When I was young, my mother's father used to read me a poem by the English poet, Leigh Hunt, entitled "Abou Ben Adhem." The poem narrates the story of Abu Ben Adhem, who wakes up one night "from a deep sleep of peace" to find "An Angel writing in a book of gold." Emboldened by the "exceeding peace" of the setting, he asks the angel what he is writing. The angel tells him that he is making a list of those who love the Lord. Abu asks whether his name is on the list. He's told that it is not. In that case, says the self-effacing hero of our poem, write my name down as one who loves his fellow men.

Later, my father read the poem to me as well. He, like my grandfather was a mathematician by profession, but an autodidact as far as English literature is concerned,...

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