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Leon Hale a wisdom of the heart, and the 21st Century

East Bernard Express of East Bernard, Texas

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Leon Hale, who will be 93 in a couple of months, recently announced his retirement as columnist for the Houston Chronicle, where he has been employed since 1985. Prior to that, he wrote a daily column for the Houston Post for 32 years. In recent years, his column has appeared in the Chronicle one day a week on Sundays. His column will certainly be missed.

When I first started reading his column in the Post many years ago Gong before he published eleven books and became a regional celebrity), I was truly amazed that he could generate a newspaper column seven days a week 365 days a year. And when I started writing a weekly column for the East Bernard Tribune (now Express) in the early 1990s, I realized even more so how challenging it is to create a piece of writing even one day a week much less seven. I think at that point he was writing a column three days a week for the Chronicle — I was in awe that he could do this.

He said it was much easier writing a column for the Post, because he drove around Texas, interviewing people and writing about them, whereas for the Chronicle, he had to write personal essays each time. Apparently, he believes that in all these years, he has written just about everything he can think of to write about, and retirement seems appropriate. Although I have written far fewer years than he has, more and more I have the feeling that the well is running dry. Hale wrote about Dime Box at least twice during his journalism career and about outhouses numerous times. Probably the majority of my columns have been about Dime Box, and more times than people wanted to read, about my mother's historical outhouse (Some have suggested that I call it her "hysterical" outhouse).

I don't mean to be presumptuous in comparing myself to Leon Hale; it's just that at times, he has been a great inspiration to me.

Actually, what I have admired the most about him has been bis humble, kind, and caring personality that permeates his writing. Montaigne, who "invents ed" the essay form of writing, said that by exploring and trying to understand himself, he was able to understand other human beings and human nature itself. In his exploration of himself and of other people, I think Hale touched our hearts in significant ways. His humor was mild and never sarcastic, and he spoke to those of us who don't like the voices of contemporary popular culture.

There are some animals who are more loving, caring, and loyal than human beings; one of them is the elephant. Another is the graylag goose (who will literally die of sorrow when his mate dies). In today's world, why are people so cruel to animals and to other humans? So many people in the 21st Century talk and act far worse than any animal I know, and to call their behavior "animalistic," as some are wont to do, isn't fair to the animals. "There is a wisdom of the head, and a wisdom of the heart," Charles Dickens once said. Dickens also said, "A loving heart is the truest wisdom." Leon Hale's writings seem to reflect those sentiments.

In today's world of adult cartoons, gangsta rap, and nihilistic novels, not to mention amoral teachings, it is a blessing to hear the kind and gentle voice of Leon Hale, so a good reason why we will miss him.

The good news is history has taught us that life never keeps roaring off into one bizarre and evil, unchanging, direction, whether if s literary writings or popular culture. No, history teaches us that life is a series of ups and downs, extremes and reactions to those extremes. My hope is that the cold and cruel extreme of the 21st Century is about to peak, hit that reaction point, and move in the opposite direction! The time is near when the likes of Charles Dickens and Leon Hale will be most people's heroes again, and the pseudo gangsters will be rejected with laughter and/or disgust.

When Dickens was writing novels, like Great Expectations (my favorite), he would hawk each chapter, printed like a newspaper, on the streets corners of London, and people couldn't wait to buy the chapters as soon as they emerged from Dickens' pen and the printing press. Like Dickens, Hale has a wisdom of the heart. I understand that he will continue to write his blogs on the front porch of his farmhouse in Winedale, so that some folks will continue to hear his voice.

In the 21st Century, fine literature and popular culture have sort of come together, and I think that's a good thing. It seems to me, and I say this half-jokmgly, that modern man, unless on Lexapro, has a predisposition toward nihilism, so the world needs writers like Leon Hale to give us a lift.

Ray Spitzenberger serves as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wal-lis, after retiring from Wharton County Junior College, where he taught English and speech and served as chairman of Communications and Fine Arts for many years.

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Original Publication Date: March 13, 2014

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