FROM A HUMANIST PERSPECTIVE

FROM A HUMANIST PERSPECTIVE
By Ron Steelman
5-20-18

Here are 10 things I thought were worth sharing this week:
(I have stolen this opening line from the blog posts of a writer/artist whose blog I follow, Austin Kleon, author of “Steal Like An Artist.”)

1.  As an actor I was trained in classic repertory theaters. I acted in over a hundred professional productions including Shakespeare, many classic plays, and numerous modern American classics. However, the comedies were my first love. You can keep the tragedies and the dramas and the histories. Which leads me to this quote from a 95-year-old comedy genius:

                       “Laughter adds time to your life.”
                                      – Norman Lear

We don’t have hard proof of this, but a few years back there was an article with some anecdotal evidence about how long famous comedians lived. Their lives consisted of writing, testing and performing jokes. If they laughed, then they knew the audience would. The article is here in Psychology Today. Also, studies show people can learn to embrace the absurdity of life at any age, see Scientific American.

2.
  Having spent a good deal of my life as an actor, I wouldn’t encourage my children to go into the theater. I’d just have to tie them up and keep them in the attic until they came to their senses (you know I’m kidding, of course). But I saw this recently and it has something to do with being human.
7d1c76c2fd914e47330784a7bfe5e3e4

3.  There’s so much I didn’t know about poet Walt Whitman and his classic poem, Leaves of Grass. For example:  “(the) responses to different aspects of the poem – its understanding of nature, its celebration of sexuality, its advocacy of a radical equality and democracy.”  This is from a book review of Poet as Prophet: The Religious Whitman and His Disciples, by David E. Anderson.  He begins with a little historical perspective: “Before the twentieth century there was a long tradition of the poet as prophet and seer, and poetry as a form of religious language.” 

walt-whitman-wikipediaFrom Wikipedia:Leaves of Grass is a poetry collection by the American poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Although the first edition was published in 1855, Whitman spent most of his professional life writing and re-writing Leaves of Grass, revising it multiple times until his death. This resulted in vastly different editions over four decades—the first, a small book of twelve poems and the last, a compilation of over 400.”

But enough of me. Read David E. Anderson’s review here.


4.
From my “I Love Quotes” Department:

‘I get tired of God getting credit for all the things the human race achieves.’
– Lorraine Hansberry, “Raisin in the Sun” (words ascribed to Beneatha)


5.  
“The purpose of life is not to be happy – but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.”
     – Leo Rosten, “The Myths by Which We Live”

6.   Ricky Gervais – Religion Explained in Two Minutes.

We should not be pushing religion on children. That may sound shocking at first, especially if you were brought up going to religious services every week as a child. But listen to his logic. 

 

7.  The following title made no sense to me until I read this short article. Grief and mourning is something we all deal with, both the religious and the non-religious. You may have never thought about it, but we all lose family and friends and we need to find ways to deal with it.

 

8. “When I Think Of Death”– Maya Angelou

“When I think of death, and of late the idea has come with alarming frequency, I seem at peace with the idea that a day will dawn when I will no longer be among those living in this valley of strange humors. 
I can accept the idea of my own demise, but I am unable to accept the death of anyone else. 
I find it impossible to let a friend or relative go into that country of no return. 
Disbelief becomes my close companion, and anger follows in its wake.
I answer the heroic question ‘Death, where is thy sting? ‘ with ‘ it is here in my heart and mind and memories.'”


9.  On Being 72

Mark_Twain_Tonight_Album_CoverToday I’m actually 72!

I grew up in Columbus, OH, and when I was 18 or so, I transcribed a track from the 1959, 33- rpm Broadway album of Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight. I had performed in ten plays while in high school, several times playing old men. I had my old geezer voice perfected. Therefore, it did not seem out of character for me to mimic Mr. Holbrook’s version of the famous Twain speech.  I made my own recording of “How to be 70” on a small reel-to-reel audio tape ( I wish I still had that recording). That was one of two audition recordings I sent to a performing arts college in San Diego, CA, hoping to get accepted. Although San Diego was way out there on the left coast, I had visited my aunt and uncle there and various relatives several times, so I was not worried about leaving Columbus at all. I loved California and surfing life. I have to admit that I never surfed myself. My cousin Mike did.  I figured I’d try it if I got back out there again (and got the nerve). My bag was packed and waiting by the front door. I received the acceptance letter and I was thrilled. Then I read a little further in the letter. They offered me a “1/2” scholarship. Trouble was, my Dad had been out of work for an extended illness and my parents couldn’t afford the other “1/2.” So long Southern California, Hollywood, and the beach. So long slick new cool surf board (not). Anyway, it was heartening to learn that somebody was willing to pay me to act. Kinda. At least “1/2” worth.

I learned so much about acting from Hal Holbrook, and so much about timing. He also taught me a lot about Mark Twain.

So even though I’m two years past 70 now, I could listen to masterful Mr. Holbrook play Mark Twain any day of any year. Enjoy.

Mark Twain Tonight – How to be 70 (couldn’t find the video, but here’s the audio)

 

10. Here are two clips. One is from a Mark Twain Tonight performance by Hal Holbrook. The other is Michael Eisner ( the Disney guy) talking to Hal Holbrook at 90.

 

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I COULD GO ON FOREVER (Video)

I COULD GO ON FOREVER (Ask me what time it is) (VIDEO)
by Ron Steelman
May 9, 2018

Below is a video I made to discuss the wit and wisdom of aging. AKA: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” I interviewed six “Old” friends who are all members of Red Bank Humanists, an organization I founded in New Jersey in 2003. I edited the several hours of video we shot at our kitchen table, down to 33-minutes. There were so many fascinating comments from which to choose. However, my goal was to keep the overall length under 35-minutes. It was a real struggle to eliminate so many of the insightful answers to my 26 questions, yet this allowed me to end up with the best of the best.

“WHY?!” you may ask, did Steelman ask these folks all these questions?

My goal was to see if what my friends had to say might be useful to others struggling with/or worried about aging. I hoped it might appeal to all “humans,” including the old, middle-aged, or even younger people just starting their journey through life. I think the wit and wisdom shared here gives honest answers to some difficult, universal  questions. We made a montage of their quick answers, making sure we had lots of wit to go along with the wisdom. Most importantly, we think their answers are entertaining!

Get a cup of coffee. Sit back and relax. We hope you enjoy our kitchen-table video:

 

 

Happy to report a good review from the American Humanist Association
in Washington, DC.

Thanks Ron! This is really cool, fun, and nicely edited!

I’m copying a few folks since I see this as having value for multiple purposes. Not only might it be used on social media and possibly our ezine, framed so folks know what it’s about, but I also see it as something we should save in our Humanist Heritage program where we save histories of active humanists in order to capture our history, our evolution of humanism, and make material available for future research and discovery.  
-Roy

 


Roy Speckhardt
Executive Director
American Humanist Association

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Prayer Won’t Stop the Gun Violence

I’m now following a new blogger who I think offers an interesting premise: Love Over Religion – Why I Left Christianity (and that’s the title of her book. . .now on Amazon). Excellent. She was following me (so we know she has excellent taste), and I decided to really sign up and follow her blog when I read her post:  “Guns II.” Take a look. Tell us both what you think.

Love Over Religion

THE PERFECT MATE

The Perfect Mate
by Ron Steelman

(Case study #03059)

Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.
– Oscar Wilde

Just about everyone I know hopes for success in finding a compatible mate with whom they can share a happy life. However, it is inevitable that one falls in love without any control whatsoever. Affairs of the heart do not seem to fit into the scientific arena. The idea that one could create a list of personality, philosophical, and physical attributes for a potential mate, then find this person, and then have that person fall for you at the same time you fall for them, is simply laughable.

Love won’t play that game. Love doesn’t want to be a controlled experiment that can be replicated precisely in a laboratory. Love is messy, mad, and marvelous. Attempting to control the elements of love in a scientific way is like trying to herd cats, or nail Jell-O to a wall.

My second marriage is working out much better than my first. I’d like to say I had complete control over the conditions that led to falling in love with my current wife of 29 years, but that is not true. I’d also like to say that I utilized all I had learned from the mistakes in the choice of my first wife. I’d like to say that I was totally in control at the moment thunder and lightning struck – I may be mistaken, but I believe the Italian for that is: “tuoni e fulmini.” But, alas, I was simply a pawn. I was not in charge of the experiment. The attraction was too powerful. I was struck dumb with love.

I do think there are a few things I’ve learned about our relationship that may be helpful to analyze. Experience has demonstrated that there are certain compatibilities – certain conditions, if you will – which have proven to be the keys to the success of our particular relationship. This is real science and I will present the supporting data and results at the end. Therefore, here are the four conditions for compatibility.

  1. bone-jokeHumor is our joy. We love to laugh. We both laugh at the same things. We love to make each other laugh. Some people prefer whips and chains for love-making; we are likely to fall out of the bed in hysterical laughter. We often make each other laugh a split-second after we wake up, or even while falling asleep. We share things that make us laugh. Sharing a sense of humor is one important condition.
  2. Civility is critical. ignore-the-snide-comments-quoteWe made a pact early on not to snipe at each other. We don’t use sarcasm in our speech to each other. Snide and mean remarks are not allowed. This forces us to speak to each other in civil tones. And when we don’t, the air turns heavy and dark, and we know why we agreed to this covenant in the first place. We sit down then and figure out what the misunderstanding was between us, or what was the cause of the “hurt” that made us break our agreement.
  3. Item #2 above leads directly to this: Respect. I loathe the typical “battle of the sexes” clichés that many men moan about women over and over behind their backs, and that women wail about men when they’re not around. I love my wife aretha-franklin-respect-1967-30-1and who she is and all of the good things in her character that make her an intelligent, witty, charming, loving partner. When I sometimes hear men trash women, I am surprised. For me, I love women. They’re neat! I’d have two or three if my wife would allow it! (this will make her laugh; see Item #1 above) I stand on my soapbox frequently lecturing others, “My wife is not my ball and chain, she is my accomplice. Life can be hard enough at times. We must help each other get through the day, and nights.” She is truly my partner. She must have my respect.
  4. Religion and Sex. Yes, they do go together. Seek someone who is compatible with your religion or life philosophy. This is key. Sometimes one of the lovers is willing to convert, but I always wonder about that. If you don’t share a religion or a philosophical view of life, you may be on thin ice. If you fail at this, you may also have trouble when it comes to the bedroom. Many religions seek to control your sexual life and birth control. eve_in_the_garden_of_eden_by_whimsicalmoon-d38i967Some religions also like to blame women for the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Some even attempt to punish women through mutilation of sexual organs. . . to diminish their pleasure during sex. This seems to me to be grossly unfair as well as primitive.  However, once you are aligned in your religious or non-religious beliefs, then be sure to seek a partner who happily shares your desires when it comes to the bedroom. It takes two to tango (if that’s the way you like to do it).

The results of my “scientific study” demonstrate that certain minimum conditions must be present to create a successful partnership. However, before you set out on your journey toward a permanent partnership, you must take some time to conduct the proper experiments yourself to test your assumptions about a potential mate. This chart reveals the possibilities for success given the results of your research.

Mate_Chart

If you have achieved proper test levels, i.e. the target conditions in the four areas of compatibility, this will certainly produce excellent results. Happy hunting!

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SEX After Religion – II

(Updated/totally revised post from 2012,
with additional cartoons & a video with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry)

 

SEX After Religion – II
by Ron Steelman
liam-walsh-a-man-is-in-bed-having-a-post-sex-cigarette-and-a-woman-is-putting-a-note-new-yorker-cartoon_a-G-9560794-8419449

“Sex Improves Dramatically After Leaving Religion”

Religions claim to be good and good for you. But first they require you to accept their view of the world. They demand a belief in their god; belief in that God’s sacred book; belief in that god’s explanation of how to seek redemption (because we’ve been told relentlessly that we’re bad); belief in the promise of heaven and the threat of hell; belief in peculiar dietary laws; some, even a belief that your genitals should be altered in a certain way. Let’s face it, many religions tell you how, when, and with whom to have sex. . . or not to have sex.

Yes, for some reason sex is very important to the gods. In fact, they’ve laid out many dos and don’ts, and described various sexual taboos.

It_Was_Original_2

From the very beginning, the god in my Bible told me that when Adam made love with Eve, it was bad, bad, bad. The two of them must be punished (although poor Eve got most of the blame). The act of sex was declared bad from the outset and you’d better feel guilty about it. Thus, we have religion to thank for the linking of guilt to sex. Thank you so much, god.

Unfortunately, begging our god to be forgiven for our sexual sins then sadly morphed into begging for sex. 

For Men
Close_My_Eyes

For Women
Touch_Anywhere

Resist

Sex continues to be incredibly important to religionists today. From anti-abortion to anti-homosexual, from Catholic priest and nun celibacy to priestly pedophilia, anti-masturbation to anti-sex before marriage – religions seem obsessed with trying to control sex. I, however, am now a secular humanist. I simply like to say that I’m “Post‐Theological.” I have exorcised that hideous religious guilt
that attempted to infect me. 

GoodSexFairy
The New Survey

Happily, a new survey has confirmed my personal experience. The headline in the newspaper read, “Sex Improves Dramatically After Leaving Religion.” The survey/study is by Dr. Darrel W. Ray, a psychologist, and director of The Institute for Performance Culture, and Amanda Brown. The survey title is “Sex and Secularism: What Happens When You Leave Religion.”

They surveyed over 14,500 American Secularists. It’s a ground‐breaking study of sexuality among the non‐religious. As stated in the editorial comment of the study, “. . .almost all religions suppress and distort sexuality in measurable increments. While most religions do not have as powerful an impact as a cult, they still have a negative impact in terms of guilt.”

new-yorker-24-jan-2011-easier-religion2

The survey gave plenty of data to make some tentative conclusions about the secular community and secular sex. The most important finding shows dramatic improvement in sexual satisfaction and a decrease in guilt after people left their religions.

I suggest that the conclusion we should draw from this new survey data is: if you want better sex, become a secularist. Good sex is part of a good life. Enjoy!

The Full Survey

Sex_and_Secularism

Education

In the US, many religious leaders are against sex education in schools and insist that parents and churches should be primarily responsible. Back in 1989, Hugh Laurie (from the U.S. television show House) had a skit-comedy TV show in England. Along with his old college buddy, Stephen Fry, they happily mocked how many parents resist teaching their children about sex, and object to the schools teaching it as well. 

_____________________________________

Finale: X-rated Humor

For adults only: what do atheists say in bed? The link below will take you to Jeff Swenson’s “Humanists in Love” comic. Don’t look at this if you are easily offended by sexual humor:

Jeff Swenson’s
“HUMANISTS IN LOVE – Deist on Top”

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(Thanks to The New Yorker and those wonderful New Yorker cartoonists)

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THE INVENTION OF SEX

“He rescued Adam and Eve from obscurity, devised the doctrine of original sin—and the rest is sexual history.”

Of course, the New Yorker article entitled “The Invention of Sex” caught my eye, especially since it was about St. Augustine. I thought, did a saint really invent sex? Turns out the article by Stephen Greenblatt is about Sarah Ruden’s new, ‘strikingly colloquial translation’ of St Augustine’s, “The Confessions.”  The more I read the more I realized I didn’t care much for Mr. Augustine. Seems he was the one who really promoted original sin and wrote about it for 15 years. I always hated the idea of original sin and the torment that this concept has leashed upon the human race. And he was made a saint for this?! In his book, “Confessions,” written around 397 C.E., Augustine described an event in the bathhouse many years earlier. That day, his father Patricius, saw in him the signs of inquieta adulescentia, restless young manhood, and was thrilled that this might lead to grandchildren.

There are many ways to interpret ancient religious texts, and I personally forswore this fruitless enterprise many years ago. We are reminded by this article of the preposterous intellectual exercises that engage theologians.

Augustine apparently became obsessed with the fact that his penis seemed to have a mind of its own. As a result, his view of Genesis is that, “. . .the consequence of Eve’s disobedience is twofold: women are condemned to bring forth children in pain and to yearn for the husbands who dominate them.” Clearly he blames Eve for the behavior of his randy little penis. Very convenient and a belief that has tormented men and women since the man-made creation of the Bible.

I apologize to all women for this Adam and Eve torment. It’s really embarrassing to me as a human. I have selected certain paragraphs from the article to show why this religious mumbo-jumbo should be deep-sixed in the quicksand of time!

Photo selected by me

“The archaic story of the naked man and woman, the talking snake, and the magical trees was something of an embarrassment. It was Augustine who rescued it from the decorous oblivion to which it seemed to be heading. He bears principal responsibility for its prominence, including the fact that four in ten Americans today profess to believe in its literal truth.”

 

. . .”Pagans ridiculed that story as primitive and ethically incoherent. How could a god worthy of respect try to keep humans from the knowledge of good and evil?. . .To Augustine sex was a touch of evil. “Surely, any friend of wisdom and holy joys.  . .would prefer, if possible, to beget children without lust.”

Yeah, right.

. . .”Pelagius and his followers were moral optimists. They believed that human beings were born innocent. Infants do not enter the world with a special endowment of virtue, but neither do they carry the innate stain of vice. “

. . .” Augustine embarked on a work, “The Literal Meaning of Genesis,” that aimed at discussing “the scriptures according to their proper meaning . . . For some fifteen years, he labored on this work. . .In the end, it defeated him, and he knew it. The problem is that not every word of Genesis can be taken literally. . .”

From the 1999 film,                            “The Loss of Sexual Innocence”

“. . .How, specifically, were they meant to reproduce, if it was not in the way that all humans have done for as long as anyone can remember? In Paradise, Augustine argued, Adam and Eve would have had sex without involuntary arousal: “They would not have had the activity of turbulent lust in their flesh, however, but only the movement of peaceful will by which we command the other members of the body.” Without feeling any passion—without sensing that strange goad—“the husband would have relaxed on his wife’s bosom in tranquility of mind.” (What about the snake???)

How would this have been possible, the Pelagians asked, if the bodies of Adam and Eve were substantially the same as our bodies? Just consider, Augustine replied, that even now, in our current condition, some people can do things with their bodies that others find impossible. “Some people can even move their ears, either one at a time or both together. . .Others, as he personally had witnessed, could sweat whenever they chose, and there were even people who could “produce at will such musical sounds from their behind (without any stink) that they seem to be singing from that region.”  (Doesn’t this say it all!)

(illustration from felixbennett.com)

“Adam had fallen, Augustine wrote in “The City of God,” not because the serpent had deceived him. He chose to sin, and, in doing so, he lost Paradise, because he could not endure being severed from his sole companion ♦”

__________________________________

Adam did fall. . .he fell in love with Eve. Give it up, Mr. Augustine.

 

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It’s February; Let’s Talk About LOVE

It’s February; Let’s Talk About LOVE
by Ron Steelman

Humanism is a philosophy for those in love with life. And there’s no better time to think about love than February. The famous Humanist orator, Robert Green Ingersoll, said it nicely:

Love Is…
Love is the only bow on Life’s dark cloud.
It is the morning and the evening star.
It shines upon the babe, and sheds its radiance on the quiet tomb.
It is the mother of art, inspirer of poet, patriot and philosopher.
It is the air and light of every heart — builder of every home, kindler
of every fire on every hearth. It was the first to dream of immortality.
It fills the world with melody — for music is the voice of love.
Love is the magician, the enchanter that changes worthless things to Joy,
and makes royal kings and queens of common clay.
It is the perfume of that wondrous flower, the heart, and without that
sacred passion, that divine swoon, we are less than beasts;
but with it, earth is heaven, and we are gods.
– Robert Green Ingersoll, Orthodoxy (1884)

A live Italian Cupid statue

A live Italian Cupid statue

In a masterful mistaken-identity-and-spy-on-your-lover-plot, Valentine in Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona finally gets the right girl at the end of the play. I prefer to cite Shakespeare’s Valentine, not St. Valentine, nor that Cupid twit (who was really just a voyeur). I like a man of real action, a guy who truly gives his heart away, rather than that elusive naked cherub who flits about shooting tiny arrows into the unsuspecting. And thus, when in doubt, always look to Will for something illuminating.

At the end of the play Shakespeare’s Valentine has just learned an extremely valuable lesson: love is what makes the world go round. What great excitement! Love ignites such exuberance in the young. Remember? The following lyric was written long after Shakespeare, yet it expresses Valentine’s joy in Broadway musical terms:

Rodgers & Hammerstein – “State Fair”
It’s a grand night for singing,
The moon is flying high,
And somewhere a bird
Who is bound he’ll be heard,
Is throwing his heart at the sky!
It’s a grand night for singing,
The stars are bright above.
The earth is a-glow
And, to add to the show,
I think I am falling in love!  (with emphasis)

Yes, I’m a romantic rapscallion.

At some point after you’ve fallen in love, if you’re lucky, you look at your lover and say to yourself:  “YIKES! SHE/HE LOVES ME. Am I lucky? Yes, very lucky! I need to love her the way she loves me.”

That feeling is captured in the next set of lyrics from the 1928 song, She’s Funny That Way, with music by Neil Moret and lyrics by Richard Whiting. It’s a gentle ballad. I discovered that various vocalists selected just some of the lyrics, and many have even re-written some of them. I have pieced together what I think is the whole song (maybe not exactly). I’m including it all because it’s like a short story as our hero contemplates his relationship with his lover.

She’s Funny That Way
Once she dressed in diamonds and pearls, Owned a Rolls Royce car
Now she seems quite out of place, like a fallen star
While I worry, plan and scheme, over what to do,
Can’t help feeling that it’s a dream. She’s just too good to be true.

I’m not much to look at, I’m nothing to see
I’m glad to be livin’ and lucky to be
I’ve got this girl that’s crazy for me
She’s funny that way.

I ain’t got a dollar, can’t save a cent
She doesn’t holler she’d live in a tent
I got girl who’s mad about me
She’s funny that way.

Tho’ she loves to work and slave for me ev’ry day
She’d be so much better off if I went away.

But why should I leave her, why should I go
She’d be unhappy without me I know
I got this girl crazy for me
She’s funny that way.

She should have the very best, Anyone can see
Still she’s diff’rent from the rest, satisfied with me.
While I worry, plan and scheme, over what to do
Can’t help feeling it’s a dream, too good to be true.

Never had nothin’; no one to care
That’s why I seem to have more than my share,
I got a woman, crazy for me,
She’s funny that way.

When I hurt her feelings, once in a while,
Her only answer is one little smile,
I got a woman crazy for me.
She’s funny that way.

I can see no other way and no better plan,
End it all and let her go to some better man;
But I’m only human, coward at best
I’m more than certain she’d follow me west,
I got a woman crazy for me,
She’s funny that way.

family sculptureIn the arc of life it might take a while for the next level of understanding to set in. When that magic moment materializes, and hopefully it comes well before you die, the reaction usually is: “Of course, it was right in front of me all of the time.” This next level of understanding is one of the great secrets of life: love is a priceless treasure that makes life worth living. It’s something that must be exalted. This reminds me of a Sondheim song from his Broadway musical, Company (I left out the recitative parts his close friends interject throughout, encouraging him and supporting him with their love).

Being Alive
by Stephen Sondheim

Someone to hold you too close
Someone to hurt you too deep
Someone to sit in your chair
To ruin your sleep
To make you aware
Of being alive

Someone to need you too much
Someone to know you too  well
Someone to pull you up short
To put you through hell
To give you support
In being alive
Being alive

Someone you have to let in
Someone whose feelings you spare
Someone who, like it or not
Will want you to share
A little, a lot

Someone to crowd you with love
Someone to force you to care
Someone to make you come through
Who’ll always be there
As frightened as you
Of being alive
Being alive
Being alive
Being alive

Somebody, need me too much
Somebody, know me too well
Somebody, pull me up short
And put me through hell
And give me support
For being alive
Make me alive

Make me confused
Mock me with praise
Let me be used
Vary my days
But alone is alone
Not alive

Somebody, crowd me with love,
Somebody, force me to care,
Somebody, make me come through,
I’ll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive!

Sondheim sure knows how to hit an intimate button. He proves through his music and lyrics that the love of family and friends is definitely one of the “secrets” of a happy life.

That makes me turn again to the truth in Shakespeare and the many ways he looks at love. I like the usual suspects,  Sonnet 116 – “Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments,” or, Sonnet 18 – “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” I’d like to close, though, with this one line from Twelfth Night:

“Love sought is good, but given unsought better.”   – William Shakespeare

Kiss Sculpture

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