“Are you almost disgusted with life, little man?
I’ll tell you a wonderful trick
That will bring you contentment if anything can:
Do something for somebody quick.”
from the poem, How To Be Happy
Russ had several old cloth-bound collections of poetry and short stories and anecdotes typical of those produced prior to World War Two.
From one he read me a poem about the loss of a pet dog.
We had been talking that night about our dogs, present and past. My dog, Lady, is a bouncy, beautiful cocker spaniel. His dog was a warm, friendly collie-mix, whose name always joined Russ’ on any Christmas or Thank you or greeting card Russ that sent – as “Sheba, The Wonder Dog”.
Before Lady, I had had two other dogs – both dogs of remarkable character and intelligence: Ashley, a border collie-mix who loved to fish, and Doonesbury, a scruffy terrier mix.
And before Sheba, Russ had also had two other dogs – both mixed-breed dogs of remarkable devotion and “superior moral character”: Shadow and Glenn.
As Russ read this poem, a tribute to a canine companion, he became more and more reflective. And we sat in silence after he spoke the final stanza from memory. And reflected on the dogs who shared our lives.
I don’t know the name of that poem. I sure wish I did.
(For those of you who love their dogs, and mourn their loss, we always recommended the chapter in Boy’s Life by Robert R. McCammon, titled “Case 3432”. It’s sure to touch you deeply.)
The poem quoted above, How To Be Happy, was from another old book of poems Russ had.
He had copied it down as a gift for my then nine-year old grandson, Andrew. He wrote it out in calligraphic form, a style Russ had taught himself and used in many of his cards and letters. (In addition to being a musician, Russ was artistic in other areas as well, producing superb artwork in oils and detailed pencil drawings.)
He told me that he wanted Andrew to have it, as it was a poem that often inspired Russ himself when he was disgusted or depressed.
Russ realized that self-centeredness led to self-pity. And that one of the best remedies for negative emotion was to turn outward. For Russ, helping others was both a “good deed” and therapeutic.
That poem, he said, often helped him remember that. Kind of a personal credo.
There are dozens, if not scores, of carriers Russ helped over the years – both in small unnoticed ways, and in larger remarkable ways. With his time and resources and energy. He was generous in his payroll deductions to charities, often to near-heroic proportions. He was also generous to others in his wonderful, personal style. To illustrate with only one example of many, his neighbor, a sweet little old lady named Pearl, could always rely on Russ to cut her lawn, run errands, and provide rides to the doctors. There were many, many others.
In the week after he died, four carriers came up to me and told me that Russ had stopped to see them on their routes earlier that June, offering them cold bottles of Gatorade and warm words of friendship.
There are many reasons that I am already proud of my grandson. And if, as he grows into manhood, he develops a nature as genuinely generous has Russ’, I’d have reason to be even more proud.