Discover more from Dr. Mardy's Substack
Dr. Mardy's Quotes of the Week
November 5—11, 2023 | THIS WEEK'S THEME: “Potential for Greatness”
Opening Line of the Week
If you’re struggling to craft a memorable opening line for something you’re writing, consider tweaking a legendary quotation, as the clever Mr. Amory does here. In the book’s second paragraph, he continued:
“Actually, Shakespeare didn’t say that about cats, he said it about people. And I suppose there will be some purists out there who will take me up on it. Technically they would have a point, but, frankly, it has always seemed to me that Shakespeare was overly concerned with people.”
A Medical Update
In June of this year, I was diagnosed with a rare and potentially dangerous eye disease that is known by the acronym PEHCR. Ophthalmologists pronounce it “pecker,” but that cutesy nickname completely belies its seriousness. I was told that if I had waited another few days to get help, I would’ve likely gone completely blind in my right eye.
Happily, the eye injection I received during my first visit slowed down the severe retinal hemorrhaging, and later injections in subsequent months stopped it completely. And now, after my recent eye surgery, the vision in my right eye has been fully restored. To me, it feels like a miracle. The underlying condition is still there—and I’m told the vision problems could return—but for now, I couldn’t be happier.
For the past five months, my vision problems greatly affected my reading and research efforts, and I’m now seriously behind schedule as I attempt to compile my list of The Best Opening Lines of 2023. If you’d be willing to lend a hand, I’d be grateful. If you or any of your book-loving friends have seen any great opening lines in books published this year, please let me know.
This Week’s Puzzler
On November 12, 1994, this woman died at age 54 in Brentwood, Tennessee (she’d been suffering from brain cancer, and her death was not unexpected). The next day, a New York Times obituary quoted Bud Greenspan, a prominent historian of the Olympic games, as saying:
“She was the Jesse Owens of women’s track and field, and like Jesse, she changed the sport for all time.”
Born in 1940 in Saint Bethlehem, Tennessee, she was the 20th of 22 children born into the family of a domestic worker who was married to a railroad porter. Born prematurely, she was only four and a half pounds at birth, and she became a very sickly child. At age four, she almost died when she contracted scarlet fever, pneumonia, and polio. The illness resulted in a paralyzed left leg, and every week, on her mother’s day off from work, the two of them made a nearly 100-mile round trip to Nashville for specialized treatments. For years, she required leg braces in order to walk, and eventually the braces were replaced by special orthopedic shoes. In her autobiography, she credited her mother with her recovery, writing:
“My doctors told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.”
At age 11, she shocked the entire family when she was able to dribble a basketball on the street in front of her house. A year later, she was running faster than all the boys her age, and when she got to high school she blossomed into a star athlete. In 1956, at age sixteen, she not only made the all-state basketball team, she also became the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic track and field team (she went on to win a bronze medal in the 4x100-meter relay). During her senior year in high school, she also became pregnant, ultimately giving birth to her first child just weeks before enrolling at Tennessee State University in the fall of 1958.
While majoring in education, she starred on the school’s track team and quickly became a world-class sprinter. In 1960, she won three gold medals in the Rome Olympic games (the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and the 4x100-meter relay). Her spectacular performance earned her the title of “world’s fastest woman.”
After retiring from her running career, she became active in the Civil Rights Movement and worked as a track & field coach before setting up a foundation for underprivileged children. A role model to countless people, she authored many inspirational quotations, including this one:
Who is this person? (Answer below)
Do You Have the Potential for Greatness?
Growing up in Garrison, North Dakota in the 1940s and 50s, I was a good kid, but one night at age sixteen I made a decision that put my future in jeopardy. I’ve mentioned elements of the story before, but this week I’d like to explore it in a bit more detail.
Late one Saturday night in the summer of 1958, three buddies and I were cruising around a neighboring town in our friend Andy’s ’49 Ford when we spotted a snazzy hardtop with exceptionally fine hubcaps. After one of our group said, “I know a guy who will pay big bucks for those caps,” my friend Mike and I said we wanted nothing to do with the idea of stolen hubcaps. We then sat nervously in the back seat while Alfie and Bob hopped out of the car and attempted—in vain—to remove them.
As our friends struggled to remove the hubcaps, Mike and I watched in frustration at their ineptitude. We then impulsively jumped out of the car to help finish the job (our goal, I believe, was mainly to get the whole thing over and done with before cops arrived). On the way home, with four heisted hubcaps lying at our feet, we said we wanted nothing further to do with the caper—and we both thought that was the end of it.
A few months later, with the whole incident a fading memory, Mike and I were standing near the window in biology class one morning when we noticed a police car drive up to the school. A few minutes later, an unfamiliar voice on the PA system said, “Will the following students come to the principal’s office.” As the three names were called out, it was clear what was happening—and we both breathed a sigh of relief. I can still recall Mike jocularly saying, “Honest, ossifer, I had nothing to do with them hubcaps.”
Our relief, as it turned out, was short-lived. That very afternoon, when we were also summoned to the principal’s office, we knew the jig was up. It soon became clear that even in a small North Dakota town like ours, the police were familiar with the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” form of interrogation, and our three buddies quickly revealed our involvement.
Several months later, all five of us—along with our embarrassed and upset parents—appeared before a female judge in the municipal courthouse in Minot, North Dakota. It was then that I first learned the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony: the dollar value of the goods purloined. Because we’d stolen expensive Dodge Lancer “Spinner” hubcaps, we were convicted of a felony and placed on probation for a year.
We also learned one other critically important lesson that day, but it would take many more years before we would realize how important it was. After passing sentence, the judge looked directly at us and said she was putting our records in a sealed file in her office. If we stayed out of trouble until age eighteen, she said she would personally expunge the records. She went on to explain, “This means that, in the future, when you’re applying for a job and asked the question, ‘Have you ever been convicted of a felony?’ you can truthfully answer ‘No’.” Would a male judge have shown the same mercy? Who knows, but I believe this was a critical incident in my eventual embrace of feminism and the women’s movement.
My guidance counselor at the time all of this was happening was a gentleman with a most unusual name: Critchfield Krug. He was also the principal of the local elementary school where my mother worked as the hot-lunch cook. One day, when Mr. Krug noticed her crying in the kitchen, he asked what was bothering her. When she told him she was distraught over what was happening to me, he gave her a big hug, and said “Lorna, let me have a crack at the young man; I’ll do my best to get him back on the right track.”
Mr. Krug soon invited me to have a “chit-chat” about my future plans (I later learned that was his pet term for counseling sessions, and it certainly made me more amenable to the offer). In perhaps a half-dozen sessions over the next several months, he got me thinking for the first time about my future plans. He also said some things I will never forget. One time, for example, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Mardell, I believe you have the potential for greatness.”
And then, after a pause, he added, “But my great fear is that you’re going to toss it all away.” He went on to mention two other former students who he also thought had the same high potential. One had died in an alcohol-related car crash, and the other was serving time at the state penitentiary. I don’t know if Mr. Krug was familiar with the Adler quotation above, but his belief in the potential of this particular pupil took immediate hold inside of me.
As I walked back to study hall after the session ended, the “potential for greatness” phrase reverberated in my brain. Nobody in my life had ever said anything like that to me. As I settled into my desk, I wrote the phrase over and over again in a spiral notebook. If Mr. Krug, a man I deeply admired, believed such a thing about me, perhaps it was true that I could aspire to do something great with my life. He helped light a fire in me that has never gone out (although, I must confess, the flame has occasionally weakened considerably), and every time I think of him I’m reminded of a quotation attributed to Albert Schweitzer, but never actually found in his writings:
A few days later, during our next chit-chat, I told him I’d decided to become a psychologist. He said he was delighted to hear it, and suggested that next year, during my senior year, I take a Psychology 101 college correspondence course, with him serving as my supervisor. And that’s exactly what happened. Each week, we sat down for an hour or so to go over the individual chapters and, as much as I enjoyed the experience, I believe he might have enjoyed it even more. In the fall of 1960, I headed off to the University of North Dakota to major in psychology, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Well, almost. In late 1974, with my freshly-minted Ph.D. diploma in hand, I went back home for a visit. The highlight of the trip was having lunch with mom and Mr. Krug at Elsie’s Cafe, a local eatery owned by Mr. Krug’s wife. After placing our order, I told them I had a present for the both of them. When I handed each of them a framed Xerox copy of my diploma with the words “I couldn’t have done it without you” inscribed on it, I wasn’t quite prepared for what happened. My mom started crying, then Mr. Krug joined in, and pretty soon, I became the third member of the chorus of tears. I’ll never forget that moment.
Thanks for indulging me in my trip down Memory Lane. The entire visit brought back scads of other memories as well, but those will have to wait to be shared at a later time.
This week, think about the people in your world. Perhaps there is someone—a child or grandchild, a friend, a neighbor, an employee—who might benefit from hearing you say, “I believe you have the potential for greatness.” And how about you? How would your life be different if you truly embraced the idea for yourself? Think about it. And as you do, let this week’s compilation of quotations stimulate your thinking on this important theme in human life.
Potential has a shelf-life. — Margaret Atwood
The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there. — John Buchan
Few men during their lifetime come anywhere near exhausting the resources dwelling within them. There are deep wells of strength that are never used. — Richard E. Byrd
Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is. — Erich Fromm
Perhaps the most devastating and damaging thing that can happen to someone is to fail to fulfill his potential. A kind of gnawing emptiness, longing, frustration, and displaced anger overwhelms people when this occurs. — Edward T. Hall,
Believing in people before they have proved themselves is the key to motivating people to reach their potential. — John C. Maxwell
We are all such a waste of our potential, like three-way lamps using one-way bulbs. — Mignon McLaughlin
There are so many things we are capable of, that we could be or do. The potentialities are so great that we never, any of us, are more than one-fourth fulfilled. — Katherine Ann Porter
Life is like a ten-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears that we never use. — Charles M. Schulz
We are not what we are, nor do we treat or esteem each other for such, but for what we are capable of being. — Henry David Thoreau
Cartoon of the Week
Answer to This Week’s Puzzler:
Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994)
Dr. Mardy’s Observation of the Week
Thanks for joining me again this week. See you next Sunday morning, when the theme will be “Doing Your Best.”
Regarding My Lifelong Love of Quotations: A Personal Note
Dr. Mardy's Substack is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.