11 April 2017

On Disappointment And Acceptance

Inheriting The Wind

As I wrote earlier tonight, Maria and I were excited to be going to Williamstown to see Spencer Tracy in the movie "Inherit The Wind," she was taking me out as a gift because the movie was so important to me when I was  young. Maria is a sweet and loving human being, she was very excited to be going to this movie with me, she even figured out the popcorn and ginger cookie we would be eating.

She wanted to see the movie on a big screen with me in a dark theater, she had been talking about it for weeks. It was as thoughtful a gift as anyone could give me, Inherit The Wind is as timely today as it was when I first saw it more than a half-century ago.

We are still inheriting the wind every single day. All along the movie, I must have bored Maria talking about the film, about Clarence Darrow, about my trips all over the Northeast to see it again and again, about how it shaped my views of justice and reason and freedom. Before the movie, we took a walk, Maria bought a dress on sale for $20, I got some toys for Robin, and then we went to a Thai restaurant and we both talked about the movie and the issues it raised, and how timely they remain.

it was a sweet time, we were both filled with anticipation about the movie.

Then we walked over to the theater and Maria discovered she got the date wrong. The movie was shown last night, and there were no plans to show it again. Maria was so disappointed. Me too. I got out the phone, called up  my Google Map, searched for yoghurt places still open and found one in Bennington, about 20 minutes way from where we were sitting.

We had to rush to get there in time, we needed a win.

We got there just before it closed at 7 p.m., we talked on the way and at the yoghurt place about disappointment, and how we each handled it. We talked to the very nice young man at the counter about life in the Trump era.

When we walked into the empty lobby and the lonely cashier seemed puzzled to see us, we both just knew.  She had planned this as a special gift for me, to bring me back to something that was so important to me. She just read the calendar wrong.

I got onto Amazon with my phone and found the movie for sale as a DVD and ordered it for Thursday. We will watch the movie at home, not in a darkened theater with a big screen but on our living room couch. I said I would rub her feet and buy her cookies.

But by the time we got to the yoghurt, she had rebounded and we were kidding each other about brooding.

In my six decades of life, I have learned a lot about disappointment and how to deal with it.  Those are important lessons.

Most people  seem stunned at the way life works, we sometimes expect life to be perfect.  I think I know better. I like being older, I actually know something about life, despite my life-long efforts to avoid learning about it.

I was in therapy for nearly 30 years, and am just beginning to understand myself and accept myself. When I became a writer, I had a system for dealing with rejection and it's cousin, disappointment. I could brood for two days when a lesser magazine piece was rejected, a week for a major magazine piece, and 10 days for a book rejection. There were lots of both.

I gave myself a day for a bad review, and an hour for an empty reading, and there were  many.

There is much rejection and disappointment built into the creative life, and I learned to either handle it or go and do something else. But I will not speak poorly of my life.

I am a writer, I was born one and will die as one. In some ways, I have found peace because i  have always been dissatisfied and unhappy. But my moments of despair and anguish have turned out be gifts, not tragedies, renewals, not losses, new beginnings, not endings. From the movie to yoghurt with crushed peanuts in 17 minutes, that's how it works. Turns out they had decided to stay open an extra hour, because it was warm.

Maria and I decided to give our disappointment tonight about 15 minutes, but it didn't last quite that long, we were laughing at one another about screwing dates up in less than ten minutes.

We had a lovely walk in Williamstown, we talked easily for a couple of hours, I got some fun things for Robin, including "chew beads," and we discovered a good yoghurt place we will revisit.

I am as grateful to Maria for thinking of this loving thing as I would have been for seeing it, which we will do on Thursday. Not much to be disappointed about.

I am grateful to be reminded of this movie and the very powerful impact it had on me when I first saw it as a teenager. Clarence Darrow was my hero for many years, and he still is my hero in many ways. He always fought for the things I believe in, and he inspired to never forget the afflicted in my life or work, and to try and fight for them.

As I wrote before, I have come to see who I am in recent years. I am a man who simply accepts life, the reality of it, not the fantasies and yearnings about it. I accept who I am, not who I wish I was or who others wished I was. My life at long last is grounded in in the search for truth, grace, mercy and the realization of the "new" life, a life of rebirth and renewal.

My life grows in this way, in mystery entwined with paradox and contradiction, centered on the always creative search to be a good person at peace with himself and with love in his life. I am getting there.

It is not required or accepted that everyone like me or accept me, it is essential that I like and accept me. I am learning how to let life alone.

Disappointment is as natural to life as is death and suffering, if I can't handle it, how can I live my life? I am not surprised by death or disappointment or suffering any longer, I don't rail about it and dwell on it. It is part of being alive.

Maria and I have encountered countless large disappointments in our lives, and we know better than to waste too much time on the small ones, like hitting a movie on the wrong night. Still, it is more painful to lose a gift for someone else than for yourself. I respect that her sadness was  real, she was entitled to it.

The intention is just as good as the gift for me. Life is a magical carousel for me, it just keeps coming round and round, and sometimes it moves so quickly it makes you dizzy, and sometimes, moving up and down on a beautiful wooden horse, you are climbing to the top of the world.

Thursday night, the gift will come to pass. We will see Inherit the Wind together in our own home, with our own dogs and popcorn and cookie. I will see what it still means to me.

I'll even turn the lights out so the room will be dark.

Posted in General

Tonight, Inherit The Wind

Inherit The WInd

 

Karl Marx once said that history always repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. America has always liked to think of itself as one country, united by unassailable truths, but in fact it has always been two countries, split almost down the middle by a rural and an urban way of looking at the world, values versus change, science versus blind faith.

If you read history, you know that the polarization that has nearly paralyzed the American government is not new at all, but another struggle in the country's long and very painful efforts to define itself in  peaceful ways. This has sometimes been possible and sometimes not, but the Republic has always survived.

The son of Russian and European Jews, my family always worshipped the idea of education and science and revered a country free of the often murderous  religious dogma that has shed so much blood in the world, and sheds blood still.

Jews know only too  well what the faithful can do when their beliefs are challenged.

Some struggles just never seem to got away, and today we are fighting them more bitterly than ever. It's as if we lurch back and forth between enlightenment and repression, the eternal tug of war for the soul of the world.

Tonight, Maria is giving me a gift, she is taking me to see the classic movie Inherit The Wind, playing at a theater in Williamstown, Massachusetts, about an hour away. It is a wonderful gift for me, Maria knows what an extraordinary impact this movie had on a troubled but idealist teenage boy adrift in Providence, R.I.

I know this script and the court testimony by heart, and have seen the movie many more times than I can count.  Inherit the Wind came out a lifetime ago, in 1960 when I was thirteen. It is based on an all too real a story,  a trial held in 1925 in a small midwestern trial that transfixed the country, it became the national battleground for the raging conflict that still goes on between people who believe in the scientific idea of evolution and people who follow the Bible in the most literal way.

The ACLU, then as always standing up to the abuse of government power, persuaded a young Dayton, Tennesse school teacher named John Scopes to defy a state law banning the teaching of Charles Darwin's Theory Of Evolution, a landmark work that changed the way the earth viewed the history of the human species, and horrified Christianity, by far the dominant faith in America.

Scopes taught Darwin in his classroom, was arrested and jailed. The ACLU asked  him to  represent Scopes and H.L. Mencken, the Baltimore journalist and iconoclast – he was outraged by the arrest – made it a national story, one that transfixed the country party through the new medium of radio.

The movie was prescient in its evocation of the continuing struggle between dogma and science that is so evident today in the fights over gay marriage, climate change and transgender rights. The issue is whether every word in the Bible stands as factual history or whether it is just another book written by brilliant theologians.

I can't to this day explain the impact this movie made on me, I took the bus to Boston, then New York City at least a dozen times by myself to go see it, my parents thought I was made. I read every book written about the trial, especially the colossal intellectual conflict between Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, who volunteered to prosecute Scopes.

I have so many memories of long bus rides, darkened theaters, I always went alone, I always had a small tub of popcorn with some butter. I will do that again tonight.

I could not, then or now, imagine the justification for jailing, demonizing or even killing people who are different. It seems to be a basic and fundamental human instinct. Thank God there are always Darrows around to stand and fight,  to protect science and freedom from ignorance and bigotry. But I think the lesson of Inherit The Wind is that I must accept that the fight will never really be over. Because of Darrow, I am never shocked to see that this is true, not in the past, not now.

The religious faithful flocked to Dayton to see the confrontation between Darrow, a brilliant and eloquent lawyer and Bryan, a national political figure who had once run for President. The evangelists who prosecuted Scopes came to see Darrow, reviled as a heretic and infidel, humiliated.

But the trial went the other way. Darrow (played by Spencer Tracy), perhaps one of the finest and most articulate legal minds in the country's history, devastated Bryan (Frederick March) in his cross-examination, which Bryan foolishly submitted to. The cross-examination was so piercing and humiliating that Bryan's heart gave out and he died two days later.

It was brutally hot in Dayton, and the struggle between these two giants, each at polar ends of the cultural and political spectrum had to be held outside of the courtroom it was so hot. I never imagined that this trial would be as relevant in 2017 as it was in 1925, or even 1960.

I have been a rabid follower of Clarence Darrow all of my life, he was an uncompromising defender of the downtrodden and persecuted, of the hated and despised. He defended murders, radical activists, bombers and African-Americans caught up in the brutality of the Deep South. He was a fearless intellectual who lived right off the grounds of the University of Chicago. He was often called a "lion" in court, but a lamb outside of it. He loved to read books and spend time with his patient wife Ruby.

Why did this movie have such an impact on me? I know now, but didn't then, that I felt oppressed and mistreated myself. I wanted to be Darrow, to stand up to the forces that had abused and persecuted me, my head was full of eloquent arguments that were never heard or listened to.

I have always identified with the John Scopes of the world, punished, jailed, even killed for their beliefs, even in a country that claimed it was free. Today, Darrow would be in a courtroom challenging the hateful assaults on Muslims and immigrants. He would draw hundreds of  reporters to the courtroom, as Darrow did, and touch the hearts and soul of the country with his eloquence and passion.

He was always on the side of the underdog, he always argued for mercy and compassion, for learning and human progress. In Dayton, Tennessee, he won a great courtroom victory over hatred and ignorance. But it didn't last for very long. Beliefs that seem ancient seem to have eternal life, they are never put aside to make room for learning or the evolution of knowledge. I don't think a movie made today would dare to challenge religious fundamentalism as directly as Inherit The Wind does.

I am eager to see if it touches and inspires me as deeply as it die when I was 13. It's a lovely gift from Maria to me. Either way, I'll let you know. It seems particularly relevant to me today.

Roger Ebert wrote of Inherit The WInd  that some ideas will always be rejected by those who judge a statement not by its content but by its source. That is precisely the argument between Darwinism and creationism. Inherit the Wind is ultimately a battle between those who believe, as Spencer Tracy said the movie, that "an idea is a greater monument than a cathedral."

I warned Maria that I would cry during the movie, and more than once. I will probably also speak along with the courtroom dialogue, I can recite it verbatim. I suppose if you are wondering why I am so deeply affected by the assaults on refugees and immigrants, I would have to say  you can blame Clarence Darrow.

Posted in General

Family Portrait: The Hens Have Good Boundaries

Portrait: The Hens

At one point, we were losing so many chickens to hawks and foxes we stopped naming them, and since we did that, we haven't lost a single one. These three fit in very well at the farm, they have good boundaries. I love having chickens around, I love the fresh eggs, I love their pompous clucking and strutting.

Otherwise, I have little to do with them other than to feed them and care for them well, even Maria doesn't spend too much time with them although she does bring them a steady stream of gourmet leftovers. In rain or hot sun, they hole up in the barn, looking important and glowering. They deserve a portrait, they do a great job of providing background here at the farm.

And one day soon, they will start laying eggs again. They stopped for the winter, but the days are getting longer.

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Fanny At The Feeder

Fanny At The Feeder

It feels like Spring, and perhaps the biggest marker of Spring is when the animals stop eating hay and go out to graze. The sun is warm again today and there was plenty of rain, the grass is starting to shoot up. With Chloe gone, I have think through another whole grass management plan we need less rotational grazing and the donkeys and sheep are not as heavy as Chloe, they will not chew up the ground so much.

Apart from being heavy, horses pull grass up from the roots, often leaving mud. So we'll see what happens. We have three pastures to us, and I'm thinking we'll open up one at a time for one or two weeks, then  give the pasture a rest. The donkeys are ready. For some reason, Fanny chose the sheep feeder and Lulu and the sheep all chose the donkey feeder. You never really know what's going on with animals, there are kinds of secret signals and gestures and rituals that we know nothing about.

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Ali Muhammed: A Patriot, A Killer Of Lies

The Lie Killer

Amjad Abdalla Muhammed, a/k/a "Ali," is important to me, and for more than one reason. I hope he will become important to you.

One reason is that he is a good man and a wonderful teacher, he spends every waking minute figure out how to help the refugee children – male and female – in his charge.

He is important to me because he is an encourager of the human spirit.  He encourages the soccer player and the artist.

He is important to me because he is a Killer Of Lies. In the Kabbalah, my own Bible, God sent a prophet into the world, and the prophet asked him what his purpose was.

You are to be a Killer of Lies, God replied,  people are susceptible to lies, you will spread the truth and kill the lies wherever you go. I've alway sloved the idea of the Lie-Killer, I liked to think that was the role of the journalist when I was one.

When I put a photograph of Ali up on the blog last week – he teaches at the Refugee and Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus (RISSE) – someone sent it to his mother in Egypt.

She became alarmed at seeing his face on the Internet,  and called him up in a panic and asked if he was in some kind of trouble, if he needed a lawyer. She assumed that if someone put his face out in public in America now, he must be in some sort of trouble. It took him a couple of phone calls to calm her down.

I love the story, it was funny, and Ali laughed about it,  but it is also sad and revealing, it says a lot about where we are right now in our country. For a dark-skinned named Muhammed to be in the news in America, there must be trouble. Have you ever seen otherwise on the news?

Ali is a modest man, he would blanch at being called a prophet. Yet he is a killer of lies.

One lie is that all immigrants and refugees are dangerous and have come here to harm us.

Another lie is that they rob us of treasure and services and they and their families will drain us, they don't care to work.

Another is that the troubles of the world are so difficult and complex that we must turn out backs on refugee children all over the world  – I think of the 55,000 children killed in the Syrian civil war and the hundreds of thousands of children wasting a way in refugee camps in Africa and the Middle East – and abandon them to their very cruel fate.

Ali gives the lie that we should abandon them in the most heartless way while claiming to be their protectors and defenders.

Ali gives the lie that we cannot alter the trajectory of people's lives, point them in healthy and positive directions use our power to do good and heal and offer sanctuary, not just fire missiles when we wish.

And perhaps the worst and most hateful lie is that these children and their brave and struggling parents will somehow undermine or damage the culture and purity of what some people think of as our white and Christian nation.

Should white people and Christians and Jews be banned and demonized because some of them – lots of them –  break the law and hurt people? To me, Ali embraces American values more deeply than many Americans.

Amjad Abdalla Muhammed gives the lie that Americans are not a loving, generous and trusting people.

Although we are very different, I see myself in Ali, and him in me.

We came from humble backgrounds in foreign places. We perhaps owe our lives to people who took risks for us.

We both very much love the idea of America, and Ali, although he is too humble to say it, is the idea of America. He works hard, helps others, follows the law, does good, pays taxes, keeps his own culture, embraces ours, lives in harmony and fully embraces our most sacred values: freedom and tolerance.

Because of him, new citizens will embrace our values as well.

Ali is a patriot, he defends the very essence of America while the people who ought to know better seem to have forgotten it.

What are we supposed to be about, if not him? Who are we supposed to be, if not him?

I have not known Ali long, although I hope to know him better in the coming weeks and months, I don't think he or any human is a saint, and I don't care to cast him that way.

But that's not the point. In a sense, Ali is an American prophet he is a Killer of Lies, sent here to speak for truth.

Posted in General