Spring Forward

Cassandra

On one Sunday each November, I am granted an extra hour to find all the clocks I lost an hour to in early March, so that I may set them straight.  And each year I uncover one rebellious clock behind a sofa or a watch hiding in the lint of a pocket that refused to give up its precious hour one cold March night.  All of which leaves me to ponder that it knew, all summer long an hour before me, where I left my glasses or that I would slip on the dog’s toy and break my arm, and that it had been mute to help.  But then I recall that persistent alarm from a clock I could never find, and I wonder.  And so each Fall, I put that clock back in its place, hoping I might just listen this time. 

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The Day the Music…

I was four years old when Buddy Holly died, sixty years ago today. As the press will repeat at length, he had chartered a small plane to take him from a improptu show in Clear Lake, Iowa to Minnesota for the next day’s show.

Holly was not the pilot but had learned to fly himself and had also taken up motorcycling. He seemed to embody the sense of immortality that seems to come with being young, though he was farsighted enough to plan a recording studio to make a living when his recording career wound down, as he expected. It seems that he wondered if his music would last.

The weather that night was poor and the pilot was not certified for the conditions. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff, but was not located until the next morning.

There are various stories as to how Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson joined Holly on the ill-fated flight. One involved a coin flip, while another has it that when Waylon Jennings, a then Crickets member, was left out, he told Holly he hoped the plane would crash. Whatever the truth, the new genre of Rock and Roll and its young fans suffered a great loss that night.

Don McLean’s anthem, American Pie, centered on Holly’s death, describing it as “the day the music died.” The irony though is that Holly’s music never died and, in fact, is still fresh and alive after a lifetime. Indeed, it has preserved his memory for a generation and more. Perhaps Rock and Roll will never die.

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The day of his death was a dark cold day.

The Irish hold their poets dear, and today is a day for remembrance in Ireland, for William Butler Yeats died 80 years ago today.

Yeats was many things beyond being a Nobel Laureate for his poetry, which Wikipedia relates in detail.  Still it is for his poems, which remained formal even as others took to other forms that he is best remembered.

He was, although protestant – if agnostic, and an Irish Nationalist, if more concerned with culture than politics. He was indeed a patron of Irish theater and of Irish literature.

To many who do not know his writings well, Yeats is yet known for his unrequited love for Maud Gonne, who rejected his proposals again and again. There is in many of us an admiration for one who has had an unrequited love for a muse, even if something we’ve not experienced. Petrarch, before Yeats, penned his sonnets for his beloved Laura. Poetic in its essence.

W.H. Auden, an admirer of Yeats, wrote his homage to the man, which in its way rivals Whitman’s grieving O Captain! My Captain! elegy for Abraham Lincoln.

I would add here Auden’s closing, but perhaps it is best to read yourself.

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An Historical Footnote

Anthony Trollope, if you don’t know, was a Victorian era novelist who was less than successful in other pursuits, including practising law, because of a somewhat bad temper.  The author of 47 novels and other works, he ironically earned a reputation for a comic bent, which is still appreciated by critics and readers today.  Perhaps fittingly, his best novel, The Way We Live Now, was a satire. It was published in serial form and told of greed that let to financial scandals of the era.

 

Trollope died on this day in 1882 of a stroke after reading the comic novel Vice Versa by a contemporary, F. Antsey.  It was said that the stroke was brought on by a “fit of giggles.”  If there is any truth to the story, then he literally died laughing, a distinguishing footnote that he shares with Cleopatra and a few others.

 

Perhaps there is a joke somewhere in this anecdote, but it might be a stretch to include it here.  Suffice it to say, that if you must die, Trollope chose the best way to go.

 

 

 

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Mitzvah

Mitzvah

“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

Augustine

 

Seated in Atlanta’s Temple for the Bar Mitzvah

of the son of a friend,

my eyes wander in search of scars

from its bombing now sixty years gone by.*

 

While her son, who in a moment will be a man,

reads in Hebrew of the rivalry between Jacob and Esau –

the Jacob who became Israel and fathered the twelve tribes,

 

I note that Germany’s Kristallnacht

terror began on this day,

some eighty years now passed.

 

As the Rabbi stands to speak

Of the future of promise for this child-man,

 

I recall that his Bar Mitzvah long ago

was held in the Pittsburgh synagogue

where a dozen were killed by a shooter,

one for each tribe, only a dozen days now gone.

 

I do not belong to this temple, to any other,

nor even to the children of Abraham.

But sitting here in a place

choosing to look forward and not back,

in a world darkened by sibling spite

hope is still a flickering candle,

a child becomes a man,

and of such small promise

all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

 

*The story of The Temple Bombing is chronicled in the excellent book of the same name by Melissa Fay Green.

 

 

 

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Mirrors in Memories

Fifty years ago today, two black American athletes, Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos, raised black-gloved fists on the medal stand at the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympic Games.  They had taken gold and bronze respectively in the 200 meters and wished to make a statement against racial inequality in South Africa, Rhodesia and the United States.  A raised black gloved fist was a symbol for the Black Power movement in the US.  According to the story they told, they shared the one pair of gloves they had between them, one raising his right hand and the other the left.

Both men were American track competitors, each with significant records in the event from prior meets.  They were also members of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, a recognized but ineffecual organization permitted by the Olympic Committee.  The silver medalist, Peter Norman from Australia, also wore the insignia of the organization and supported their protest.

Avery Brundage, the American head of the IOC, dismissed Smith and Carlos from the American team, declaring their actions political and not in the spirit of the Games.  (Brundage had approved the Nazi salute at the 1938 games.)  The careers of Smith, Carlos and even Norman suffered for their stands, but their connection and committment remained firm.  Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at Norman’s funeral in 2006.  In 2008, Smith was awarded the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage by ESPN.  Carlos went on to work for the host committee of the 1084 Los Angeles Games.

In subsequent years, other arguably more offensive acts – burning draft cards and even burning the flag – were ruled protected speech by the courts, though it may be worth noting that both were largely acts by white Americans.   And yet, in 2018 a quality black NFL quarterback who chose to kneel during the National Anthem cannot find a team that will employ him.  Colin Kaepernick and others like him are ostrasized for protesting racial injustices that remain with us today.

I find it hard to know what to say.  In 1968, I thought that my generation of Americans would be different.  We would offer opportunity to all and would accept, if not honor, the right to protest.  I know that many do, but the roar of disapproval from those I hoped would be wiser is as loud as I recall from my youth.  What’s more, not only the same examples of police and public brutality continue, but the disparity between those who have wealth and those that live day-to-day has grown enormously.

We may never cure racial wrongs, but until then, we must never silence the last acts of protest.

 

 

 

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If You Knew Peggy Sue

Amid all the noise the pretends to be news, I learned today that Peggy Sue has passed from this life.  Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham, still of Buddy Holly’s Lubbock, Texas, died Monday at 78.

According to Wikipedia and Peggy Sue’s memoir, Peggy Sue had broken up with the Crickets’ drummer, Jerry Allison, shortly before Holly and Allison wrote her song.  To coax her back, Allison changed the lyrics from Cindy Lou, Holly’s niece, to Peggy Sue.  The two were later married, if only for a time.

The song, with its simple lyrics and the infectious beat that brought Holly instant fame, became a hit in 1957, the year that Buddy Holly and his music leaped into the national spotlight.  A year later, he wrote and recorded a demo of a pensive sequel, “Peggy Sue Got Married.”  It was later produced, released and also became a hit.

Buddy Holly and the music died on February 3, 1959, in a plane crash near Cedar Lake, Iowa.  The fate of a coin flip had Richie Valens on the plane as well.  Waylon Jennings, Holly’s then bassist, gave up his seat to the Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson.

Peggy Sue was the girl, Holly wrote, “in nearly every song.”  She inspired the Kathleen Turner film, “Peggy Sue Got Married” that featured the comical over-acting of Nicholas Cage.  There was something about Peggy Sue that we could not let die.  She was from a time when we thought the world made sense and when love was simply true, whether wishful or wistful.

Only now the muse, Peggy Sue, has died.  We are left with a song, a memory and a wish that Buddy Holly could write just one more song.

If you knew Peggy Sue
Then you’d know why I feel blue without Peggy
My Peggy Sue

 

 

 

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The Whole World’s Watching

Reflecting back on history associated with this week offers an odd and troubling perspective for our times.  Fifty-five years ago, Martin Luther King delivered his  “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  It was a moment of triumph for him and hope for millions who followed him.  Five years later, he was assassinated.

It was also fifty years ago that we saw the unrest of a generation gathered at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.  The New York Times published a thoughtful retrospective on this event this week that is well worth reading.  These events were part of a year of unrest across much of the world.

I remember watching Walter Cronkite report, in a remarkably evenhanded way, on the tumult both within and outside the convention.  The protesters, buoyed by the protests in Europe and beyond and angered by the tragic and misguided war in Vietnam, had placed their hopes on the candidacy of George McGovern.  Salon has an excellent article on the convention that focuses on the experiences of Hunter S. Thompson as a journalist there.  Their efforts, however, had fallen far short of gaining him the nomination.  Had Robert Kennedy, who was an earlier icon of change, lived the convention’s results – and history might have been different.

I was 14 in 1968 and was discomforted over the events in Chicago that year.  I appreciated the need for order to allow the democratic process to operate.  At the same time, I appreciated the spirit and purpose of those calling for reform.  It was a muddy and polarized time, and perhaps I too reflected the fact.

Sadly and perhaps in reaction to the unrest of the time, we saw the return and rise of Richard Nixon, a cynical and tormented opportunist who perpetuated the war and broke the law to maintain his personal interest.  Today in a similarly polarizing time a similar, and almost certainly worse, demagogue sits in the White House.

What seems odd in comparing 1968 to today is that much of the extremism in our present time now comes from those who claim to be from the right, rather than the left.  Some of these, who are of my generation, once shared the ideals of the 1968 protestors, but have grown to resent being left behind economically.  Many have even been willing to support the political party of the wealthy, effectively cutting off their own wellbeing to spite their fate.

Chicago today sheds more lives in a weekend than most of the riots of 1968.  These, no doubt, are partly the result of residents who no longer believe in a better future.  What is sadder still is that the rest of us seem to have grown so numb from it all that we accept the violence as normal.

After the fall of Nixon and the end of the war, the nation seemed exhausted and settled into a quieter time, or so it seemed to me.  My generation began to marry and do traditional things, like have children and a career.  I read recently that Millennials now outnumber Baby Boomers.  As we fade away, perhaps the discord we have sown will as well, and our children will find a better path than the set of extremes that have marked our time.

 

 

 

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Perhaps They Have (Something of) a Point

Traditional conservatives have been skeptical of the ability of government to solve society’s problems, or at least to do so efficiently.  This is to distinguish them from those conservatives today who define truth as what they believe or that is in their perceived personal interest.  An example of the latter is surely the author of the recent meme, “truth isn’t truth,” who is no doubt the heir to either Pontius Pilate or Yogi Bera.

Those conservatives I am thinking of are more in the tradition of pragmatists, like Edmund Burke, Milton Friedman, and Russell Kirk.  It is hard to think of any present day examples to add to this list.  I suspect they still exist, but have been silenced or shamed by those who define right by their own short-term self-interest.

I have been thinking recently about the implications of all three branches of our Federal Government being in the control of persons more conservative (by either old or current definitions) than the substantial majority of the country.  The New York Times recently looked at the same trend in the context of the Supreme Court.  Although the press and predictors suggest that the House of Representatives may turn toward the left in the coming election, the Senate and other branches of government are not apt to change materially.

Many of my more liberal friends despair over calls within the government to end welfare, privatize schools, and eliminate other services long seen as properly within the role of government.  They also fear bans on abortions, gun controls and deregulation of many industries.  While those currently in power have shown their inability to accomplish many of their goals, my friends’ concerns are legitimate, and I too share them.

For most of human history, people lived in a larger family unit and cared for each other’s needs.  There was no government to provide services other than perhaps the common defense against enemies.  Beginning with the Industrial Revolution, individuals moved en masse to urban areas, lost the society of their families, and with it their social safety net.

In its place and because of prevailing government policies that promoted the growth of business over the individual, private charities were formed to provide care for those in need.  Tellingly, some of these organizations still exist today.  The economic collapse of the Great Depression put so many in poverty that even traditional conservatives acknowledged the need for government to supplement the work of charities and even families in some extreme cases.

All this is my own sense of history, and there is plenty of room to disagree.  What I want to suggest, however, is that those of us who care and feel a duty toward the less fortunate may have come to rely too much on our government and not enough on our own ability in caring for others.  The National Philanthropic Trust has a history of giving that provides a useful context.  If you look back at our own history, charitable giving has grown in times of need and in which we have had a greater awareness of need. Above is a chart of the Depression era and the trends in recent decades have also shown increases, though there have been increasingly fewer donors who have given greater amounts.

If we truly care about others and if the government is unwilling or unable to provide or protect, perhaps action and not despair is called for.  A great deal could be accomplished if we took our personal tax savings from the recent tax cut (a rather small amount for most, but a great deal for a few) and donated it to the charity of our choice.  Hands-on service can be of even greater value.  I’ve tried to do both this year, but I should be doing more because the need is there and our government is not.

In time political change can occur, but until – and perhaps even – then, charity is needed.  By any measure we are the most giving people in the world and have been since de Tocqueville wrote of it generations ago.

Perhaps change does begin with me.

 

 

 

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Happiness is a Warm Puppy

A classmate in college wrote a book while a student.  I was quite impressed, since I did my best to avoid courses where even term papers were required.  I haven’t kept up with him, but the first line of his book stayed with me, “Times are hard, but then times are always hard.”  It had a Dickensian ring to it, and also the air of truth.  Times are, indeed, always hard in some way or another.

Too often, when I set out to write, my subject is a reflection on troubles.  There are many to choose from, but fortunately, they are not all there is to life.  Beauty, hope, and even joy can be found beyond the shrill drone of cable news, the daily commute, and the many things that occupy more space and time in our lives than they deserve.

Yesterday, a grandchild came to visit for a time.  He learned to use scissors (sorry Mom) and shared the joys of dinosaurs, stencils and eating sprinkles off the sides of a pop cycle.  This morning the neighbors’ child proudly announced, as he bounced to the car, that today was his first day of Pre K.

For our own part, we have added a new puppy to our home.  She is a Golden Doodle mix, which makes her a Goodle, Google, Pootriever, or just simply cute.  At eight weeks and three pounds, she has quickly become the center of attention and activity.  She may believe her name is No!, Stop That!, Not Again!, or Trouble (as in here comes…), but her curious innocence usually carries the day for her.

At rest, when not in someone’s lap, she sleeps on our now-older dog’s tail.  The elder was a bit at sea after her sister died some months ago. She seems to appreciate the new company and even keeps a motherly watch over her a bit. It is a testament to the unique evolution of dogs that they can adapt almost instantly to a new household, carving a place for themselves and achieving acceptance by innate skills that humans often lack.  Dogs even house train more quickly than children, though this particular dog hasn’t caught on quite yet.

Happiness is hard to define and often too brief to notice.  When it is there, you don’t stop to recognize, much less reflect, on it.  You can see it in others and share in their moment.  A puppy lives in an almost constant state of happiness, and as with happy others, it is contagious.  Something to think about.

The times are whatever they are, but Charles Schultz captured the word best when wrote, “Happiness is a warm puppy.”

 

 

 

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The Last Word

After all is said and done, more is said than done.

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