Wednesday Jul. 6, 2016

0:00/ 0:00

Young and Old

When all the world is young, lad,
And all the trees are green;
And every goose a swan, lad,
And every lass a queen;
Then hey for boot and horse, lad,
And round the world away;
Young blood must have its course, lad,
And every dog his day.

When all the world is old, lad,
And all the trees are brown;
And all the sport is stale, lad,
And all the wheels run down;
Creep home, and take your place there,
The spent and maimed among:
God grant you find one face there,
You loved when all was young.

“Young and Old” by Charles Kingsley. Public domain.  (buy now)

Louis Pasteur successfully tested his rabies vaccine on this day in 1885. Pasteur had begun work on a vaccine in 1882, using a weakened form of the virus taken from the spinal cords of infected animals. The research was time-consuming, because it took several weeks for the virus to reach his test animals’ brains after they were infected, but Pasteur soon realized that people didn’t need to have the vaccine on board before they were bitten, as with other diseases. The delay between the rabid animal’s bite and the outbreak of the disease meant the vaccine could be given only when needed, and it would have plenty of time to work.

In 1885, a nine-year-old boy named Joseph Meister was bitten by a rabid dog. He was brought to Pasteur, and though Pasteur didn’t feel his vaccine was sufficiently tested yet, he knew the boy would certainly die otherwise, so he took a chance. It was a tense few weeks waiting to see if Meister would come down with the disease, but the boy recovered, and three months later was pronounced in good health. Pasteur’s fame spread quickly, and the era of preventative medicine had begun.

On this date in 1896, William Sydney Porter — better known to readers as O. Henry — fled from Texas to escape embezzlement charges (books by this author). He had moved to Texas when he was just 18 years old, and worked as a pharmacist for a while, and then at a land office. In 1891, he took a job as a teller with the First National Bank. He also launched a humor magazine called The Rolling Stone — no relation to the current magazine of that name.

As it happened, the First National Bank was not managed very well. The New York Times reported in 1916 that customers would just go behind the counter and help themselves to cash when they needed it. Then, a few days or a week later, they would mention in passing that they had taken the money and couldn’t remember if they’d left a note. This system worked so poorly that one of the tellers took early retirement, and another attempted suicide. When the bank discovered the discrepancy, Porter was fired. He moved to Houston and began writing a column for the Huston Post. When federal auditors checked on the First National Bank’s books, a federal indictment followed and he was arrested.

His father-in-law posted his bail, and Porter impulsively fled — first to New Orleans and then to Honduras, where he lay low for a while. When he received word that his wife — whom he’d left behind in the States — was dying of tuberculosis, he returned to Texas and turned himself in. He served three years of a five-year sentence, during which time he wrote and sold adventure stories to support his daughter, Margaret. Margaret had no idea that he was in prison; she was just told that he was away on business.

Porter was released from prison for good behavior in 1901. He moved to New York and continued writing stories, finishing them at the rate of one per week. He published his first collection, Cabbages and Kings, in 1904.

Today is the birthday of the British author Dame Hilary Mantel (books by this author), born Hilary Thompson in Glossop, Derbyshire (1952). She came from a working-class Catholic family and went to convent schools. When she went to college, she studied law, and married a geologist. She and her husband lived in Botswana for five years, and then moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where they lived for four years.

She already had several novels, a memoir, and a story collection under her belt when she published Wolf Hall (2009), a richly detailed historical novel about the life of Thomas Cromwell, who was an advisor to Henry VIII. She won the Man Booker Prize for fiction for Wolf Hall, and made history when she won the prize again for the book’s sequel, Bring Up the Bodies (2012). She was the first woman — and the first English writer — to be awarded the Man Booker Prize twice. She’s also the only author to win it for back-to-back novels. One of the judges called her “the greatest living English prose writer.” Her most recent book is a collection of short stories called The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher (2014); the title prompted outrage among conservative British politicians, some of whom called for her arrest. She is currently at work on the final book in the Cromwell trilogy; its title is The Mirror and the Light.

She recently wrote: “The most frequent question writers are asked is some variant on, ‘Do you write every day, or do you just wait for inspiration to strike?’ I want to snarl, ‘Of course I write every day, what do you think I am, some kind of hobbyist?’ But I understand the question is really about the central mystery — what is inspiration? Eternal vigilance, in my opinion. Being on the watch for your material, day or night, asleep or awake.”

Today is the birthday of the 14th Dalai Lama (1935) (books by this author), the spiritual ruler of Tibet. He was born Lhamo Thondup in Taktser, Tibet, to a farming and horse-trading family. His mother gave birth to him on a straw mat in a cowshed behind the family hut.

When he was two years old, a search team set out on foot to look for signs of the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso. Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Signs and visions led the search party to the boy’s home, where they posed as pilgrims and laid out drums and beads belonging to the 13th Dalai Lama. They asked him to choose which ones belonged to the Dalai Lama and which ones didn’t. He chose correctly each time and was soon ensconced in the 1,000-room Potala Palace in Lhasa, where he was tutored every day in wisdom, logic, medicine, and Buddhist philosophy. He had a fascination with clocks, watches, telescopes, clockwork soldiers, and toy motorcars and spent hours disassembling and reassembling them. He was lonely, but says, “I was very happy. I liked it a lot.”

When he was 15, Lhamo Thondup was enthroned and assumed his full duties. His name became Jetsen Jamphei Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, which means Holy Lord, Gentle Glory, Compassionate, Defender of the Earth, Ocean of Wisdom.

Tibet had declared independence from China in 1912, but by 1951, Chairman Mao had invaded Tibet in an attempt to bring the country back under Chinese Rule, which led to years of unrest and violence. By 1959, hundreds of thousands of Tibetans had gathered around the Summer Palace, the Dalai Lama’s home, concerned for his safety. At 23 years old, he fled on foot to India, where he has lived as a refugee in Dharamsala ever since.

The plight of the Dalai Lama and Tibetans has been dramatized in films like Martin Scorsese’s Kundun (1997) and Seven Years in Tibet (1997), starring Brad Pitt. The Dalai Lama travels the world giving speeches and lectures on compassion, love, Buddhism, environmental practice, and human rights. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He has no passport; he travels with the yellow document of a refugee.

The Dalai Lama is the author of more than 100 books, including The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality (2005) and Beyond Religion: Ethics for the Whole World (2012). He routinely posts words of wisdom on Twitter — advice like, “In order to help others, in order to serve others, the real motive is love.” The Dalai Lama has 12 million followers.

The Dalai Lama says: “All problems must be solved through dialogue, through talk. The use of violence is outdated and never solves problems.”

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®