I ought to be doing something productive, but I've backslid to my wastrel ways. It's that time of the year again. I do a lot of yardwork in the heat and humidity relieved by frequent beer breaks. (The price of beer has not risen as steeply as that of gasoline, so frequent refueling seems prudent.) These are taken sitting on the back steps in both daylight and darkness. After the sun goes down I still see people in the sky, but mostly just darkness.
There's all kinds of it out there, and I've written about most of it before and don't want to spoil what's left of summer by dwelling on it. It's hard to get away from though. We now have queer marriage in two states and nobody does anything about it. Can't somebody stop it if only on the grounds that it's morally oxymoronic? Or is it some kind of disease that has to run its course? I turn on the TV news and it's Obama this and McCain that, especially Obama, as if our salvation were hid in a ballot box. I've always thought he was a suave suit over an empty vest, but it appears that millions of people who call themselves Christian are prepared to vote for him. He calls himself, by the way, one of those too, whose conscience is blithely untroubled by this:
He, or she, is eleven weeks old. He doesn't look perfectly intact because the abortion procedure apparently requires the kinds of tools that usually accompany a surgery, sharp blades, for example. This has happened to millions of others just like him. Millions and millions. And millions. And if the kid happens to be a little older, say, in the 9th month of his mother's pregnancy, but she wants him gone, well Mr. Obama will remain unruffled should the doctor think it necessary to first maneuver the baby's body so that it's outside the birth canal, after which he scrambles the baby's brains with another kind of sharp instrument. Maybe Mr. Obama's thought long and hard about it. Maybe it was a real pain in his heart to vote against the partial-birth abortion act. If so, he'll probably tell us about it real soon.
I have a theory. I think that 11 week old kid's life was as important as yours. He won't grow up to get married and have kids, or cure some disease, or run for office over the dead bodies of people smaller than him, or mow the yard and drink good beer afterwards. His life was short and yours is long, but his was just as important. So was his death. That's the lesson I had thought to take from the Incarnation, that in coming down from heaven the second person of the Trinity had sent a message backward in history and forward in time concerning the worth of a human life, which is that it's beyond any measure of worth. In fact, that 11 week old's death may be more important than yours, because you'll probably die in bed, while he was attacked and slaughtered. Someone can probably make a case that he was a martyr fed to the lions of the modern faith. That faith, though, is not the Christian one, unless there's a newer, more advanced version that permits a man like Obama to call himself Christian while defending the necessity of murdering the innocent.
I've got another theory. I don't think you can be a Catholic or a Christian of any kind and vote for a man like that. Even Zippy won't back me up on that one. I suppose there's a pro forma sense in which you might be, in the same way that you can be an American citizen and still hate your country. As long as you've got the paperwork to prove it, and you've gone through any induction ceremonies required, you're in the club. It's sort of like showing up for work every day and finding clever ways to get out of it. You're a saboteur, a worm in the apple. Or maybe you've got your own idea of how things ought to be done, so you appeal to double-effect while some of us double over in laughter. The Republicans haven't done anything on abortion in spite of the lip service they pay to their aversion for it, so you'll vote for someone who's actually in favor of it because...and that's where I get lost.
"Well, I'm not voting for his abortion policy. That's just one issue and he's so good on other things like healthcare for everybody, income redistribution, an end to the unjust transgression in Iraq, affirmative action unto perpetuity, and his desire to refurbish our image in the world, especially in the European Union, and maybe the terrorists won't hate us so much when they see what a nice, citizen-of-the-world sort of fellow he is. I mean, I'm against abortion, but there's nothing anyone can do about it."
Ah, ye olde moral melting pot. And when you cast your vote, the ballot counter's going to parse it just like that and make sure Obama reads every word. "Well, looky there," he'll say, "another prolifer vote. God bless him. As a reward, I'm going to..." What?
I saw on the news the other day that Obama served a couple of years in the Illinois state senate, and has been a U.S. senator for only two. Is this correct? If so, is this country serious? I did happen to catch his little energy assertion that if we just keep our tires inflated and get regular tune-ups, we can save as much oil as we'd get from drilling. What an idiot. I've also noticed that when the speech is off-the-cuff, he says 'and' a lot, which is his version of 'uh'. And, and, and. Either of the foregoing ought to be enough to disqualify him.
All right, I'm done with him, and with politics for now. I wish people would quit talking about it. I wish we could make the news outlets drop the subject for the span of one week. Just one week. They'd have to sign off at midnight and a blessed silence would fall over the land. Forget politics. The fact that Obama might one day tax the economy into ruin, socialize your healthcare, cheerlead the gay marriage juggernaut, sign the Freedom of Choice Act, and solve the energy crisis with a tune-up is of little consequence. Those are the kinds of things politicians do. That's how they know that their lives are worth living. Forget him. Instead, talk to your family; you'll get more out of it. For example, here are two members of my family, Bernadette and Cedar, in conversation:
Now, that means something to me. I'm not sure I caught every nuance, but it sounded fairly important (the dog, quite obviously, speaking from his soul) and I just like having them around. (That's another reason, by the way, why those 11 week olders ought to be allowed to live, so that they can grow up and talk to animals. Kids like that sort of thing.) And I know that Bernadette, at least, prays every night that a whole bunch of unborn babies will be saved because grace has so moved their mothers' hearts. I wonder if Obama does that. All right, I swear, I'm done with him. Probably.
I went up to the 7-11 tonight (they should change the name to 7-7, or 24-7, since it's open 24 hours). Out front on the sidewalk sits a little white-haired old lady in a lawn chair, in front of the laundromat, actually, that shares one half of the building. Sometimes she's awake, sometimes sleeping with her head tilted onto her shoulder, a jacket turned backwards covering her torso. She wears jeans and athletic shoes. The thin caved-in suck of her lips tells you she's toothless. But she's not dirty or unkempt, quite well-groomed in fact. When I first saw her I didn't know what it meant. But it's been going on for months now, so I figure she's homeless. She never bothers anyone, never asks for anything. I'd guess her to be in her seventies. At least. Do you think you'll be homeless at 70? What's Obama going to do about her? (I said 'probably' I was done with him.) Give her a house? Pay the property taxes on it? Put her in a nursing home? Which would you prefer - the freedom to roam the streets, or the security of the nursing home? I'll bet she sleeps there because she doesn't like going to the shelters, or the interstate overpasses where the hardcases hang out. If this woman has any family, she sure is lost to them. I wonder where she'll die.
I found out today that a friend of mine has cancer. I used to work with him at the golf course. He's a former mechanic who's done a lot of free work on my car (I'm first surgical assistant, passing him the box wrench, the vice grip, etc.), and we've played a lot of golf together. He was supposed to have called me a couple times this week about playing but never did, so I called him and he finally admitted he's been drained of energy and making trips to the doctor. He had a little lump in his neck which his wife (a critical care nurse) insisted he get checked out. The cause was the 2 millimeter cancer they found on his tongue. They caught it early. The prognosis is 80 to 90% in his favor with chemo and radiation, which starts in a couple of weeks. He's only 50 years old, but the word cancer is a kick in the teeth at any age. One thing it will do, though, is make you forget about politics, and the delusion that its exercise contains salvific properties.
Another thing you can do to put it (politics) into its inconsequential perspective is to fool around with some software many of you probably already have on your computers and make slide shows which you can then burn to a DVD and give away as presents. Like this:
Sorry about the resolution, but when I play it in Real or WMP or on my TV it's crystal clear. If you'd like a tutorial on how to do these properly, visit this page hosted by a nice girl named Cara from South Africa, who will even answer if you send her a thank you email. At the bottom of one of her pages she quotes Auden's "The Night Mail":
They continue their dreams,
And shall wake soon and long for letters,
And none will hear the postman's knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?
People get forgotten in different ways. I made contact, for the first time in 20 years, by email with a former fellow student of Smith Kirkpatrick's. She is one of a bunch of us who are putting together our memories of him, in written form, that is, hopefully to be gathered all in one place and then spread among us and on to our posterity. She was pretty, talented, smart, hopeful, and I'd never have foreseen anything but the best for her. I'd have thought any man to whom she gave her hand would consider himself blessed. Instead, after 17 years of marriage, the fellow's left her, and she's suffering. She can't understand how people "can commit to each other like that and then just walk away." She had not planned "on being alone at 56." She has no children. She's done all right, professionally that is, as the editor of several magazines, most recently in south Florida, and she's good at it. She can still write, too. She sent me her reminiscence of those days at Smith's feet 30 long years ago, which I have no doubt she took the trouble to write in the midst of her misery. She puts me back in the classroom and in the presence of its "calm center," Smith. He was, she says, "the most gentle man I think I have ever known, a man who believed in me and what I could do." The writing program, "the group" she calls it, "became the reason I woke up most mornings." And then, suddenly, "we were all 30 years older."
She visited him in his final sickness, and said what he needed to hear, but what was also the perfect truth for all of us: "You changed my life."
Even though the classroom in which we sat has been torn down, she says it's still there in memory, and so is Smith, still "reading my stories into the night." Some things can't be destroyed. I told her I'd say a prayer for her peace of mind, and hope that others will too.