Class, Easter Ham, and Kayaking...
The Morphing of My World

This semester, I’m teaching a world religion class, which surveys the major religions of the world today. Each week, we address a religion and attempt to understand that particular religion. Since all the students are either Christians or Muslims, many will admit to never hearing about at least a third or more of the religions like Jainism, Zoroastrianism, or Baha’ism. Beyond learning about those to which they were oblivious, they are getting a better grasp on the religions about which they know something.

Several weeks ago, and right before Easter, we were discussing Judaism. One of my best students mentioned the Jewish prohibition about eating pork due to pork being considered unclean. Then she added that Jews will allow transplants of pig hearts into humans. I commented that it seemed counterintuitive since Jews can’t eat pork, since it is unclean. One would think that transplanting an unclean animal’s heart into a human wouldn’t be deemed kosher.


Many laws and beliefs of all religions reflect the time in which that religion emerged. Galileo was going to be burned at the stake by the church for claiming that the Sun and not the Earth was the center of our solar system.

Additionally, I mentioned going to my cousins’ dairy farm when I was a young boy. I loved it. I milked cows, went on tractor rides, and pitched ensilage out of the silo. On this dairy farm, they also had some pigs. If you put cows in an enclosed area like pigs, cows are as unclean as pigs.

I ended my discussion about the cleanliness of animals with telling my student and the class that my six-month-old Irish Setter puppy, Ginger, loves to eat pig ears. I added that Ginger wasn’t Jewish but claims to be Buddhist. It was an attempt at humor.

The next day was Easter, and I made my family an Easter dinner with a baked ham. I also gave Ginger a special treat as her holiday meal. While Ginger loves pigs’ ears, she went wild when I presented her with a pig’s foot.

That afternoon’s celebration also included kayaking with Ayanna, my granddaughter, on the lake behind my home. It was at that moment that I decided to give Ginger another treat. She was going to go kayaking with me. To be honest, while I live on a man-made lake, kayaking would be a new experience. This is just before we castoff. Ginger wasn’t sure this was a good idea.

Finally, I managed to paddle and keep Ginger within the kayak. It should be noted that this house isn’t mine.

When I was in high school, we had to memorize poetry or prose each semester for four years. I hated it, but a day doesn’t go by that I do not remember some lines that I memorized a half century ago.

So, it was on Easter Sunday on the lake outside my house that I began the first half dozen lines nearly verbatim having memorized nearly six decades ago. I had to google the rest of Longfellow’s poem.

Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
We know what Master laid thy keel,
What Workmen wrought thy ribs of steel,
Who made each mast, and sail, and rope,
What anvils rang, what hammers beat,
In what a forge and what a heat
Were shaped the anchors of thy hope!
Fear not each sudden sound and shock,
'Tis of the wave and not the rock;
'Tis but the flapping of the sail,
And not a rent made by the gale!
In spite of rock and tempest's roar,
In spite of false lights on the shore,
Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea!
Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee.
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o'er our fears,
Are all with thee, -are all with thee!

Ginger was impressed and then added, “You did sail on, or rather paddled on, despite all my fears. The poem, O Ship Of State, was by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and I liked it. However, I thought you were going to quote the last two lines of Henley's, Invictus, ‘I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.’ I actually felt like that once I got over my fears.”

I told Ginger that we’d do our kayaking again, but she should remember that she is my captain of my soul.

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