This one's for you Jill . . .
The other day, an old, beloved friend posted on her Facebook page "by the time i finish reading, scanning scrolling through my fb feed, my soul is crushed . . ." Although understanding of - and largely in agreement with - her sentiment, I was deeply saddened by what she posted, for historically, she's always been an immensely creative artist who sees and responds to the world in colors that would make Monet sit up and proclaim vas-y meuf! (roughly "You go girl"!). Her plight got me to thinking and fearing that the "crushing" of her soul might put a roadblock in the path of her creativity. This fear got me to thinking:With the dire road our society, our country, culture - indeed our very world - has been traveling on, it is indeed true that each day brings yet another potentially stultifying soul screwing. But then I remember that at base I, like my friend, am somewhat of an artist who historically, hears (rather than sees) and responds to the world in literary - rather than literal - colors. Where my friend garners strength from the easel and art museum, I turn to the word processor and the library . . .
And so, with this brief introduction, permit me to introduce felicitous phrases from three very different sources - Abraham Lincoln, Robert F. Kennedy and Paul Simon - which may give my friend - and all of you - a bit of uplift . . .
The first, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as read by British actor Charles Laughton in the 1934 film Ruggles of Red Gap, is likely the greatest speech in American history. At the time Laughton recorded the scene below, he was, ironically, studying to take his citizenship examination. By the time of the film's release, he was a naturalized citizen of the United States. (BTW, Laughton always considered this scene the best he had ever played)
"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Next is a speech by then-Senator Robert F. Kennedy, given precisely a half-century ago. It is most fitting that we should be reminded of his words at this very point in time, when news about this most recent quarter's uptick in the nation's "Gross National Product" is celebrated as the greatest accomplishment since the parting of the Red Sea . . .
University of Kansas, March 18, 1968
Even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction - purpose and dignity - that afflicts us all.
Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product - if we judge the United States of America by that - that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.
It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.
It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.
It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
If this is true here at home, so it is true elsewhere in world.
Lastly, one of the greatest songs ever penned and performed by an American songwriter: Paul Simon's "American Tune" The version which follows was performed on October 1, 2011 at Mr. Simon's induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home
I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong
And I dreamed I was dying
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
And I dreamed I was flying
And high above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying
Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest
(©1973 Words and music Paul Simon)
(BTW: Mr. Simon adapted the music for this wonderful song from Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, which Bach, in turn, had taken from an earlier German Lutheran song by one Hans Leo Hassler called "Herzlich Tut Mich Verlangen," . . . "Sincerely, I Desire."
And so, at a time when reality is crushing oh so many, it is good to occasionally take a break and immerse ourselves in a an uplifting restorative . . . if but for a few moments. We will ride out these times of gloom and insanity and once again be able to turn our faces to the brilliant sun.
Smile dear friend; get out your palette and return to your easel. Giverny awaits . . .
Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone