Reflections from the Jetty

Grand Prize winner of the National Sagewriters Book Contest

“Above the salt mist and early morning fog rise the cragged rocks of the jetty sheltering Manasquan Inlet from the interminable onslaught of wind and wave. Filtered through the imagination of my young mind, they beckon me like the echoes of Mt. Everest calling out to Sir Edmund Hillary. Here, unfathomable forces constantly sculpt and reshape the forbidding landscape of granite, basalt and sandstone. Here, on many an early Saturday morning of my youth, I sought reprieve from the tedium of an unproductive day of fishing for blackfish and fluke by climbing and exploring rock formations and caves created by the random deposit of tons of stones. A summer of expeditions to the jetties had chiseled in my mind the location of each and every crevice and cave, peak and valley in the three hundred foot long peninsula

“To the eye of an eight-year-old, a ten-ton stone appears as immovable as the Rock of Gibraltar. So it was with awe and wonder that I would return each spring to the jetties, only to find the familiar, intricate pattern of paths, fissures and elf-sized grottoes wiped away. Victim to the ravishes of a March Nor’easter, it seemed as if Neptune himself had risen from the sea’s depths and scattered the stone behemoths, like marbles on the sand. Indeed, I came to know early in my life the power and grandeur of the natural world and of the forces that could mold and carve it, with no more apparent effort than that expended by a sculptor shaping his clay. And with that awareness came the boundless curiosity and unquenchable questioning of youth.” (Chapter 1 — Reflections from the Jetty)

With this passage as prologue, the author paints a visual tableau as backdrop for stories of his youth and lessons learned on his way to becoming a humanist. Reason and an understanding of ethics born of human experience, not supernatural dictum, become, in Reflections from the Jetty, the tools the author challenges you to use as you confront, critically examine and ultimately shed the beliefs and attitudes shackling you to an unhappy and unfulfilled life.

Unlike the popular “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series and other self-help books that rely upon man’s connection to a higher being, Reflections from the Jetty asks you to renounce the crutch offered by faith — and its implied suggestion that we are nothing without Divine grace — in order to assert and reclaim your own humanity on human terms.

Reflections from the Jetty offers you a peek behind Oz’s curtain, where you will see that many of the assumptions governing modern life and how we treat each other, are chimera, illusions built up over centuries of accumulated, misguided thought. Learning about the nature of belief, its origins, why it remains so powerful today, and how it impacts us, you will discover the liberating force of reason, freethought and experience-grounded ethics as expressed in the philosophies of humanism and naturalism.

No dry epistemological treatise, however, Reflections from the Jetty introduces core elements of reason and humanist ethics through stories and anecdotes drawn largely from the author’s experience of growing up along the New Jersey shore. Each chapter begins with a brief account from the author’s life that illustrates the point of the chapter. Then, the author weaves examples of daily life into the rest of the chapter linking the ideas expressed to real life consequences.

After guiding you through an examination of your personal belief systems, Reflections from the Jetty introduces humanism and naturalism, the concept of personal responsibility and morality within a naturalistic framework, and a model of living that has been called “Good Will.” The author explains how the “Good Will” model can guide our personal conduct based on a system of ethics not dictated by Providence, challenging the common perception that there can be no morality without God.

Reflections from the Jetty then offers some practical guidance as to how humanism can fill our spiritual needs, what is means to live a “good life,” how to understand and manage our emotional lives and how to deal with irrationality that assaults us from all sides on a daily basis. In these chapters, readers see how the tools introduced earlier in the book can be used to confront and solve contemporary problems. Reflections from the Jetty ends with a very personal chapter exploring the end of life, and how one humanist, the author, confronted the loss of one he loved, without the false comfort of a supernatural belief in the after-life or spiritual immortality.

Thus, Reflections from the Jetty seeks to inspire readers to live for the here and now, the life we enjoy on earth, and not in pursuit of happiness in a next life that may never come. Such a life is not to be lived hedonistically, but in balance, and with profound respect for the right of others to pursue happiness in ways that are gratifying for them. And Reflections from the Jetty suggests to readers that living life is an active, not passive endeavor. Contrary to the mantra of the ’60s, our quest in life is not to find ourselves, to seek out our purpose in life, or discover our fate or destiny. Rather, our task is to create purpose in our lives, and to construct for ourselves a destiny that fulfills and satisfies us, and which, by permitting us to reclaim our humanity, joins us to humanity in a way that diminishes to insignificance the racial, ethnic, religious, nationalistic distinctions we so revere today.

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