Spiritual Handholds on Life

Fagg, Fred D. (Fred Dow)


  • Fred Fagg recalls a moment when his life was saved by a handhold at the edge of a cliff and uses this story to explain the importance of his own "spiritual handholds."
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And now, This I Believe, the living philosophies of thoughtful men and women, presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. This is the Air Age: a time of breathless and, I’m afraid, often aimless motion. Dr. Fred Dow Fagg, president of the University of Southern California, is a leader in the field of aviation, as well as in education. But he has kept his feet on the very firm ground of the principles he now states.
The view of the High Sierra lake, nestled in the snow and rock slightly below the timberland, was
beautiful from my vantage point, some 500 feet above its shimmering surface. I was anxious to rejoin my companions and try the fishing before the afternoon shadows, edging out from the surrounding array of peaks, entirely covered the lake. Just a short distance beyond the intervening shale, the trail zigzagged down to the valley. I disliked the thought of returning by the long tedious trail I had ascended and decided to chance the shale, even though part of it lay above a sheer drop off of several hundred feet.
I started working my way over the loose rock with considerable caution and had covered about half the distance when I became aware of a slight, but persistent, yielding of the shale under my feet.
Desperately, I looked for something that would offer support and lurched forward to grasp a slight outcropping of solid rock just as the surface shale underfoot, loosened from its foundation by the warm noonday sun, cascaded downward and disappeared over the cliff. Several seconds passed before I heard it rattle into the lake. Finally, after due consideration of the folly of shortcuts, I managed to move from handhold to handhold and at last pulled myself to the trail by the aid of a dwarf juniper root.
I have forgotten how many trout I caught that afternoon, but I have not forgotten the value of a handhold. Handholds are needed, also, during the course of everyday life. They provide security when the things we depend on seem to be slipping out from under us. What are the spiritual handholds I have
found to be of most value? First, the teachings of the humble carpenter of Nazareth, for their insistence on the supreme worth of the individual; for their stressing of the significance of sympathetic understanding; and for their unsurpassed evidence of dauntless faith.
Second, the conviction that while every person should delight in making a courageous and self-reliant effort to live up to his capabilities, there are wellsprings of power outside himself that can be tapped if he will but avail himself of them. Third, that the nature of this world and of the people in it is determined more by our individual vision, understanding, and conduct, than by any material, environmental factors, and that, in other words, nothing will produce the good world but the good man.
These are the principle spiritual handholds I have found to possess enduring value. They offer both an exciting challenge and a calm assurance. They are the things I believe.
That was Dr. Fred Dow Fagg, the University of Southern California’s flying president. Father of two and an internationally-known expert on aeronautical law, Dr. Fagg is one of California’s leading citizens, and one who, we’d say, has a very strong grasp on reality.