Coffee companion collects quotations for great life

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 6, 2007

“Part of our task in life is to choose worthy companions who will cultivate what is good in us,” Rabbi David Wolpe once wrote. I’ve just encountered his good advice thanks to one of our own worthy coffee companions who has long helped cultivate goodness in many.

Barbara Hollenbach is a linguist and Scripture translation consultant working among indigenous communities in Mexico. I first met her in the 1960s while studying phonology – the science of language sound systems – under her. (Yes, that sort of dates both of us, doesn’t it?)

One of Barbara’s hobbies is collecting inspirational quotations, such as Wolpe’s. She’s collected many, many quotes, now, and has started sharing some of them in her correspondence with friends.

One of her favourites of late, she says, is from Thomas Bailey Aldrich: “To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent – that is to triumph over old age.” This comes “close to being a mission statement for me since I became a senior citizen,” she wrote me the other day.

She’s been organizing her collection into categories, and from A to Z (or at least to W – no categories for X, Y or Z, yet) she is creating a treasure chest of wisdom on the joys of being human.

Under A for “Acceptance,” for example, she cites Nikos Kazantzakis: “Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality.”

And under W for “Writing,” she cites Sholem Asch: “Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.”

Well, Barbara certainly has something to say, so I asked her if she’d share with our other coffee companions what motivated her to take quotation collecting so seriously. She wrote back:

THE YEAR I TURNED 65, I started thinking about what I might like to leave as a sort of heritage of my life, in addition to the grammars and dictionaries I have spent so many years on. I have, for various reasons, never been into journaling. I did not want to record a lot of transitory garbage that no one wanted to read, and that, worse, might be hurtful to anyone. But on a whim I bought a book called 14,000 Things to be Happy About, and I decided that it was a neat idea, and that I could do something similar.

As a Christian, I did not want just to list things I liked, but things I could be thankful to God for. And so I bought a bound notebook and colored gel pens, and got started. I really enjoyed doing this, but I soon realized that there were other things that I wanted to say that did not fit into this project, and so just one week later, I started a second notebook with favorite quotes. I enjoyed that also, but within a week I realized that there were still other things I wanted to say that did not fit into either project, and so I started a third book, which contains a list of things I have learned. And over the past six years, I have added to these books, though lately I am doing more editing and less adding of new material.

I started out writing quotes in a notebook, in no particular order, and I love the feel of books and paper, but after a few years, I decided, a bit reluctantly, to put the quotes on the computer so that I could sort them by theme, and so that I could search for an author or key word.

I can’t tell you for sure how many quotes I have, but several hundred at least. In that the collection is organized by theme, there are a number of repeats, which makes it a bit complicated. And there is an even larger collection that I am still editing, which is likely always to be a work in process.

My selection criteria are similar to what they say about selecting a good wine – the way to tell a good wine is if you like it. I picked quotes that I liked without analyzing them too hard, but also those that had the ring of truth, or that challenged me.

—Barbara Hollenbach, writing from Arizona

WELL, BARBARA HAS very good taste in the quotations she’s collected. Here are some more I find especially meaningful:

 “Self-pity is our worst enemy, and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in the world.” —Helen Keller

“Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean.” —Dag Hammarskjöld

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life waiting for us.” —Joseph Campbell

And finally this one from Barbara’s husband Bruce: “Sometimes the most important thing we do is not to quit.” (See my April 21, 2004 column on Bruce and butterflies.)

© 2007 Warren Harbeck

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