“If emotional honesty is part of living well — which surely it is — then shaking my fist at death is just as important as accepting it. If that’s unenlightened, so be it! At least I have the good company of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.
“I discovered her ‘Dirge Without Music’ when my father died nearly twenty years ago. I found a curious peace in the poet’s refusal to accept the inevitable, and I find it again today.”
As it turns out, it’s been twenty years since my father died. And I remember it all, astonishingly well. Hearing, in Albany, that my father was in the hospital. The news on a Thursday that my father had a stroke. My wife and I staying in his hospital room in Charlotte the following Monday night. The levity between my father and my baby sister on Tuesday morning.
The rapid decline he had undergone between Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening, when the doctor said he would die within the week. Starting to write the obituary on Thursday morning, only to get the news that he was dying. And my sisters had both vehicles. Me waking the next-door neighbor who worked nights, and who I did not know, to get him to drive my mother and me to the hospital. My wife staying back to watch niece Alex. Mom and I arriving after he had died.
The lengthy funeral negotiations on Friday. The funeral on Sunday. The burial at a military cemetery 40 miles away on Monday, and deciding that taking the limo made sense. A bunch of aftermath stuff.
Dirge Without Music
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
(Excerpted from Collected Poems. Read the full poem here.)
My wife and I were watching on TV the New York Times bestselling author Ibram X. Kendi, Ph.D. He was discussing the ideas presented in his book How to Be an Antiracist, a book I have not yet read. But after listening to the virtual presentation, I feel that I need to.
It’s because he noted, in the question and answer period from viewers, how he had to confront embarrassing and uncomfortable actions in his past. Oooh, self-reflection. That sounds like fun! And, of course, I have done more than my share. I think, to the degree that I’ve done so in the past, this blog works because I know I don’t have all the answers. I DO have a lot of the questions.
Yet, there are a few situations from my past I’m feeling the need to write about. In fact, I’ve already written about one of them, but I think I needed some sort of context. The topic involves race and family.
Others do not seem to have a racial component, to my knowledge. One incident, in particular, has been gnawing at me for years. It’s also how I could have handled that better. In fact, it was one of those treppenwitz moments.
It could be, in part, a recognition of my own mortality. I am more than middle-aged. I’m not going to live to be 134; of that, I am fairly certain. As I write this, it’s suddenly dark a couple of hours after dawn. A storm is surely coming, as the dewpoints are oppressive and the temperatures remain high.
But once the rains and winds come through, things will start to clear up. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
The Beatles (1965-1969) – without a doubt. I joined the Capitol Record Club in 1965 or 1966 and bought Beatles VI. Then I got all of the back albums and the subsequent ones through Revolver. Well except Yesterday and Today, which I got for $2.99 at the Rexall drug store. Sgt. Pepper, I purchased from W.T. Grant for the outrageous price of $3.67. (I don’t know where I got it, but the Let It Be album was $4.99!)
My favorite songs in 2011, which probably hasn’t much changed: 13-4; 3-1.
The Rolling Stones (1970-1972) – when the Beatles were breaking up, I turned my attention to that other leading British invasion band. Frankly, I thought most of their early albums were not very good. They had a couple of hits plus a bunch of filler. It wasn’t until Aftermath that I thought they started to put together coherent packages. like the Beatles, their record label in the US often repackaged what the band intended.
Then they put out my favorite albums of theirs, Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers. My favorite songs (2013).
Stevie Wonder (1973-1976) – you could argue that Stevie Wonder is not a band. 1) Don’t care, and 2) the way he creates such a full sound, maybe he is. His albums captivated me as early as Where I’m Coming From (1971), through Songs in the Key of Life (1976) My favorite songs (2020).
If I were to pick a group in this time frame, it might be the Who or CSNY.
Paul Simon (1977-1980) – My obsession with Paul goes back to his period with Artie. My favorite songs (2011).
If I had to pick a band, it’d probably be Led Zeppelin.
Peter Gabriel (1981-1984) – I really discovered Gabriel with his third album (Melt) in 1980, which is probably on my island list. I quickly picked up the first two albums and several of his subsequent ones.
I shall admit that I wasn’t particularly familiar with his stint in the group Genesis until my local radio station WQBK played the title song of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway incessantly.
Making this list was brutal. I could almost pick every song from Melt and half the songs from So. From 10-1, approximately:
Don’t Give Up (featuring Kate Bush) – I love the changing rhythms of this song, as well as the title message. There’s a cover of this by Willie Nelson featuring Sinéad O’Connor. Big Time – lives on the bassline, and I always love that! And Through the Wire Solsbury Hill – Gabriel has said, “It’s about being prepared to lose what you have for what you might get … It’s about letting go.” Games Without Frontiers – “She’s so funky, yeah.” No that’s not right- “jeux sans frontières.”
Sledgehammer – it was the video, which makes this song seem faster than it actually is. I Don’t Remember – I relate to this too well. Not One of Us” – Lots of people relate to this too well. Here Comes the Flood it’s the remake. Shaking The Tree – 16 Golden Greats. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. Biko – one of the most important songs ever written in popular music. It started the process of shedding light on the apartheid of South Africa in a very tangible way.
If I were to pick an actual group from the early 1980s, it’d probably be The Police or The Clash.
Just the other day, I was kvetching to my wife. I said, “You know, I’d rather NOT write about him. But then he keeps doing worse crap.” To wit, suggesting, on Twitter, naturally, that perhaps the United States should postpone the election of November 3 until we can get everyone to the polls safely.
This was so egregiously wrong that Steven Calabresi called for a second impeachment inquiry into him. He is the co-founder of the conservative Federalist Society, This was in a New York Times opinion piece in late July, “where he falsely characterized mail-in voting and proposed the delay of the 2020 presidential election in November, which the executive branch cannot enact.”
Please understand the weight of the complainant. Calabresi has “he’s voted Republican in the presidential election since 1980.” He also “opposed the investigation into Russian election interference by Robert Mueller and was against the impeachment into Trump regarding withholding aid to Ukraine.
As for the Federalist Society, it is “a right-wing organization with 60,000 lawyers, law students and scholars.” It has been “characterized as a ‘conservative pipeline to the Supreme Court'” by the Atlantic. Recently confirmed judge Brett Kavanaugh joined the group while at Yale.
Calabresi wrote, “Until recently, I had taken as political hyperbole the Democrats’ assertion that President Trump is a fascist. But this latest tweet is fascistic. And it is itself grounds for the president’s immediate impeachment again by the House of Representatives and his removal from office by the Senate.” Which won’t happen, mind you.
Ed Morrissey in Red State: “Good grief. For months, Donald Trump’s allies and even a few of his critics have blasted Democrats and a handful of media figures for their baseless theories that the president would cancel or delay the national election. [Presumptive Democratic candidate Joe] Biden got ridiculed for saying that in April. ‘Mark my words: I think he is gonna try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held,’ even though the law and the constitution are clear that presidents can’t do that.
“The best that could be said for this tweet is that Trump’s just spitballing, but even that’s an indictment of its own. No president should just be spitballing a suggestion like this, not in public and not even in private, where it would leak to the press quickly enough anyway. The US held an election in the middle of its Civil War in 1864. We can hold an election in the middle of a pandemic, especially when the president himself keeps insisting we can and should reopen for business.
“Rather than recognize those [Constitutional] impossibilities and leave it as a paranoid-conspiracy theory for the Left, he has essentially vindicated Biden and the paranoids. And for what purpose? Trump can’t do what he’s suggesting, Congress wouldn’t entertain the thought for one hot second… and it won’t work anyway. What could possibly be gained from tweeting out this absurd idea, other than perhaps distracting from the bad GDP report everyone was more or less expecting anyway?”
Of course, the tweet was sent the same day it was announced that the U.S. gross domestic product dropped at an annual rate of 32.9%. Reports of polling putting Biden far ahead of him in the November election.
Properly, securely and safely vote
The argument for delaying has to do with people being able to get to the polls without risking their lives. During this primary season, we’ve seen people standing in long lines during a pandemic. Of course, those were almost always DEMOCRATIC primaries, so it didn’t seem to matter to IMPOTUS.
A real problem, even prior to COVID-19, but certainly exacerbated by it, is a dearth of poll workers. There is a national effort to recruit more poll workers. These are healthy people “to ensure that those workers most susceptible to the coronavirus are given the space to take care of their health, while still keeping polling sites open and available for efficient in-person voting.”
“We can also demand change from our local officials, who in most cases can take needed steps without waiting for the federal government to help. New voting technologies, training standards, polling place opening and closing hours, and poll worker recruitment practices are all decided at the state or local levels.
“State legislatures and state secretaries can expand, rather than shrink, the number of polling places, reversing the harmful trend of polling-place closures in recent years. They can also invest in more early voting sites, and keep them open for longer, reducing the number of voters who cast ballots on Election Day itself.”
Undermining the Postal Service
Meanwhile, the US Postal Service is experiencing days-long backlogs of mail across the country. It is after a top djt donor running the agency put in place new procedures “described as cost-cutting efforts, alarming postal workers who warn that the policies could undermine their ability to deliver ballots on time for the November election…
“Postal employees and union officials say the changes implemented by the Trump fund-raiser-turned-postmaster general Louis DeJoy are contributing to a growing perception that mail delays are the result of a political effort to undermine absentee voting.”
Still, since every state has its own deadline for when you need to request an absentee or mail-in ballot, start looking into the options now. Verify that you’re registered to vote and if you’re not, do so right away.
With more voting options this year, the US Postal Service is encouraging voters to plan ahead. If you wait until the last minute to decide how to vote, you could be cutting it close, or even become disenfranchised. We’re now less than 90 days away from the election – time to make a game plan.
Since June 1, a week after George Floyd, I have had lengthy conversations about race with three of my oldest friends. And by “oldest,” I mean I met two of them in 1958, and the other much later, in 1960. Yet I don’t remember talking about it when we were growing up. When I noted this with one of them, they said, “You ought to blog about that!” The problem is that I can’t really explain why.
For those unfamiliar, I should explain that I grew up in the First Ward of Binghamton, NY in the 1950s and 1960s. The city consisted of many Irish, Italians, and especially Eastern Europeans, second- and third-generation folks. There were black people in other parts of the city, but north of Clinton Street, which was a demarcation for “the Ward,” most folks were Slavic – Russian, Polish, Czech, Ukrainian, primarily.
At my school for K-9, Daniel S. Dickinson, I was often the only black kid in my class. There was a black young woman named Bernadette in 7th grade, coming from one of the feeder schools to our junior high. But she was gone by 8th grade to who knows where. Robert in 5th grade, who I’ve mentioned, was so academically challenged that he eventually ended up in my sister Leslie’s class, and she was three semesters behind me.
Also, in kindergarten, there was a “mixed-race” girl. She’s one of my current Facebook friends. By her account, I was very nice to her, even as most of the other kids were not. I have no recollection of any of this. Incidentally, I believe we have the same great-grandfather.
So NOW we talk
When I told one of my friends how traumatized when I saw photos of Emmett Till’s dead body in a magazine in 1960, I was asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?” I dunno. Why didn’t they tell me how their father put a stop to some racist taunts directed toward a man I knew at my church?
Another friend was pretty shocked that there were any racial problems in Binghamton at all. I’ve noted that back in 1964, over 200 black people complained in an open letter in the paper problems, jobs, and even “common courtesies.” Yes, I was pretty insulated in that geography triangulated by Dickinson school, my grandmother Williams’ house at 13 Maple Street, and my house on 5 Gaines Street. But I knew there was more to the story in the rest of the city.
I had long talks not only with the third friend but also with the spouse. Much of it has been generated by the contents of my blog over the last two months. “We didn’t know you were going through things like that.”
Maybe it was that I didn’t want to point myself out as different. Perhaps I didn’t think they’d understand. I talked with my sister Leslie about this. She had a similar situation, except that she did have one black classmate, Bonnie for a few years. They didn’t talk about race either. It was assumed that they were going through the same, or similar things and there was no need to verbalize it.
It’s like when I’ve seen a black person in a sea of white faces. Inevitably, one of us will give a nod to the other. It’s an acknowledgment of assumed common experience.
I suppose I should be grateful that my old friends and I are talking about race now.