Faith in Philadelphia

By Wendell J. Ashton

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    This was Philadelphia, and the previous afternoon we had found much of the red-brick charm that was here two centuries before when the city was the home of Benjamin Franklin, when it was the “Athens of the West.”

    We had stood reverently beside the gray paneled walls inside tower-topped Independence Hall. There the Declaration of Independence had been signed, and there, during a sweltering summer in 1787, a group of brilliant patriots (including Franklin), inspired in their toil, had hammered out the United States Constitution.

    Now in a suburban motor hotel we were down to the business of a public utilities convention. Some three hundred of us were assembled from across Canada and the United States. An advertising executive had shown excerpts of television messages sponsored by a Philadelphia utility company, hitting hard against air, water, and land pollution.

    It was time now for taking attendance tickets from a basket and distributing prizes (electric housewares and other items) among the delegates.

    Several smiling winners trotted up to the podium as their names were called.

    Then my name was announced.

    But it was not for a gift. “There is a special message for you,” said the well-groomed master of ceremonies. He handed me a white sheet of paper, and written on it in blue ink were these words:

    “Call Special Agent Max Brown, FBI, LO 3-5300.”

    My heart began to beat faster. “What could I have done?” I asked myself.

    As I moved quickly up the hotel corridor toward my room, I began to think about my family at home, some two thousand miles away. Had something happened to one of them?

    In my room, I dialed the number. A woman answered. I asked for Special Agent Brown. By now my heart was pounding like the jackhammer we had passed the day before in Philadelphia’s historic Elfreth’s Alley, not far from Benjamin Franklin’s slab-covered grave in Christ Church cemetery.

    Special Agent Brown’s voice was pleasant and courteous, like a highway patrolman’s.

    “Your name has been referred to us,” he began, “by a gentleman who is being considered for a federal judgeship.” Then he continued: “What do you know of his qualifications? How long have you known him?”

    I wanted to reply “Eureka!” While my heart slowed a bit, I gave Special Agent Brown the information.

    As I reflect on that experience in the City of Brotherly Love, I think of other times I have worried and fretted over events that never happened: when I thought I must have cancer because of a lump under my jaw, when I thought about losing my home because of a business reverse that never came, and many others.

    In fact, through the years most of my worrying has been about things that never happened. One wise man said: “Worry is interest paid on trouble before it becomes due.”

    Perhaps the most effective cure for worry is faith. And that takes me to the words of Benjamin Franklin, words that he wrote as a young man and that we found inscribed on a large metal plaque on a pink brick wall near his grave in Philadelphia:

    The Body of
    B. Franklin, Printer,
    Like the Cover of an Old Book,
    Its Contents torn out,
    And stript of its Lettering & Gilding,
    Lies here, Food for Worms.
    But the Work shall not be lost;
    For it will, as he believ’d,
    appear once more
    In a new and more elegant Edition
    Corrected and Improved
    By the Author.

    Perhaps his putting faith before worry was a big factor in Franklin’s living such a long, happy, and productive life. After all, he was eighty-one years of age at that constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787, while most of the other delegates were in their twenties, thirties, and forties.