Thanksgiving's coming and we at WORLD have much to be thankful for-including our small staff's ability, through God's grace, to turn out over 2,000 pages each year. One indication of that grace is that he has given our editors, writers, and designers The Right Stuff.
Tom Wolfe a quarter-century ago wrote a book by that name about the great pilots of the post--World War II era. Some became astronauts, but the best, Chuck Yeager, did not, because he did not have a college education. That demand for a bachelor's degree was part of America's descent into paperocracy, the placing of paper credentials above character and experience. What Yeager had was The Right Stuff. He took on hazardous missions without demanding extra pay. He refused to give up.
Our oldest reporter, Ed Plowman, emailed me earlier this year that he was scheduled to have heart surgery in six days: "This surgery requires deflation of and folding aside the right lung, burning and scarring of heart wall tissue while avoiding all blood vessels around and in the heart, cutting open the pericardium, and extracting a structure in the heart known as the Left Atrial Appendage, where most emboli [clots] in the heart form, all while the heart is beating."
He then apologized: "I'm afraid my time for WORLD monitoring and reporting from today on is going to be very squeezed. So much to do, so many preps, and this Monday will be spent in pre-ops at the hospital. But let me know if you need something in the next few days. I hope I can be back at the computer within two weeks or less following surgery, though they told me to expect 'discomfort' for eight weeks."
I told Ed that he was now in my top two all-time of ways to react elegantly to the problems of aging. My other exemplar has been Carl F.H. Henry, the distinguished intellectual and founding editor of Christianity Today who began writing for WORLD in the 1990s, when he was in his 80s. Carl mailed me typewritten columns in an envelope with a self-addressed, stamped postcard inserted. On the postcard he drew little boxes for checkmarks: "accept" or "reject."
You can imagine that it was with considerable trepidation that I ever rejected anything by Carl Henry, but he made it as easy as possible to say yea or nay and inform him of that. He was never high maintenance, although if anyone was entitled to be, he was. He understood as an editor what can go wrong. He never complained. He always moved on to the next mission. He had The Right Stuff.
Ed Plowman is in that league. I imagine him somehow fighting off anesthetic and in the middle of heart surgery demanding a laptop so he can write an article as his left atrial appendage is being extracted. (We, of course, tell him not to rush healing processes, but he worries that the little we pay him is more than he deserves if he's not producing.)
Is Ed's attitude about productivity generational? I think not, because I also treasure an early-morning note from our managing editor, Tim Lamer, as he and his wife were expecting their first child. Tim first explained that the due date had come and gone, but he had not sat and fretted: Instead he had already that day processed for publication seven pages of WORLD and planned to do four more before he and his wife left for a sonogram appointment. He would then do more work in the afternoon.
I wrote Tim back that he has The Right Stuff. At this point some of our female readers are probably muttering about the cluelessness of husbands and suppressing shouts of, "Why don't you give your wife your undivided attention?" (My wife-fondly, of course-remembers my grading papers as labor for our third child slowly proceeded.) Tim knows, as he wrote, "It's a waiting game, and work makes the wait go faster."
And isn't that like all of life as we slowly slip heavenward?