Local column: Meeting halfway

We need to at least learn to meet each other half-way to resolve our differences, writes Lary Larson.

Lately, as I update my Christmas card list, I realize that I have reached that point in life when you find yourself deleting more names than you add. Maybe that’s because the ones I have to delete are the ones that can’t be replaced.

Like my pen pal. He died a couple years ago. What are you supposed to do when your pen pal dies? Look for a new one at Walmart? You can’t replace a relationship that’s been tenderly nurtured for 47 years. But you can share a few lessons with the friends you have left. So I will, just because it’s Christmas.

Mr. Carroll was a school teacher. I took his American History class in the summer of 1968. I was 15. He was a war hero—one of the only two men I ever met who landed on the beach at Normandy, June 6, 1944. He was also a devout Christian—the author of a definitive history of Methodism in North Carolina. He was a scholar as well. His hobby was to write to world leaders and ask them, “What is your personal creed?” Their responses enlightened his own humanity.

And, he was a great history teacher. What he saw in this scrawny, smart aleck kid from California, I’ll never know. What I do know is that he gave up untold opportunities to have a prestigious, lucrative career in some other field, so that a bunch of kids like me would have those opportunities instead.

That fall, I went on to another school, and I thought our association was over. Then his letters started to arrive.

They were short—just a few words of advice, encouragement, or simply expressions of his faith. But then, just to make sure he didn’t waste one penny of that first-class stamp, he would stuff the envelope with clippings—poems, quotations, articles cut out from newspapers and magazines, but mostly true stories about regular people who, under challenging circumstances, found a way to rise above selfishness, prejudice, and resentment toward other people. Stories that would warm the heart of a D-Day survivor.

Like this one. Around 1985, at the dawn of the Digital Age, there was a solar eruption just before Christmas that blew out most of the power grid in New England for weeks. In one large city, there were two prominent newspapers, thought to be cutthroat competitors. One publisher, the wise one, had back-up electrical generators for his presses, but the other publisher, the foolish one, didn’t. Consequently, because of the blackout, the wise publisher was contemplating the prospect of having a monopoly on the newspaper market for weeks. That prize plum would undoubtedly result in a huge transfer of subscribers to his paper. The foolish publisher, on the other hand, was facing the opposite reality of having to lay off workers right before Christmas—until he got a phone call from his competitor. “Don’t lay anyone off. Bring your people over to our plant. You can print your paper on our presses until power is restored.”

I read stories like that from him for 47 years. My pen pal helped me understand that the Golden Rule can really work as a personal creed. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Treat his needs, his dreams, and his successes and achievements every bit as important as your own. Compete only with yourself.

These are challenging times for America. This is our Omaha Beach. If our fathers’ generation could sacrifice their very lives so that you and I could sit comfortably in our living rooms and order the entire world delivered directly to our doors, do you think that we could at least learn to meet each other half-way to resolve our differences?