Monday, January 18, 2021

Meandering and Moral Compasses

 This posting meanders down three streams running through my heart and brain. They make up the landscape of my life right now.

First: Elisa had her second immunotherapy infusion on December 31. On February 9, the doctors will do a total scan of her body. Elisa is matter-of-fact about the outcome: “Either the tumors will have shrunk after radiation and two infusions,” she told me, “or they won’t. One of the two.” 

She exhibits great equanimity. On Facebook, she’s been posting snippets of her journey with Stage 4 cancer: the pain, fear, hope; the laughter when she and Mike and their children play board games; the freelance editing she continues to do; the questions about death and mortality that trouble her children. 

Donna begins her 24-day radiation treatments on January 25. One of the removed lymph nodes was concerning. She exhibits a serenity that inspires. Both she and Elisa have a sense of humor that is like a broad seam of gold in the dark mine of cancer.  Both of them appreciate your holding them in the belief that expresses your concern. Thank you.

Second: Last May, I began listening to both fiction and nonfiction books on my iPad.  Since then, I’ve encountered many “translators” of the written word. Their voices can present the words in such a way that I’m drawn into another world. For me, that world since last May has been the historical period of the American Revolution and the Constitutional. 

I just completed the lengthy Drums Along the Mohawk by Walter Edmonds. His historical novel, published in 1936, was on the best-selling list for over two years. The movie, based only loosely on the novel, starred Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert

The book details the lives of the frontier settlers in the Mohawk River Valley of New York state. During the years of the Revolution, the settlers fought Tories, British regulars, and the Native Americans who took the king’s side. Other Native American, members of the Iroquois confederation, helped the settlers. 

I never realized what war had been like in the hinterlands beyond the Atlantic seaboard. Whole settlements—three or four families—met death. Laboriously built cabins, harvested crops, and fields fashioned when settlers took an axe to the forest were set ablaze. Much violence. Much revenge. Much terror. Much diminishing and then swelling hope. 

And, little reflection in the 1936 novel on why Native Americans would take part in the skirmishes and massacres that bloodied the ground they’d lived on for centuries; moreover, a racist portrait of the few slaves “owned” by settlers. But amidst these concerns, a history little told to us in school. A history that perhaps reflects attitudes not only of the 1770s but of the 1930s.

Third: Right now, I’m reading His Excellency, Joseph J. Ellis’ biography of George Washington. Although I’d read about his leadership in the revolution, I knew little about his ambitions, mistakes, and possible deficiencies of character and personality.  A man of his times, he saw nothing wrong with slavery or the taking of Native American land. 

Yet this man was a "Founding Father" whose courage, wisdom hard won in battle, and understanding of human nature led to a Constitution that has served our country well for nearly 235 years. He was a man who learned from his mistakes and mastered his own flawed attitudes. He is, truly "the" founding father.

What of today? What do we mean when we say, “He is a man—or she is a woman—of his/her times”? What will future biographers have to explain about these times and how their subjects acted? About their deficiencies of character and personality?

In 1970, Professor Cooperman, in a political science class I took at the University of Minnesota, said, “A statesman considers what’s necessary for our country fifty years down the line. A politician’s interested only in the next year or two.”  

We seem today, especially in one party, to have, unfortunately, not statesmen or women, but politicians who put party before people; present before future; power before common sense; money before mercy. What will future biographers say of them?