I went with my wife to visit her parents. She comes from a small town in southern Illinois, Duqoin, which is slowly dying, its hey day long past. Its basic industry had been coal mining, and everyone was bitter about natural gas killing off the mines and killing jobs. Many blamed President Obama. I tried gently to explain that the discharge from the burning of coal was a horrible polluter, but my arguments bounced like peas off one listener, like peas off a steel helmet. But clearly the town is down at the heels, with no relief in sight. My wife was very saddened by the sight, driving by and looking at the old houses she and her friends had grown up in.
We prayed at the grave of one set of grandparents. I prayed too. I asked God to bless their souls; noting they had loved and inspired and made a mark on the souls of their children. I always remember the sentence by Civil War historian, Bruce Catton, writing of the war’s veterans, saying at first, they were admired, then tolerated, and then forgotten.
Isn't that the same for all us? We enjoy two generations of being remembered, and then we too will be forgotten. But hopefully, we imparted values in our children that will stand them in good stead in living their lives.
Thoughts and Insights
Several things occurred to me when we were there.
Never ever dismiss a stranger. They may look commonplace, their speech may appear dull and insipid, their appearance may be unkempt, but that person is liable to be the one who performs the Heimlich maneuver when you choke over a steak. That is not to say that we should try and make use of any new stranger you encounter. Simply try to remember that they were human souls just like us. Admire people for what they think they are and leave the rest alone.
There is one golden rule when you see a stranger or a group of strangers: look and overlook. By disliking a stranger totally, you leave them no room for compromise; because what you are demanding is that they have to become a different person for you to like and admire them. Yet no one can, by an act of will, alter his or her own peculiar individuality. You cannot alter their moral character, the intellectual gifts, their temperament and physique. A short man is a short man. A tall man in a tall man. If you dislike someone and break into a rash at the thought of them, you leave them no course but dislike you and enter into a disagreeable conflict with you. Even an idiot can sense another’s contempt right away. .
It is every person’s habit to view another and think that you are more intelligent or have better morals or more physical talents than they have. This is a grievous error and a symptom of blind conceit. We all of us suffer from parts of our personality that fall short; areas of the mind that are dense, feelings that are tone deaf to certain gifts of others. Conversation with strangers will soon make clear what such areas are. Don’t defend your shortcomings. Keep silent.
Steer clear of labels. Labels are as touchy as explosives. In any political discussion step wide of labels. If someone strays into politics, examine the qualities that you admire in leaders. Be truthful. But above all things, don’t declare what side you are on. Even in the best of us, politics brings out the worst in us. Allow them the freedom to be wrong, just as they would allow us the freedom to be wrong as well.
No man can see over his own height. You can only admire in an others, what you possess in yourself. A man who is color blind will never be stirred by discussions of the color blue or red or yellow. He knows that it is admired, but really doesn’t know why and never will. You cannot convince a colorblind that there is such a thing as color. Don’t make the effort. If a person has gifts of a low order, and then said next to Hemingway, little of you say about Hemingway would be intelligible to them. Don’t ever voice an admiration for something only in order to try and make someone who doesn’t share it feel stupid. An ordinary mind roams on a very narrow road, a very narrow orbit. All of us exhibit an ordinary mind at some point or other.
The first rule of traveling to a strange place has two intellectual requirements, look and overlook. You should right away judge of the people you meet and talk to. Therefore, listen carefully and don’t talk. If you are waiting until there is a pause in the conversation which allows you to start to exposit the merits of The Iliad or The Odyssey, don’t waste your time. They are not interested, their experience of life doesn’t allow any such interest, and so don’t be a nuisance. Confide your ideas to your diary.
Like dispositions feel an agreement right away. Never mind how absurd their opinions sound (yours are just as absurd) and simply listen and enjoy what they have to say. There is no intellectual competition between friends. They have their experience of life and you have yours. At certain points, an insight of their will excite interest in you and you want to reply. Do. But be brief and begone.
When on a trip, the best rule is, have no contempt for what people cannot help. A short person is a short person. A tall person is a tall person. To be critical of what they cannot change is heartless An overweight person may prompt questions about that person’s self discipline, their power of will, their ability to curb self indulgence, and you may feel a bit of superiority to them. We see TV series about hoarders or one called, “My 600 pond Life. Why did they not see what was happening to them, and why did their appetite for food end by marring their figure and resulting in disability? We do not know.
I knew of a young kid who had always been chubby. He was a dreamy, ineffectual kid and he noted the ridicule sent his way by being overweight. So one day, he grew sick of it. His solution? Stop eating. He had nothing but milk and water for six weeks. His weight went from 172 to 122. A relative jeered as his scrawniness by saying he looked like a survivor of Auschwitz, but he was undismayed. Every evening that summer he went and lifted weights for two and a half-hours. This was overtraining, but he didn’t know better. He kept doing his exercise and by the time school had begun he had put on 15 pounds f muscle. Soon, he began to get straight A’s where before he had earned only C’s and became a member of the Dean’s List where he remained until he had graduated. He had not lost the weight in order to obtain praise, but it was nice that the praise came.
A woman in her late forties or early fifties sat to my right one seat up on the aisle. I first noticed her because as we were waiting to take off, I saw that she was jittery. In fact, she had never legs crossed and I saw she was wiggling her foot 4 beats to a second. In a seat up from her on her side, a young man had his laptop open and was studying the spread sheets of a musical score. He read that for a long time, for one and a half hour. The jittery woman opened her lap top and for the next hour, played “Wheel of Fortune," a TV game show.
Anyone who flies thinks of their plane crashing. I don’t mind turbulent weather, but it scares my wife. I’ve told her that if it looks as if our plane is about to crash, we are not to panic, but give each other the most lavish, lingering kisses before we die. Such things take away unreasoning fear. I want my last thoughts to be of her.
At one point, I thought of the first death I had experienced as a little boy of six, I had a classmate named Patricia Blood, who, during the summer vacation, had eaten some red berries which had poisoned and killed her. As far as I can recall, she was cute.
The death I saw occurred when s one of my mother's Christian Science church members suddenly died. Christian Science in those days was a form of positive thinking for rich Republicans. The woman’s name was Mrs. Bull. She was a heavy set woman, and made no impression on me, but the family, including my grandparents, went to her funeral. I don’t remember what was said, just that the atmosphere was very lugubrious and gloomy. I was a freshman in public school when the next death occurred. In the grade above mine, there were two twins, a brother and a sister. The brother one night felt frisky and adventurous and climbed atop a stopped train at the Pelham New York station. When he stood up, he accidentally brushed his back against a power line carrying hundreds of volts. He was executed immediately. The town was speechlessly shocked. They were horror stories relating how some medic had injected him with anesthesia only to have it drain out from his horribly burnt leg.
The first thing about World War II I learned death with the death of a merchant seaman from Pelham New York, who was a gunner on a merchant ship during the Battle of the Atlantic in 1941. His name was Kenny Muir. A German submarine had surfaced and shelled the ship and Kenny was killed near his gun. My mother never got over his death, and she told his story ceaselessly. I was only two years old when I got the photos of the wrecked battleships at Pearl Harbor. My father, who was an expert builder amateur trains and layouts, was also Ham radio operator and who made records of Walter Cronkite talking of the battle of France in May of 1940. I tried to hang onto these but when we moved to El Paso a few years later, but they were dumped as worthless rubbish. With them went books like Tarawa by Robert Sherrod, Thirsty Seconds over Tokyo, Guadalcanal Diary and more. They are very valuable today.
The other event I recall was the sinking of the French liner Normandie. My mother drove me down to the harbor on the Westside, and I gawked out the window to see this vast, overturned hull. My mother told me that the Nazis sank it, and only much later, did we learn that the Mob was responsible.
And soon, the crew of the plane alerted us that we were about to land. Our brief flight was over.