Reflections at Sixty
Today, hats off to Uncle Frank Bernard, who, at age 26, was beginning his 7th year as a sailor on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941. And to his shipmates as well who also went down with the ship. (I had the privilege to meet Frank in person, just five months before his death at Pearl Harbor. I was only a year old, but no matter….)
Three years ago Dec. 4, 2018, they wheeled me in to ‘slice and dice’, and I came out some hours later the proud owner of a new aortic valve in my heart, compliments of a bovine, to whom I’m forever grateful. 60 years ago at about this date I finished the last class for my college degree. There’s a lot of water under that bridge, somewhere around 21,000 days in all, “practice” at being an adult!
These days I typically leave the house before sunrise, and November 30 I was greeted by a newly decorated tree across the street:
I hardly ever rhapsodize about lawn decorations, but this tree spoke to me, symbolizing the season.
For a number of reasons, 2021 has not been a “normal year”. I have some recommendations for you this season and forward:
- Ken Burns has partnered with PBS and others to form a new web presence. I encourage you to at minimum visit the new site, Unum (as in E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one”), explained at Ken Burns home page.
- John Noltner has just published (September 2021) his third book, “Portraits of Peace, searching for hope in a divided America”. There are 31 short chapters, each about 6 pages, each generally about one person John interviewed somewhere in the U.S., each chapter deserving of personal reflection and discussion in such venues as book clubs. A bonus: John uses these chapters to reflect on his own experiences basically when the 2008 recession forced him to change his well-established career. Check out the book, and John’s website, here. The website has much information of value.
- I happened to be watching TV on November 21 when the news shifted to the tragedy around a parade in Waukesha WI, in which 5 were killed and 48 injured. For a long while, all that was known was that a red car was involved, and that the driver was in custody, but unidentified. I will always remember the law enforcement official – the resident expert – commenting several times on why people do such evil things. As I recall his mantra, the usual back-story reasons in the aftermath most often comes to be one or more of the following: Greed, Power, Hate, Revenge or Escape. Of course, usually we immediately transfer this diagnosis to the alleged perpetrator. It occurs to me that a good exercise for each of us at this season is to reflect on these words as they might apply to us, individually, now or at any time in the past. It may be a bit uncomfortable, but, I think, useful.
- Finally, in looking through some archival material this fall, I came across a booklet from June, 1955, a commencement address at Hamline University in St. Paul. The speaker, John Cowles, was taking a stab at predicting the future for the graduates. Cowles, publisher of the newspaper that today is the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, was 56 years old, a graduate of Harvard many years earlier, and predicting the year 2000, which would be about the future retirement age for most of the graduates. Here are his interesting remarks: John Cowles Hamline June 6 1955. How do you see 45 years from now (2066) in our U.S. and world, when today’s college kids are about retirement age? This isn’t an idle exercise in these unsettled times.
Here’s my most recent photo. At right is college grandson Parker, my birthday kin kid, albeit 62 years younger. In background, hardly visible, is Cathy, and at left is Grandson Ryan. Photo by my daughter and Parker’s Mom, Joni. Thanks and Merry Christmas.
COMMENTS (more at end of post):
from SAK: Many thanks for that especially the address by John Cowles to the graduating class of 1955.
He got some things right (population explosion, dwindling resources, communication watches . . .) &, as he himself predicted, got other things wrong! I think it was Niels Bohr who said “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future”. What I really liked was his warning about a possible nuclear war. Feels like we are closer to such catastrophe than at any time during the past few decades. He declares himself an optimist at the end of his address – I wish I myself could be as optimistic. Perhaps he would have toned down his optimism had he also predicted the climate crisis & the growing tensions between the US & China as well as the internal divisions poisoning so many countries.
Still I liked his address so much I converted it to a Word document – not as easily done as one would think assuming all the technological advances that he predicted!
Towards the end of his speech, he said:
“I hope that those of you who share my belief that the attainment of universal, enforceable disarmament is the most pressing problem of the second half of the 20th century will spread the doctrine with missionary zeal. I hope that those of you who are not convinced will continue to study and ponder the problem, always keeping in mind the alternatives.”
Surely the alternatives are too horrendous to contemplate but instead of universal, enforceable disarmament we have an escalating arms race with ever newer gadgets like drones, hypersonic missiles & cyber warfare. Friedrich Schiller got it right: “Against stupidity the very gods themselves contend in vain”.
Most of us will remember John Lennon’s Imagine (“Imagine all the people living life in peace” etc) well I also remember that the same John Lennon was shot dead on December 8th, a day like today, and for no good reason.
But this is a special season & I have put up a few decorations & intend to be Merry!
Merry Christmas & a much improved New Year to all,
Great piece, Dick! I loved how you bookended it with your Uncle Frank and your grandson, Parker. Their expressions say a lot about being 20-something years old.
Thanks for the Ken Burns’ tip. I hadn’t heard of this project.
Thanks, Dick. A good time to reflect on the lives lost in Hawaii 80 years ago today. Ironically, I just turned 80 on December 2 and I can remember my mom answering questions about when I was born, that is, on December 2, 1941. She would sometimes add, “Butch (my family nickname) was born on December 2, five days before Pearl Harbor. “Gees, mom, it was not my fault!” A time also to reflect on the many, many members of my family including both of my two brothers as well as me and so many uncles, aunts, and cousins who served as well as two of my nine AFROTC commissioned mates who did not survive Viet Nam. Ah yes, going way back to great Uncle Frank who was gassed in WWI in Belgium or France in 1918 or 1919 or thereabouts. Lots of sacrifices made by so many. And to think that the past CIC decided not to visit the American cemetery when in Normand because it was windy and rainy, and he did not want to have his hair mussed up. Further, he publicly stated while near that hallowed ground that he did not want to visit the cemetery while there also because the residents were all dead and were suckers and losers because they had been KIA fighting for the USA. That from a five-time draft dodger!
Confirmation of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) still hangs in limbo in Congress. It has been passed by vote of 3/4 of the states representing WE THE PEOPLE. Congress still holds it hostage. Women have more than earned equal rights. Has your Senator voted for its passage?
Merry Christmas, Dick.(Did you use your full name at VCSTC…no longer that, perhaps VCSU.) Anyway I believe we were close in age (and probably still are.) I was surprised this Sept. when I had a heart attack but due to some fast reactions by the right people, I was in the hospital where they put a stent into my left ventricle. Luckily the surgeon said that because of the speed, my heart is not damaged…but it does make a change in your life…such as more pills, no salt, new diet, more exercise, and a strong attachment to those little nitro pills. I’m sure all is a beneficial change in all ways. When you think of all the changes so many, many humans are going thru… no food, no safe place, no water,
having to leave their home…and so much more. I have to be thankful and not bother about the few changes I have to make. I tremble for what is happening and what is coming. But my neighbors have happy lights which I can see thru my window so will try to focus on what is good in the moment on my place on this earth. We celebrated our 60th anniversary this past summer. Keep up your writings. Cheers and best wishes!