The Quality of a Life

By G. F. Knoche

"The world is better for his having lived in it." -- "He was one of "those rare ones who fulfill their life functions. And he had faith that life is wider than its visible dimensions." -- "His yearly visits were for me personally an ever-returning stimulus to conquer the difficulties which we all meet in this life." -- "His concern for our well-being in our newly adopted country was something for which I am ever grateful." -- "He was the best friend I ever had." -- "All must surely feel deep gratitude for the unusual note he sounded and the tremendous effort he made towards our hearing it."

And so the tributes come in from all over the world: from longtime friends to casual acquaintances, from close associates to readers of Sunrise. All of them bearing witness to the truth which James A. Long expressed in his editorial for August, the last issue of the magazine to have had his personal attention:

When we cast off these mortal frames, we leave behind a heritage -- an immortal heritage. However insignificant and lowly it may seem, we bequeath to humanity that which we are. The quality of our lives is not lost.

As we reflect on the quality of his life, his warm humanity, sparkling humor and simple naturalness that made him instantly responsive to those who crossed his path; the complete candor of his dealings with all who sought his advice; more than anything, perhaps, his impelling drive to live and work for others to the very end of his days -- as we ponder the heritage that he left, we can but salute James Long as one of "fortune's favored soldiers" who had joined the ranks of those who give their all, without reserve, in service to mankind.

J.A.L. never pretended to be what he was not. He was always just himself, trying in everyday affairs as well as in the most important situations to meet the inner demands of the moment. When people came to him -- and there were hundreds who did from every walk of life, young people, some of them mixed up with drugs, sex, or other 'hang-ups,' university professors, the elderly, neighbors, tradesmen, policemen, friends, fellow-students -- no matter who the individual or what the subject discussed, one characteristic prevailed: he listened, to their words, yes; but mostly to their hearts, to the unexpressed appeal of their souls, and he responded in kind. Almost invariably they went away inwardly stronger and with fresh insight. Not that he gave them specific advice, but in the frank and honest airing of whatever troubled them, he helped them to gain a larger perspective so that their problems no longer seemed insoluble.

"The great mind knows the power of gentleness," wrote Browning. J.A.L. had the gentleness of the strong, and the strength of the truly gentle. Scores of children in every country where he had stayed over the years looked to "Uncle Jim" as their special friend. Yet if occasion demanded, no one could be more firm, even ruthless if one were to judge solely by appearances, for he brooked no compromise with hypocrisy nor with the self-pity that eats like a canker into the soul. To him no one was handicapped; not even the worst case of disability. The only handicapped person, in his view, was the one who refused to use his inborn will and courage to do the very best he could, whatever the odds. This was a lesson he had had early to learn, and learn well; for at four years of age he had been severely crippled with polio, long before modern therapy had found means to relieve its after-effects. But he had turned the 'handicap' into a blessing, for it brought with the passing of time a depth of compassion and richness of understanding that might otherwise have taken lifetimes to achieve.

It may not be inappropriate to mention here that Sunrise was only a part of James Long's activities. Since the middle thirties he had been a student of theosophy, having found in its philosophy that universal solvent which gave meaning to the doctrinal beliefs not alone of the Christian faith in which he had been reared, but of other world religions he was then investigating. He became convinced that if people everywhere understood that the basic tenets of every religion were one and the same, they would recognize that all men had a common spiritual ancestry.

The idea of working toward a universal brotherhood had fired him. When he retired from active service with the Department of State, in Washington, D.C., he moved west and joined the headquarters staff of the Theosophical Society, International, and in February of 1951, following upon the death of his friend and mentor, Colonel Arthur L. Conger, he assumed the responsibility of leading this worldwide organization.

In October of that year, he founded Sunrise, not as an official journal but as an informal meeting ground -- a magazine dedicated to the all-inclusive purpose of forming "bridges of understanding" between the seeking, restless souls of every generation and the ageless body of wisdom-teachings which are the quintessence of every religious and philosophical system. For twenty years he steadfastly maintained his objective: to present these enduring spiritual principles simply and directly, so that all who seriously wanted to search out the sources of truth and discover in the process a deeper meaning for man's existence would have the opportunity to build a sound philosophy by which they could live.

But J.A.L. had no time for "intellectual tennis," for those who indulged in merely dissecting the shell of doctrine while the kernel of applied soul-wisdom lay unnoticed. Nor was he interested in the 'flapdoodle' -- to use H. P. Blavatsky's colorful expression -- which parades itself in the glamor of psychic adventurism. That genuine paranormal powers do exist, he was well aware, but to exploit them for personal advantage he felt was morally wrong. To him the only true occultism was altruism, the giving of one's best in helpfulness to others.

James A. Long bequeathed a noble heritage -- the quality of a dedicated life. As we take up the lines of endeavor thus laid down, we shall carry forward into the future the same broad universalizing ideals that have characterized Sunrise since its inception.

 (From Sunrise magazine, September 1971; copyright © 1971 Theosophical University Press)

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