Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Did something get lost in the översättning?

The photo above is of Gamla Stan (Old Town) in Stockholm, Sweden. It is the oldest part of the city, dating from the 13th century. The green-roofed building on the left is the Royal Palace where King Carl VI Gustav lives. I was in Stockholm in 1969, from February 1 to March 1, when King Gustav VI Adolf lived in the palace (Carl is his son). I've retained a warm place in my memory for a very cold month during which I visited Drottningholm, Hötorget, Stadhuset, Östermalmstorg, Strandvägen, Lidingö, and other things Swedish.

I'm showing Gamla Stan to you because of a strange thing (strange to me, at least) that I found on the Internet: Edgar Allan Poe's poem, “The Raven,” in Swedish. The poem was first published in 1845 (in English), and at one time thousands of American schoolchildren were forced, forced I tell you, to memorize part of it along with “Annabel Lee” and “The Village Blacksmith” and “Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard” and “Flower In The Crannied Wall (I Pluck You Out Of The Crannies).” Maybe you remember the first stanza of Poe's “The Raven”:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“'Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more.”

Well, in Swedish, the title becomes “Korpen” and the first stanza is:

Trött en natt jag satt och drömde vid en gammal bok, där glömde,
bakom seklers förlåt gömde tankar hägrade förbi.
Knappt jag börjat slumra, förrän något knackade på dörren,
något pickade på dörren, ticketick det ljöd däri.
Upp jag blickade och sade, väckt ut ur mitt drömmeri:
“Nå stig in! Vem söker ni?”

Excuse me. Vem söker ni? Vem söker ni? I don't see a question mark in the English version of the first stanza. Do you? Underneath the Swedish title on the Internet page were the words “Översättning av Viktor Rydberg” which I presume mean “translation by Viktor Rydberg.” Maybe Viktor should go back to the drawing board; something of the essence of Edgar Allan Poe seems to have been lost in the översättning.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The celebration continues!

As part of the ongoing observance of Queen Elizabeth's eighty-second birthday, which lasts from her actual birthday on April 21st until the official celebration of it sometime in June (at least in these parts), I have written a poem. After Elizabeth's father, King George VI, died in 1952, there was a period of about a year when England had three living queens: Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Mother Elizabeth (George VI's widow), and Dowager Queen Mary (George V's widow and Queen Elizabeth II's grandmother). It apparently was considered a sign of Divine favor for the reigning monarch that three queens were alive at the same time.

My poem is about one of those women and is written after the style of Ogden Nash, or at least how I think Mr. Nash would write it if he had written it. The rhyme scheme is AABBCCDDAA, which I discovered afterward and didn't impose beforehand. I have dubbed the meter “limerick on steroids, appended with some nice double dactyls, unless they are anapests,” which is to say, it is irregular.


Dowager Queen Mary, or 'Tis A Gift To Be Simple
by Robert H. Brague

There once was a girl with a long, slender neck,
Who from all appearances kept her true feelings in check,
She was the mother-in-law of Wallis Warfield Simpson, whose third husband was King Edward VIII of England, whom Mrs. Simpson married after he had abdicated the throne in order to have the help and support of the woman he loved and had become the Duke of Windsor, and rather than referring to her new daughter-in-law, if she referred to her at all, as the Duchess of Windsor, probably felt like calling her “Her Royal Hagness,”
Plus she carried the burden of having been given at birth, by her parents, a long string of names the like of which few people have ever been forced to bear, namely, Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes,
So she had every right to look pained and aloof
When waving from Buckingham Palace’s roof;
It’s also no wonder that when she was grown,
And wed to George V, and come to the throne,
She thought to herself, “Golly, gee, what the heck,”
And said, “Call me, simply, Queen Mary of Teck.”

That picture up there is not Queen Elizabeth II, by the way. It's her grandmother, Queen Mary of Teck. Quite the family resemblance, eh, what? Here's another picture of Queen Mary when she was younger, taken during her husband's reign (1910-1935).




Stay tuned for more celebratory items.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Post #100: Things you will never see on my blog

Seven months ago today, on September 28, 2007, rhymeswithplague was born and this blog began. And now I am posting my one hundredth post. Unbelievable! Still going strong! Who woulda thunk? Actually, it isn't such a phenomenal feat. One hundred posts in 214 days is an average of just under one post every other day. Some bloggers post to their blogs several times a day, until their lives become all blog, all the time, like the History Channel and Hitler. My blog is small potatoes compared to theirs.

But today I make you a pledge, a promise. On my blog, you will never see anything about the following:

• The World Wrestling Federation or its cousin, the WWE.
• Ted Turner and Jane Fonda.
• Angelina Jolie.
• NASCAR racing.
• Beer (which looks, and probably tastes, like it has already been through the horse).
• Madonna.
• Rosie O'Donnell.
• Dancing With The Stars (not because I'm against dancing, I'm just against that kind of dancing).
• Tractor pulls.
• Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa.
• The Beijing Olympics.
• Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or John McCain.
• Moto-cross racing.
• Pimp My Ride.
• Chewing tobacco.
• The Bachelor.
• Desperate Housewives.
• Butter beans.

I realize this will cramp my style considerably, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

If you have a list of your own of things you never want to see on this blog, tell me about them in a comment.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Trinity Window

This photo was taken by a woman who lives in Iowa who comments sometimes on this blog. She has given me permission to use it in this post, for which I am grateful. It caught my attention when she posted it on her blog a few days ago. The photo is of a beautiful stained glass window in the balcony of the Lutheran Church in Iowa that she attends, an edifice built in 1873. It is called “the Trinity window.”

This is a very ancient Christian symbol that tries to describe the Triune God, Who (I think) is indescribable. In the center is a circle containing the Latin word Deus (God). Surrounding the circle is a triangle with the word Pater (Father) at the top, the word Filius (Son) on the left (actually, the Son is at the Father's right hand as the symbol is facing toward the observer), and the words Spiritus Sanctus (Holy Spirit) on the other side. Along each side of the triangle are the Latin words Non Est, which mean “is not” or “He is not.” So basically the window tells us that God, the center of all things, is a Trinity consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And it tells us three other things. First, the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father. Second, the Son is not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Son. And third, the Father is not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. They are three distinct persons, making up one Godhead in what Dr. Scot McKnight, a professor at North Park University in Chicago, calls “a perichoretic dance of mutual interpenetrability.” I was valedictorian of my high school class, but I have no idea what that means. The Trinity is a concept I can't really get my head around. It is a mystery that three can be one and one can be three, a very great mystery. But because I can't understand it, I believe it.

People have used various illustrations through the years to try to help explain the Trinity. The Trinity, they say, is like an egg, which has three parts--a yolk, a white, and a shell--and yet is one egg. The Trinity, they say, is like a molecule composed of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, which exists in three forms--water, ice, and steam--and yet its molecular structure remains the same. The Trinity, they say, is like a candle, which has three parts--the wax, a wick, and a flame--and yet is one candle. And God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet is one God, not three. All of the illustrations help, but all fall short.

I especially like two other illustrations that use a human being to illustrate the Trinity. St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “And I pray your whole spirit and soul and body will be preserved blameless unto the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” We ourselves are a trinity. With our body we have world-consciousness, with our soul (that is, our mind, emotions, and will) we have self-consciousness, and with our spirit we have God-consciousness. At least we did before Adam fell. Man's spirit, the part of him that is conscious of God, is what died that day. When a candle is deprived of oxygen, there can be no flame. But when God's Holy Spirit is restored in our lives, the oxygen returns and the flame can burn once more. Without Him, we have only a capacity for flame (wax and wick, body and soul), but no flame. The other illustration explains it best to me. I am one person, but I have different relationships. With my children, I am a father. With my parents, I am a son. With my wife, I am a husband. Yet I am still one person. I like this explanation best, but it still falls short of explaining the Trinity.

There is a verse in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:4, which is called “the Shema” by Jewish people; it is at the core of Judaism and repeated often. In English, it says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” In Hebrew, the words are, “Shema Yisroel, Adonai Elehenu, Adonai Echad.” (Jewish people substitute the word Adonai, Lord, for the word Yahweh, Jehovah, in the verse because they consider God's name, which means I AM THAT I AM, too sacred to speak.) It is interesting to me that there are two words in Hebrew for the concept of “one.” Yachad means an indivisible, sole, solitary oneness, as in “Take your son, your only son Isaac.” But echad means a compound unity, a oneness consisting of multiple parts, as in “The morning and the evening were the first day” (“first” is the ordinal number corresponding to “one,” a cardinal number) or “The people stood up as one man” or “one cluster of grapes” or “the man and his wife shall be one flesh.” And in Deuteronomy 6:4 the word used is echad.

It is truly a great mystery. I believe in monotheism--I believe there is only one Supreme Being--and I believe in the Trinity.

antidisestablishmentarianism

When I was in school back in the Dark Ages, that word up there in the title, all 28 letters of it, was said to be the longest word in the English language. But this post isn't going to be about words, it's going to be about spelling. Or, rather, it's going to be about little tricks that we play on ourselves (okay, that I play on myself) to remember how to spell something.

Like “theres 'a rat' in 'separate'.”

Like “the word 'weird' starts with the word 'we'.”

Like “it's 'i' before 'e', except after 'c', or when sounded like 'a', as in 'neighbor' and 'weigh'.”

Like “the word 'siege' is spelled with an 'ie' because in German (which is entirely irrelevant) 'ie' is pronounced 'ee' and 'ei' is pronounced 'eye' and there is a word pronounced 'seej' but there is no word pronounced 'syje'.”

Like “the word 'seize' is spelled with an 'ei' because in German (which is still entirely irrelevant) 'ei' is pronounced 'eye' as I said before and there is a word pronounced 'size' and also a word pronounced 'seez' which is the one I'm trying to spell.”

I don't know about you, but these all make perfect sense to me.

These helpful little tricks that we tell ourselves (okay, that I tell myself) are called “mnemonic” devices, from the Greek word mnémonikós, of, or relating to, the memory, unless it's from the Greek word mnémosýné, memory, akin to mnâsthai, to remember, from mnmōn, mindful, which reminds us (okay, reminds me) of Mnemosyne, pronounced nee-mos-uh-nee, the ancient Greek goddess of memory, a daughter of Uranus and Gaea, and the mother by Zeus of the Muses. (And thank you very much, dictionary.com, but I digress.)

I employ a couple of other mnemonic devices as well, but not to help me with spelling.

Like “Roy G. Biv” reminds me of the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

Like “General Electric Power Company” helps me remember that Galatians comes first, then Ephesians, then Philippians, then Colossians.

Like “port” is left and “starboard” is right because we say (there's that “we” again) “the ship left port” but we don't say “the ship left starboard.” Also, there is a wine called port, but I haven't figured out yet how that helps me remember left and right.

Like my friend Stanley's birthday is in November and not October because his birthstone is topaz, and November starts with 'n' and topaz starts with 't', but the birthstone for October is opal, which starts with 'o' just like October. (To see how well that worked for me, refer to my post, “The memory is the first thing to go” of October 21, 2007.)

If you employ any helpful mnemonic devices, tell me about them in a comment.

Now if I could just come up with a mnemonic to help me to remember not to use so many parentheses....

Oh, and that word up there in the title, antidisestablishmentarianism, the one with 28 letters? Turns out it isn't the longest word in the English language. There are longer ones. I just happen to forget what they are at the moment.

Friday, April 25, 2008

I never tire of Flannery O'Connor

For the past week, over at Scot McKnight's blog, a small discussion has been going on in several threads (“On Reading Fiction 1,” “On Reading Fiction 2,” etc., through “On Reading Fiction 5”) using Flannery O'Connor's short story, “Revelation,” as a jumping-off point. I have joined in, and here are some more of my comments. (If it is confusing to read just my comments, go over there to read the entire conversation.)

#1: [name], what will be left when the wood, hay, stubble, and “all the rest” (to use your words) have been burned away will be the gold, the silver, and the precious stones. And just as it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, it will also surely be a fearful thing to be saved, yet so as by fire.

I know this doesn’t sound at all postmodern, but it’s what “the Scripture saith.”

[name], I didn’t read O’Connor in the 60’s, I read her in the 70’s, but it was pretty shocking stuff even then. Reading Wise Blood prompted no less a personage than Evelyn Waugh to say of it, “If this is really the unaided work of a young lady, it is a remarkable product.” In “Revelation,” what don’t you find shocking about, “Mrs. Turpin knew just exactly how much Negro flattery was worth and it added to her rage”? What don’t you find shocking about, “You could never say anything intelligent to a nigger. You could talk at them but not with them”? Read all of her stories; eventually you will be shocked.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If reading Flannery O’Connor doesn’t shock you, you aren’t paying close enough attention.

#3: [name], I can’t wait for you to read “The Lame Shall Enter First”! And are you saying you haven’t read “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”? Tsk, Tsk (jk)!!! Flannery’s second novel, The Violent Bear It Away, has a very high “shock quotient,” in my opinion. Try all of her work, a little at a time. Eventually, mark my words, you’ll be shocked. (I must have a very low shock threshold: I was shocked from the get-go, after reading “Everything That Rises Must Converge” in 1975.) It’s also very instructive to read Mystery and Manners, her non-fiction volume, to find where she’s coming from.

Flannery O’Connor said, “While the South is hardly Christ-centered, it most certainly is Christ-haunted.” Then there’s William Faulkner’s famous statement, “The past is never dead; in many places it’s not even past.” I don’t think the times are all that different, in the South or anywhere else. The landscape may have changed, but people’s hearts haven’t.

#4: [name], I have never thought about “the level of thoughtfulness and complexity within Mrs. Turpin” before or that O’Connor uses it to “jab at” the reader’s assurance of superiority to Mrs. Turpin.

Flannery was definitely attempting to wake up readers of her fiction from their complacent sleep, to get a specific message across through her characters. Even the trees and the sun are characters in her stories in the sense that Flannery used them to shock the reader into looking at things another way.

I think perhaps you are also right in thinking that we readers are being “tweaked” and challenged about our assumptions that transformations are total, all-at-once experiences. Given that Flannery O’Connor was a devout Roman Catholic and not a Four Spiritual Laws evangelical, that is certainly a very real possibility. I generally read “out of” her work, though, and not “into” it.

I never tire of uncovering layers and layers of meaning and motive in the works of Flannery O’Connor.
[End of comments]

But assuming that even readers of my blog will eventually grow weary of my fascination with all things Flannery O'Connor, this ends my series of posts about her.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Count your blessings, name them one by one

In this country we have the rule of law and our government is of, by, and for the people. Our Constitution sets up three branches of government, the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial. Each branch is independent of the others and acts as a check and balance on the others. In such fashion we have existed as a nation now for well over two hundred years.

So here are three questions every citizen should know the answers to. First, who is the current President (executive branch)? Okay, that's an easy one, and don't say Millard Fillmore. Second, what three people represent you in the U.S. Senate and in the U.S. House of Representatives (legislative branch)? Third, what are the names of the current nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court (judicial branch)? No fair looking their names up. Here is a picture of them to help you along.



For the record, the two senators from Georgia are Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isaacson, and the congressman representing Georgia's Sixth Congressional District is Tom Price. But I can name only seven of the nine justices, and I can match only four of the names with their faces.

I hope you do better on the test than I did. Just be glad I didn't ask you to name the members of the President's cabinet. (Let's see, there's Condoleezza Rice who is the Secretary of State, and....)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More on Flannery O'Connor's "Revelation"

More of my comments from Scot McKnight's blog about reading Flannery O'Connor's short story, “Revelation”:

#1: “The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as unnatural to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural.” (Flannery O'Connor's reply when people said her fiction was grotesque)

Flannery made it clear what these unnatural, repugnant distortions actually are. When she submitted the final versions of some of her stories for publication, she wrote to her editor, “Enclosed are nine stories about original sin, with my compliments.” And of the so-called “deadly sins,” the story “Revelation” deals mostly with pride, or, rather, the stripping away of pride, and the manner in which it is stripped away. God has to shout to get Ruby Turpin's attention, just as Flannery O’Connor has to shout to her hard-of-hearing readers. First there is the accusation of Mary Grace in the doctor's office (“Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart-hog”) and then there is the echo of Ruby’s own voice while she is hosing down the hogs in her pig-sty (shades of the parable of The Prodigal Son!) and telling God off with, “Who do you think you are?” In the silence that follows the echo, it becomes increasingly clear to her just who she is, just as it becomes increasingly clear to readers of Flannery’s stories who they are as well.

Over at the Comforts of Home website, Steven Sparrow has posted a very good essay on “Revelation” called “And The Smug Shall Come Last.” Being Roman Catholic like Flannery, Steven’s take is a bit different from that of Protestants, who dismiss Purgatory altogether, but it is worth reading. Like the stars in the sky over Taulkinham in Flannery's novel, Wise Blood, it adds depth on depth to the story.


#3: After Ruby Turpin’s angry question to God (Who do you think you are?) came only an echo, then silence, which effectively turned the question back to her. And only then came the vision. Ruby saw a great heavenly procession "extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire,” with people like herself and Claud not leading the procession but bringing up the rear, behind all the people to whom she thought herself superior. Suddenly she “knew her place.” And even though her kind marched with dignity and they alone sang on key, “Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.” This probably suggests different things to different readers. Scot thought, until he read the story a second time, that the procession led both upward and downward and that these fires were the fires of Hell. Roman Catholic readers (and Flannery O’Connor was Roman Catholic) might assume the procession was entering Purgatory for the purification of their souls. I thought instead of Heaven, and the verse, “Our God is a consuming fire.”

After the vision faded, Mrs. Turpin remained immobile for a long time. Her pride, I think, was replaced by genuine humility, and her anger was replaced by genuine gratitude. When she moved again she was truly a changed woman, hearing in the cricket choruses of early evening “the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujahs.”

Reading Flannery O’Connor is like coming out of great darkness into marvelous light. One never looks at things quite the same ever again. At least, that has been my experience. Some people have entirely different reactions. My wife, for example, says only, “That woman is weird.”

If any of my posts about Flannery O'Connor's writing cause you to read any of her work, my work here is finished.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Birthday, Lilibet!

So far in the month of April, I have not blogged about April Fool's Day (1st), the income tax payment deadline (15th), or Paul Revere's ride in 1775 (18th). But since I am a devout Anglophile, which is a big word meaning I admire all things British, let me take this opportunity to wish Elizabeth II, Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and head of the British Commonwealth of Nations, a very happy 82nd birthday! The British, being a very strange people, celebrate her birthday in June when the weather is better.

Elizabeth was born on April 21, 1926, in London, the first child of Albert, Duke of York, and his wife, the former Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. She had little prospect of becoming queen until her uncle, Edward VIII (who had been called Prince David when he was the Prince of Wales), abdicated in December 1936. Her father became George VI and she became first in line to the throne. Whether she was an heiress-apparent or an heiress-presumptive is something only English people care about.

Elizabeth's full name is Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor-Mountbatten. As a child, she was called Lilibet. Lilibet and her little sister, Princess Margaret Rose (who will never be a Kappa Kappa Gamma*), were pretty much raised and educated by their governess, Mrs. Crawford, or as the royal family called her, “Crawfie.” The British royals have this thing about names. Elizabeth's oldest child, the Prince of Wales, is named Charles Philip Arthur George (at his marriage to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, Diana reversed the order of his second and third names in her vows; perhaps her fingers were crossed also). Charles's younger sister is named Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise. Their younger brothers are Andrew Christian David (the Duke of York, who used to be married to Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York) and Edward something-or-other (whose wife's name is Sophie). If Charles ever becomes king, he may be called Charles III or George VII or something else. Maybe even King Arthur. In the names department, none of them can hold a candle to Elizabeth's grandmother, Queen Mary, who was married to George V. Her full name was Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes.

Elizabeth II (try singing the following to the tune of “Tea for Two”: “E II R and R II E, and me for her and her for me”) ascended to the throne in February, 1952, upon the death of her father, King George VI. She has now been Regina D. G. (Queen by the grace of God), as the coins say, for 56 years. Only two British monarchs have reigned longer: George III for sixty years (1760-1820) and Victoria for sixty-four years (1837-1901). I believe Louis XIV in France reigned for seventy-two years, but we're not talking about the French right now.

The current House of Windsor-Mountbatten was formerly just the House of Windsor (Elizabeth added the hyphen and her husband Philip's last name, Mountbatten). Before that it was called the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha because Elizabeth's great-great-grandmother, Victoria, married Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha; and before that it was called the House of Hanover all the way back to 1714, when the House of Hanover came to power following the death of Queen Anne, the last monarch of the House of Orange. (Before the House of Orange there was the House of Stuart, whose first monarch was called James I of England and James VI of Scotland and happened to be the son of Mary, Queen of Scots; and before the House of Stuart there was the House of Tudor, which included Henry VIII and Elizabeth I; and before the House of Tudor there were the Houses of Lancaster and York, who fought the War of the Roses; and before them there was the House of Plantagenet; and on and on it goes, almost ad infinitum and certainly ad nauseam, back for more than 1200 years to around the year 800 A.D., and if a real King Arthur ever existed, he must have lived in the dawn of British history.) The name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was changed to Windsor, after Windsor Castle, around the time of World War I (1914-1918) because Saxe-Coburg-Gotha sounded too German and Britain happened to be fighting the Germans at the time.

*In a long-ago book entitled, A Southern Belle Primer, or Why Princess Margaret Will Never Be A Kappa Kappa Gamma, it was revealed that the princess smoked cigarettes in public, thus disqualifying herself from the company of proper young ladies of the day, many of whom, apparently, belonged to the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. Also, she's dead.

As proof of my devout Anglophile-hood, or maybe that should be Anglophilia, I have written this entire post without referring to any reference material whatsoever. You'll just have to take my word for it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Food for thought from Jesus Christ

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, written originally in Persian in the eleventh century, was translated into English in the nineteenth century by Edward Fitzgerald (no relation to F. Scott). English readers have been enjoying it ever since. The word “rubaiyat” is related to the Persian word for the number 4, and the poem consists of many four-line stanzas known in the poetry trade as quatrains. Probably the most familiar passage from The Rubaiyat is quatrain XII:

“A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
Ah, Wilderness were Paradise enow!”

Good food, good drink, good literature, good music, a good companion, Omar seems to be saying, will turn a wilderness into a paradise. He advocates a hedonistic approach to living, the pleasures of epicureanism, the sensual life. Eat, drink, and be merry, as the saying goes, for tomorrow we may die. To be fair, eating (partaking of the loaf of bread), drinking (partaking of the jug of wine), and being merry (partaking of poetry, music, Thou) are not evil in themselves; on the contrary, they are desirable and good if not pursued to excess. However, Jesus Christ said something different. He taught that our life consists of more than that. Let's look at what He said in context, in verses 13 through 34 of the twelfth chapter of Luke's gospel:

“And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life does not consist of the abundance of the things which he possesses.

“And he spoke a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, You fool, this night your soul shall be required of you: then whose shall those things be, which you have provided? So is he that lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

“And he said to his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat; neither for the body, what you shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them: how much more are you better than the fowls? And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If you then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take you thought for the rest? Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is today in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith? And do not seek what you shall eat, or what you shall drink, neither be of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knows that you have need of these things. But rather seek the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.

“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that fail not, where no thief approaches, neither does moth corrupt. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

For some of you, your heart seems to be at QVC and the Home Shopping Network. If you didn't know this particular teaching of Jesus before, now you do. It's right there in the pages of the New Testament. Which brings us back, full circle, to quatrain LI in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:

“The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ogden Nash, anyone?



Ogden Nash (1902-1971) was an American poet who amused us for many years with his observations on such subjects as marriage (“To keep your marriage brimming / With love in the loving cup, / Whenever you're wrong, admit it, / Whenever you're right, shut up.”), progress (“I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree. / Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, I'll never see a tree at all”), wild animals (“The panther is like a leopard, / Except it hasn't been peppered. / Should you behold a panther crouch, / Prepare to say Ouch. / Better yet, if called by a panther, / Don't anther.”), and babies (“A little talcum / Is always walcum.”). Contrary to popular opinion, however, he did not write, “Oh, a wonderful bird is the pelican! / His bill holds more than his belican. / He can take in his beak / Enough food for a week. / But I'm darned if I know how the helican.” That was written by someone else.

Over at the online magazine Slate (www.slate.com), one regular feature is a category called “Culturebox” where former American poet laureate Robert Pinsky holds forth weekly on poetry. In this week's column, “Why Don't Modern Poems Rhyme, Etc. (Frequently asked questions on the business of poetry),” which was published on April 17, Pinsky didn't really answer any of the questions listed. Instead, for the most part, he ignored each question and printed, without comment, poems that made the questions and questioners appear foolish and uninformed. For example, the question “Why don't American poets write about politics or current events?” was followed by Allen Ginzberg's well-known poem, “America.” And the question “Why don't modern poems rhyme?” was followed by two of Thom Gunn's poems that do. In answer to the question, “How come real poetry in our great-grandparents' time was easy to understand and great?” Pinsky responded, “Do you mean like this?” and showed an extremely difficult-to-understand poem by Emily Dickinson , “or like this?” and showed a trite, sing-songy one by Edgar A. Guest. Intentionally or not, Pinsky started a minor firestorm in the readers' comments section; readers disliked his rudeness and arrogance, and took him to task for his general lack of helpfulness.

As usual, I could not resist entering the fray and left the following comment:

Many in these comments have asked what is wrong with light poetry, and I say, “Absolutely nothing, but it's not rocket science.” One commenter asked where do we find a poet still living who can rival Ogden Nash in poetry that is light or happy or funny...Well, I'm certainly no Ogden Nash, but I did write a poem a few years back called “The Ogden Nash Travel Agency.” I thought some of you might enjoy it. It might even wash the taste of Pinsky out of your mouth. Here it is:


The Ogden Nash Travel Agency (by Robert H. Brague)

The next time you go to Cambodia,
Be sure that you see Angkor Wat;
The Khmer Rouge will all say hellodia,
But some other natives may not.
Avoid controversial discussion
In the capital city, Phnom Penh;
Prefer Chinese cooking to Russian --
You may want to go there agenh.

When sailing upon the Aegean,
Remark on the dullness of Crete.
To do otherwise is plebian;
’Twill help make your visit complete.
Don’t make the mistake in the Bosphorus
Of calling the place Dardanelles;
A slip here could mean total losphorus:
We’d be laughed at from here to Seychelles.

While backpacking through Micronesia,
You’ll have, we expect, a real ball!
The folk there go all out to plesia;
Some natives wear nothing atoll.
They’ll know that you’re not a wahine (“wah-heeny”)
If you don’t sport an all-over tan.
For modesty, take a bikini;
It’s called the American plan.

A weekend in Mesopotamia
Or one on the coast of Brazil?
Do both! Go on, splurge! We don’t blamia
For wanting to have a real thrill!
So float down the mighty Kaskaskia
Or tour Vladivostok by bus;
Just one little thing we would askia:
Please purchase your tickets from us.


So there you have it, my small contribution to the mirth and merriment of nations. Actually, my favorite poem by Ogden Nash, “The Middle,” is neither funny nor light, but achingly poignant in four short lines:

The Middle (by Ogden Nash)

When I remember bygone days
I think how evening follows morn;
So many I loved were not yet dead,
So many I love were not yet born.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

More on Flannery O'Connor

When it comes to the use of “shock and awe,” Flannery O'Connor was decades ahead of the Bush-Cheney crowd. This is my all-time favorite quote from Flannery O’Connor (not from her work, but about it):

“When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs that you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock--to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the blind you draw large and startling figures.”

And here's my second favorite quote from Flannery O'Connor:

“Everywhere I go, I’m asked if the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

(Note to commenter Anonymous (Bob): if you're reading this, I've responded to your comments at my earlier Flannery O'Connor post. We can continue either here or there, or both.)

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's off to work we go

Over at Scot McKnight's blog they are working their way chapter by chapter through a new book by Darrell Cosden, The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work. After reading this sentence: “God has called a chosen few to serve by focusing on eternal, lasting matters, while he has called others to serve by focusing on earthly, less ultimately important, matters,” I weighed in with the following:

Are you saying you agree with that statement, Scot? The part that caused my jaw to drop is the phrase “less ultimately important.” Brother Lawrence would be surprised, I think. To claim spiritual superiority for “clericalism” sounds too much like what Someone Else called “the doctrine of the Nicolaitains, which I hate.”

An old fundamentalist, Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., once said, “To the Christian, there is no difference in the sacred and the secular. All ground is holy ground; every bush is a burning bush.”

Maybe those old fundamentalists knew something after all. (End of comment)

A little later I posted another comment there quoting someone who said it better than I could:

“The value of life does not depend upon the place we occupy. It depends upon the way we occupy that place.” -- St. Therese of Lisieux

An update: The saga of the knee continues

As I mentioned in an earlier post (“It didn't even come close to déjà vu!,” April 3rd), Ellie's second knee surgery experience has been decidedly different from her first knee surgery experience three months ago. This continues to be true even after leaving the hospital. There has been less swelling and bruising this time, but more pain. She is still using the walker 17 days out from surgery, whereas the first time she stopped using it on day 11. Also, the tegaderm (second skin) that covered the dressing caused several large blisters on her leg this time. She has not been a happy camper. Also, she is still taking the stronger hydrocodone (Lorset plus) pain medication and hasn't shifted yet to oxycodone (Lorset minus?).

On Tuesday, the staples were removed at the surgeon's office (another difference: only 24 staples were used on Ellie's left knee compared to 37 on her right knee) and then they took X-rays. The surgeon is very pleased with how the knee looks. When asked why the pain is greater this time around, he said, “Every knee is different and every surgery is different.” Ellie will continue to have home therapy through tomorrow. The doctor has ordered six weeks of outpatient therapy beginning next Monday, April 21. When I look at the calendar, it appears we'll be making thrice-weekly trips to Woodstock until almost Memorial Day. But we will get through this. As Ellie often says, “This too shall pass.”

As I've said many times before, “Life is what happens to you while you're making other plans.” (Or was that John Lennon?)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bluebonnet time in Texas

I grew up in Texas, my family having moved there from Rhode Island the summer before I entered second grade. I left Texas at the age of 20 (how can it possibly have been 47 years ago?), but even though I now live in an area of the country where every spring is absolutely gorgeous with white dogwoods, pink dogwoods, purple redbuds, purple tulip trees, white Bradford pear blossoms, pale pink cherry blossoms, azalea bushes in many shades, daffodils, phlox, forsythia (I could go on and on), every year around this time I become nostalgic for flat land, mesquite trees, and a field filled with bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush. This photograph (click on it and it will become a full-screen version) could have been taken from the front yard of my childhood home (it wasn't--I found it on the internet). All it needs to make the scene complete is a dirt road and what people in Texas call a "bob-war fince" (barbed wire fence). If the photographer had then turned and taken a snapshot in a different direction, you might see a pasture full of Hereford cattle, the reddish-brown kind with faces of white. And if the photographer had turned in still another direction, you might see my mother picking blackberries or peaches or roses or lilacs, or you might see my father coming home from work, carrying his lunchpail, walking up the lane all the way from the paved road where his carpool dropped him off.

As an old poem says, “Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight, / Make me a child again just for tonight!”

I don't really want to go back; it was not an idyllic period of my life. I am just missing the bluebonnets tonight.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The incomparable Flannery O'Connor

My all-time favorite writer is Flannery O'Connor. If you've never read anything by her, time's a wastin'. Get thee to a library and check her out. At a Christian blog that I visit regularly, jesuscreed.org, I have been participating recently in a discussion about her. For purposes of my own blog, and since my words belong to me, I quote below my own comments only.

#6, #7 (combined): As one who has made Flannery's home state of Georgia his adopted home, I do not find her “too grotesque and bizarre” at all, as does [name withheld]. A Latin phrase comes to mind: de gustibus non est disputandum (there’s no disputing about taste), but let me just say that Northerners often find Flannery’s characters unbelievable and incomprehensible; Southerners (with the possible exception of Atlantans) recognize them as neighbors and friends that they see every day. Flannery’s ear is pitch-perfect and her eye is single to His glory.

I had never heard of her until a corporate transfer (I’ve Been Moved) brought me to Georgia in 1975. One day on my lunch hour I wandered into the West Paces Ferry branch of the Atlanta Public Library and, being a new resident, picked up a magazine called Brown’s Guide to Georgia to peruse. I was intrigued by an article in it by Betsy Fancher about Flannery O’Connor. Since I was now officially a Georgian, I decided to read something of hers. The only thing on the shelves that day was her posthumously published collection of short stories entitled Everything That Rises Must Converge. Later I read her first volume of short stories, A Good Man Is Hard To Find, and only after that did I read her two novels, Wise Blood, which is about The Holy Church Of Christ Without Christ, among other things, and The Violent Bear It Away, which should give both paedobaptists and credobaptists pause. Her non-fiction essays (Mystery and Manners) and her collected letters (The Habit of Being), both edited by Sally Fitzgerald, are treasure troves. Let’s just say I love reading stuff by and about Flannery O’Connor.

There are some wonderful essays online (especially those by Stephen Sparrow of New Zealand) at a site called Comforts of Home: The Flannery O’Connor Repository (the internet address is http://mediaspecialist.org/index.html).

Once you “get her,” few other writers are as satisfying.

#10: [name], she may or may not be poking fun at her characters but she finds them redeemable. There’s a customer review of her Collected Works over at Amazon, by a guy named Pliplup, that says it very well:

“Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound that saved this wretched human race. O’Connor writes of God’s love and redemption of humanity. She uses exaggeration to make her point. Her characters are so very silly, obtuse, bigoted, loathsome they become cartoons, yet there is a deep integrity to their shallowness. She’s not making fun of them, but giving them the justice of a pitiless description. Indeed they do not seem judged, but naked — the fruits of their stupid, misguided ideas and actions on display. And these children of God do shocking things to others and themselves. And yet….

And yet God allows them to live and learn, or not learn if that is their inclination. He gives them this freedom. He loves them. How can this be? How?

I love O’Connor for her art, her convictions, her courage, and her love. She is so very true and honest.”

I sincerely hope and pray that I haven’t violated a copyright.

#16: [name], what??!!?? Can anything good be found in a story? I don’t know, can anything good be found in your story? In my story? It’s rather like saying, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’-–isn’t it?

God is Creator, and we, His Eikons, are sub-creators since we are made in His image (see C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien).

Forgive the prose-only readers, Father, they know not what they do.

#17: [name], the humor in Flannery O’Connor’s fiction is not as broad as Barry, Keillor, or Grizzard, but it’s far more cutting. For example, the girl who tells Ruby Turpin she’s a wart-hog from Hell is named Mary Grace (she is not the grace itself but perhaps a doorway leading to grace?); the cynical PhD. whose wooden leg is stolen in a hayloft by a Bible salesman she hopes to seduce is named Joy Hopewell (although she calls herself Hulga); and the Bible salesman who does the actual seducing, who has been believing in nothing ever since he was born, is named Manley Pointer. You don’t get any funnier than that.

#33: The first story of Flannery’s that I read was “Everything That Rises Must Converge” from the collection of the same name. Each story in that book jolted me in some way. “Greenleaf,” “A View of the Woods,” “The Enduring Chill,” and on and on. “Parker’s Back,” oh, my word. “Revelation.” “Judgement Day.” “The Comforts of Home.” “The Lame Shall Enter First.” And “Revelation.” This woman’s stories have changed me forever. Everybody needs a kick in the pants occasionally, or a whop upside the head, but over and over and over? (I guess the answer is “yes.”)

I have never advocated “the reading of fiction” in general because you really have to pick and choose. For example, much of the stuff on supermarket shelves is trash. Popular trash, maybe, but trash nonetheless. On the other hand, I have never hesitated to recommend anything Flannery O’Connor ever wrote.

If you don’t “get it,” just keep on reading. Eventually you will.

Her work transcends time and geographical place. Her characters may speak like backwoods Southerners, but that’s only to set the scene. People like them live everywhere. They’re all around you, and Jesus loves them. [End of comments]

I hope you're not too confused. A good read is hard to find.

---------------------------------

[Update: An anonymous commenter and I continued the conversation in several comments to this post. If you're not yet bored with Flannery O'Connor, have a look.]

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Is it just me or...

has anyone else ever noticed that in the “The Trouble With Tribbles” episode in the original Star Trek television series, when Captain Kirk said, “Who put the tribbles in the quadrotriticale?” the cadence and rhythm are identical to the old song, “Who put the overalls in Mrs. Murphy's chowder?”?

And what exactly is quadrotriticale, anyway? Obviously, it's a word invented for use in a science fiction series about life in the twenty-third century. But what is it? We all know (or maybe we don't) that triticale is a hybrid cereal grain produced by crossing wheat and rye, but what do you cross to get quadrotriticale? I'm biting my tongue to keep from saying that if you're a chicken you cross the road to get quadrotriticale, because that's where it is, on the other side. But this is a blog and the fingers work independently of the tongue.

Please excuse my rambling; it's late and I'm very tired.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Memo to Mother Nature: Please make up your mind!

Back in the early days of television, Buffalo Bob Smith opened every episode of a certain children's program with the words, “Hey, kids, what time is it?” and every kid in the peanut gallery answered, “It's Howdy Doody time!”

Every afternoon, I would sit transfixed as Howdy and Phineas T. Bluster and Princess Summerfallwinterspring and their friend Clarabelle the Clown flickered across our twelve-inch, black-and-white, Philco set. I also watched Miss Frances and her magic mirror on Ding-Dong School; and Burr Tilstrom, Fran Allison, and the whole gang on Kukla, Fran, and Ollie; and Beanie and Cecil, the Seasick Sea-Serpent; and Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney; and Pinky Lee; and Soupy Sales and his dogs, White Fang and Black Tooth; and even Jimmy Nelson and his dog, Farfel, who sang, “N-E-S-T-L-E-S, Nestle's makes the very best chocolate.” But I digress.

I dredge up these childhood memories only to mention that if Princess Summerfallwinterspring were alive and living in Georgia in 2008, Buffalo Bob would have to change her name to Princess Summerfallwinterspring,winterspring,winterspring,winterspring to describe accurately what's been happening around here. Mother Nature can't seem to make up her mind this year. We've had warm, balmy days in the 70's followed by plunges into the 30's, followed by temperatures in the 70's again, followed by blustery days with wind chill factors in the 20's. Yesterday's high temperature at Atlanta's airport was 82 and by tomorrow it's supposed to dive to around 30 again. Some of these wild swings in our weather have been accompanied by destructive tornadoes, fierce straight-line winds, and damaging hailstorms.

It's enough to rattle a person, but apparently it is par for the course. A man named Parnick Jennings who has owned funeral homes forever in Rome and Cartersville and who also hosts showings of old Bill Gaither Homecoming videotapes every Saturday night on one of our local cable channels (you haven't lived until you've experienced a television program hosted by a mortician) said recently “for all you newcomers” that Georgia often has three winters in one year. They even have been given names. He spoke of “blackberry winter,” “daffodil winter,” and “whip-poor-will winter.” We're all familiar with “Indian summer” in the autumn, but having special names for various winter cycles was a new concept to me. And kind of sweet. So as we brace for yet another bout of frigid air, please join us in praying that the cherry blossoms and dogwoods and azaleas will survive yet another blast from the Arctic's deepfreeze. And let us also give thanks, while we are at it, that the long drought appears at last to be coming to an end.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A short story

I wrote the following short story several years ago. It is mostly autobiographical, but some parts are fictional and certain names have been changed. Today, in honor of what would have been my mother's ninety-eighth birthday, I am posting it here on my blog.


Birthright

“Sibman.”

I can still see you saying it, Mama, hurrying to get it over with, hoping they didn’t hear too clearly. They never did. You knew they wouldn’t; you made sure they wouldn’t. Sometimes it came out different, your ear searching for the right sound: “Zimmerman,” you would say, or “Sellman,” or “Simmon.” I liked that one best. It made me smell hot cinnamon toast and taste the sweet persimmons from our yard.

I can still hear your eyes, Mama. Looking outward, seeing inward, they were the frightened eyes of a doe fleeing the hunter. But you were quick, you’d glance down, and they never saw. You always made sure they never saw.

But I did.

I saw and I heard, and I wondered why you were afraid, why you were so reluctant to reveal your maiden name. It seemed a fine name to me, a perfectly fine Jewish name. I liked the sound it made inside my head: Silberman. Bells chimed when I thought of that name. On our solitary visit to Pennsylvania when I was fourteen, when the telephone rang in your brother’s house and Uncle Jack who was really Jacob answered it with a cheery “Dr. Silberman,” I could hear in his voice a torrent of bells.

You told me never to say it to anyone, and you gave me other orders, too. “If someone wants to know what you are, say German,” you told me. “And never say Uncle Sol, call him Uncle Paul,” you said. Though I didn’t understand, the look in your eyes told me not to question, and I obeyed. Later, when I had heard of Auschwitz and Buchenwald and Dachau, I realized that you had private horrors and unspoken fears of your own. What happened, Mama? Did you plan to tell me someday? Was I too young? If you were waiting, you waited too long.

The cancers entered your body, crowding your life away, and as they advanced you receded. From a hundred and eight pounds at peak health, you were less than seventy at the end. I was sixteen years old when you died all those Octobers ago, all those eons ago.

Three eons after you were gone, I heard a pianist play something by Debussy at a recital at the university, a piece called La Cathedrale Engloutie, and in the swelling chords, the rising waters, I recognized the choking cancers growing also until, like the cathedral in the legend, you too were engulfed.

In the months and years before, in the dust and heat of the dry Texas sun, far from your early Philadelphia years, you were afraid. You were Jewish and afraid. But not me. I was a Methodist. Every week you sent me with the neighbors into town to attend Sunday School, and no one ever knew that you were Jewish, that I was half Jewish. It was our secret. Yours and mine and his.

I was twelve when I overheard the two of you arguing in whispers about a picture in a locket, a picture I never saw because he tore it to pieces that day. I knew then that he wasn’t my father at all. But you never knew I knew. It was our secret from each other. “Leave him alone,” you would cry whenever he hit me, “he never asked to be born.” All three of us had understood the message of your cry. When he began to try to tell me, after you were buried, all the color drained from his face when I said calmly that I had known for four years. He never touched me again. Eight months later he married a widow with four teenage children and life, as some people say, went on.

You had me, Mama, you loved me, and you kept me. And I know now that you were only trying to protect me, to spare me some of the hate in the world. You shouldn’t have been so afraid, Mama. Jesus said that we would know the truth and the truth would make us free. I read in a book that Louis XVI once asked Blaise Pascal to name one proof of the existence of God and Pascal answered, “The Jew, Your Majesty, the Jew.” You didn’t have to be afraid, Mama. Oh, they try to destroy us. The pharaohs tried, the Romans tried, the Inquisitors tried, Hitler tried, the Arabs are still trying today, but no one will ever destroy the Jew.

Once I came home from Sunday School, Mama, and asked you whether the Jews crucified Christ. Turning slowly toward me, your eyes widening, you said, “We were taught it was the Roman soldiers.” I know now it was neither Jew nor Roman soldier. It was all of us, Mama. All mankind in every century nailed Him to the cross, and He died for the sins of the whole world. You tried to take away my Jewishness, Mama, but my Messiah has come. Don’t you see, Mama? I wasn’t converted. Only Gentiles, goyim, are converted. I was completed. “Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us,” wrote Saul of Tarsus, a Jew. The exodus from fear can finally begin.

After the second funeral, I wrote to Aunt Miriam in Pennsylvania to learn more about my real father. “Ruth met him in New York,” she wrote. “He was a musician, a French-Canadian. He joined the Army and disappeared. We think he went to Panama when the war came. “What’s important, Billy, is not what he was, but what you are.”

You had two secrets, Mama--at least two. Awful secrets, as cancerous to your soul as the disease that wracked your flesh. How many more secrets there were I’ll never know.

Persimmons and eons, Mama. Cinnamon, persimmons, and eons. I love you, Mama, across the eons. “Dust thou art,” says the Bible, the Torah, “and unto dust shalt thou return.” Not you, Mama, not you. You’ll never be dust. You’re a Madonna in a cathedral. An emaciated Madonna in an engulfed, eternal cathedral. Even now, I can hear the bells chiming.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Signs that I am slowly losing my mind

Exhibit A: I'm just walking along, minding my own business, when out of the blue a line of poetry that Clement Clark Moore should have included in A Visit From St. Nicholas recites itself in my head: “He had a broad face, and a little round belly / That shook when he laughed, just like Liza Minnelli.”

Exhibit B: I'm just sitting there, minding my own business, when out of the blue a man's voice starts singing in my head. Not just any man's voice. Dean Martin's voice: “When a big slimy eel sinks its teeth in your heel, that's a moray.”

Exhibit C, to show a pattern of behavior: I'm just sitting there, back in the days when organ transplants were still experimental, minding my own business, when out of the blue a man on television announces that a baboon’s heart has been transplanted into a little girl’s body. To protect her family's privacy, the media refers to her only as Baby Fae (the little girl I mean, not the baboon). Well, my mind being what it is, I immediately think of an old song called “Baby Face” and write the following little ditty in under thirty seconds. If you try to sing it, it helps if you try to picture a line of chorus girls singing it behind you and moving their hands back and forth like girls in show biz do:

Baby Fae

Baby Fae,
You’ve got that certain somethin’,
Baby Fae,
Keep that new heart a-pumpin’,
One day real soon
You’ll be a baboon,
Gee, the doctors love ya,
They made a monkey of ya,
Baby Fae,
If you like strained bananas
Sue the A.M.A.,
With missing links they toyed
And now you’re anthropoid,
Our little ape-girl, Baby Fae!

and now for the reprise and the big finish:

Baby Fae,
If you like strained bananas
Sue the A.M.A.,
With missing links they toyed
(dunt dunt dunt DUNT dunt dunt)
And now you’re anthropoid,
(dunt dunt dunt DUNT dunt dunt)
Our little ape-girl baby,
Ape-girl baby,
Little ape- (kick) girl (kick),
Bay- (kick) bee (kick) Faaaaaaaae!

and exit, stage left, to wild applause.

------------------------

The jury has returned from its deliberations. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, for your service. You are dismissed. This court is now adjourned.

Okay, so either I have a gift for parody or I'm losing my mind. Okay, I'm slowly losing my mind. Okay, not so slowly. If only I had sent that song to Saturday Night Live.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A homecoming celebrated and a homegoing remembered

As Ellie was gathering her belongings to come home from the hospital yesterday afternoon (amidst great rejoicing on our part, don't know about the hospital), the radio and TV news programs were all emphasizing the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis, Tennessee. I remember that time well. Those were unsettled days. The war in Viet Nam was raging. President Lyndon Johnson had just announced four days earlier that he would not seek and would not accept his party's nomination for a second term as president. And although Dr. King was a hero to the black community and had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he was not universally loved and admired in white America. The director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, had been doing his best for some time to tie Dr. King in with the Communists. Still, the news was shocking. On the day after Dr. King's assassination, New York's Senator Robert F. Kennedy said poignantly, "What has violence ever accomplished?" and we all thought of his brother, the assassinated president. Two months later, Robert F. Kennedy himself was killed by an assassin's bullet. Two months after that, the streets of Chicago erupted in rioting during the 1968 Democratic Convention.

Maybe because I am a musician, what I remember most from the week of Dr. King's death are two songs that were sung during his funeral service, which was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and nationally televised. The first song, "My Heavenly Father Watches Over Me," was sung by an alto who was obviously distraught; her rendition was emotional and powerful, but it was not an especially beautiful one. Then a first soprano sang with dignity and grace a wonderfully simple but soaring song that spoke volumes, "If I Can Help Somebody." In my estimation, it was the high point of Dr. King's funeral service. This song, written by Alma Bazel Androzzo in 1945, had been Dr. King's favorite gospel song. Its lyrics are as follows:

If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he is trav’ling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

Then my living shall not be in vain,
Then my living shall not be in vain;
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring back beauty to a world up-wrought,
If I can spread love’s message that the Master taught,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

Then my living shall not be in vain,
Then my living shall not be in vain;
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
Then my living shall not be in vain.

Although some wondered at the time whether Dr. King's tragically foreshortened life had been for naught, history has shown that if ever a person helped somebody in America in the last fifty years, if ever someone's living has definitely not been in vain, that person was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Read some of his speeches, some of his sermons. Better yet, watch and listen to them. His eloquence is way beyond anything Barack Obama has said to date.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

It didn't even come close to déjà vu!

Boy (or, to be both politically correct and gender-neutral, Boy and Girl), was I ever wrong about Ellie's latest hospital stay being déjà vu all over again. As the kids used to say, "Not!" Here are some of the ways in which Ellie's two hospitalizations for knee replacements (referred to as "H1" and "H2" in the remainder of this post) have differed so far.

H1 -- On Day 1, Ellie spent several hours in a groggy, loopy, coming-out-of-narcotics state known as "recovery."
H2 -- On Day 1, Ellie became lucid immediately after her surgery because no narcotics were used. (How the medical people managed to block the femoral nerve and the sciatic nerve, not to mention replace Ellie's knee, without using narcotics is a mystery to me.)

H1 -- On Day 2, with help from the people from Physical Therapy, Ellie took a few steps around her room in the morning and a few steps down the hall in the afternoon. The dreaded "buckling of the knee" possibility we were warned about did not occur.
H2 -- On Day 2, Ellie's knee buckled, she became dizzy, and nearly fell. A few minutes later she passed out in the bathroom. The people from Physical Therapy, plus a registered nurse, helped Ellie get back in bed. No physical therapy occurred on Day 2. Ellie slept most of the day after receiving pain medication intravenously for pain in her leg. After the pain medication took effect, Ellie said, "Two brown dogs jumped out of the back of that truck over there. They're coming this way."

H1 -- On the morning of Day 3, Ellie went to her first physical therapy session in the gym around the corner from the Joint Replacement Unit. In the afternoon, she went to her second physical therapy session.
H2 -- On the morning of Day 3, Ellie went to X-ray and then to Ultrasound to determine whether a blood clot had formed in her leg. Thank God, there was no blood clot. Since the results of the tests were not known until the afternoon, no physical therapy occurred on Day 3.

H1 -- On Day 4, Ellie went to her third physical therapy session in the gym in the morning and to her fourth physical therapy session in the afternoon.
H2 -- On Day 4, Ellie developed severe stomach pain after being given her morning medications on an empty stomach. Her stomach was empty because she did not eat her breakfast. She did not eat her breakfast because she was nauseated from pain medication administered intravenously. (Mea culpa: Both of us had neglected to tell the nurse that Ellie hadn't eaten any breakfast.) The physical therapy people took Ellie to the gym in the morning but decided she was too sick to try to exercise; they returned her to her room. In the afternoon, Ellie went to her first physical therapy session in the gym.

H1 -- On the evening of Day 4, Ellie was discharged from the hospital after attending four post-surgery physical therapy sessions.
H2 -- On the evening of Day 4 (that would be today), Ellie prepared to spend another night in the hospital after having attended one physical therapy session. Perhaps she will be discharged on Day 5. Perhaps she will be discharged on Day 6.

So much for thinking I knew what would occur during Ellie's second hospital stay. The truth, despite what meteorologists think, is that we never know what is about to occur. The words of an old gospel song should have reminded me: "I know not what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future; it's a secret known only to Him." And another song says it even better: "If we could see, if we could know, we often say. But God in love a veil doth throw across our way. We cannot see what lies before, and so we cling to Him the more, He leads us till this life is o'er. Trust and obey."

Next time (if there is a next time), I'll try to remember those gospel songs.