Sunday, January 31, 2010

Looking Forward as well as Backward

"Thus I ended this month with the greatest
joy that ever I did any in my life, because

I have spent the greater part of it with abundance

of joy and humor, and pleasant journeys, and brave

entertainments, and without cost of money..."

The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 1661

So now, like Pepys I end the month with great joy. Like him I have spent the greater part of it with humor and pleasant journeys, and brave entertainments and some of this costs a bundle so I part ways with Pepys there. I endured the blizzard of '10, remembered January is named after the Roman god Janus who with his 2 faces looks forward as well as backward. I tried to enrich the friendships I have across 3 continents but especially nearby. I celebrated the great Arcangelo Correlli (1653-1713) who filled the world with music and once led an orchestra of 150 violins, experimented with recipes in an international cookbook given me by Amy, fell down on the ice, sang Auld Lange Syne to myself, saw a play, read books, watched "Don Giovanni" on the VCR for the 10th time, kept faithful to the devotional readings of the yearly liturgical calendar and “ thus ended the month with the greatest joy that ever I did any in my life.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An S is an S is an...

On one of the worst nights of all the worst nights of the Iwo Jima campaign I fell into a shell hole saturated with the cold rain. In a moment, from out of the darkness, another Marine fell into the hole beside me. In the next few minutes no less than three other Marines took refuge in the hole. In the cold and darkness and steady rain the five of us fitted our bodies together and tried to sleep. We were a human 'S' of bodies, when one turned we all turned. We knew nothing about the 4 others beside us, but in our compactness, we gave warmth and comfort to one another. All this was done without a word being spoken.

"Why," asked the Confederate general James Longstreet during the Civil War, "do men fight when they are meant to be brothers?" I wonder that myself. Some of the worst verbal battles I've seen in my life have been in church meetings. A clergy friend of mine knocked a board member to the floor. Catholics and Protestants in colonial New England, having both found freedom in the new world, proceeded to try to deny that freedom to each other. Husbands and wives, having promised to love and cherish one another, kill one another.

One day, when I was a child, I heard, and probably saw, my first radio. I was told the voices coming from the set were from little men inside. I believed it! My knowledge now enlarged by years and experience tells me the voices I hear come not from the outside but from the inside and that if we are ever to rise above our worst natures we will learn better how to listen to our best natures. This may well consist of not making asses out of ourselves with others but rather making "S's" with them.

I tell you for a truth, an "S" in a shell hole can be amazingly warm and life giving.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise...

I'd rather be a Could-be if I cannot be an Are

Because a Could-be is a maybe reaching for a star-

I'd rather be a Has-been than a Might-have-been by far

For a Might-have-been has never been

But a Has was once an Are.

Good for you, Milton Berle, good for you!!!! in reminding us that the quality of our lives is often a result of what we tried to do and failed more than in what we did successfully. I think that so many of the things I risked in the past now are some of my greatest joys and precious memories. The barriers you and I set up enclosing us are usually self made. "I could never do that," "I would never do that," "What if I fail?", "I'm too old," "Wait until I'm retired," What will the neighbors say?, Better be safe than sorry."

I don't think so and I'd never be dumb enough to say that to Raold Amundsen or Ernest Shackleton or Lucretia Mott or John Glenn or Florence Nightingale or Marie Curie or Sacajawea or... I dare you to endure the scorn and laughter that was heaped on Antonie van Leeuwenhoek when he risked his professional life by declaring diseases were caused by microscopic life forms and not by 'vapors.' Tell the Sherpa guide Norgay not to be the first man to scale Everest because it's too high. I dare you! I dare you to tell Christ to quit making a fool of himself and come down from that cross. I dare you!

The quicker we are to adventure to the east the sooner we see the sunrise.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Goodbye to All That in the New Year

Robert Graves in his autobiography, published in 1930, uses the phrase, "Goodbye to all that" to describe some of his feelings about 'The Great War.' Goodbye to all that seems like as good a theme as any other I know through which we can launch ourselves into the new year. Goodbye to all that is a taking leave of, a putting away, a dropping off, a departure. We move from North Dakota to Miami, that's saying goodbye to cold winters. We move from Miami to Seattle, that's saying goodbye to summer heat and humidity. We take old clothes to Goodwill, we throw away the bandages after laser eye surgery, we "bid a fond adieu" to loved ones at funerals. Goodbye to all that can be a grieving, a thanksgiving, a "remembrance of things past" (Proust).

It can also mean liberation from that past, ("Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, free at last!" MLK). It can mean a new direction for our attitudes, new determination in the face of our faults and weaknesses, ("Never give up, never give up, just never, never, never give up" Jim Valvano of NC State Univ., dying of cancer), and most of all it can mean a cleansing, "Wash me and I Shall be Whiter than Snow." The big and little guilts we carry, the regrets, the sense of something not complete about our lives, is grist for the” goodbye to all that” mill. The New Year is as good a time as any to say goodbye, to put away, to chuck it, to cast it off. Like Robert Graves such a conscious decision to not let the past bog us down in self pity or mindless indecision is like listening to a melody that unchains us. It is like plunging into the waters of the Pool of Bethesda (John 5: 1-9) from which we emerge, free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, free at last!