Le Grande Doctuer


How do you describe the large size of Goliath? Perhaps huge, gargantuan, larger than life may be moving in the right direction. Fortunantely for us, Dr. Albert Schweitzer lived, and did so magnificently and he may have been as real as it gets. I hope you will get the essence of my meaning by the end of this essay.


Born in 1875, Schweitzer, like many great people, did not show a host of signs in his youth of his prodigy status. However, some signs of the direction he was going can be easily found. He liked nature and the out of doors. As a teen, his bicycle represented a freedom machine that got him closer to nature's flora and fauna.

Seldom did he feel accepted by his peer group because he was the preacher's kid and had slightly better clothes than the average, plus a slightly better diet, plus a slightly better home. All of Schweitzer's life was a statement that he was just one of us, a simple, humble man driven by great ideas. His life was truly a great example for all of us. This example was recognized when he was officially awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 (although he did not return to Europe to claim such until 1953 and you can well imagine how the money was spent i.e. mostly for tin roofing for his leper colony). It would seem difficult to find any greater recognition of ones heart, mind and work ethic than the Nobel Peace Prize.

Lest the reader become confused about Schweitzer's nationality, it should be noted that the Alsace region of modern day France where Monsieur Albert was born was controlled by the Germans from 1869 to the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Thus the region was bilingual and everyone spoke both French and German. Naturally though, everyone born in that place and time was considered German by the outside world even though most citizens considered themselves Alsacians as opposed to French or German.

Most families wanted their sons honored in academia so that they could have a professional, prestigious person in the family. Somewhere around the sixth or seventh year in school, aptitude tests were given and Schweitzer qualified to attend the Gymnasium, which is the equivalent of preparatory school in the U.S. Basically, there were three divisions of male students; laborers, trades and the highest seemed the most desirable i.e. professional. To become a professional required a Gymnasium education to qualify for attending the university. Monsieur Albert, as he preferred to be called by his home town folk even after his two earned PhDs and M.D., merely wanted to be one of them. The more humble his demeanor, the grand strength of his great ideas became more and more apparent.

Monsieur Albert almost failed his first semester at the Gymnasium and his mother, Adele, shed many tears that Christmas. Fortunatly, upon returning to school, this latent intellectual was inspired by one instructor and his youthful mind perceived that if he wanted to please this instructor, he would have to lead all of his classes. He knew the instructors talked among themselves about students. Schweitzer immediately marched to the top of his class scholastically and stayed there. By age 24 he completed all of prep school and all of the University of Strasbourg requirements to earn his first PhD in Philosophy. A year and a half later Schweitzer earns his second PhD in Theology at the turn of the century i.e. age 25.

It seems appropriate to regress here because Schweitzer made an incredible declaration to himself at age 21. He said that he would devote the first thirty years of his life to science and music; the balance of his life would be spent doing humanitarian work. What percentage of population has such power over their lives at such a young age? To me, I dare say said percentage would be miniscule.

Imagine this, dear reader, that at age 30 Schweitzer had not yet picked out his arena of service but he read in the Paris Missionary Society Journal of a defunct missionary hospital in Lambarene`, French West Equitorial Africa (now in Gabon) merely a few degrees below the Equator. How much strength of character does it take for one of the academic darlings of Europe to give up a life of great comfort and prestige to go through the rigors of medical school and enter this humble arena of great service as a medical missionary? Schweitzer did that and it seems the world should be grateful.

Naturally, an expansive mind such as Schweitzer's has a lot to offer toward addressing the many problems of humans in this world. The first that should be mentioned was a mid life accidental production entitled Memoirs of Childhood and Youth. Dr. O. Pfister, a psychiatrist and mentee of Sigmund Freud, took the original notes for this novella size book. This humble writer dares suggest that this book should be in the hands of every young person worldwide. Everyone should read it at least once in their lifetime. In fact, it would be a great service to read same to young people in your family, which would possibly boost an interest in reading, and I assure you that you and yours will find Schweitzer inspiring.

Consider: pg. 89 "Instinctively I have fought against becoming what is usually called a "mature Person." The word mature applied to human beings was, and still is somewhat uncanny to me. I hear within it, like musical discords, the words impoverishment, stunted growth, and blunted feelings. What is usually considered maturity in a person is really resigned reasonableness. It is acquired by adopting others as models and by abandoning one after another the thoughts and convictions that were dear to us in our youth. We believed in the good; we no longer do so. We had faith in the power of kindness and peaceableness; we can no longer be. In order to navigate more safely through the dangers and storms of life, we lightened our boat. We threw overboard goods that we thought were dispensable; but it was our food and water that we got rid of. Now we travel more lightly, but we are starving.

In my youth I listened to conversations of grownups which wafted to me a breath of melancholy, depressing my heart. My elders looked back at the idealism and enthusiasm of their youth as something precious that they should have held on to. At the same time, however, they considered it sort of a law of nature that one cannot do that. This talk aroused in me the fear that I, too, would look back upon myself with such nostalgia. I decided never to submit to this tragic reasonableness. What I promised myself in almost boyish defiance I have tried to carry out."


At age 28, Schweitzer wrote an incredible tome on the life of Jesus, which is still in print. This writer was a ministerial student in college and the reader should be advised that this is an upper level book that requires a tremendous theological vocabulary to read. I would suggest that anyone who claims to know anything about Jesus, yet they have not read Quest of the Historical Jesus, may find their knowledge less than complete until said read is in the past. This book got Schweitzer labeled the dreaded "L" word (liberal) but he would not sacrifice logic or reason to a purpose.

It appears that in his life Schweitzer wrote over thirty titles with many different readerships in mind like children, intellectuals and academicians, the average person on the street etc. There is almost an equal number of edited works by various people like Dr. Norman Cousins with credit to Schweitzer even though they were published posthumously and without Schweitzer's personal editorial approval.

Last, it must be noted that this man, who lived something of a life of idealism, had his heart and mind firmly rooted in the real world. This writer believes that the genius production of his physicist friend, Albert Einstein, and his four essays 100 years ago (1905) on relativity heavily influenced Schweitzer's burst of moral genius ten years later whenever Schweitzer and entourage were negotiating through a herd of hippopotamus on the Oga Waga (African) River in a pirogue that September day in 1915. It seems a burst of moral genius flowed through his mind in German, i.e. 'Ehrfurchtig volrvor dem leben', which translated into English as REVERENCE FOR LIFE. Could it be that relativity proved that all of life is related as well as everything physical? Perhaps, in the sense of relativity, a dog, cat, snake, panda, ant, worm, deer, fish etc. are related to all things physical which would include you and me. Maybe reverence is like liberty, the more you give away, the more you shall have.

Schweitzer became a vegetarian because he did not think any animal should die in order for him to live. Therefore, his life may be a testament to the healthiness of such because he was active up to his last week of life and was four months away from his 91st birthday. This probably put him in the upper 1/10th of 1 percent in longevity for people born in 1875. It is amazing what a life of purpose can accomplish.

Consider Reverence for Life momentarily and imagine it as an umbrella over all theologies, philosophies and 'isms. Whatever religion, philosophy or other control device like socialism, capitalism, communism, humanism, secularism, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism etc., Reverence forLife is like an umbrella over all. Then if you apply Reverence for Life as a test to the quality of this 'ism, would not the world be a better place? Would the world be better off if the Middle East would apply such a test to all its actions? This writer thinks terrorISM would disappear.

On this, the 130th anniversary of the birth of Le Grand Docteur and the 40th anniversary of his death, and the 90th anniversary of Reverence for Life, let us celebrate a great life in a great way by promoting his legacy always. He was real and our promotion of same should be equally as real and powerful.

Last but not least, relativity and the understanding of same helped Schweitzer to actively oppose nuclear proliferation. Schweitzer and his friend Einstein pushed the physicists and intellectuals of this world to oppose such officially. In 1958 Schweitzer's signature was among the 923 renown signatures on a petition to the U.N. opposing nuclear proliferation because Schweitzer knew that a nuclear war would not be a war of one country against another but would be "a war against humanity." Unfortunately, Einstein died in 1955, so his signature was not on this petition but the spirit of both Albert's was captured in said document, signature or not.

Perhaps one of the more significant things we average mortals can do in our lifetime is to recognize greatness when we see it. Schweitzer is among the grandest of the greats, and this mortal plans on remembering and promoting this man's burst of moral genius for as long as I can within my human confines. I hope you, too, will help promote this man's legacy so that it will never be relegated to a footnote in history and continue its rise to the prominent status it deserves.

I would like to offer a very special conclusion to this essay. Whoever reads this, I implore you to help establish a world wide day of Reverence for Life. Approach every cleric you know. If you have connections with the U.N., use every means possible to inspire. Be creative. Who knows what a few inspired people can accomplish? Our world needs such. I would suggest the second Sunday in January. Would that not help this world to have a better start in every year? Schweitzer's birthday is January 14. Schweitzer's only daughter's birthday is January 14 also.

This we know; the earth does not belong
to man, man belongs to the earth.
This we know; All things are connected
like the blood which unites one family.
All things are connected. Whatever befalls
the earth befalls the sons of earth.
Man did not weave the web of life, he
is merely a strand in it.
Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

Chief Seattle
Chief of the Duwamish, Suquamish and allied indian tribes.
1879-1955

Do you think Schweitzer would approve?


Ross Sloan
Mobile, Alabama
USA

2005

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