Why I’m taking a knee today

MASH83

If you wanted to be somebody at my high school (which no longer exists, by the way) you had to be on the football team. There were other sports teams and activities, but the attention that was given to the football team made many of my classmates put in the time and effort that were needed to suit up and play a game on Friday nights in the fall.

American society has put football–and particularly the NFL–on an exceedingly high platform. The athletes who play the game at this level have made enormous sacrifices to be where they are, including the newly-understood risks to their mental health and well-being. The players live lives the rest of us can hardly imagine, and when their time on the field is over, many of them painfully wither away. All the fame and adulation given to them today won’t  restore what’s being lost underneath their helmets.

So if a player at that level of the game wants to use their notoriety to bring attention to causes or issues they believe in, who among us is qualified to say they can’t? The act of taking a knee during the National Anthem–which many players are poised to do–is only disrespect to those who want to see it as such.

When Donald Trump went to a rally in Alabama and called players taking a knee in this manner “disrespectful” and labelled them as “sons of bitches,” he scored some cheap, racially-motivated points. But he also set off a firestorm that America doesn’t need, especially not now. Houston needs rebuilding, the Florida Keys need rebuilding, and Puerto Rico needs basically everything: Power, water, you name it. But rather than address those issues, Trump decided to ride the racist wave one more time. It’s not surprising, and it’s not leadership, either.

Last night, I went out to dinner with my wife and youngest daughter to a Thai and Chinese restaurant in Chicago. At the end of the meal, there were three fortune cookies brought out, and the one I opened up read as follows: “People are waiting to take cues from you. Lead them well.” If only Donald Trump could have such wisdom and insight as my fortune cookie did last night.

Let’s do what we can to help Americans in need, and not let a dictator wannabe set the tone on what patriotism looks like.

In defiance of Donald Trump–who took multiple draft deferments to fight in Vietnam and has wrongly impugned the actions and character of his predecessor, Barack Obama– I’m reviving my blog today in order to take a knee. I love this country, and even though I was never a football player, I did play one onstage once. I was 15 at the time, and the man I am today is grateful that whatever physical concerns I may have, potentially having CTE is not among them.

Whatever is said or written about the actions of these players today will be a distraction from the profound needs of many Americans right now. Donald Trump can’t see that, but I’m hopeful that others will. Think of this blog post as my attempt to live up to what a fortune cookie told me to do last night.

 

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The Gladness of Nature

KeyWestWhenever a person starts naming poets, there aren’t too many who would put William Cullen Bryant on their list. He lived in the 19th Century, and he became a lawyer because poetry didn’t pay the bills. He was also a political supporter of another poet named Abraham Lincoln, and he introduced Lincoln at his speech at Cooper Union in New York in 1860. It just shows how people can go about their daily lives and still find time for writing and reading poetry.

This is my third Poem In Your Pocket day, and my previous selections are here and here. I find myself relating to poetry more than I did when I was younger, and it’s comforting to know that centuries of poets are still out there for me to discover.

The poem that I chose, and shared with my colleagues from work since I won’t be in the office today, is Bryant’s “The Gladness of Nature” which reads as follows:

The Gladness of Nature

by William Cullen Bryant

Is this a time to be cloudy and sad,
When our mother Nature laughs around;
When even the deep blue heavens look glad,
And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground?

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren,
And the gossip of swallows through all the sky;
The ground-squirrel gaily chirps by his den,
And the wilding bee hums merrily by.

The clouds are at play in the azure space,
And their shadows at play on the bright green vale,
And here they stretch to the frolic chase,
And there they roll on the easy gale.

There’s a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,
There’s a titter of winds in that beechen tree,
There’s a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower,
And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.

And look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles
On the dewy earth that smiles in his ray,
On the leaping waters and gay young isles;
Ay, look, and he’ll smile thy gloom away.

I like this poem for several reasons. Since Earth Day just passed, I wanted something with a nature theme. I also wanted something not too overly long, and relatively easy to follow. And I wanted something to remind me of the time that I just spent on Spring Break in the Florida keys. There are no palm trees or beaches in this poem, but the idea that sunshine and nature can cheer a person up is enough for me.

Please feel free to share poems in the Comments below. And happy Poetry month to everyone reading this.

The Gladness of Nature

by William Cullen Bryant

Is this a time to be cloudy and sad,
When our mother Nature laughs around;
When even the deep blue heavens look glad,
And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground?

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren,
And the gossip of swallows through all the sky;
The ground-squirrel gaily chirps by his den,
And the wilding bee hums merrily by.

The clouds are at play in the azure space
And their shadows at play on the bright-green vale,
And here they stretch to the frolic chase,
And there they roll on the easy gale.

There's a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,
There's a titter of winds in that beechen tree,
There's a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower,
And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.

And look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles
On the dewy earth that smiles in his ray,
On the leaping waters and gay young isles;
Ay, look, and he'll smile thy gloom away.

– See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20299#sthash.RUUpypT4.dpuf

The Gladness of Nature

by William Cullen Bryant

Is this a time to be cloudy and sad,
When our mother Nature laughs around;
When even the deep blue heavens look glad,
And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground?

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren,
And the gossip of swallows through all the sky;
The ground-squirrel gaily chirps by his den,
And the wilding bee hums merrily by.

The clouds are at play in the azure space
And their shadows at play on the bright-green vale,
And here they stretch to the frolic chase,
And there they roll on the easy gale.

There's a dance of leaves in that aspen bower,
There's a titter of winds in that beechen tree,
There's a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower,
And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.

And look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles
On the dewy earth that smiles in his ray,
On the leaping waters and gay young isles;
Ay, look, and he'll smile thy gloom away.

– See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20299#sthash.RUUpypT4.dp

And the lady she hails from Trinidad

tortugas

Flying back home from a week in the Florida Keys was not something that I wanted to do, but the bills that will come in the mail someday must be paid. And while my two children could spend all their days on Duval Street, their teachers here in Chicago might eventually hold it against them.

On the first flight of the day, from Miami to Nashville, I had the pleasure of sitting next to an elegant lady from Trinidad. She was meeting up with a family member in the airport in Nashville, for a drive back to Alabama. I found her Caribbean accent to be fascinating, as well as her stories of traveling throughout the region with her recently-deceased husband.

I learned that she had been married for more than fifty years, and I complimented her on such a long partnership with another person. I’ve been married a little bit more than 20 years myself, and I realize that I’m far head of most marriages, statistically. But meeting someone who had fifty-plus years–and took that “until death” part to its intended conclusion–was very humbling for me.

I told my new traveling friend that I had first heard of Trinidad when one of the Miss Universe winners came from there many years ago. She informed me that there have been others from her native land that have also done well in this competition, and I understood that this speaks very well of the nation and its people.

We talked of the recent spate of bad news for travelers on the Malaysian plane, and the South Korean ferry, and even the unexpected deaths of climbers on Mount Everest. We discussed how traveling is usually very safe, but there will always be risks involved with traveling from one place to another. It may not have been an uplifting topic to discuss at 30,000 feet, but still I enjoyed our conversation a great deal.

Near the end of our flight, I pointed out that I had heard of Trinidad–without Tobago–in a Jimmy Buffett song called “Son of a Son of a Sailor.” I had listened to heavy doses of his music as I was in the Florida Keys, between the Margaritaville channel on the rental car’s satellite radio and the CDs that I had brought along on the trip. The Florida keys were clearly an inspiration to him through the years, and his music had formed a perfect backdrop for my trip. I reminded myself that I was actually speaking with a lady who hailed from Trinidad, and it seemed like a perfect way to end my trip.

The lady who hailed from Trinidad–and I already regret not learning her name, even though I would not use it here if I knew it–informed me that her island was not, as Jimmy Buffett had claimed in his song, the “island of the spices.” She told me that Grenada, a neighboring island, is actually known at the Spice island. I chuckled at the creative license that had been taken with the song, and knew right away it was too good of a story to keep inside of my head forever. I write a blog, after all, in the hope that my stories and thoughts can manifest themselves in a format that will survive longer than I do.

We said our goodbyes as the plane landed, and the lady who hailed from Trinidad told me that I should come and see her country one day. She said I would love it there, for all of its beauty and warmth and history. And I’m sure that I would, too. I wished her the best in her travels throughout my home country, and I hope that she experiences nothing but good things during her time here.

NOTE: If I’m going to mention creative license here, I had better be prepared to acknowledge taking some myself. The picture above was not taken in Trinidad (as I’ve never been there), nor does it depict any place in the Caribbean. I took it on the island of Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico, which is more than 1,500 miles from Trinidad. But if Jimmy Buffett can take some creative license, I suppose that I can, too. And it’s a pretty picture, so why not?

Having too much fun

wpid-2014-04-20_17-53-32_667

I’ve been in the Florida keys on Spring Break, and my blog has been neglected as a result. Life is too enjoyable to take time away for blogging.

What does this say about the hundreds of things I’ve posted on my blog through the years? I’m not sure, exactly. Maybe I need to find another way to pass the time once I get back home. I’m sure going to miss this when I leave. That much I already understand.

 

I wish I had a pencil-thin mustache

keys

Actually I don’t, but I’ve always thought of this song as a distillation of the ethos that fuels much of this blog. It’s about nostalgia for the past, in a world that no longer remembers–or cares much about–the subjects in the remembrances. Just the way that it used to be.

I’m heading down to the Florida keys in the coming days, and either the atmosphere will make me want to put things on this blog all the time–as has happened on some trips I’ve taken–or it will make putting any thoughts together the furthest thing from my mind, which sometimes happens too. But I’ll be sure to enjoy it with some of the Jimmy Buffett music that the place has inspired through the years.

Peace.