It’s never not a chaotic month. I spent much of November arranging to have this paper mailed from a new post office. The Syracuse newspaper group in whose wake I sailed switched to a different printer, and their new printer could not meet my needs. The old printer (with whom I remain) has proved to be excellent over the past two years, and so I am now mailing from Plattsburgh, NY, closer to the print shop and within waving distance of Quebec. If you are holding this issue in your hand rather than reading it on some electronic device, I will have danced the USPS gavotte successfully.
I was beset by a more existential turmoil when I realized that I was about to reach the exact age at which my father died on (of all days) Veterans Day. At this writing I’ve barely outlived him, and I wonder at the justice of that. He was a healthy, athletic guy who loved sports and served in World War Two. He did smoke, which I’ve never done—though I’ve done everything else wrong. Somehow, unlike the Old Man (who never got to be as old as I am now), I am not one of the golfers of the world. Nor am I a bowler. I am my own kind of sedentary wreck.
Nonetheless, I saw our lives playing out in parallel. We married at almost exactly the same age and we both ventured (or should I say “stumbled?”) into publishing. When I began to approach the age at which I found him deceased on the floor—61 years, six months, and four days—I made some portentous and cryptic comments about taking a cruise on the Styx. This was also shortly after getting bloodwork results that caused some concern. The cruise has been postponed, but for how long?
Thoughts of postage and mortality aside, I don’t feel soothed. I’d choose to stay in bed though that is absolutely the last thing I should be doing. No, I have to rise (however late) and seize what’s left of the day. All our radios work, unfortunately. I mostly avoid television, but I turned on the late national news the night before this writing and felt horror. Am I a bad person for empathizing with everybody? If I could bring myself to see one side (or the other) as less than human, I might find a choir with which I could sing.
I don’t presume to offer commentary on ghastly foreign conflicts which I do not understand (though I recoil at their devastation). Closer at hand is the American Clown Show and I find myself biting my tongue several times a day. Members of Congress are assaulting each other and challenging each other to fistfights. I shudder when I consider that these are elected representatives. Who thought it would be a good idea to vote for them?
I’m disappointed to the point of heartbreak over what my country is becoming. Millions of Americans are apparently fine with what amounts to fascism. When the candidate likely to be elected president hijacks a Veterans Day event to brag about all the “vermin” (i.e., human beings) he’s going to get rid of, I’m about ready to grab my coat and hat and head for the door. But I won’t do it because this is my home and I have nowhere else to go.
I’m taking a chance here because I understand that many of my subscribers are among the millions who not only support that man but support others who want to emulate him. I’m just a guy who publishes a funny little paper that reports on umbrella parades and should stick to what I know best.
As for myself, I don’t “support” anyone. I can’t hew to the side that billboards their virtue and enlightenment, congratulating themselves on how morally superior they are to their neighbors. Their finicky scolding turns my stomach—and I have a lot of stomach to turn. Nor do I cherish tough posturing, pugnaciousness, and bullying in the name of supposedly traditional values—some of which appear to be rather newly minted. I don’t see these factions reconciling anytime soon
It would be so easy to throw out every radio we own and pretend that this is 1927. I know dozens of people who strive hard to live in the past of their choosing, thereby banishing the present. The trouble is that these jars of ersatz nostalgia are not hermetically sealed. The present always seeps back in, spoiling our reveries with tidings of humanitarian, ecological, and climate crises.
Since I’m here in this moment I am compelled to be honest. The candidates or even the political parties don’t disappoint me anywhere near as much as the people of this nation (and this planet) who are in thrall to deception so preposterous that even Barnum would smirk at it. The whole point of this propaganda is to divide us so that we may be more easily manipulated and taken advantage of.
I remember that conductor Daniel Barenboim was in the Middle East some years ago forming a youth orchestra with musicians from both Israel and Palestine. In a presentation given on May 26, 2015, Barenboim said, “Sympathy is an emotional quality. And in times of war . . . there is no room for this kind of emotion. But there is not only room, there is a necessity for compassion. Sympathy is emotional; compassion is a moral attribute.”
My own distillation of that thought is: We may not have sympathy for people we don’t like but it is imperative that we have compassion for them.
“Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men” isn’t just a motto on your Christmas cards. This season, of all seasons, we need to consider what it really means.