Category Archives: Food for Thought

How Does One Become a Saint in the Catholic Church?


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Catholic Saints

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In the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Oriental Orthodoxy, or Anglican Church, Canonization is the act by which a person who has died is declared a saint. After that, their name is included in the canon – a list of recognized saints.

During the first millennium of the Church’s life, the first people honoured as saints were the martyrs whose deaths were considered to affirm the truth of their faith in Christ. Originally, only the names of martyrs along with that of the Virgin Mary appeared in the Roman Rite’s honoured as saints were the martyrs whose deaths were considered to affirm the truth of their faith in Christ. Originally, only the names of martyrs along with that of the Virgin Mary appeared in the Roman Rite’s Canon of the Mass and since 1962, that of Saint Joseph was included.

Next, in the absence of a centralized canonization process, the local Church recognized holy men and women who demonstrated great virtue during their lifetime without any formal process or investigations into their personal life or any miracles attributed to their intercession.

Later on, different processes and procedures for canonization were developed such as those used today in Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. In both Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches, the act of canonization is governed by the Holy See and a person is declared a saint at the conclusion of a long process that requires substantial proof of their worthiness to be recognized as a saint by their exemplary and holy way of living on this earth.

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Devil’s advocate and God’s advocate 

In 1587, during the reign of Pope Sixtus V, the office of the Devil’s advocate (Latin: Advocatus Diaboli) also known as the Promoter of Faith, was established. This canon lawyer appointed by the Church authorities argued against the canonization of a candidate by taking a skeptical view of the candidate’s character, uncovering any character flaws or misrepresentation of evidence such as fraudulent miracles attributed to the candidate, etc.

The Devil’s advocate opposed God’s advocate (Latin: Advocatus  Dei) also known as the Promoter of the Cause, whose task was to make the argument in favour of canonization.favour of canonization.favour of canonization.favour of canonization.

Pope Paul VI beatified a total of 38 individuals during his pontificate and canonized 84 saints in 21 causes.

The work of simplification of canonization initiated by Pope Paul VI continued with Pope John Paul II’s apostolic constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister of January 25, 1983, and the implementation of the norms issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on February 7, 1983, at the diocesan level.

Contrary to popular belief, the reforms did not eliminate the office of the Promoter of the Faith popularly known as the Devil’s advocate, whose duty was to question the material presented in favour of canonization. John Paul II reduced the number of miracles required for sainthood from three to two, one for the first stage — beatification — and one more for canonization. The reforms were intended to make the process less adversarial.

In November 2012 Pope Benedict XVI appointed Monsignor Carmello Pellegrino to the office of Promoter of the Faith.

This reform by Pope John Paul II changed the canonization process considerably, helping John Paul II to usher in an unprecedented number of elevations: nearly 500 individuals were canonized and over 1,300 were beatified during his tenure as Pope as compared to only 98 canonizations by all his 20th-century predecessors.

In cases of controversy, the Vatican may still seek to informally solicit the testimony of critics of a candidate for canonization.

Candidates go through the following steps on their way to being declared saints.

Servant of God“: The process leading to canonization begins at the diocesan level. Responding to a petition by members of the faithful, a bishop with jurisdiction, usually the bishop of the place where the candidate died or is buried, gives permission to open an investigation into the virtues of the individual.  This investigation usually opens no sooner than five years after the death of the person being investigated.

Venerable/Heroic in Virtue“: After gathering sufficient information, the congregation will recommend to the pope to proclaim that the Servant of God exhibited the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, to a heroic degree. From this point, the one said to be “heroic in virtue” is referred to by the title “Venerable”.

A Venerable has as yet no feast day and no churches may be built in his or her honour. Prayer cards and other materials may be printed to encourage the faithful to pray for a miracle wrought by the venerable’s intercession as a sign of God’s will that the person can be canonized.

Blessed“: Beatification is a statement by the church that it is “worthy of belief” that the person is in heaven, having come to salvation. This step depends on whether the Venerable is a “martyr” or a “confessor”.

For a martyr, the Pope has only to make a declaration or a certification that the venerable met death voluntarily as a witness for the faith and/or in an act of heroic charity for others.

All non-martyrs are “confessors” as they “confessed” or bore witness to their faith by the manner they lived their lives. To be named “Blessed” (abbreviated “Bl.”) or, in Latin, Beatus or Beata a miracle has to tale place as a sign that God performed the miracle in response to the venerable’s intercession. Today, these miracles are mostly miraculous cures, as these are the easiest to establish based on the Catholic Church’s requirements for a “miracle”.

A feast day will be designated, but its observance is normally restricted to the Blessed’s home diocese, to certain locations associated with the blessed and/or to the churches or houses of the blessed’s religious order, if they belonged to one. Parishes may not normally be named in honour of a Blessed.

Saint“: Canonization is a statement by the church that the person enjoys the Beatific Vision. To be canonized a saint, an additional miracle after granting beatification must have been performed through the blessed’s intercession.

The saint (contracted “St” or “S.”) is assigned a feast day which may be celebrated anywhere within the Catholic Church, although it may or may not appear on the general calendar or local calendars as an obligatory feast. Parish churches may be built in the saint’s honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.

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Chanakya’s advice to Chitragupta!


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Varalakshmi Vratham Pooja (Source: blog.buzzintown.com)
Varalakshmi Vratham Pooja (Source: blog.buzzintown.com)

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Every year, the married Hindu women in the southern states of India undertake the Varalakshmi Vratam. It is a pooja (a prayer ritual) to honour and worship goddess Varalakshmi, the granter of boons (Varam). Varalakshmi Vratam falls on the Second Friday or the Friday before Poornima (full moon day) in the month of Śravaṇā, also called Śawan in Hindi and Aadi in Tamil, corresponding to the Gregorian months of July–August.

Last Friday, my wife on invitation attended the Varalakshmi Vratam celebration at three houses of our Hindu neighbours.

This brings to my mind an apocryphal yarn about Chanakya and his advice to Chitragupta, the Hindu god who keeps complete records of actions of all human beings on earth and decides whether to send them to heaven or to hell after their mortal death.

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Chankaya (Source: religion.bhaskar.com)
Chanakya (Source: religion.bhaskar.com)

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Chanakya, traditionally identified as Kauṭilya or Vishnu Gupta was a teacher, philosopher, economist, jurist and royal advisor to Chandragupta, the first Mauryan emperor. He authored the Arthashastra, the ancient Indian political treatise.

In Hinduism, the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction cum transformation are personified as a triad of deities, namely Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva respectively.

Chitragupta and goddess Varalakshmi noticed that every woman in the course of the Vratam prayed to the goddess to grant her the boon of getting married to her present husband in the next seven incarnations.

Chitragupta also heard the men pray for a new wife in each and every future incarnation!

Chitragupta and goddess Varalakshmi were perturbed.

So, they approached the four-faced Brahma, the creator deity, for advice.

Brahma: “The wish of these women are laudable! So, what is the problem? “

Chitragupta: “Lord, every woman wants her present husband to be reborn and marry only her in her next seven incarnations, but all men want a new wife in each and every future incarnation!”

Brahma: “Yes. It is a real dilemma indeed!”

Chitragupta: “Lord, what are we to do?”

Brahma thought for a while and said: “Go to Earth and seek the advice of Chanakya, the wise man.”

Chitragupta and goddess Varalakshmi appeared before Chanakya. After relating the problem they asked the scholar for a solution.

Chanakya smiled at them and said: “This is not a problem at all. Tell those silly women that if they want their present husband to be theirs for the next seven incarnations then they will have to accept their current mother-in-law too to be theirs for the next seven incarnations!”

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Taking Care of an Aging Parent


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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A young man lived with his wife, his four-year-old son and his frail elderly father – a widower with blurry eyes,  trembling hands, and faltering steps.

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The family would eat together at the dining table. The elderly person’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating rather difficult for him. Often, food fell off his spoon and dropped on the floor, and as he clutched his glass of milk with unsteady hands, milk spilled on the tablecloth and his lap.

The daughter-in-law irritated with the mess he created bawled out. “I have had enough of his spilling food and milk on the table and the floor. You must do something about your father,” she told her husband.

So, the son set a small table at the corner of the dining room. Since the elderly man had broken a number of ceramic dishes, the daughter-in-law served his food in wooden bowls.

The four-year-old boy watched his grandfather eat alone silently at the little table while he and his parents ate at the grand dining table. Sometimes he saw tears rolling down his grandfather’s cheeks whenever his parents admonished him for dropping his spoon, spilling food, milk, or water.

One evening, before supper, the father noticed his little son playing with wood scraps and strings.

“What are you making, son?” he asked.

“Oh, Dad, I’m making two little wooden bowls,” the boy replied.

“Bowls?”

“Yes.”

“What for?”

“For you and mama to eat your food from when I grow up.”

The boy’s parents were speechless.

The four-year-old smiled sweetly at his parents and went back to work. He did not see the tears that streamed down their cheeks.

That evening, the boy smiled as his father and mother led the venerable parent back to the grand dining table.

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King Solomon’s Prayer for Wisdom (1 Kings 3:5-15)


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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The following verses 5 to 15 from Chapter 3 in the book of “1 Kings” in the Old Testament, shows how Solomon obtained the three gifts from God: a listening heart,  riches, and universal fame to rule over his subjects.

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Dream of Soloman by Luca Giordano (Madrid, circa 1693)
Dream of Soloman by Luca Giordano (Madrid, circa 1693)

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In Gibeon, the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night.

God said: “Whatever you ask I shall give you.”

Solomon answered:

“You have shown great kindness to your servant, David my father because he walked before you with fidelity, justice, and an upright heart; and you have continued this great kindness toward him today, giving him a son to sit upon his throne.

Now, LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed David my father; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act.

I, your servant, among the people you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.

Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil. For who is able to give judgment for this vast people of yours?”

The Lord was pleased by Solomon’s request. So God said to him:

“Because you asked for this—you did not ask for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies—but you asked for discernment to know what is right.

I now do as you request. I give you a heart so wise and discerning that there has never been anyone like you until now, nor after you will there be anyone to equal you.

In addition, I give you what you have not asked for: I give you such riches and glory that among kings there will be no one like you all your days.

And if you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and commandments, as David your father did, I will give you a long life.”

Solomon awoke; it was a dream!

He went to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, sacrificed burnt offerings and communion offerings, and gave a feast for all his servants.

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Note:  I have used the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) version of the Holy Bible.

“Marikkar” Ramdas of Komaligal (Clowns)


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Sathyavaageeswara Iyer “Marikkar” Ramdas
Sathyavaageeswara Iyer “Marikkar” RamdasM

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In 1974, Sillaiyoor Selvarajan, a well-known artiste of Radio Ceylon, in charge of producing a radio program sponsored by the People’s Bank, saw a 30-minute comedy play staged by S. Ramdas at D. S. Senanayake College in Colombo.

Enthralled by the play, Sillaiyoor Selvarajan requested Ramdas to lengthen the play for broadcasting as a serial over the radio. Young Ramadas readily agreed and wrote the script and dialogues for the radio comedy “Koamaaligalin Kummaalam” (Hilarious Antics of Clowns) with the message of national unity. Ramdas took hints from the Indian Tamil film “Bharatha Vilas” directed by A. C. Trilokchander starring Sivaji Ganesan and K.R. Vijaya, which emphasised national unity among families hailing from different Indian ethnic groups living in separate portions in a mansion named “Bharatha Vilas“.

Instead of bludgeoning directly into the ethnic amity, and unity in diversity among families belonging to different ethnicities and religions living in separate portions under one roof in a large house, he presented humorously the peaceful coexistence of those people .

Radio Ceylon broadcasted the play continuously for 90 weeks, sponsored by the People’s Bank.

Ramdas, a Brahmin in real life cast himself as “Marikkar”, a Colombo Muslim with the proper enunciation of a Colombo Muslim.

B. H. Abdul Hameed, a Muslim in real life, took on the role a Brahmin named “Iyer”.

K. A. Jawahir (alias Abu Naanaa), another Muslim acted as “Thanikasalam” the villain.

T. Rajagopal took the role of a gentleman of Jaffna origin named “Appukutty”, and S. Selvasekaran took on the role of a Sinhalese named “Upali”.

The play became immensely popular. I too became an enthusiastic fan and listened to the play every Sunday at 4 pm.

In early 1976, Malkar Mohamed, who listened to this weekly radio drama decided to produce it as a film. Ramdas readily agreed when Mohamed expressed his desire.

Ramdas enthusiastically penned the story and dialogues for the film titled “Komaligal” (“The Clowns”).

S. Ramanathan, an experienced personality in the Sinhala film industry consented to direct it under the banner of Amarjothy Movies.

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B. H. Abdul Hameed and S. Ramdas in a still from the film 'Komaligal' (1976)
B. H. Abdul Hameed and S. Ramdas in a still from the film ‘Komaligal’ (1976)

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The original actors of the radio play “Koamaaligalin Kummaalam” – S. Ramdas, B. H. Abdul Hameed, K. A. Jawahir (alias Abu Naanaa), T. Rajagopal and S. Selvasekaran – took on their respective roles in the film. Sillaiyoor Selvarajan and his wife Kamalini Selvarajan acted as lovers in the film.

The film “Komaligal” produced in 45 days and screened on November 22, 1976, at 6 theatres, became a box office hit and ran successfully, better than any other previous Sri Lankan Tamil movie.

Here is a video clip of the song Ennadi Sithi Beebee written and sung by Ramdas in the dialect of Colombo Muslims. This song became an instant hit even though he mimicked “Ennadi Raakkammaa“, a popular song of that period, sung by T. M. Soundararajan in the Indian Tamil film ‘Pattikkaada Pattanamaa’.

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Sathyavaageeswara Iyer Ramdas alias “Marikkar” Ramdas born on May 5, 1947, in Sivagangai, in Tamil Nadu, India passed away on July 13, 2016, at the residence of his daughter Priya in Besant Nagar, Chennai. Though Ramdas is no more with us, the memories of “Marikkar” Ramdas will forever live in the hearts and minds of his numerous fans in Sri Lanka, India, and all over the world.

D. B. S. Jeyaraj, a former journalist of the Tamil daily newspaper “Virakesari” has written an excellent tribute titled ‘“Marikkar” Ramdas: The Brahmin who transformed Into a Muslimwherein he writes about “Marikkar” Ramdas and describes in detail the history and making of the film “Komaligal“.

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Two Years Have Passed since “The Faith” Collapsed in 2014.


Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Two years ago, at 5.30 pm on Saturday, June 28, 2014, one of the twin eleven storied apartment blocks under construction situated on Kundrathur road near Porur junction, Moulivakkam in the suburb of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, collapsed due to heavy monsoon rains, killing 61 people including children. The rescuers saved 27 people trapped under the wrecked building. The hospitals admitted more than 50 injured people.

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The 2014 Moulivakkam building collapse (Source: architexturez.net)
The 2014 Moulivakkam building collapse (Source: architexturez.net)

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Most victims were construction workers, who were reportedly in the building to collect their wages.

This incident exemplifies the dark side of the real estate and construction business wherein ambitious entrepreneurs consider amassing money the prime function of their operations and do not care for the safety of the lives of their customers.

Three years before this disaster, M. Manoharan (60), a native of Madurai, worked as a clerk with the Indian Bank in Madurai. He opted for voluntary retirement in 2011 and became a and graduated to a full-time ‘well-known’ real estate dealer within a short time with the support of a DMK panjandrum he launched Prime Sristi Housing Pvt Ltd.

The website of Prime Sristi Housing Pvt Ltd.,  blatantly states:

Head quartered in Madurai Prime Sristi Housing Pvt Ltd’s promoters have nearly two decades of extensive Real Estate Development experience. We at Prime Sristi believe our buildings should stand apart and should reflect engineering marvel . It is our intention that the quality of our products and services should result in complete Customer Trust.

In 2014, the Prime Sristi Housing Ltd., promoted the ‘Trust Heights’, a residential project. It had two 11-storey buildings under construction named ‘The Faith’ and ‘The Belief’ on the Kundrathur Main Road at Moulivakkam, the catchment area for the nearby Porur lake and Adyar river,

According to the initial assessment made by the Public Works Department, the soil does not support heavy construction and permission is not easily granted for the the construction of high-rise buildings in the area. But none of the authorities raised any objection when construction started.

The Faith‘ had four apartments of two BHK on each floor, and ‘The Belief‘ has four apartments of three BHK on each floor, priced at ₹5250 per square foot.

Due to the heavy rains, ‘The Faith’ collapsed on an adjoining building. Though deemed the most serious construction-disaster Chennai has ever witnessed, the builder and the authorities blamed “natural causes”.

On Sunday, June 29, 2014, the city police arrested Manoharan, Managing Director of the Sirsti Housing Private Ltd., his son Muthu Kamatchi, M. Balagurusamy, S. Venkatasubramaniam, structural engineer, R. Duraisingam, K. Karthik, S. Sankar Ramakrishnan, and Vijay Bargotra, consultant architect.

A release signed by the registrar of the Council of Architecture, New Delhi, stated that Vijay Bargotra, the prime architect of the 11-storey buildings, cannot function as an architect in India since he had not registered with them.

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Stop Sharing That Meaningless Copyright Status on Facebook


Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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If you have been on Facebook for the last three or four days, you would have probably seen an almost serious looking post or one of its many garbled variations shared as someone’s Facebook status.

Here is a screen grab of one of the versions:

Permission for FB

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Various versions of this status have popped up on since 2012, which are just elaborate hoaxes that have plagued the social-network site for years, and you too might have seen them on your FB pages from time to time.

Do you think copying  and posting such a short note that seems to contain complicated and official legalese will protect the privacy and confidentiality of your Facebook account from that moment onwards and privatize the photos and videos you post?

In reality, posting such status on your Facebook page will not change any privacy rules.

If you think that posting such a status on your Facebook page is the right thing to do, then why are you still posting photos and other items on Facebook under your banner? Would it not be better to deactivate your account?

Remember that social media is not the place for “private and confidential” information. If you do not give permission to use your pictures, etc., how would Facebook show them to your friends?

When you agree to Facebook’s terms of use, you give Facebook a non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any content you post. You do not need to declare anything about copyright issues since the law already protects you. Hence, any privacy declaration on your part is worthless and does not mean anything.

On November 26, 2012, Max Read published an article titled “That Facebook Copyright Thing Is Meaningless and You Should Stop Sharing It” wherein he dissects this status post line by line and counters them with excellent explanations.

Facebook addressed the rumours years ago in a fact-checking blog post about the change related to ownership of users’ information or content they post to the site.

Copyright Meme Spreading on Facebook

Copyright Meme Spreading on Facebook

There is a rumor circulating that Facebook is making a change related to ownership of users’ information or the content they post to the site. This is false. Anyone who uses Facebook owns and controls the content and information they post, as stated in our terms. They control how that content and information is shared. That is our policy, and it always has been.

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What Happened to the Three Monkeys of Mahatma Gandhi?


Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Almost 68 years have elapsed since the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948, in New Delhi. By the way, have you ever wondered what happened to his three famous monkeys?

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The 3 Monkeys of Mahatma Gandhi (Source: daililol.com)
The 3 Monkeys of Mahatma Gandhi (Source: daililol.com)

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Well, the three died in due course, but I gleaned more about their posterity:

The offsprings of the monkey that closed its eyes became judges, lawyers, policemen, and priests.

The progeny of the monkey that closed its ears became politicians, heads of governments, government officials and their lackeys.

Finally, the descendants of the third monkey that closed its mouth proliferated beyond expectation and are now the voting public

 

Foolish Questions…


Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Today, I received a copy of a clipping of the poem titled “Human Anatomy” from my dear niece Fiona Devotta Vazirani.

I remember having first read this humoristic poem  in the mid-1990s. Since then it had appeared in many newspapers and clippings – sometimes with long titles such as “Let’s call it, unsolved mysteries of anatomy” and at times without any title at all.

The author was William Rossa Cole.

Here is that poem appearing under the title “Foolish Questions” (adapted) from “Oh, Such Foolishness” (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1978) as found in Kids Pick the Funniest Poems, edited by Bruce Lansky (Meadowbrook Press, 1991).

Foolish Questions
by William Cole

 

Where can a man buy a cap for his knee?
Or a key for the lock of his hair?

And can his eyes be called a school?
I would think”there are pupils there!

What jewels are found in the crown of his head,
And who walks on the bridge of his nose?

Can he use, in building the roof of his mouth,
the nails on the ends of his toes?

Can the crook of his elbow be sent to jail?
If it can, well, then, what did it do?

And how does he sharpen his shoulder blades?
I’ll be hanged if I know – do you?

Can he sit in the shade of the palm of his hand,
and beat time with the drum in his ear?

Can the calf of his leg eat the corn on his toe?

There’s somethin’ pretty strange around here!

William Rossa Cole, an American editor, anthologist, columnist, author, and writer of light verse was born on November 20, 1919, to William Harrison Cole and Margaret O’Donovan-Rossa of Staten Island, New York. He was the grandson of the Irish national hero, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa.

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William Rossa Cole during WWII (Source: crooklynrai.org)
William Rossa Cole during WWII (Source: crooklynrai.org)

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William Cole served in the infantry in Europe in World War II, rising to sergeant and receiving the Purple Heart. After military service, he entered the publishing industry. He served as publicity director at Alfred A. Knopf, publicity director and editor at Simon & Schuster, and publisher of William Cole Books at Viking Press. He was a columnist for The Saturday Review, a vice president of PEN American Center and a member of the governing board of the Poetry Society of America and the executive board of Poets and Writers.

William Cole wrote children’s books and light verse. His whimsical poetry appeared often in Light Quarterly and was widely anthologized, He was an author, co-author, editor, and co-editor, of about 75 books of which 50 were anthologies. The American Library Association were honoured three of his books:

  1. In 1958, “I Went to the Animal Fair: A Book of Animal Poems” which was on the List of Notable Children’s Books of 1940–1959.
  2. In 1964, “Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls: Poems“.
  3. In 1965, “The Birds and Beasts Were There: Animal Poems” .

His marriage to Peggy Bennett in 1947 and his marriage to Galen Williams in 1967 both ended in divorce.

William Cole died on August 2, 2000, in his Manhattan home, aged 80.

Seamus Heaney, Member of the Royal Irish Academy and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 memorialized William Cole in a poem.

In Memory of Bill Cole
by Seamus Heaney

As Dante when he entered Purgatory

Was greeted by Casella, and the song

Casella sang sweetened his memory

Of earthly love and music and their long

Afternoons of wine and poetry,

So I, when I heard that William Cole had gone

Among the shades, imagined him and me

Meeting in an earthly paradise

Where we’d never met on earth, in Co. Derry,

On the banks of the Moyola, and his voice

Rising to sing in an Irish tenor brogue

MacCormack might have envied, or James Joyce,

Or Moore in Avoca, by Avonmore and Beg,

River-rhyming, over-brimming, young

At heart again, and younger song by song—

For always Bill belonged in Tir na n-Og.*

*“Tir na n-Og” means “land of youth” in Irish

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The Secret That Makes Us Healthy and Happy as We Go Through Life!


Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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If we want to invest in a good life and be happy and healthy as we grow old, how should we direct our time and energy? To answer these questions The Harvard Study of Adult Development at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston started a study of adult life in 1938 and continues it to this day.

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Robert Waldinger, Ted Talk
Robert Waldinger, Ted Talk

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If you think its fame and money that will bring you happiness and good health then you’re mistaken says Robert Waldinger, a Harvard psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and Zen priest. As the fourth director of the 75-year-old study on adult development, he has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. Waldinger says that he had learned some surprising things about what the good life actually looks like.

In this 12-minutes short video of the talk he gave at a TEDx event, he offers the results of 77 years of studying happiness. He shares with us insights and three important lessons learned from the study, as well as some practical age old wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.

In these 12 short minutes, he offers the results of 75 years of studying happiness. Yes, life can be summed up in a very short time.

In this video of the talk, he gave at a TEDx event he shares insights and three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.

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Here is a transcript of the speech:

If you were going to invest now in your future best self, where would you put your time and your energy? There are lots of answers out there. We are bombarded with images of what’s most important in life. The media are filled with stories of people who are rich and famous and building empires at work. And we believe those stories.

There was a recent survey of millennials asking them what their most important life goals were, and over 80 percent said that a major life goal for them was to get rich. And another 50 percent of those same young adults said that another major life goal was to become famous.

(Laughter)

And we’re constantly told to lean into work, to push harder and achieve more. We’re given the impression that these are the things that we need to go after in order to have a good life.

But is that true? Is that really what keeps people happy as they go through life?

Pictures of entire lives, of the choices that people make and how those choices work out for them, those pictures are almost impossible to get. Most of what we know about human life we know from asking people to remember the past, and as we know, hindsight is anything but 20/20. We forget vast amounts of what happens to us in life, and sometimes memory is downright creative.

Mark Twain understood this. He’s quoted as saying,

“Some of the worst things in my life never happened.”

(Laughter)

And research shows us that we actually remember the past more positively as we get older.

I’m reminded of a bumper sticker that says,

It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.

(Laughter)

But what if we could watch entire lives as they unfold through time? What if we could study people from the time that they were teenagers all the way into old age to see what really keeps people happy and healthy?

We did that.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development may be the longest study of adult life that’s ever been done. For 75 years, we’ve tracked the lives of 724 men, year after year, asking about their work, their home lives, their health, and of course asking all along the way without knowing how their life stories were going to turn out.

Studies like this are exceedingly rare.

Almost all projects of this kind fall apart within a decade because too many people drop out of the study, or funding for the research dries up, or the researchers get distracted, or they die, and nobody moves the ball further down the field. But through a combination of luck and the persistence of several generations of researchers, this study has survived. About 60 of our original 724 men are still alive, still participating in the study, most of them in their 90s. And we are now beginning to study the more than 2,000 children of these men. And I’m the fourth director of the study.

Since 1938, we’ve tracked the lives of two groups of men. The first group started in the study when they were sophomores at Harvard College. They were from what Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation.” They all finished college during World War II, and then most went off to serve in the war. And the second group that we’ve followed was a group of boys from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, boys who were chosen for the study specifically because they were from some of the most troubled and disadvantaged families in the Boston of the 1930s. Most lived in tenements, many without hot and cold running water.

When they entered the study, all of these teenagers were interviewed. They were given medical exams. We went to their homes and we interviewed their parents. And then these teenagers grew up into adults who entered all walks of life. They became factory workers and lawyers and bricklayers and doctors, one President of the United States. Some developed alcoholism. A few developed schizophrenia. Some climbed the social ladder from the bottom all the way to the very top, and some made that journey in the opposite direction.

The founders of this study would never in their wildest dreams have imagined that I would be standing here today, 75 years later, telling you that the study still continues. Every two years, our patient and dedicated research staff calls up our men and asks them if we can send them yet one more set of questions about their lives.

Many of the inner city Boston men ask us, “Why do you keep wanting to study me? My life just isn’t that interesting.” The Harvard men never ask that question.

(Laughter)

To get the clearest picture of these lives, we don’t just send them questionnaires. We interview them in their living rooms. We get their medical records from their doctors. We draw their blood, we scan their brains, we talk to their children. We video tape them talking with their wives about their deepest concerns. And when, about a decade ago, we finally asked the wives if they would join us as members of the study, many of the women said, “You know, it’s about time.”

(Laughter)

So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we’ve generated on these lives?

Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.

We’ve learned three big lessons about relationships. The first is that social connections are really good for us and that loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to the community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected. And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic. People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely. And the sad fact is that at any given time, more than one in five Americans will report that they’re lonely.

And we know that you can be lonely in a crowd and you can be lonely in a marriage, so the second big lesson that we learned is that it’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship, but it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters. It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, for example, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.

Once we had followed our men all the way into their 80s, we wanted to look back at them at midlife and to see if we could predict who was going to grow into a happy, healthy octogenarian and who wasn’t. And when we gathered together everything we knew about them at age 50, it wasn’t their middle age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old. It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. And good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old. Our most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80s, that on the days when they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days when they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain.

And the third big lesson that we learned about relationships and our health is that good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains.

It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective, that the people who are in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay sharper longer. And the people in relationships where they feel they really can’t count on the other one, those are the people who experience earlier memory decline. And those good relationships, they don’t have to be smooth all the time. Some of our octogenarian couples could bicker with each other day in and day out, but as long as they felt that they could really count on the other when the going got tough, those arguments didn’t take a toll on their memories.

So this message, that good, close relationships are good for our health and well-being, this is wisdom that’s as old as the hills. It’s your grandmother’s advice, and your pastor’s,

Why is this so hard to get?

For example, with respect to wealth, we know that once our basic material needs are met, wealth doesn’t do it. If you go from making 75,000 dollars a year to 75 million, we know that your health and happiness will change very little, if at all.

When it comes to fame, the constant media intrusion and the lack of privacy make most famous people significantly less healthy. It certainly doesn’t keep them happier.

And as for working harder and harder, there is that truism that nobody on their death bed ever wished they had spent more time at the office.

(Laughter)

Why is this so hard to get and so easy to ignore? Well, we’re human.

What we’d really like is a quick fix, something we can get that’ll make our lives good and keep them that way.
Relationships are messy and they’re complicated and the hard work of tending to family and friends, it’s not sexy or glamorous. It’s also lifelong. It never ends.

The people in our 75-year study who were the happiest in retirement were the people who had actively worked to replace workmates with new playmates. Just like the millennials in that recent survey, many of our men when they were starting out as young adults really believed that fame and wealth and high achievement were what they needed to go after to have a good life. But over and over, over these 75 years, our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned into relationships, with family, with friends, with the community.

So what about you? Let’s say you’re 25, or you’re 40, or you’re 60. What might leaning into relationships even look like?

Well, the possibilities are practically endless. It might be something as simple as replacing screen time with people time or livening up a stale relationship by doing something new together, long walks or date nights, or reaching out to that family member who you haven’t spoken to in years, because those all-too-common family feuds take a terrible toll on the people who hold the grudges.

I’d like to close with another quote from Mark Twain. More than a century ago, he was looking back on his life, and he wrote this:

There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.

The good life is built with good relationships. And that’s an idea worth spreading.

Thank you.

(Applause)

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