This is somewhat off the beaten track for me, because I don’t usually post images solely because they’re attractive. This, however, was so pretty I couldn’t resist passing it along. I have no idea if it’s a photograph of an actual “flower dress” or if it’s an exceptionally realistic drawing. I don’t know who did it or where it’s from. I just know that it made me happy to look at it.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that America has been in the past a very resilient nation; that there’s sometimes a virtue to shaking things up simply because change is inevitable, so let’s get it all over with at once; that people at home and abroad are beginning to appreciate that America was never an Evil Empire, but was always a force for freedom and stability; and that ordinary Americans are seeing what socialist policy — economic, international, and societal — looks like, and they’re not pleased with what they see.
Here’s the other good news: There is always hope. Otherwise, why bother? Without hope, why bother reading the news? Why bother writing about the things we want to change? Why bother thinking, voting, talking, working, or even getting up in the morning? Things can and do change, and we who are hopeful have a responsibility to do whatever we can — to contribute whatever skill we have — to fulfill that hope by changing the political and social dynamic.
Since 2008, hope has been an overused and misused word. To begin with, it’s not a thing in and of itself. Only very shallow people believe that you can elect something called “hope.” Instead, “hope” is a very special human emotion that motivates us to leap over seemingly insurmountable barriers and face off against despair, all the while embracing behaviors that lead to increased individual and national freedom, self-reliance, and prosperity.
And while I’m on the subject of hope — real hope, not the politically-packaged pabulum — I’d like to take a moment to talk about families dealing with relatives who fall within the autism spectrum. Ido Kedar is one of those people. I’ve known Ido for a long time, although not as well as I could wish. Mother Nature gave Ido what appears to be a raw deal: His autism leaves his maturing brain in a body that responds to his wishes only with the greatest effort. He’s almost non-verbal, impulse control is an issue, his spatial awareness is limited, and coordination is a problem. On the plus side, though, he is endowed with a brilliant brain; a strong moral compass; hypersensitive senses, which means that, even though he can be easily overwhelmed, he sees, hears, tastes, smells, and touches a world of beauty denied to the rest of us; and a fierce drive to connect with the world which has enabled him overcome so many of his deficits.
If you read Ido’s autobiography, Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison, you see that he isn’t just the physical embodiment of the abstract word “hope.” He doesn’t introduce himself to you by saying, “You can call me Hope.” Ido is, instead, a person whose parents never lost faith in him and a person who always had faith in his own abilities. That faith gave them the emotion that is hope, and that emotion in turn gave them the energy to search, research, act, practice, and excel.
Ido is not unique. There are many other young people (and their families) in the autism spectrum who never give up. They take their belief in future possibilities and turn that into present action. One of the institutions that actively helps them with this (instead of just mouthing “hope”) is the Friendship Circle . . . which is having a fundraiser Bike Raffle. If you know someone with autism, or someone who lives with or cares for an autistic person, and you feel like contributing to the cause, this is certainly a nice way to do it.
For more information, check out Raising Asperger’s Kids.
In the post immediately preceding this one, I spoke about American gypsy girls who are steered into young marriage, followed immediately by a career as a homemaker, no matter their talents. There’s nothing wrong with being a wonderful mother and homemaker, but one does wonder, of course, whether those girls were deprived of the opportunity to discover a hidden talent within themselves.
I’ve been thinking about the whole “hidden talent” thing a lot lately. It’s been a part of my thinking for years, actually, ever since my sister went to college. Her first boyfriend there grew up in a small farming community and was the first person in his family to go to college. When he got to college, he was required to take his first ever language class. He chose French, which is where he met my sister. She was also taking German, as a continuation of her high school studies.
Over the course of just one semester, my sister’s boyfriend became fluent not only in French, which he was actively learning, but in German, which he was passively absorbing, both from my sister’s studies and from my parents German-language conversations. It turned out that, when it came to languages, he was savant, and could learn any language with passable fluency over the course of a few months. Had he stayed home on the farm, it’s likely this gift would have remained dormant forever. As it was, within two years of meeting my sister, he was one of six American college students selected to go on a special Russian language program to the Soviet Union.
I thought of this guy just last week, when my high-school-aged son came home from his first day in art class at school. He’s never had an art class before, but he brought home an incredibly good representation of his own hand, meticulously worked in 3D. He didn’t need lessons in perspective; he instinctively understood it. Had he not been required to take this class as a prerequisite for graduating, he might never have known he has this gift.
And in this same vein, I’d like to recommend a bad, but wonderful documentary. The documentary is called “Blood Brother,” and it’s playing on PBS. The young man who made the documentary focuses on his friend, an almost paralyzingly ordinary boy from Pittsburgh, who did wonderful things. The documentary is bad because it’s poorly constructed, poorly photographed, poorly narrated, poorly everything . . . but it’s still worth watching.
The ordinary young man is Robin “Rocky” Braat. Rocky grew up in a dysfunctional home, suffered terrible abuse at the hands of his mother’s many boyfriends, got shunted to his grandparents for a few years, and then ended up with his father. He describes himself as a kid who was so bad in school, he was “marginally retarded.” When he speaks, he has the slurred, dull cadences of a stoner (although there’s no indication that he is, in fact, a stoner).
Rocky was aimless. He had a short attention span, and felt that there was nothing for him in Pittsburgh. He decided for no reason whatsoever to go to India, because he wanted to go someplace “authentic” (although why Pittsburgh, in its own way, isn’t as “authentic” as anyplace else in the world, I do not know). Once there, Rocky came upon an orphanage. What makes this orphanage unique is that all of the children and all of the staff have HIV. Rocky had found his place on this earth.
Although Rocky readily admits that he didn’t like children when he arrived at that orphanage, there was something about the children there that called to him. Watching the boundless love he feels for them, and the equally boundless love they return to him, is incredibly moving.
The best part of the documentary comes at the end, so you have to stick with it or, if you have it on TiVo, fast forward a bit. One of the HIV-infected boys, a kid maybe 9 or 10, ends up in the hospital with God knows what. His skin is a festering, bleeding, peeling mass; his eyes are so crusted and white they look like a corpse’s; he’s coughing his lungs out from tuberculous; and his kidneys are shutting down. The child looks gangrenous and he’s in an Indian hospital in a remote region where care is minimal and death a certainty.
Rocky cares for that child as if the boy is his own flesh and blood. Wearing only gloves to product his hands, he bathes the boy’s endless wounds, oils his broken skin, cleans his oozing eyes, and holds him as he cries in pain. It is an outpouring of selfless love that would make Mother Teresa proud.
It turns out that, when it comes to caring for HIV-infected children in a remote region of India, Rocky is a savant. Had he stayed in Pittsburgh, he would have been nothing. If he worked, he would have had a low-level job. He probably would have drunk too much on weekends, and wasted his days away in a haze of bad television, cheap food, and a kind of nagging existential despair. Instead, because he wanted something more, he found himself.
One of the blessings of living in America is that so many of us have the opportunity to explore different pathways in life. Maybe we’ll just have a variety of experiences that we’ll talk about later (and boast about when we’re old). But for the lucky ones, their travels in America will introduce them to the genius within themselves.
You always read that something is the “best flash mob ever,” and many really do seem to live up to that billing. Orchestras play beautiful music, dancers swirl across the floor, and people break into song as if they’re living in a 1930s Hollywood musical.
This particular flash mob, however, is truly the best one ever. Not only is the performance delightful on its own terms, but its context raises it to amazing new heights of flash mob-ness.
To enjoy it fully, think about these facts before you start watching:
In 1893, five-year-old Israel Isidore Beilin and his family arrived in New York, having escaped the terrible anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia. After surviving (and, indeed, thriving in) a childhood of extreme poverty in New York’s Lower East Side, he grew up to become Irving Berlin, one of the most successful songwriters of all time. He was also a man who never lost his sense of gratitude for the wonders of his adopted country, a sentiment he expressed perfectly in “God Bless America.” He wrote other songs celebrating American life, everything from Easter, to white Christmases, to the wonders of New Yorkers “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (written in 1929, right before the Roaring 20s came to a whimpering end).
In 1917, the Soviets took over Russia, and settled in for a seventy year totalitarian run. America was the enemy and American culture a dangerous weapon that had to be banned from the Soviet Union at all costs.
And then, in February 2012, a young couple got married on a cold day in Moscow and their friends put on a most amazing show for them. Enjoy the show, and don’t forget the history as you watch it.
I couldn’t agree more with the principle that happiness is a moral obligation (an argument Dennis Prager makes at length in the excellent Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual). I often tell the children, when the describe mean kids at their school that those children are more to be pitied than censured. Happy people, I point out, aren’t mean. Someone mean must be very unhappy. Give them a wide berth, but don’t add to their misery.
As for me, I’m trying to be happy, despite having misread a contract I signed, and having inadvertently signed on to a more expensive project than I intended. I’m reminding myself that, on the information available, this service provider is still the best in the market (a market sadly marked by a lot of shoddy work), but I’m feeling dumb. It was, after all, a stupid mistake. We’ll still get what we want, but not on the terms I thought. Sigh.
Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts.
As is the case every year, I have so much for which I am thankful. When my children ask me what I want for Christmas, I never have an answer, because I already have everything I need or want (although they could empty the dishwasher more often). One of the gifts in my life is all of you, so thank you so much for becoming my friends through this site.
Last year, I reviewed Ido Kedar’s Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison. It is a very important book, since it turns on its head all of the conventional wisdom about non-verbal autism. Because of his book, Ido has rightly become a big deal amongst people affected by autism, a group that includes autistic people, their families, and their teachers.
Ido’s increasingly high profile caught the eye of a L.A. Times reporter who spent several months interviewing Ido, his family, and those who have worked with and gotten to know him. The result is a glowing profile in the L.A. Times which really gives an insight into the overwhelming and often very beautiful world that Ido inhabits:
Autism, Ido says, is like being on LSD, something he learned about in health class, and his experience in the world can be at times terrifying and overwhelming. Sensory minutiae that in other people are filtered and organized, collide indiscriminately in his brain. Feelings of anger, sadness, even silliness can escalate, and he can have difficulty calming down.
The water surges around them. The sound of the waves and sea gulls, the voices and screams of children and families, the surf, rising and falling, its ceaseless crescendo and diminuendo, rushes at Ido as a terrible cacophony like the buzzing of mosquitoes, loud and inescapable.
As unsettling and as unpredictable as autism is, it also brings a strange pleasure to Ido’s life. Glints of sunshine, pockets of shade mesmerize him, and objects in motion reveal traces of acceleration, like stop-motion photography.
He grabs a strand of kelp, strips off the leaves and begins whipping it over and over in an S-pattern against the dissolving foam. Waves rise and fall against him, but he stays focused on the movement that he’s created against the water’s surface.
Like many of his repetitive behaviors — arm-flapping, finger-dancing, string-twirling — this gesture, referred to in the autistic community as a “stim” (for self-stimulation), enhances sensations around him and has a narcotic effect.
They take me to a sensory experience that is pretty intoxicating. I don’t get lightheaded, but I can get so absorbed in a stim I sort of vanish from my personhood.
Please read the whole thing. I think you’ll be amazed.
I got this in my email today:
The goal of our Star Spangled Banner Challenge is to reach 5 million views on our Star Spangled Banner video by December 31st and show all the naysayers that Americans still believe in this country and in our National Anthem.
We are currently at 4.9 MILLION views – but we need YOUR help to make sure we can get that through that last 2% by the end of the year.
So – we’re asking all of our fans to PLEASE watch the video and share it any way you can – on Facebook, through email, on Twitter, or just by telling other people about it.
Take the Challenge: Help Madison Rising reach 5 million views by December 31, 2013 and let’s celebrate what being an American is all about!
As a thank you for being a fan, please enjoy this free download of our new blockbuster track, Hero: http://shop.madisonrising.com/
Whether you’re watching what the man can do or what the trucks can do, this is indeed an epic video:
I was exchanging emails with a friend about our despair regarding the current political scene. Sure, Obamacare is performing as badly as we all predicted and doing what we knew it would, but so what? Republicans are busy snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and Americans and their economy seem to be on the verge of implosion. Some days, even though you believe in the silver lining, somehow the only thing you can see is the cloud.
And that’s why we need posts like this one, to remind us that the silver lining often resides in the individuals we don’t see, rather than in the politicians and politics we do see. Much as Obama would like to deny it, we are a nation of individuals, not of special interest groups and victim classes.
I don’t watch much TV, especially on weekends, so I missed this when it aired in May 2012. It’s still current (or perhaps I should say that it’s timeless) and quite moving:
My teenage son just learned a life lesson, which is that relationships and attitude matter. I can’t get into too much detail here, out of respect for the privacy of those involved, but I can say that my son wanted very much to qualify for something . . . and didn’t. He was devastated by this failure, not so much because he wasn’t picked, but because of the chaotic process that led to him being left out. He didn’t feel as if he’d been cut on the merits, which he could have understood but, instead, felt as if he just hadn’t connected with the decision-makers enough for them even to look at his merits.
Still, he had two things on his side right from the start. The first was that he had great attitude throughout the process. The decision-makers may have been poorly organized, but my son was always there, always on time, always striving, always engaging with people to learn how to improve. He radiated “I want this.” The second thing he had going for him was that he’d formed a good relationship with someone who, while not in charge, has pull. Moreover, my son hadn’t formed that relationship to use this person. Instead, he’d formed it because he genuinely respects and likes the person with pull, and that feeling was reciprocated. It was a true mentorship.
The one other thing my son learned was that he had me on his side. I know myself enough now not to react quickly, because my thoughts are ill-formed and my emotions high. That’s when I go charging in like a maddened bull. It took me a few decades, but I figured out that, while the general rule is that one should strike when the iron is hot, my iron needs to cool down a little or else I just burn myself.
As it happened, I’ve also got a nice relationship with my son’s mentor. Once I got my thoughts lined up, I very politely approached the mentor, told him that I was confused by my son’s version of events (which I described in non-emotional terms), and asked if he could discover for me the viewpoint of the other people involved, especially the decision-makers. No pressure, no expectations, no putting him in an uncomfortable position.
The end result is that my son is being reconsidered this coming week, in part because the decision-maker did notice his good attitude and in part because his mentor hustled for him. Even better, my son is remarkably sanguine about the strong possibility that he still might not get what he wants. What matters to him is that he’s being considered on the merits, instead of feeling as if he was thrown around on a high tide of disorganization and then just tossed out without any regard for his abilities and commitment.
A friend of mine who is wise in the ways of leadership told me this when I first heard about my son’s predicament: “One of the leadership lessons I try to teach is the fact that leadership is all about relationships. Many leaders never get this and have little to no understanding of their impact on those around them.”
Truer words were never spoken. Once my son understood that there was a relationship that involved him being seen as a real person, he was able to face cheerfully whatever consequences came his way.
I’ve spoken before at my blog about leadership. Because my kids are so involved in so many sports, I’m fascinated by those coaches that inspire the kids — and equally fascinated by those coaches who know what they’re doing, and who love the sport, but who never succeed in bring the kids along with them. My friend is right that it’s about relationships. But my son learned today that relationships run in two directions. If you want a leader to be there for you, you also have to be there for the leader. And unless someone is manifestly a dangerous enemy (whether to your person or to other aspects of your life), treat them in a friendly way and with respect, both because it will make your world a happier place and because you never know what will matter at the end of the day. Don’t use people, but do appreciate them.
I was watching a high school soccer game (our side won), and letting my mind wander a bit, when Proverbs 15:17 popped into my mind: “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.”
Isn’t that lovely? It’s also a pithy piece of wisdom that is as true now as it was when written down thousands of years ago.
Do you have a favorite Biblical passage that reminds you what’s important in life? (And no fair citing John 3:16, because I know that trumps all other passages.) After all, one of the reasons the Bible lives on today is because of its timelessness, not just when it speaks directly to man’s relationship with God, but also when it speaks to man’s relationship with his fellow man or with his inner needs and drives.
This may be the best “welcome, freshmen, to your new school” speech I’ve ever heard. It’s too bad he gave it to a completely bewildered, minimally responsive audience.
One of the regular shticks on Jay Leno’s show is for a comedian “take over” one of those gas pump news outlets that have popped up all over, and to surprise people who are peacefully pumping gas. When Will and Monifa Sims pulled up, however, the shtick went from lame (which it invariably is) to just wonderful. Watch and enjoy:
And Part II (where you get to meet them):
(I originally wrote this one for Mr. Conservative, but it deserves a place at the Bookworm Room table, if for no other reason than the martial arts slant.)
America is such a great country. Where else would a stalker who’s viciously mugging his victim be scared off by a Mormon bishop who wields a Samurai sword, collects DNA, and memorizes license plates? The thug who had the misfortune to cross paths with Bishop Kent Hendrix was so frightened that he turned himself in later the same day.
It all began in Salt Lake City early Tuesday morning, when Hendrix’s teenage son banged on his dad’s bedroom door to say that someone was being mugged right in front of their house. A 35-year woman living in the neighborhood had been stalked by 37-year-old Grant Eggersten, a former co-worker. He grabbed her as she was leaving her house, knocked her down, and went after her keys. Fortunately, the intended victim had pepper and a panic alarm, and she used them both.
An older neighbor with the heart of a lion saw what was going on, and grabbed a little baseball bat. Nancy, another neighbor who witnessed what was happening, said that this bold lady “ended up whacking him a good one.” Unfortunately, Eggersten was undeterred. Hendrix’s appearance on the scene changed the dynamic.
It turns out that Hendrix isn’t just a Mormon bishop, father of six, and pharmaceutical statistician. He’s also a martial arts instructor with a 4th degree black belt in Kishindo martial arts, a weapons-based martial arts discipline. The moment Hendrix heard what was happening, he grabbed the 29” long, high-carbon-steel Samurai sword he keeps by his bed in lieu of a baseball bat, and headed out of the house.
On the street, Hendrix discovered what he called a “melee” between the woman and Eggersten. While Hendrix’s son called 9/11, Hendrix drew his sword, something he never expected to do. He later said “This is my home defense weapon. First time I’ve had to draw it.” Hendrix didn’t even have to attack Eggersten with the sword. Instead, he just waved it at Eggerston and ordered him to drop to the ground.
According to an interview Hendrix later gave, “His eyes got as big as saucers and he kind of gasped and jumped back. He’s probably never had anyone draw a sword on him before.” Eggersten ignored Hendrix’s instruction to hit the ground and, instead, jumped into his car. Hendrix then had the presence of mind to pick up a ChapStick that Eggersten had dropped and to memorize his license plate.
It’s entirely possible that Eggersten heard Hendrix as the latter hollered after the car, “Ha! I’ve got your DNA and I’ve got your license plate. You are done.” After all, why else would Eggersten turn himself into the police an hour later, where he was booked for robbery, trespassing, attempted burglary, and violation of a stalking injunction?
Aside from being a great story about a neighborhood that hung together; a very possessed, responsible 14-yeear-old boy, and a rockin’ Mormon bishop, Hendrix’s heroism also demonstrates that weapons are a force for good when they are held in the hands of good people. Despite owning a significant sword collection – and knowing how to use it – Hendrix does not go around randomly or malevolently stabbing and beheading people. Instead, consistent with his lifestyle, he uses his martial chops for pleasure and to be of service to others. As between a responsible gun owner and Bishop Hendrix, there is no meaningful difference – which may explain why, for the first time in a decade, Americans are becoming increasingly supportive of a gun in the home as the best tool for self-defense.
I awoke in the night with a song stuck in my head and a post ready for the writing. Then reality intruded. Let me explain….
The song was “It’s a grand night for singing,” from State Fair, a very popular 1945 musical with songs from Rogers and Hammerstein. Aside from the fact that I find the song charming (as I do most songs in old musicals), I’ve also liked the idea that all the people attending a busy state fair simultaneously burst into song to express their happiness:
I was going to go on about the fact that movies aren’t mirrors of a society as actually is, but that they often reflect a what a society wishes it was. In the old days, people who wouldn’t be caught dead singing in public nevertheless liked the idea that people would express joy quite publicly through song.
The next stop in my planned post would have been to point out that today’s movies, to the extent they mirror a society’s collective self-image or desires, reveal how far our societal goals — what we want to be, not necessarily what we are — have fallen. Movies today are frantic, cynical, crude, hyper-sexual, etc. I was going to wrap up with a rousing “Is this what we have become? Is this all that we, as a society, dream of for ourselves?”
All of which is true. But I suddenly realized that I was wrong about one very fundamental thing: We have finally achieved the Hollywood vision of 1945.
You see, thanks to the flash mob phenomenon, just as Hollywood once imagined in movies, people all over the world are expressing joy in public by bursting into song. What Americans dreamed of in 1945, the whole world is doing in 2013. That’s a hopeful sign, isn’t it? In at least one innocent, joyful way, we are becoming the best side of ourselves, as we envisioned ourselves long ago.
I have a new post up at PJ Lifestyle, and I would like it to get as much readership and distribution as possible, because it’s about a very special young man and a very important topic:
Autism is a painfully mysterious syndrome. We don’t know what causes it, although we do know that about 1 in 88 births will produce an autistic child. We know that it’s the fastest growing developmental disability in America, although we don’t know why. The commonly-used treatments have limited effectiveness, so increasing numbers of adult autism sufferers cannot care for themselves, requiring costly life-long maintenance.
Part of autism’s mystery lies in the nature of the condition itself: in its most severe form, it leaves the autistic person entirely unable to communicate, either verbally or physically. It’s not just that someone with autism cannot speak. As most who have lived with or seen autism know, a child with serious autism seems entirely disconnected. Autistic children do not make eye contact and they don’t play. Instead, they flap their hands, roam around a room’s periphery, engage in endless repetitive activities, and seem locked away in their own world.
Some experts contend (erroneously, as it turns out) that autistic children dislike physical contact, cannot emote, and lack the capacity for loving. This seeming emotional isolation led the misogynistic Bruno Bettelheim to conclude that mothers caused autism when they (allegedly) withheld affection from their child. This wrongheaded theory inspired generations of loving mothers to suffer enormous guilt.
Even though Bettelheim has mercifully fallen by the wayside, non-verbal autism still contains many questions. This mystery is about to undergo a significant challenge, though, due to Ido (pronounced “Ee-doh”) Kedar, a 16-year old young man who has written about his journey from isolation to communication in Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison.
Read the rest here.
O Holy Night is my favorite Christmas carol. In an earlier post, I put up a video of Josh Groban singing it. Old Buckeye responded with a link to this beautiful rendition by Ernie Ford (whom I always knew just as a funny guest on the I Love Lucy show, and Gordon MacRae, one of my favorite sing movie stars of the late 40s and early 50s. It’s so lovely, I had to share it with you.
I have to admit that having Obama for another four years in the White House, having Harry Reid serve as Majority Leader for another two to four years (at least) in the Senate, and having Israel poised on the brink of a major war with another Iranian proxy, doesn’t give me that warm, comfy feeling that I’d like for Thanksgiving.
Having said that, there is still so much for which I am thankful, ranging from the micro (my own life) to the macro (the world outside my home).
Starting small, I’m thankful for my family, including both family by blood and by marriage; for my friends in the “real” and the cyber worlds; for my health; for my dog who is a daily delight to me; for my lovely home; ; and for the delightful community in which I live. These people may have gotten the wrong end of the political stick, but they are still fine human beings. I wish for them the blessing of an open mind.
And going big, I’m thankful that America, although a bit wobbly now, is still the land of the free and the home of the brave. I’m thankful that Israel has an Iron Dome system and that she, unlike her enemies, believes that innocent lives are not cannon fodder. I’m thankful that we have the best military in the world, not just because it is well armed, but because it is well staffed, with courageous men and women who willing undergo the rigors of training and service to help defend America.
We know that eight years of President Obama will change this country, but I’m also thankful for a Constitution that may work to prevent the “fundamental transformation” of a country that has been a shining beacon for so long. I haven’t given up hope yet and the mere fact that all of you come here means that you haven’t either. We still have a lot for which to be thankful, and many reasons for hope.
Fall is my favorite time of year. It always has been. Spring is beautiful and exciting — for nature. As a spectator, it’s one of the finest shows our world has to offer. But it’s fall that is the season of possibilities for people.
Fall is when the harvest is in and people start focusing on themselves, rather than the land’s demands. We see this in the fact that, all over the Western world, school starts in the fall. I know that I was always excited when the new school year started. Summer’s pleasures had long since waned, with my delight in its freedoms having been overtaken by the stresses of dealing with a completely unstructured life. We children were bored and overwrought.
The school year meant new clothes, thanks to the back-to-school sales. It meant spanking new school supplies, including fresh new Pee Chee folders. My delight in the new school year wasn’t solely mercenary, though. I always felt as if I was opening a gift box. I knew what would be in it — students and teachers — but I didn’t know the specifics. Every year I was certain that this year would be the perfect social year. This year would be the year I got a boyfriend. This year would be the year I’d finally understand math. This year would be the year when my teachers would dazzle me and I would dazzle them right back. Showing that hope springs eternal, even though each school year was a disappointment (not a terrible disappointment, but still a disappointment), each fall I’d be back to feeling that same old thrill as I stood on the cusp of a new school year.
The American political scene also reflects this time of fall renewal. Because America was a rural country, our federal election cycle really gets running when the harvest is in. The agrarian calendar said that this is the time when people can read and think about the issues that are most important to them. Certainly for me, a lifelong bookworm, fall is a wonderful time for contemplation. The days draw in early, the air is chilly and, if you’re lucky, a fire crackles in your fireplace. All that’s needed is a book, newspaper, or magazine, and perhaps a warm dog and a cup of hot chocolate. Then, you’re ready to take on the heavy intellectual tasks you avoided during the long, summer days, with their endless enticements for outdoor activities.
I am not sufficiently conversant with Jewish history to know why the Jews placed their new year in the fall, right around the time of the fall equinox. All I know is that, for 5,773 years, Jews have seen this season as a time, not of endings, but of beginnings. To me, it certainly seems like a more natural time for a new year than a day buried halfway through the dead of winter.
Tonight is Erev Yom Kippur, the evening before the Jewish day of atonement (which follows swiftly on the heels of Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year). Yom Kippur is the holiest of holy days in the Jewish calendar. On this day, Jews the world over take an honest look at themselves, judging their behavior against the standards G*d has set for them. It’s a solemn day, but it too is part of fall’s renewal. We cannot move forward into the new year if our souls are weighed down by our sins and our minds darkened by our inability to repent and change.
I am not in school any more, and I am not a religious Jew. Nevertheless, I still carry within me the optimism and hope that I feel every fall. This feeling buoys me as I look at the world situation, which is scary, and I look at our American president, who is scary. I feel as if we are reaching a crisis, and that’s scary too. But crises can be cathartic, and the timing on this one is peculiarly good because Americans in this wonderful fall season are being given the chance to examine their past decisions, repent of them, and beginning something fresh and new.
I want to talk about Kate Middleton. She is, in my humble opinion, an exceptionally lovely young woman. Her father-in-law may have chosen his wife badly, but her husband did a fine job. To begin with, she and Prince William genuinely seem to like each other, which is a rarity in royal relationships. She’s also take to her professional responsibilities like a duck takes to water, showing a lot more class than many of those born to the purple. And, as I said, she’s lovely:
To add to her undoubted physical beauty, Kate has a lovely air about her. She looks wholesome and, whenever she’s fulfilling her royal duties, she seems honored to have the opportunity to see the things she sees and meet the people she meets. There’s always a look of wonderment about her, which is very attractive.
So, contrary to my usual feeling when celebrities get caught with their pants down or, in Kate’s case, with their shirts off, I am not experience any schadenfreude at her humiliation (something that she’s also handling with grace). With most celebrities, one feels that, since they spend their entire lives courting the camera, they can scarcely complain when it doesn’t always work out. Also, one often gets the feeling that the celebrity pictures are like the pictures of Dorian Gray, with the real image hiding away in the closet. When the real image shows up, one isn’t surprised.
With Kate having been spied upon at a private retreat in France, though, I do feel as if something lovely is being unfairly sullied. I’m showing my solidarity with her by boycotting the images (which I assume are on the internet somewhere). Kate is gorgeous when she’s clothed, and I have no desire to invade her privacy and increase her humiliation by checking her out unclothed.
While I’m talking about lovely things (which serve as a much-needed antidote to the news these days), someone sent me a link to a site called the Folio Society. I am, as the name of my blog suggests, a bibliophile. Lately, because it’s convenient, I’ve been doing most of my reading on a Kindle — it’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s quick, and it’s compact. Truly, though, there is nothing like a beautiful book.
When I was in college, I worked at the Bancroft Library, at UC Berkeley, which houses a collection of rare books and incunabula. When work was slow, my friends and I used to go down into the vault and look at the illuminated medieval manuscripts. And when I say “look at,” I really mean it. We’d grab some tissues to protect the vellum from the oils on our fingers, and carefully flip through the pages, pouring over the brilliant images. The books were amazing. The colors (often including gold leaf) looked as if they had been applied minutes before. This is one of the reasons that, when I read about the Middle Ages, I am always able to imagine that time in vivid, living color.
The Folio Society does not offer illuminated manuscripts, which is just as well, because they’re very hard to take care of. Instead, the create special editions of famous books, including copies of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. My fingers actually tingled when I saw the pictures. The books are beautifully bound, with exquisite illustrations, either by the original artists or by well-known illustrators. The Alice in Wonderland books, for example, look as if they were just taken off the shelves of a Victorian bookstore. As with those medieval manuscripts at the Bancroft, there’s a wonderful sense of immediacy with these books. The Beatrix Potter collection is also exquisite.
The books are very expensive, but I suspect that, for some, the rewards are great. My introduction to Victorian literature came about because my father had found at an estate sale a special edition of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. It was a large book (probably 8″ x 11″) and had these gorgeous, gloomy, full-page engravings. I was mesmerized by the engravings as a little girl, and kept taking the book down to look at them. Eventually, of course, I had to read the book, which started my love affair with all things Victorian. A Kindle book can never offer this kind of enticement to an inquisitive child.
Do you have something lovely to offer as a sop to today’s news? Pictures, videos, anecdotes, etc., would all be welcome.
There are a few things I’ve read or heard that have completely changed the way I live my life. The first and most important was Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People. His light, accessible prose completely changed my life. I started looking at the people around me, not as adversaries whom I had to fight for resources (including such intangibles as friendship and popularity), but as collaborators in a giant project that sees all of us wanting to get ahead. I am not exaggerating when I say that I became a nicer, kinder person overnight, and, moreover, one who truly believes that the majority of people I meet are interesting and have something good to offer me if I’m willing to be generous in return. By the way, being generous doesn’t necessarily mean money. It can mean interest, respect, friendship, friendliness, or myriad non-monetary ways to let people know you value them.
The next important thing I read was Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice, a book that helped me gain a bit of perspective about the (to me) overwhelming life choices I was making in my 20s. My copy has disintegrated, and I have not bought another one, so pardon any errors I make as working from my memory here. The book’s structure is a little unusual, as the narrator, Noel, is the lawyer for a young woman named Jean Paget. He meets her after the war because he is the executor of a will that leaves her a legacy.
The first part of the book has Jean describe to Noel her experiences as a prisoner of war held by the Japanese in Malaya, a time of great hardship and personal tragedy. The second part of the book is about Jean’s life after the war, and the way in which her wartime experiences end up profoundly influencing not only her life, but many other people’s lives as well.
At the end of the first half of the book, when Jean sees herself facing a bleak and lonely future, she concludes her narrative to Noel by saying “four years of my life wasted.” Noel responds to the effect that we can never tell which of our life experiences truly matter. The second half of the book, of course, shows the truth in Noel’s observation.
For me, Noel’s simple statement was a stunning truth: I cannot control the future. My responsibility is to make the best decisions I can now, and then to make the best of whatever effects those decisions have upon my life. And that’s all I can do. It was a simultaneously freeing and empowering revelation.
The last important thing I learned actually came by word of mouth, when a friend told me, with regard to my children “catch them being good.” Wow! Viewing my children as great human beings who occasionally fell off the path of goodness was better than viewing them as horrible little monsters who were good only rarely. We now have what I can only describe as a great parent-child relationship, and I do believe they are genuinely good people. How lucky I am.
I’ve read other things that have changed profoundly the way I approach my life, but I cannot summon them to mind as easily as I can the three I describe above. Just yesterday, though, I read something that I might add to my canon of life-changing thoughts. It came from John Hawkins who wrote a post at PJ Media entitled 5 Simple Hacks That Changed My Life.
What John describes are intellectual approaches to changing the way you view ordinary life experiences such as receiving criticism, making decisions, facing up to mistakes, etc. Each of his suggestions helps your mind overcome its baser instincts (those being, for example, dealing with criticism through attack or collapse; dealing with difficult decisions by avoiding them entirely; or refusing to address mistakes because it’s too emotionally painful to do so). Everything John writes is simple to understand and easy to undertake, but all five of his approaches enable us to bypass the barriers we erect in our own lives. I urge you to read it.
Also, I would love it if you would share with me any simple, yet profound, insights that enabled you to deal with problems, turn your life around, achieve greater happiness, etc. I am a big believer in reprogramming my brain so that I use new ideas to overcome old problems that arise from my personality issues.