Greb addresses an audience in a church sanctuary.
Though Prof. Greb is not a minister, he has spent much of his
pursuing answers to the same questions ministers often seek
answers to in holy scriptures.
A letter to
Prof. Joe Swan
on the loss of his brother
By PROF. GORDON GREB
Losing a brother is hard to take. He is the closest blood relative
one ever has--closer than your mother and father--so, losing
your brother is next to losing yourself. Do you weep for him?
Our commonality as human beings is plain to see at this time,
thanks to photojournalists like yourself. Governments try to
prevent us from seeing the awfulness of their regimes, whether
in peace or war, but sometimes when we are lucky enough to get
the real picture it is most powerful.
You only need to look in your newspaper for recent AP photos
showing the grief on the faces of mothers who have lost a child
to senseless bombing in Baghdad, Iraq. They resonate with me
every time the Sacramento Bee's Photo Editor gets them in print.
The expression, "I feel your pain" just about says
During a lifetime of reading newspapers, watching newsreels,
and going to movies, I remember vividly pictures showing what
really happened. They are embedded in my memory bank forever.
For example, I cannot forget the newsreel in l938 showing Nazi
police manhandling a Jewish family on the streets of Berlin.
A mother, father, and two tiny children are pictured being grabbed
and shoved about violently by SS police officers. The horror
and fear on the faces of one of the young girls being roughed
up will stay with me forever.
In my files I've saved a color photo taken at Arlington National
Cemetery in l991 after the first Gulf War. That was 15 years
ago. It pictured a young mother at the funeral of her husband,
a soldier killed somewhere in the Middle East sent there to fight
and die by President Bush the Elder.
This young widow is seated between her two young bewildered children,
her eyes downcast, her expression asking "why" as she
is handed a flag by a member of the honor guard. Who can answer
"why" to these victims, living and dead?
When I was younger my goal was to find the answer. The Pope and
Billy Graham have the answer for many. But, unfortunately, not
for me. No, I've wanted to go to a place as close to God as I
could get--perhaps a mountain top--and as a good journalist conduct
an interview, my main question being, "Why, why, why couldn't
you give them a little more time? Why let them die now?"
This is a typical American reaction, I guess, because most of
us in the USA have been raised as "can do" folks who
demand answers from our authorities. Who is the highest authority
if not God? Finding answers in the Christian and Jewish Bible
served our pioneer ancestors well as they endured and faced real
hardships while struggling to become free people in a free land.
But they, too, could not understand why, as Baptist Jimmy Carter
once said, "Life is unfair."
When my Roman Catholic brother Wallace Greb's fight for life
went the full 15 rounds, I saw the end of a quiet but courageous
man. Although he, too, was a cigarette smoker he quit earlier
than most of us and escaped the scourge of lung cancer.
Instead he suffered a total loss of his kidney function at the
age of 67 and through force of will managed to stay alive till
he was 77 years old by self-administering dialysis treatments
six times daily at home. In addition to losing kidney function
my brother suffered several heart attacks and came close to dying
each time, had he not been rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital
and gotten excellent care by quick-acting specialists.
Is it any wonder that my brother--a San Jose State graduate in
mechanical engineering --finally figured out with that slide-rule-brain
of his when his time had finally come? Dr. Kevorkian was not
needed in my brother's case, because he was in charge of himself.
On October 2, 2002, Wallace elected to go. He decided that for
himself and did it legally outside of Oregon. He told his wife
and son, "It's no use living this way any longer. Pull the
tubes and let me go," which is what they or the doctors
We all miss him deeply. We have our memories, photographs, and
stories to tell each other. I would give anything to talk to
him by phone in his bedroom again and trade memories of "the
good old days" when we were boys together growing up in
Oakland. When I go to the telephone these days there are fewer
and fewer people from the past I can call.
Fortunately I did some tape recordings of conversations with
Wallace on the phone when he was alive and made copies for his
widow and son. But four years after his departure they don't
dare listen to him, telling me, "We can't just yet. It's
too painful to hear his voice and realize we can't bring him
There's an old German expression--"Ve get too zoon alt
und too late schmart." Well, I am definitely old at
age 85 but where is the smart Ive been waiting
for? Unfortunately, Old Father Time has not improved me very
much in that department after all these long years.
Still seeking the answer, I'm trying very hard to keep in shape
to climb a mountain and conduct an exclusive interview with God.
You're cordially invited to join me at our two-story chalet at
Mt. Shasta anytime and let me show you our famous snow-covered
mountain from our living room window. I can loan you a spyglass
to bring things up close and help point out the route we need
to follow to reach the pinnacle of that 14,162-foot snow-covered
My search for an answer seems to be an eternal quest. Its
a Million Dollar Quiz Show on a channel of its own, which brings
me to my latest theory: If, as they say, God is Intelligent Design,
then its only logical to assume that what he created must
have come about because He/She/It got extremely bored and needed
something exceedingly entertaining to occupy its Supreme Mind.
Thus God needed something to observe like a TV soap opera for
a diversion. After all, why should God have all the care and
responsibility of creating things and not have fun and games?
But how many programs would this Supreme Being really need? For
me right now the answer is obvious. Each one of us is in a show
like the one starring Jim Carrey in the movie, "The Truman
But our Chief Viewer certainly must have more than one, 100,
or even 1000 channels with interesting programs. God needs a
channel for every human on earth, which at last count comes to
around seven billion people. If we could watch each of these
Super Stations ourselves, we would witness human comedy, tragedy,
adventure, murder, religion, quiz shows, music, Las Vegas Poker,
gambling, pornography, etc.
A deep thinker who got it right was the playwright Shakespeare
when he said, "All the world is a stage and we are but players
in it." When my time comes I've asked my wife Darlene to
erect a marble tombstone with a simple inscription showing how
long my show on earth ran and what it was about.
It should say something like this:
"GORDON GREB (1921 --XXXX). He Was a Mensch"
P.S. If you don't know the meaning of "mensch,"
look it up in a good dictionary.
©2006 by Gordon Greb. The photo is
the property of the author. All rights reserved. This column
first posted Sept. 25, 2006.
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