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It is said that we are the captain of our soul. That we alone plot the course, set the sail, and steer the tiller.

That is not so, we do not stand free to follow our charts. Our lives are entwined with the lives, the needs, even the demands of others.

There are times we are called upon to go where we don’t want to go; do what we don’t want to do; give more than is fair; be denied more than is just; to ask for less than we need; even to bear another’s burden.

As such times, O Lord, help us to hold back our angers; to accept, with grace and without rancor, what we cannot reject; to bend without breaking, and through it all to hold fast to the sanctity of our being, the worthiness of our lives, and to never relinquish to the full our station as captain of our soul — to hold onto the very last shred.

My grandmother was a remarkable deep thinker who after arriving at a philosophical conclusion spent considerable time come up with profound ways of expressing it. It’s sad that after so much effort, her writings were usually shuffled aside, or like this invocation, delivered to an audience, and then forgotten within minutes.

Her last statement, however, “to hold onto the very last shred,” is a thesis on her approach to life. When she broke her shoulder, late in life, she forged ahead, pushing through the pain and following through with her physical therapy plan until the shoulder healed and she returned to fully using both arms.

As her eyesight faded, with thick felt-tip pen in hand, she scribbled out her thoughts on large pads of paper. Much of what she wrote, in the last few years of her life, was impossible to read, her handwriting, reduced to jagged scrawls. But, she held on, determined to put her feelings on paper until her ship was no more.

Even though my grandparents had a long, peaceful marriage, dying within a year of each other, my grandmother at times, probably put on a “smiling face,” accepting with grace the station of her life, that of an adoring wife, mother, and skipper of the house. She bore the burdens of her husband’s seven eccentric sisters, and the melancholy of her three sisters, one who never married, another who tended to her handicapped son, the result of a suicide attempt gone wrong, and a third, contently married, but subdued by a well-meaning, but vivacious man whose personality, interests, and needs overpowered hers.

My grandmother’s brother, Ted Powell, was shuffled from household-to-household after her mother died, and her father, Solomon Powell, remarried the cousin of his first wife, Dora Sparks. Two more boys were born. The oldest, and undoubtedly smartest, Milton Powell, married young, had three children, and out of necessity, settled into a blue-collar job at a shipyard.

The youngest, Arthur L. Powell, went off to college (the only one in the family), found his fortune as a real estate developer (Kravco) and ended up developing the King of Prussia Mall, the largest shopping mall on the east coast, now part of the Simon Property Group. No one on the east coast was aware of Arthur’s success until recently when he wrote an autobiography of his life.

Of the seven children bore by Solomon Powell, only one truly plotted a course, set sail, steered the tiller, and became not only the captain of his soul, but a captain of industry. The rest, their lives caught up in circumstances, accepted what they couldn’t change… and like my grandmother wrote below, denied themselves, sometimes the simple pleasures in life.

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The first time Grandpa and I broke away from the kids and went to the movies by ourselves, we saw “You Can’t Take it With You.” I enjoyed it so much that it wasn’t until both children had seen the picture for themselves that I could stop regretting we had not taken them along.

And Grandpa and I never went alone to the movies until the kids had divorced themselves from us for “dates.” Silly, wasn’t it?

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The hen who cackles the loudest doesn’t necessarily lay the most eggs, but the rooster sure is going to know she’s around.

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