A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
We spent one day in Biloxi - right on the Gulf, and I will never forget the scenes of ruin and devastation, the scope of which is beyond the power of words to convey. Refrigerators in treetops, large commercial fishing vessels laying keel up in the middle of what were once busy streets. Bare cement foundations where houses once rested, as if some enormous scythe had descended from the sky and severed the homes from their foundations.
We talked for a bit, and then she screwed up her courage to ask for help – a request as foreign to her nature as we were to that land. “I’ve heard about your group” she said, “and was wondering if y’all could come by and help me. You see – I’m all alone”. As we spoke I learned that she had children, but they were long grown and gone. I later learned from her Pastor that after years of abuse from an alcoholic husband, she had summoned the courage to divorce him and live alone on her spread. So we scheduled a day later in the week to visit Miss Molly, and spent that day cleaning, hauling, and repairing. As we packed up our equipment to leave she could barely speak. She only murmured, “God Bless you” as she embraced us one by one. In my memory's eye I see her standing in her driveway and waving good-bye, tears streaming down her cheeks as my own eyes moistened in the back of the pick-up.
She came back to the church a few days later and sought me out, insisting that she be allowed to tangibly express her gratitude to the group. We refused, but she continued quietly insisting that she be of some service to us. So we agreed, and I and asked her if she could do some laundry for us. “Why heavens sake sure” she said, and the next day we had fresh clothes to pack up for the long drive home.
I don’t know the answer to that any more than you do. But some things I do know………
I know that Miss Molly was the REAL DEAL. I know that despite her size she was a giant; a lioness whose courage roared louder than mine ever will. Despite her suffering and despite her living amidst the greatest devastation I have ever witnessed, she was concerned about doing my laundry. My LAUNDRY for heaven's sake.
Why? How could this have possibly mattered to her at such a time?
I doubt Miss Molly would have given much thought to that question. It’s just who she was, and if I had asked her I suspect she would have said something like, “You got to help people when they need it. It’s just what folks around here do”.
I don’t have a picture of Miss Molly; somehow in the rush of things I just forgot. That was a big mistake. I would give a lot to have that picture. I would give a lot to show it to our kids as I told them about her.
"It wasn't a speech - it was a symphony".
So opined one network reporter on live national television just minutes after Barrack Obama's acceptance at the DNC in August - so much for journalistic detachment and integrity. The Wall Street Journal's incomparable columnist Peggy Noonan nailed it when she deplored this "inexcusable suck-upedness" for what it was.
Tuesday of last week saw high humidity and temperatures approaching the mid 90's. Then on Saturday morning as I walked around the Farmers Market there was a chill in the air. Where else but the upper Midwest would you run air conditioning on Tuesday and wear sweats just a few days later?
I had dinner last night with a man who was in Manhattan on 9-11. He saw the second plane; he smelled the burning steel and fuel; he wintessed the death and mayhem. Driving home I recalled another dinner I had with my father decades ago, where somehow we got talking about Pearl Harbor. My Dad was an articulate and educated man, but he could not capture for me the reaction that the country experienced upon news of the attack. He tried to convey what it was like as he huddled around the radio with his parents and siblings, listening to Franklin Delano Roosevelt give his famous address to Congress.
I believe that the voices we listen to when receiving our news is becoming as important as the news itself.
Most people I know expect our leaders and our pundits to disagree and to hold different views. They not only expect it; l believe they want it.
Our Financial Crisis: Why Character Still Matters - And Why Economics is More Important than Finance
William Manchester is my favorite historian. An unparalleled researcher and a lover of language; he wrote of the great men and wars of the Twentieth Century, and wrapped them in context and insights so illuminating as to make his work unique amongst all I have read. Such insight came at the price of personal experience - Manchester was a decorated U.S. Marine who was severely injured on Okinawa. In his stunning memoir of World War Two entitled Goodbye Darkness, Manchester wrote of he and his comrades on Okinawa that, "we were living very fast". He meant that they knew they were living in a pivot point of history.
So proclaimed the fictional character Lucas Jackson - better known to us as Cool Hand Luke.
In my mind's eye I see Paul Newman barking out that line, delivered with a visage that was half grin and half smirk. His face was sardonic, sarcastic, challenging, and joyful all at the same time. It was acting in the greatest sense of the word; an indisputable talent that held the power to move us. Those five words and that one look defined the character of Cool Hand Luke.