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The Most Humble Man on Earth

 Sofia, Bulgaria-Winter winds beat down on the old man. He pulled a threadbare coat tightly around his stooped body and shook snow out of peasant sandals. Despite fierce weather, he held out a tin cup to gratefully accept coins from pedestrians, never taking a penny for himself. Even at age 100, the beggar walked 12 miles to his post outside Sofia's churches. His name was Dobri Dobrev, called by some "the most humble man on earth". Others call "Grandpa" Dobri a living saint. With his long white beard and torn clothes, he did not look like a great philanthropist, but he was just that. In 2009 he donated $22,500 to the local cathedral-the largest single donation ever received by the church. Over decades, Dobri collected nearly $50,000 to restore churches in Sofia, keeping it in the bank account of a relative.

Born in 1914, Dobri was inspired by his parents' acts of kindness. His mother worked in an orphanage. If the orphanage ran short of money, Dobri's father paid the power bill to protect orphans from the cold. As a young man, Dobri served as a bodyguard to the king of Bulgaria. One day a miracle occurred that changed Dobri's life. Terrorists set off a bomb, attempting to kill the king. Inexplicably, Dobri survived and came to believe that God had a special mission for him. He devoted his life to God, eventually living in a cell attached to a monastery, giving gifts to the poor and homeless. During World War II, he helped shelter Jews from Nazi persecution. All of these works he tried to keep hidden, but the world discovered him.

Admirers established Facebook pages that garnered 300,000 followers. Documentary films were made depicting the life of a man who gave away all his possessions to rely on the mercy of God. Images of Dobri have appeared on Youtube videos and Twitter. Probably unknown to him, Grandpa's kind face has been tweeted and retweeted thousands of times. His message was always the same. He said, "The good will is just and true. Everything in it is good. We must love each other as God loves us."

Dobri Dobrev died on February 13, 2018 at the age of 103. His name comes from the Bulgarian word for good. 

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Sorry Red Sox Fans...a Tribute to Lou Gehrig

Baseball great Lou Gehrig had a secret carefully hidden from the world. Only one person knew this secret. That was his wife, Eleanor. By all appearances, Gehrig had the world by the tail. He was known as the Iron Horse, playing 2,130 consecutive ballgames for the New York Yankees. A power-hitting first baseman, he was a .300 hitter for twelve straight seasons, batted in 100 or more runs for thirteen consecutive seasons, and hit 493 career home runs. A quiet man by nature, Gehrig preferred living in the shadow of Babe Ruth. As the 1938 season came to a close, few fans recognized that something was seriously wrong with the Yankee all-star. He batted .295 for the season, but had only 4 singles in 14 at bats in the World Series. Most fans focused on another Yankee world championship-a four game sweep of the Chicago Cubs.

That was all to change during 1939 spring training. Gehrig was noticeably weaker. He hit no home runs that spring and even collapsed on the field. Sports writers noticed. New York Sun writer James Kahn suspected that it was more than a slump.  Something was "deeply wrong" with him. "I have watched him very closely and this is what I have seen: I have seen him hit a ball perfectly, swing on it as hard as he can, meet it squarely-and drive a soft looping fly over the infield. For some reason I don't know, his old power is not there."

Players noticed too. Washington pitcher Joe Krakauskas unleashed a fast ball, high and inside. Normally players step back. Gehrig moved closer. Miraculously, the pitch went between his wrists, missing serious injury by a whisker. Yankee relief pitcher Johnny Murphy fielded a routine ball and waited to toss the ball to Gehrig for the final out of the inning. Gehrig was slow getting to the bag, but made the play. As they trotted to the dugout, Murphy said, "nice play." At that moment, Lou knew it was time to quit, "The boys were beginning to feel sorry for me."

On May 2, 1939, Lou met with N.Y. manager Joe McCarthy. Gehrig said, "I am benching myself, Joe, for the good of the team. I can't tell you how grateful I am to you for your kindness and patience… I just can't seem to keep going. The time has come to quit." Gehrig's consecutive game streak came to an end. He never played another major league game. That June, Gehrig checked into Mayo Clinic and was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – an incurable form of infantile paralysis. At the age of 36, Gehrig retired from baseball. Mayor La Guardia offered him a position as New York City Parole Commissioner. Gehrig accepted, rejecting more lucrative speaking engagements. It was now his duty to perform public service. He requested that the media not cover his visits to prisons. Quietly and efficiently, he performed his duties. In May, 1941, the former baseball star resigned as parole commissioner. One month later Gehrig died peacefully at his home.

Later, his devoted wife Eleanor revealed "Lou was besieged with fears and doubts about his own life. He had the girl of his dreams and a life of his own. And he also had a premonition of his own-that it would not last, that it was a tantalizing trick of some kind, never really meant to be. When they gave him the news at Mayo, he must have thought, Christ here it comes."

On July 4, 1939, fans packed Yankee Stadium for Gehrig Appreciation Day. After an emotional speech by Manager Joe McCarthy, Gehrig moved to the microphone.

His tearful words rang out through the stadium. "Fans, for the past two weeks, you've been reading about a bad break. Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has come to be known as Lou Gehrig's disease- a tribute to his remarkable courage. 

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Robert Frost's Shocking Discovery

Derry, New Hampshire – One day in the early 1950's poet laureate Robert Frost decided to take a drive to the farm where he wrote some of his most famous poems. As he approached the homestead, Frost expected to see acres of apple orchards, peach, pear, and quince trees. He expected to see a long hayfield and a grove of maple, beech, and oak trees. Instead he saw a sign that read "Frost Acres". No longer was the Derry property a farm. It was an auto salvage yard bearing his name. One can only imagine the dismay that filled his poetic soul.

Robert Frost bought the homestead in October 1900, moving in with his young family and a flock of 300 chickens. The unknown poet lived quietly, cutting grass with a scythe, mending stone walls, and absorbing the beauty of nature. In his poem Tufts of Flowers, he lamented the loss of wildflowers to the scythe. He watched a Monarch pass over a mown field looking for lost flowers. It found a flower, left untouched by the blade. He watched the Monarch land and wrote:

Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the awakening birds around,

And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground.

Now Frost lamented the loss of his farm to hundreds of junk cars. He contacted a friend, John Pillsbury, about purchasing the property from the current owner Edwin F. Lee. For a decade, Frost attempted unsuccessfully to buy Frost Acres. America's great poet died in 1962 without seeing his dream fulfilled. Finally in 1965, the state of New Hampshire purchased the property with the stipulation that Lee remove all the junk and his garage. Restoration began in earnest in 1974. The state appropriated $30,000 to fund the project.

On March 26, Frost would have celebrated his 134th birthday. How pleased he would be to see the fully restored Robert Frost Farm. It is now a tourist attraction, complete with tours, displays, nature walks, and poetry readings. The property is a National Historic Landmark, supported by the Division of Parks and Recreation, the Robert Frost Board of Trustees and the Friends of the Robert Frost Farm. 

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Who is this man?

Turin , Italy – 1898. Excitement was in the air as Secondo Pia set up his photographic equipment to take what was to become one of the most famous photographs in history. Big preparations were underway for the 400th anniversary celebration of Turin Cathedral. Pia, an amateur photographer and lawyer, was given permission by King Umberto I to photograph the mysterious Shroud of Turin, believed by many to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.

On the evening of May 28th, Pia entered the darkened cathedral, accompanied by two friends. His first job was to set up two electric lamps, using a portable generator. In those days, few buildings had electricity and the cathedral was no exception.  All preparations were complete. It was time. Pia squinted into the viewfinder. All he could see was the faint image of a face, almost impossible to discern with the naked eye. After fussing with exposures, he aimed and shot. Eager to see his results, all three men rushed to the darkroom. Carefully, Pia prepared the photographic plates and immersed them in a chemical bath. A face appeared to them, clear as a bell. It was the face of a bearded man with long hair. It was the face of a tortured man who had been beaten and crowned with thorns.In this shocking moment, Pia nearly dropped the plate. Secondo had photographed a negative image, thus producing a positive image on his negative film. On June 2, 1898, the exhibition ended and the shroud was returned to a casket.

Over the next few years, his photograph became subject to much debate. Some thought Secondo Pia had tampered with the plates. Others believed the photograph to be of supernatural origins. For three decades, Secondo's photograph remained an enigma. In 1931, Giuseppe Enrie, photographed the shroud, producing the same results.

Scientific study of the shroud ramped up in 1978. In that year, the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) was granted permission to study the shroud. Thirty-three scientists from twenty major research institutions studied the shroud, round the clock, for five days. They brought 7 tons of equipment. Results were released in 1981. "The shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist.The blood stains are composed of hemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum. No physical, chemical, or medical circumstance could adequately account for the image." STURP scientists stated that the shroud "remains now, as it has in the past, a mystery."

Skeptics believe that the shroud is a painting rendered by an artists in the 15th century. That would take a leap in faith. After all, the shroud is a negative image. Photography was not invented until 1839. No paint or pigments have been found on the cloth. No brush strokes are visible. Modern science has not been able to duplicate the image, even with laser technology. In 1988, carbon 14 tests determined the cloth to be from medieval times. Since then, that view has been debunked.Three patches were used in that study, all taken from the same spot. That violated protocol. In 2005, a National Geographic article concluded, "New tests show that was tested of a different material from the rest of the shroud-it was a patch added in medieval times.The findings greatly increase the possibility that the shroud may be as old as Christianity itself."

Author Susan Tassone viewed the Shroud of Turin in a 1998 exposition. She wrote, "I was awestruck. I could not say a word. It was overwhelming to see it up front face-to-face. The shroud made me realize the brutal sufferings of Jesus-Jesus was beyond brutally beaten. It made me realized the suffering-beyond belief-that he went through for our sake. You felt it was just for you he did that." 

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Song of the Sea

 Looking for a St. Patrick's Day film to celebrate the big day? Two of my favorites are The Quiet Man and the hilarious Waking Ned Devine. Recently I discovered a new favorite, Song of the Sea (2014), an Irish fairy tale set in modern times. It is directed by Tomm Moore, co-founder of the Irish animation company Cartoon Saloon. I was captivated by its artistry, made possible by hand-drawn animation and original music.

In the plot, Conor,a lighthouse keeper who lives on an island with his ten year old son Ben, wife Bronagh, and sheepdog Cu. Bronagh dies after childbirth, leaving the gift of an infant daughter named Saoirse, who is mute. Later, it is discovered that Saoirse is a selkie, a seal who can shed its skin and become human. The children embark on an adventure through the Irish countryside, accompanied by their sheepdog Cu, who is reminiscent of the dog Nana in Peter Pan. They encounter Macha, an owl witch. Macha steals feelings and turns people into stone. Ultimately, Ben comes to the rescue, giving Macha back her feelings and allowing her to realize that feelings, even those that are painful, make us fully human.

Few animated films take on the delicate subject of grief, but Moore did a test-screening with his wife's primary school class. After watching the film, students wrote down their comments and turned them in to Moore.I loved the results. The children told Moore that he was too heavy-handed in his approach. Tone it down, be more subtle, the students wrote. Movie directors take heed! Kids don't like plots that are non-stop action. Kids don't need another movie showing Godzilla battling King Kong and destroying New York City in the process. Thankfully, Moore took their advice .

Steve D. Greydanos (Decent Films),my favorite film reviewer, wrote of the film, Tomm Moore isn't afraid to take the time to breathe deeply, savor moments of silence and beauty, and open the door to wonder and mystery.

Song of the Sea was greeted with overwhelmingly positive reviews and was nominated for best animated film in 2015.


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