Is stoicism passé?

Eddie Lewis #3This week I went to West Chester, Pennsylvania, to interview Eddie Lewis, aka the Bald-Headed Buzzard. Bald he is, and extremely fond of the nickname he gave himself early in his career as a milkman; his first rounds were in his father’s horse-drawn wagon. (After retiring, he went to work for the local funeral home; 31 years later he continues to man the door for every memorial. He’s also a raffle salesman extraordinare, so he’s fed, pitched, or buried pretty much everyone in the county.)

 I ask everyone what aspects of their jobs suit them and which they dislike. Eddie liked meeting people, and was proud of doing his job well. Dislikes? None. Hardships? Zip. Until, finally, I ask him about getting up early for the milk route. “Oh yes,” he replied, “that was hard. I had to get up at 2:30 every morning. I never did like it.” Until then I’d been feeling pretty heroic for getting up at 5:15 to catch a series of commuter trains. This man got up at 2:30 AM for 43 years and barely thought to mention it!

 Is Eddie astonishingly stoic? Is stoicism a bygone trait? Is it more common among those who grew up accustomed to the deprivations of the Depression ? I couldn’t imagine anyone of my pampered class or generation (let alone our offspring) enduring this kind of hardship without bitching about it pretty much nonstop. Yet the litany of aches and sorrows that accompany old age make for lousy listening. Can we break the pattern? To what degree will activity itself — having more on the calendar than doctors’ appointments — reduce or distract us from that litany?

2 thoughts on “Is stoicism passé?

  1. I’ve known Eddie Lewis for years. Both of us are members of the Baptist Church of West Chester and I was privileged to introduce Eddie to Ashton.

    On Friday evening, I called Eddie to tell him that he was on the Internet. He was delighted, but immediately told me to call his daughter as he didn’t know about "such things." I offered to print a copy for him and deliver it the next morning. His comment "Well, you’ll have to get up early. I’m leaving the breakfast (church Saturday breakfast for the homeless) at 7 because I have to go to work." Gert (his daughter) said she would print it for him and deliver it some time today. (I didn’t get up until 7.)

  2. I’m another member of the Baptist Church of West Chester. Eddie is one of the founders of our church’s Saturday Breakfast. For more than 32 years, the church doors have opened at 6 a.m. to serve a hot breakfast for homeless or low-incomed folk. And each Saturday Eddie gets up at 6 a.m. to set the tables for 60 people! Here are the five “rules of life” that Eddie shares with all he meets:
    1) Enjoy living
    2) Enjoy people
    3) Treat everybody alike
    4) Give credit where credit is due
    5) Keep a smile on your face

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