kingdom of God, the Our Father, the Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Gifts of the Spirit, the Virtues, and the Creed. Hmm, those are the same things suggested last week for protection from demons!

Footnote: And one truly sad death was the death of Eastman Kodak, the imaging company that failed to respond to the shift from silver halide to digital imaging and, after long and painful suffering, went bankrupt in January 2012. A healthy George Eastman would have not allowed that to happen.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

A Pilgrimage to Poland

In September 2023 we took a trip to Poland. Readers might enjoy this summary of the trip and learnings. Or, they may not, but here it is.

A Pilgrimage to Poland

Sunday, June 18, 2023

From Chaos to the Church

 A Great Course

In January of this year an email from The Great Courses offering big discounts caught my eye. One course offered for only $25, Foundations of Western Civilization, inspired me. History of Western Civilization had been my toughest course as a Vanderbilt freshmen in the fall of 1960, and, while the title was slightly different, foundations vs. history, this looked like a good chance to make up for what I had missed in that course decades ago. I ordered it, and my wife and I enjoyed the 48 episodes, usually one per night, over the next few weeks. I recommend it. Buy and enjoy it (at their discount prices).


An interesting coincidence was that the lecturing professor, Thomas F. X. Noble of Note Dame, had been our son's History of Western Civ. professor at the University of Virginia almost 40 years ago. Some Goggling of the professor led to "A Noble Farewell: Professor Retires After 41 Years." In that 2015 article, the professor offered this memory: 

"One difference between a public, secular university and a Catholic university, he explained, is that at the latter, "We are actually much freer to talk about things than they are." He continued, "In public universities, there is kind of a soft left orthodoxy to which everyone must hue, or basically, keep your mouth shut. Whereas here we can actually talk about anything, which is really quite opens our capacity to explores and to investigates and to talk-and even to argue."

Very interesting, but I believe that "soft left orthodoxy" may have hardened in the last eight years. 

I mention this because it is a shame the students of 40 years ago at UVA didn't get the same emphasis on Church history as we got in the current presentation by Professor Noble. The current version includes an episode titled The Hebrews - Small States and Big Ideas. Here are some phrases from that episode:

"Three central religious ideas contained in the Hebrew Bible constitute the key foundations of Western Civilization...The idea of the God for one people, not a god for a place or a state...The idea of exclusive monotheism...The idea of ethical monotheism...and this: "Western literature is unimaginable without its fundamental formative text: the Bible."

More recently, I have struggled with some of the writings of G.K. Chesterton, a British writer of a century ago who never found an obscure word he didn't like. But his thinking is profound. For example, he states that we cannot treat the Church as a child once we discover that she is our mother and the mother of our country, "much older and more aboriginal." That is part of a discussion of confusion of patriotism, nationalism, and faith in God, always a serious current issue.

All these preliminaries are leading to presentation of an updated chart I have worked on over the past several years. It depicts, in simple terms, the first 2000 years of the Church, from God's selection, preparation, and education of the pagan Hebrew people, through the Incarnation, to the establishment of The Church. Comments and observations are welcome.

Link to PDF of the chart. 


Tuesday, May 16, 2023


 A Chesterton Quote Impossible to Remember

"Anyone who likes, therefore, may call my belief in God merely mystical; the phrase is not worth fighting about. But my belief that miracles have happened in human history is not a mystical belief at all; I believe in them upon human evidences as I do in the discovery of America. Upon this point there is a simple logical fact that only requires to be stated and cleared up. Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them." - Orthodoxy by Gilbert Chesterton - Page 157


That quote is eight lines out of a 55 line paragraph in Chesterton's book. Apparently Mr. Chesterton was never at a loss for words.


What's My Point?

For about three months, I have been choosing a few lines meaningful to me from Chesterton's book and copying them into a Google document on my iPad. The goal is to have a better understanding of Chesterton's interesting defence of orthodox theology which I find to be logical and rational. On the morning of May 14, 2023, the paragraph portion above was what I copied.


Maybe those words about miracles caught my attention because of my current situation, following various advised medical regimens after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. The adventure started in the late summer of 2021 with a mild but not painful discomfort in my lower left abdomen. I could have easily continued to ignore it. 


However, I got an early October appointment with my GP and after some discussion with him, wondered aloud if we couldn't just do a scan to see if anything was going on. He said yes and, a couple of hours later, on a Friday afternoon, I was undergoing the scan. A couple of hours after that I got a call from the doctor saying that I would be seeing a surgeon the following week.


The surgeon took a look at the scan and, when I asked if he was going to do a biopsy, said no, that it didn't matter what it was, it had to go. I guess he knew, from the scan, based on his experience, what it was. The early November surgery he scheduled resulted in removal of about half the pancreas, a few inches of duodenum, the spleen, and a few lymph nodes, two or three indicating malignancy. 


After a month or so of surgery recovery, the oncologist started me on a six month chemo regimen. I took the summer of 2022 off, but a scan in early fall dictated a more intense chemo (Folfirinox) for six months. Then in early spring 2023, after a favorable scan, I was shifted to a less intense chemo (5-FU) which is ongoing. As of May 2023, I feel great, pretty much the same as summer of 2021 before the whole adventure started. A few days ago I rode my recumbent bike 20 miles in 75 minutes, a bit faster than four minutes per mile, and about what I was capable of two years ago. I am thankful.


Now, what about the miracle issue? Many people have told me during this ordeal that they are praying for me. I don't know exactly what they are praying for but I love them and thank them for it. My own prayer for myself has been for fortitude, patience, peace, and joy, all fruits or gifts of the Holy Spirit, throughout the process, wherever it leads. I'm experiencing that now and give thanks for answered prayer, probably not of documentable miracle status.


I am personally attributing miracle status to, and thank God for, the inspiration that sent me to the doctor in October 2021. As I said in an earlier paragraph, the discomfort wasn't that bad and could have been easily ignored. Without that early detection before lung or liver involvement, I suspect I would be dead or nearly so by this time. Life expectancy for stage 4 pancreatic cancer is 12 to 18 months.


My miracle is not dramatic like such as healing of a crippled man or a man born blind. I don't believe I would be justified in asking for a miracle of that scale, or that I could ask with faith, and don't intend to do so.


Of course the skeptic, relying on his or her "doctrine," would say it was all luck, that I won a small prize at the lottery, or maybe just bad luck that I have the cancer at all, or maybe that the story isn't over...I'm still going to die from pancreatic cancer. How pessimistic!


I could take full credit for the decision, talking about what a smart fellow I was to see the doctor and suggest a scan when I did. I'm not taking that route.


My evidence of a miracle is that I feel good, am still serving and enjoying life, that the whole experience has been sobering, educational, and valuable, and that I am a slightly better person, perhaps better able to express sincere empathy, for having gone through the experience. Thanks be to God for sending me to the doctor in October 2021. And may He continue to grant me fortitude, patience, peace, and joy throughout the process wherever it leads.


Catholic Teaching on Miracles


I know that my miracle wouldn't meet miracle criteria established by my Church. Here is a quote from this article on the subject

"Because miracles play such an important role in the Catholic faith, a Vatican-appointed Miracle Commission composed of scientific experts and theologians works to determine whether these claims are authentic and genuine. For example, a commission researching an event of seemingly miraculous healing will call upon the help of medical rofessiohnals appointed by the Vatican to determine if there is any medical explanation."

I won't be calling on the Miracle Commission to evaluate my evidence. I will just give thanks for it. I suppose that for every dramatic and mysterious event explored by the Church's Miracle Commission, there are millions of small undocumentable blessings, each one miraculous.



For the curious: Educational Material on Pancreatic Cancer