Bill Linneman

Column in The Normalite, August 5, 2010

Elegy for Earl

Cousin Earl Kaufman died July 25 at Heritage Manor. About 20 years ago Earl gave a lay sermon at the Mennonite Church titled “All in a Lifetime.” Earl was born in 1913. Automobiles in those days had a top speed of 40 miles per hour, airplanes of 80. Today, said Earl, a car has gone 640 mph and an airplane over 2000.

Transportation during his life went from horse and buggy to super-sonic jet. Since the Kaufman farm was only a couple miles from the Old Bloomington airport, Earl literally grew up along with aviation. After graduating from Normal Community High School, he wanted to enlist in the Air Corps. But the pilot cadet program was full because many young men wanted a job.

During World War II Earl became a member of the Civil Air Patrol. When he owned the International Harvester Agency in Hudson, he would fly his plane to Rock Island to get machine parts that a farmer urgently needed. Earl didn’t hesitate on service calls. He had to change tires on his pickup every 7000 miles.

Just like watching speed increase in airplanes and cars, Earl grew up with changes in music. Jazz began with “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” written a year before Earl was born. He dug the quick tempo of jazz and played saxophone in dance bands for over 60 years beginning right  after high school.

One week they played the Farmer City Fair, every night from 7 to midnight. Couples paid 10 cents to dance three dances. A hay rope circled the floor. After the set, the rope was lowered and another group came on. Earl got home at 2 a.m., then up at 5 to milk cows and shock oats in the hot sun. He lost 15 pounds that week.

Earl said that man’s accomplishments in science, technology and engineering during his lifetime were beyond imagination. Perhaps the greatest changes occurred in the science of health and healing. To operate on eyes, to install artificial joints, to transplant heart, lung, liver and kidneys, to use part of a pig’s heart to repair a human heart and many other unbelievable operations probably would have been considered disrespectful in the past to things held sacred.

Thousands of us would not be alive today, he said, were it not for open heart surgery. What was the prayer that saved us? Finding a method to bypass clogged arteries.

Earl’s philosophy was built on Scripture. From Mark he learned that faith can move mountains. Luke taught him to seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.

Today, said Earl, man can literally move physical mountains. But the mountains of prejudice, bigotry and greed that have caused much suffering now need to be removed.

When Earl was 20 he underwent three years of doubt and depression. He considered this his “wilderness” period. Like the wilderness that Moses and Jesus retreated to in order to find their faith. Earl’s despair was caused by a schism at the East White Oak Church. Earl wondered how Christians could treat each other so hatefully. He began to question the trappings of religion, all that dogma and doctrine that have caused so much trouble for man.

Earl concluded that he had to choose between his commitments to the church or to find guidance within his own self. He chose the latter path and felt born again. Instead of constantly asking for God’s help, Earl assumed the responsibility for finding his own way. It was inconceivable to him that we would ask God to do something for us that we could do ourselves.

No longer worrying about heaven and hell, he concentrated on the here and now. He said he had been rewarded with a long exciting life and loving relationships. He had had his heaven on earth.

The change in Earl concerned our family. I remember my mother praying for him because he was going to the Unitarian Church and voting Democratic. God must have heard only half of Mom’s prayer because while Earl did come back to the Mennonite fold when he married Marie, he never ceased being a Democrat. Earl was amused by most prayers. They were a constant flow of requests to God.

Earl found inspiration in the words of Dr. Hartzler from Goshen, Indiana, who spoke often at local Mennonite churches. One of his phrases became etched in Earl’s mind: That you had to be bigger than anything that could happen to you.

Earl loved his church. He said that he looked forward each Sunday to being with his church family. There were so many great people there, it was therapy for him.

Earl’s closing prayer was: God we do not expect you to cradle and nurse us, for we know you have given us minds to seek and find our own way. We cannot pray for you to end hunger, for we already have the resources to feed the world. Therefore, with your gifts of mind and inspiration, we will do instead of just pray, we will create instead of just wish. Amen