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Dikkon Eberhart



I used to publish politically oriented posts. During the past several years, I’ve forsaken them in favor of posts that fall instead under one or another of the general topics GOD, LIFE, and WRITING.


This one is political, and it falls under LIFE. Life includes the political, especially when the point of the post is supported by ancient wisdom.


And especially when the point of the post is supported by Santayana, when he said "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it." Not such ancient wisdom perhaps -- 1905 -- but relevant in 2022 with Putin invading Ukraine.




Have you seen the movie “Darkest Hour?” If you have not, please do. Amazon Prime.


Perhaps you have heard about it even if you have not seen it. It is a Winston Churchill biopic, directed by Joe Wright and starring Gary Oldman among others.


The movie covers one month, early May through early June, 1940. In early May, both France and Belgium fall to the German Nazi attack. With much of the British government disenchanted by the leadership of Neville Chamberlain, who favors appeasing Hitler, Churchill is brought out of relative obscurity—he is disliked and maligned as a Conservative—and he is presented to King Edward VI.


The King, with teeth clenched, asks Churchill to form a government, as Prime Minister. Churchill agrees, and, as they say, the rest is history.




In early June, the Miracle of Dunkirk occurs, and the movie ends. But, historically, that’s the beginning of many, many dark hours.



Why should you see this movie?


First of all, it is brilliantly done, in terms of acting, directing, set design, makeup, cinematography, and script.


Second of all, it happened (not all of it: the scene in the Underground did not occur in actuality.)


Third of all, its event begins an historical triumph of freedom and of western decency as a Christian culture over Axis tyranny. I believe we MUST remember and embrace this history, or else we may go through the same darkest hour all over again.




Churchill set in motion the wavering hearts of the British public and galvanized his government to resist the Axis. Hitler was poised to invade Britain. In order to soften the country for his invasion, Hitler sent his air force to bomb London, particularly, and other locations, so the British would crumble before his army when it waded ashore. This began the Battle of Britain, an air war that stirred the hearts of the Allied world.


Equally stirring of the hearts of the western world is the present ferocious resistance of the Ukrainians against the invading army of tyrant Putin.




Here’s a snapshot--


Thursday, August 15, 1940 ... seventy-one days after Dunkirk and after the conclusion of the movie.


Blue skies over Britain.


Never before have more sorties of German bombers been flown against the battered democracy in Britain than Hitler sends that day.


Luftflotte 5 strikes northern England from its base in Norway. Luftflotten 2 and 3 hurl themselves once again across the Channel. It is high tide in the Battle of Britain, and Hitler’s invasion itself is only moments away. Britain is virtually bankrupt.


Despite the evacuation of 338,226 troops from France—the Miracle of Dunkirk—Britain's army is toothless, nearly all of its weapons abandoned on the French shoreline.


Hitler owns Europe. His U-boats own the North Atlantic. The RAF is stretched too thin: every fighting plane—every spitfire and hurricane—is airborne. There are no reserves at all. The War Cabinet calculates that “pilot wastage” is running at a rate of 746 men per month, way more than are being trained.


When asked for his war plan, Churchill replies, “My plan is we survive the next three weeks.”





The question then, possibly the question which might emerge nowadays: Will the democracies consent to their own survival?


A secret warrior, code named Intrepid, is even at that moment negotiating with President Roosevelt for the loan of 50 rusty, outmoded destroyers…anything, in fact, that might stem the tide. He’s the one who phrased the question above. Will the democracies consent to their own survival?





Three hundred twenty-four years before this, Shakespeare died. Here’s another way to ask that same question. Will the democracies be Hamlet, or Horatio? Will they dither and muse? Or will they—as bluff soldiers do—march across a stage strewn with the corpses of the better-notters…and survive?


Roosevelt can do nothing openly to help. The dithering American public will not allow it. This conflict on the far side of the world is not theirs.


Only twenty years before, they consented to pull Europe’s chestnuts out of the fire, and what good has that done? Now three massive tyrannies are spreading like cancers across the other side of the world--Hitler’s, Mussolini’s, Tojo’s—the capitalist system seems to be in ruins. If there is any hope during this bloody 20th century, it must be in the Soviet Socialist worker’s paradise.


(Of course a few eggs need to be broken to make an omelet, but Stalin should be given a tolerant pass concerning his breaking of both eggs and people.)




The question then, the question now: Will the democracies consent to their own survival?


That which is great is also that which is miserable. The greatest single idea of democracy is that the people rule; they have their say. The greatest single weakness of democracy is that, while the people are saying—on and on—the gray ideas will ensnare them, and they won’t see the black and the white.


What is the case today, in 2022? Hitler wrote Mien Kampf: he told the democracies what he planned to do, in advance.


Today, in Iran, in North Korea, and elsewhere, tyrants almost daily tell us what they plan to do, in advance.


One of those tyrants today is Putin, who has told the West what he plans to do, in advance.


Will the democracies consent to their own survival?





It takes a mighty provocation for a democracy to fight and especially to fight to the death. Tyrants always get the upper hand right away quick: they don’t hold back. But the democracies cry, “Wait! Wait! Let’s talk. Surely, surely, we can talk this problem through.”


It’s what tyrants count on; it gives them time.




Which they need…because there’s this other thing about the democracies. As Victor Davis Hansen has pointed out, when the democracies are finally put to it, when they finally perceive the choice to be either black or white, at long last, free men and women stand up to be counted, and then the tyrants are toast.


Ancient wisdom.





Churchill, evening, August 15, 1940.


The Battle of Britain lasted through mid-September, but this day was the end of its last, worst days—before little Britain and her spitfire pilots banished the massive German air force from its skies:


“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

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Dikkon Eberhart


Some readers may remember Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” It is a long poem from 1798, an early example of English romantic poetry. The poem recounts the adventure of the Ancient Mariner, who tells the tale. His story is of fate, chance, guilt, endless wandering, and perhaps redemption. Those who remember the poem will probably recall its opening lines-- It is an ancient Mariner, And he stoppeth one of three. 'By thy long grey beard and glittering eye, Now wherefore stopp'st thou me? The Bridegroom's doors are opened wide, And I am next of kin; The guests are met, the feast is set: May'st hear the merry din.' He holds him with his skinny hand, 'There was a ship,' quoth he. 'Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!' Eftsoons his hand dropt he. He holds him with his glittering eye— The Wedding-Guest stood still, And listens like a three years' child: The Mariner hath his will. My post today is about a novel in which, akin to the ancient mariner who stoppeth one of three, its narrator reaches out and grips my arm while I hurry along to the wedding feast or to whatever other event attracts me, and he compels me, instead, to stop and to hear his tale of supernatural and saga-like truth. The teller of this novel is aware that his story is an old-fashioned kind of a story in which he recounts elements of miracle and of faith interspersed with events of daily life in a way that doesn’t get told much in fiction nowadays. His tale is of a sacramental kind; it draws upon the Christian supernatural to show life’s richness and to reveal the nature of God. Like the wedding guest, I am captivated by this “ancient mariner” and cannot tear myself away from his tale, not only because of the fascinating events he describes, but because of the extraordinary mastery of English prose that the teller has at his disposal and reveals to us. Further, I am a man familiar with the Bible, and I am one who wonders, as some other readers of the Bible may do, what life would have been like in a world and time when miracle and faith—and journeys prompted by miracle and faith—simply occur. In biblical time, miracle and faith were woven within the weft and the warp of reality. They reveal the nature of God, in all its surprise. As a modern man, I know, of course, that nothing akin to the biblical experience, say, of Abraham, who is called by God to go on a journey--and without argument or insisting on explanation just does so—nothing of this ancient kind can happen in our modern world and time. Silly me. The world and time we encounter in Peace Like a River is indeed our modern world and time. Minnesota. North Dakota. Rural. Mostly winter—deep winter. 1962. And later. This is a story about family, and about a family. It is about an admirable father who must raise two boys and a girl alone. A shooting occurs. The older son, at sixteen, hard headed, defends his family and is forced to flee. The father, the second son—at eleven—and the daughter—at eight—are called to a journey of miracle and faith. It is the eleven-year-old son who plays the part of the ancient mariner, and who reaches out and grabs me by the arm and compels me to listen to his first person tale. His name is Reuben Land. He is asthmatic; sometimes the full and easy wind does not blow through his lungs as it ought. His sister is Swede, a poetic savant even at age eight, who loves and literarily inhabits the Old West and its romantic hero tales (I can imagine that Swede may already have memorized Coleridge’s poem as a precursor of such western myths—though with mountains and desert, not ocean—as written by Zane Gray!) To those readers who have not read this tale, I plead with you. Allow yourself to be fed and exuberantly nourished by this story. If you have already read it, here’s a call to read it again. Peace Like a River was published in 2002 by author Leif Enger. People were captivated. The book is a best seller. Readers are divided in their response. Amazon shows 1,013 reviews, 854 of them extolling the book as a masterpiece, and 159 of them saying “boring,” “too slow,” “unbelievable characters,” “too wordy,” and asking “what’s the point?” I’ve read through most of the 159 negative reviews, and I’ll react to some of them below. But first: Peace Like a River resonates with each of the qualities I expressed above. It resonates with a sacramental revelation of miracle, of faith, of human decency, of family cohesion, and of wonder. Furthermore, most Christians (and even some others) probably know the title of the hymn, and its refrain, that is evoked by the title of this novel – It is well with my soul. Having read nearly 159 negative reviews, my reaction is this – With due deference because I cannot know another person’s heart, and speaking with humility because I do not seek to impose my literary taste on another, I need to say – those poor people; they just don’t get it. I cannot read this captivating tale and not be powerfully acquainted that, due to my hours and hours spent following the journeys of father Jeremiah Land, oldest son Davy Land, middle child Reuben Land, and daughter Swede Land—and reading with breathless joy and surprise, it is well with my soul. …and with the souls of 854 other reviewers, too. Reuben speaks to us as an adult recounting the tale of his family as he saw it through his eyes when he was an eleven-year-old. Some negative reviewers complain that eleven-year-old Reuben would not speak with the sort of diction or vocabulary that he does. Two answers to that complaint. One, the writer isn’t eleven. He’s an adult. Two, how do you know he wouldn’t? At eleven, he’s a boy raised by a father who has most of the King James Bible in memory and who speaks to his son, sometimes, using the King’s English. Furthermore, Reuben’s little sister, with whom he most intimately communicates, actually is a literary savant, and that rubs off on Reuben. Reuben is charming in his tale, sometimes by going off on tangents, and he is self-deprecating. I like to listen to him. As for his supposed unbelievable felicity with the English language, he makes it clear that Swede far surpasses him in that respect. And she does. “Too slow,” some reviewers grumble. Just because there’s a shooting and a journey does not mean that modern taste for flash-bang thriller pace is warranted. Read Peace Like a River and exercise your taste for slowness, thoroughness, contemplation, and charm. Discernment is Ruben’s effort as he tells us his tale. Regarding the Land family’s uncommon supernatural experiences, Reuben doesn’t agonize in our modern way over why; he just tells us what happened. Make of it what you will (this is a line that is repeated in the book). And Reuben tells us what happened while he—as an adult—draws us in, entices our minds, tickles our fancies, and leads us along what appear at first to be verbal tangents that humanly enrich the story’s attachment to duty, honor, self-sacrifice, and love. “What’s the point?” There is a point. It would be a spoiler to tell you what the point is, so I won’t. But think Bible. There’s a point in that book, too. But you might not imagine the whole of the point when you first pick it up to read. Now, of course this novel is not the Bible. But remember I enticed you to follow this post because I am interested—and you may be interested also—in the subject of what the nature of biblical times were, when what we term miracles and what we understand as faith were part of the weft and the warp. What if life could be that way now—or now, as of 1962 and afterwards on the wintery northern plains of the everyday USA? What if it could? If it could—listen to me now: if it really, truly could—then after I hear Reuben’s tale, it is well with my soul. Make of that what you will. ​



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Dikkon Eberhart



I resolve to climb beyond an habitual sin of mine and to progress in imitation of Jesus.


Below, I reflect on this matter by focusing on four ages of my life—when I was twelve, when I was about twenty, when I was about fifty, and when I was sixty.


As I write, now as a Christian, I am seventy-one and am challenged to speak truthfully, succinctly, usefully, and in imitation of Jesus.


Let’s go!


+++++



I was twelve. It was cold.


I came downstairs to the kitchen and noticed that the temperature outside our house was 39 degrees below zero.


I took off my shirt and dashed outside.





Mom spun away from the stove and shouted, “Wait! Wait! Dikkon Eberhart, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”


I slammed the door shut behind me.


(Wooden doors don’t slam with their usual sound at 39 below. Instead, they bang and sharply reverberate.)


The door wrenched back open. Mom stuck her head out. “Dikkon, come in this second! THIS SECOND!


I stood on the porch with my arms spread out. (I admit the air in my lungs had frozen stiff, and I was gasping--but I was out there with no shirt on, at 39 below!)


“Richie!” Mom yelled over her shoulder at Dad, “Richie, come here! Your son—he’s….”


She slammed the door.




We lived in Hanover, NH, which is about halfway up the state, on hilly terrain. Hanover is not so far north in New Hampshire as to be in the real mountains. But last night had been clear and still. We were one day after a full moon. Even in Hanover, it can get cold.


I was a man, outside, naked to the waist, at 39 below.




New Hampshire’s real mountains are the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, which is dominated, as part of a great curving east-west massif, by Mount Washington. Mount Washington is the highest peak in the northeastern United States, at 6,288 feet. Also it is the windiest spot on the globe, having registered a sustained wind of 231 mph at the summit’s weather station, in 1934.


Furthermore, Mount Washington is one of the most dangerous mountains to climb in the United States.


Two reasons.


One, while Mount Washington is not as high as other mountains in the United States, its weather can become lethal, very quickly.


Two, the mountain is located only a three-and-a-half hour drive north of the densely populated Boston area.


So what?


Well, many carefree hikers live in sunny Boston who are just watching for a good day to drive to the Presidentials and to stroll up Mount Washington for a view from its top. However, Mount Washington’s massif divides cold, dry northern air from warm, wet southern air. The two masses of air sometimes pour across the summit ridge, and they mix, and--


Virtually instantly a sunny climbing day is thirty-five degrees, with fog and driving rain, so foggy you can’t see six feet ahead. Nor can you even distinguish up from down. And the wind is now gusting over 60 mph. And you are climbing in a tee shirt and shorts. In an hour you are probably dead.


(Reader, you can't believe not being able to distinguish up from down? Well, I didn’t either—like you, I thought it was a mountaineering tall tale. Until it happened to me.


(Wanna know what to do? Lie down. Roll slowly each way. Your body will tell you which way is up, and which way is down.)




In Hanover that memorable morning, I was a man, outside, naked to the waist, at 39 below.


Even then, at twelve, inside myself I admitted I was cold. But I told myself--feel it, feel it, feel the cold!


The rest of the year is just April, mud, and gardens. The rest of the year is just summer, sweat, and lolling. But this is real.


This is the universe as it actually is.


The universe is empty. It is cold. It is permanent. It is huger than me. It dwarfs my fantasies, my problems, my conceits.


…but now I want to be INSIDE!




It was Dad who opened the door this time. I burst in. The kitchen was so hot it made me hurt.


“So?” Dad asked, grinning, “How was it?”


I wanted to laugh, but I was too frozen to breathe. I coughed and waved my hands trying to signal positivity.


Mom: “You’re crazy.”


Me: “Maybe.”


She shook her head. “Now put clothes on, you dope, and we’ll have breakfast.”


When I came back down—turtlenecked and double sweatered—I was vividly alive. “For the rest of my life, I can say I’ve been outside at 39 below without a shirt!”


Mom included both me and Dad with her disgusted comment.


“Men,” is what she said, and she dished out the eggs.





Later, at age about twenty, three times I climbed Mount Washington, solo. One of those ascents was up the headwall of Tuckerman’s Ravine, in May. During that particular year, May was still winter on that north-facing wall. Partly I was climbing on ice and collapsing snow, with frigid melt water pelting down on me from the boulder wall.


Stupid, but I made it.


(I DO NOT recommend doing this, even if you are someone who is twenty years old, and is immortal. Wait until it’s really summer; then it's still a very stiff climb.)




I LOVE WINTER. I LOVE COLD. I LOVE SNOW.


I have loved any physical challenge in snow. For example, I loved climbing the headwall of Tuckerman’s Ravine, in winter.




Then I became older, in middle life, at about the age of fifty, and what I like best to do in snow is what I imagine is possible by seeing the photo above.


What I see is a long snowy field over a low hilltop. Enough snow to make a slog but not enough snow to require snowshoes or skis. Looking at the photo, I imagine the temperature to be about 15 or 20 above. Little wind. No civilization at all. Midday. Walking alone.



Ah!


Solitude!


Silence!




Looking at the photo, further I fantasize an average day in the middle of my life. I fantasize that there is another mile to trudge across the hill in order to reach the inn, way north—up above that great wall of mountains in New Hampshire.


I’ll be tired when I reach the inn, I imagine, but they have an innkeeper’s reception in late afternoon at that inn, while the day darkens—hot mulled cider or cold beer. Probably sliced sausages with strong mustard on the bar; hard, sharp cheddar.


I miss my wife and children who are back at home, while I make one of my regular sales swings into the far north. I cold-called through this morning, and then I took the afternoon off so as to enjoy my trudge through the snow.


I have three well-prepped sales appointments for tomorrow; two of those likely will close; one of those might close big—I’ve been working on that sale for six weeks.




Here’s the truth. While I walk and I miss my home, I need to be certain not to imagine that the whole of my life is good. Parts of my life are good. Parts, however, are not good.


I must not imagine but instead must be truthful.


Too often I speak too quickly and without sufficient thought beforehand. Not in a sales situation, no; in a marital or parental situation, often yes.


Years ago, undertaking difficult climbing challenges, I took great care to succeed and to thrive by means of truth. Yes, climbing the headwall solo in May with snow and ice still covering most of the ascent is stupid, but the truth was that I had experience, fine equipment, strength and sufficient élan.


Truthfully, I knew I could succeed.


I would need to plan each step with intent and with judgement, that’s all. Not unlike speaking only after each thought I intended to speak has been evaluated beforehand.




For a fantasizing fellow like me, the way to succeed is not to imagine myself at the top of the headwall, but to concentrate profoundly on where I am, at each step along the way.


To feel it; to feel it; to feel it.


Planning the headwall climb, I knew I could succeed because, years ago, at twelve, I had been a hero in bronze—a frozen hero, yes, but—as a man—I had been out on our porch without a shirt on, at 39 below.




Now my fantasy has placed me in the middle of my life but by no means any longer as a hero in bronze. Bronze is just too cold, too stiff.


Yes, in my fantasy, I’m still walking in snow—but now with my family to get back home to. And, since I’ve carefully climbed my professional mountain to possible sales tomorrow, it is likely I will reach its summit, too.


All that part of my life is good.





And then later I am sixty, nearing the end of my professional climb. The truth is that still I sin, and my habitual sin weighs on our family.


Recently, I’ve become curious about this fellow Jesus.


I can’t go back to being twelve again, nor even twenty. But here’s the question. Could I be myself, at sixty, just as I am…and still feel as alive as I did back then?


Could I? With Jesus?


And if I could—with Jesus—would I be able to climb above my particular manifestation of sinfulness?


As I understand it, those who follow Jesus believe all humans are sinful but that believers who are able to trust in Him may live with aliveness and awe even so.


May it be!


+++++


The photo below is of Tuckerman’s Ravine. For scale, look closely at the two dark spots just below the top right hand edge of the ravine. One is about an inch-and-a-half from the right edge of the photo, the other about two inches. Those two spots are skiers. Also, there’s one more skier just above the boulder wall, in the center. Managing that boulder wall in the center of the photograph was part of my ascent that winter, and it was where most of the melt water was cascading down on me.


​To schuss the headwall at Tuckerman’s—ski straight down it—is an act of daring that was far beyond anything that ever attracted me.


[The photo is copied from the Wikipedia article about Mount Washington.]





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