Imagine all the people, sharing all the world

From the first time I ever heard this song, I don’t even know how many years ago, I’ve hoped that people would take its message to heart. It’s a message of hope and love and peace, which are things that everybody should want, for themselves and everyone they come into contact with.

But the rush to war–like we saw a bit more than a decade ago in this country–drowns all that out. It makes people who oppose war seem like the ones who are in the wrong. But the fact is that war kills people. Benjamin Franklin once said there was no such thing as a just war, and he was right about that.

Pearl Jam has carried the anti-war banner for many years now, and I’m happy to hear them–or at least their frontman–step out in this way. I hope some day more will join him, and the world will live as one.


Something we cannot know

Happy 2013!

I read about the death of Spencer Cox with great interest today. It’s not because I knew him, or was even remotely familiar with what he had done with his time here on this earth. It turns out that he did some amazing things, helping to get some of the first effective medicines to fight against AIDS to the market in the mid-1990s.

I remember the hysteria about AIDS in the early and mid-1990s very well, and if he had anything to do with helping to allay that hysteria, then good for him. He clearly had an impact on the lives of thousands, if not millions. I’m honored to devote a few lines of my blog to recognizing the things he accomplished.

But what really got my attention was his age. Spencer Cox was just a few months older than I am when he recently passed away. With New Year’s eve coming up in a few hours, it reminded me that some of us who will celebrate the arrival of 2013 won’t have another new year’s to celebrate after that. Certainly, if someone were to ask Spencer Cox on the last New Year’s day what 2012 would hold for him, his own death probably wouldn’t have been on the list.

I hope, with all that I have and hold dear, that 2013 is a great and full year for me and everyone that I know (and for you too, gentle reader, whoever you might be). I’d like to have another 12-25 new years to celebrate before my time on this earth is up. But I don’t get to decide when my supply of New Years will run out, either. And the truth is none of us can know this, with any degree of certainty.

I’ve said many times in this space that I celebrate life by commemorating death. Why else would I have written about Larry Hagman and Adam Yauch, about Don Cornelius and Champ Summers, and about Whitney Houston and Ronnie Montrose? They were all with us when 2012 began, but they couldn’t know that 2013 would arrive without them. Nobody wants to think about that, really, but let’s remember what Benjamin Franklin said are the only two certainties in life: death and taxes.

So as the ball drops in Times Square this year, and the strains of “Auld Lang Syne” are played for the only time all year, I plan to remember that the New Year might be a great one, and it might be an awful one, and it might even be a partial one (although, again, I certainly hope that it isn’t).

Here’s wishing everyone who reads this a happy and full new year in 2013, or whenever it is that you find this.

When in Boston, don’t miss this

There are lots of historic sites in Boston, but this is one that I’ve never considered before. Along the Freedom Trail is a gem of a cemetery called the Granary Burial Ground, which I recently visited for the first time on a beautiful sunny day. Imagine, if you will, some of the biggest names from the Revolutionary era.

George Washington? No, sorry, he was a Virginian and isn’t buried here.

Thomas Jefferson? See the above answer.

Benjamin Franklin? Not buried here, but his parents are.

Paul Revere? Yes, he’s buried here.

Sam Adams? Yes, but there’s no mention of his brewing activities ; )

The victims of the Boston Massacre? All buried here.

John Hancock? Buried here, beneath a strangely phallic tombstone.

If there was such a thing as Who’s Who of the American Revolution, you’d find some of its most prominent members there. And for this reason it shouldn’t be missed on a future trip to Boston. The City Hall building, on the other hand, can be safely ignored.

Words to live by

I’m not sure how I came into possession of Benjamin Franklin on a baseball card, but I’ll take it. As Americans, we’re all descended from him, intellectually. Read Poor Richard’s Almanac today, and find some inspiration. It isn’t hard to do. My favorite is “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” Please feel free to tell me your favorites, too.

The first thing I ever wrote

All my life, I’ve loved to write. I once read that Benjamin Franklin, for all of the things he did in his lifetime, described himself as being a printer in his will. And I’m nowhere near Franklin’s standing, in anything, but I know how he felt. Whatever I’m doing, and whatever my job title might be, there has always been lots of writing involved.

And I still remember what the first thing was that I ever wrote for other people to read. The teachers at my school didn’t count, because those were assigned pieces. No, the first time I ever wrote something because I wanted to do it, and then shared that piece with the wider world, happened in the summer of 1982. By that reckoning, I’m coming up on thirty years of writing. That’s not so bad, really. It goes to show that time really does fly when you’re having fun.

In the summer of 1982, as I was preparing to enter high school in the fall, my paternal grandmother fell ill. She suffered from renal failure, and in a few months it would claim her life. We went to visit her in the hospital every day, and I had noticed that there was a mail collection slot in the hospital’s main lobby. So my mind went to work.

That summer, I watched a lot of professional wrestling on TV. My favorite show was Georgia Championship Wrestling on WTBS, the “superstation” out of Atlanta, Georgia. My favorite wrestler was was Roddy Piper, who was still a few years away from becoming “Hot Rod” and doing his shtick for Vince McMahon and the WWF. He was known as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper back then, and he had many rivalries with other wrestlers on the circuit.

So one night I wrote a Letter to the Editor of Inside Wrestling magazine. I would buy it with the money that I made on my paper route, and it would tell me things that I wanted to know about the wrestlers I saw on TV. It was as if they were cross-promoting each other, before I ever knew what that term meant.

The letter would probably make me cringe if I could read it today, but I think it’s safely disappeared into mists of time by now. The letter itself was a litany of praise for Roddy Piper, expressing my wish that he would conquer all of his foes and have a long, successful career in the process. I’m sure that his career eventually went better than anyone could have imagined back then.

We went to the hospital to visit my grandma the next day, and I put the letter I had written into the hospital’s mail slot when we arrived. And soon afterwards, I forgot all about it.

I started high school in the fall, and someone else I went to school with must have been reading the same magazine that I wrote to. They saw my letter and showed it to me, and I felt this sense of exhilaration. I had hoped they would print my letter, but I never really counted on it. But to see my name and hometown, right there in print, was just about the best feeling I had yet had in life.

In the intervening years, I’ve written articles and features, stories and poems, and more textbook and assessment materials than I would ever know how to quantify. And I’ve also written some things for this blog and a few others, too. But it all goes back to that first glimpse that I had, that first inkling, that first flash that came from seeing words that were once inside my head, now being presented for other people’s consideration and approval (hopefully).  I couldn’t describe it then, and I’m writing this, so many years later, because it’s still just about the best feeling there is.

Thanks for spending a few moments in the wayback machine with me.

Coming at life from the left

Yes, I have already written something about Dave Roberts and The Steal here. There’s not much I can say about him here, except to point out that he played for four teams other than the Red Sox, but I imagine that nobody knows this. And even though he’s the Red Sox’ 2004 hero, you’ll likely never find a Red Sox baseball card for him, either. Funny how that works out sometime.

The purpose of this post is to point out something that I’ve always been able to spot. Being a left -hander is strange, because you’re forever seeking out others who are like you. At least, that’s how it is for me. And it’s only when I see someone wielding a pen–as Dave Roberts is here–that I can tell what someone’s dominant hand usage is.

Being left-handed forever sets me apart from the majority of the people in the world. Right-handedness is the rule, and left-handedness is the unusual exception. If you took 20 people and put them all in a room, three leftys is about the most you could expect to find.

Sometimes I think about fellow left-handers like Benjamin Franklin, or Jimi Hendrix, or even Babe Ruth. Our current president is another example. We all have to find our way in a world that’s made for right-handers at every step. If you don’t believe me, try this: take a pencil or pen with text on it, and put it in your left hand. Can’t read the writing on it, can you? That’s just one example, but there are others (pencil sharpeners, fold-out desks, the computer mouse I’m using at the moment).

There’s lots of  horror stories about people who were born left-handed and were forced to change to being right-handed. The King’s Speech was about the issue, in the most indirect manner possible. Since Prince George was forced to become right-handed, the stuttering ensued as a result. Fortunately, this never happened to me. My left-handedness has guided me throughout my life, even if that does predispose me to all sorts of health issues. I never asked to be born left-handed; Nobody ever does. But you have to play the hand you’re dealt in life (no pun intended?), and it’s something I wouldn’t trade if I could.