Monday, November 13, 2006

A Little Kinder

In a time of potential rebirth, thanks to our recent election, I would like to tell a short story about a friend of mine and a friend of his. Ira Sandperl, my friend, had an almost elfin look- with short grey hair and wire rim glasses. He used to work behind the counter at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, CA. These days one might assume he was just some retiree who was picking up a little extra cash with a partime job. Quiet and unassuming, with the look of the old school intellectual, he was the perfect image of Keplers.
Keplers Books was once the center of a cultural revolution. During the sixties it was a haven for free thinkers and progressive politics. It even had it’s own university, where anyone could sign up to teach a course (or take one) in whatever interested them. It was even bombed a few times by the reactionaries of the times. Bullet-proof windows were installed at one point. The store is still there- even though it has had to face the onslaught of the book superstores- but Ira is gone, as is the era that spawned this story. Now it looks a bit too much like the upscale town it is in. But I'm sure interesting things are still happening there, and always will be.
I spent a lot of my youth combing through the isles at the "old" Keplers. I met some very interesting people there too. During a particularly low point for me- a girlfriend had gone her own way- I sought higher wisdom and comfort in the self-help books. At the checkout counter, I looked into the bright blue eyes of a little man who would have made a great double for Karl Marx or some other socialist rebel, with his herring bone coat with the leather patches on the elbows, the day old beard and those granny glasses. I had seen him many times before but we had never talked.
This time he asked, “Are you alright?” Had I not been in such a vulnerable state, I probably would have just blown it off- in a nice way of course- but this time I was completely taken by his insight. “Not really,” I answered, and then I started to tell him of my woes. (Coincidentally, I must add that there was a young woman working there at the time with bright blue eyes who also took an interest in me, as I did in her, but that is another story.) Well, to make a long story a little shorter, I found out that Ira was a man of much deeper and profound thoughts and feelings than most people would have figured by just looking at him. But that is the case oftentimes, isn’t it.
Ira, as it turned out, was a good friend of Martin Luther King. He was also a kind of mentor to Joan Baez, the folksinger, as well as a founder of one of the largest and most influential peace organizations ever created. He was square in the middle of a cultural shift, playing on an all-star team, working on realizing the dream of a better world. Ira had another dream, too. He wanted to move to France and open his own bookstore and café. He was saving up for it, little by little. I had that same dream too, at one time. It's nice to share a dream. Were there more dreams in those days? So it gradually became a time of rebirth and optimism for both of us. I had hit bottom and, as it so often happens for me, I had opened my heart in that state and found new friendship and inspiration.
Ira had also written a book called “A Little Kinder,” which was a story of his mentoring of Joan Baez, who was in her teens at the time. It was basically a reading list of the peace movement, from the beginning of history to the present day. He gave me a copy. That was fascinating enough, but there was a personal story that Ira told me that has stayed with me from that time.
It seems that he and MLK were spending the night in jail after particularly long day of marching, fire hoses, attack dogs, rocks, bottles and police batons. This was in the deep south- either Birmingham or Memphis, I don’t remember. They had spent years traveling the road to freedom and brotherhood and taken a beating doing it. As they lay in their bunks for the night, Ira asked MLK, in the light of all that he had been through, what advice he would give people- what advice would sort of sum up what we should be doing to advance the cause of peace and higher consciousness. I think you can picture this scene. We have all been there at one time or another.
Martin said, “Well, I think we could all just be a little kinder to one another.” It is often the simple things that amaze us the most. MLK, destined soon to leave this earth, showed grace under fire. If you happen to see the film of him speaking the night before he was shot, it seems like he almost knew what was coming. Of course he had lived with the idea for a long time. Martin dreamed the big dream and brought us along.
Ira, I am told, managed to live out his dream too. As unlikely as it sounds, he did put together the money to go to France and open up his café. I was glad to hear ths, although sometimes I think it may only be part of a legend of the times. It doesn't matter to me. Thanks, Ira.


Blogger Katie said...

I'm so glad you wrote this, I really enjoyed it. It's interesting how we come across the most unique people in life when we least expect it. It's great that he left you with a fond memory to share, they are always the best ones. I too think the world would be a much better place if everyone just put some effort into being more kind to one another. :)

5:49 PM  

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