Category Archives: Stories – From Life & Elsewhere

Video Treat of the Week: “Song of Myself,” Stanza 5

From the far out West, up against the curling, capricious lip of the Pacific, comes a dispatch from our Coastal Ocean & Fire Correspondent, Mitchell Santine Gould.

With it is a stunning animated setting of Stanza 5 from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, a keystone of the poet’s classic Leaves of Grass.

Mitch is a longtime student and celebrant of Whitman, and as we’ll see, does not lack deep artistic talent himself. His work deserves more attention, and will get a small measure of that here.

Mitch animated this stanza, and one can only begin to imagine how fabulous future installments might be.

The animation is only three minutes plus.

Yet in those brief moments it evokes much of Whitman’s continuing appeal and mystery: his modest origins, comfort with nature in all its aspects,

unabashed sensuality, human warmth, and easy, encompassing untheological mysticism.

From Stanza 5:

Loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valvèd voice.
If I may be pardoned a sectarian aside, Whitman overlaps at many points with Quakerism, though he did not join. As a youth he heard and was fascinated by the then-radical preaching of Elias Hicks; later, although not subject to the military draft in the Civil War, he spent many months doing an unofficial noncombat service in military hospitals, especially with gravely wounded and dying soldiers; he wrote essays in tribute to Hicks and George Fox; and more — which Mitch has been exploring and documenting for many years. (One small key chapter of it, from Quaker Theology, is here.)
And I can’t close without slipping in an unanimated addition, the next, sixth stanza of Song of Myself, which sticks in my memory perhaps more than any other:

Song of Myself 6

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them, soon out of their mothers’ laps,
And here you are the mothers’ laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

[The full text of Song of Myself is here.]

Thanks, Mitch — send more!

Doctor FeelGood: The Unexpected Foster Mother

[NOTE: We’ll get back to troubles & woe presently. Meantime, something upbeat.]

I’m a pediatrician. I unexpectedly became a foster mom to a patient.

I asked my husband if we should put off retirement to become foster parents. He was on board right away.

Washington Post — By Carolyn Roy-Bornstein
 —June 11, 2022

At a recent family wedding, I was asked to give the happy couple some marital advice. I had jotted down a speech on a piece of paper that was now folded up in my pocket. As I listened to the other guests’ toasts, my 2-year-old granddaughter pulled at my legs, begging to be picked up.
“Nana, Nana,” Joli called.

Her mother, Janine, my foster daughter, tried to peel the child’s limbs from mine, her two legs tighter than a stink bug on a stick.
Finally, it was my turn.

Joli nestled her head into my neck, thumb in mouth. I pulled Janine closer with my other hand, kissing her mop of curls.

In that moment, I traded in my carefully written tribute for the succinct maxim that had just popped into my head — and had brought endless joy and meaning into my life.
“Make room for the unexpected,” I said. Continue reading Doctor FeelGood: The Unexpected Foster Mother

Best Photo from the Queen’s Big Shindig Is a Picture-Within-the-Picture

Okay, pop quiz:

Why is THIS the most memorable photo from the Big Royal Platinum bash in London? Can you see it?

Most people, especially Brits (I expect) will see prime minister and  convicted flagrant Coronavirus scofflaw Boris J, with wife Carrie, arriving for one of the many platinum photo ops — and recall that BJ was being (non)royally booed by the crowd. That’s what got this moment into the news videos.

But that isn’t what grabbed my attention. Continue reading Best Photo from the Queen’s Big Shindig Is a Picture-Within-the-Picture

Here’s a Great Look at the Quaker “Good Old Days.” Beautiful — But a Lot of Work

[Note: It’s rare that blog material turns up in the real estate section, especially the mainly rather upscale version in the Washington Post, and particularly in the rather very upscale horsey parts of Loudoun County, Virginia, out near where the Shenandoah Valley begins. But for many decades once upon a time, much of Loudoun was Quaker country, and there are still active meetings in the region. There’s also lots of Quaker history to see and explore; and here’s a glimpse at a special piece of it.]

Washington Post

Historical Quaker Farm in Loudoun County for sale

Stone Eden Farm is typical of the small farms owned by Quakers in the 18th century
The stone house was built in 1765. An addition was made in 1817. (Mario Mineros Photography)

By Kathy Orton
 — June 3, 2022

Stone Eden Farm, a historical Quaker farm in Hamilton, Va., with roots that go back more than 250 years, is on the market for just under $1.4 million.

When Lord Fairfax owned what would become Loudoun County, he granted land there to William Hatcher, a Quaker who moved to the area from Pennsylvania. By 1765, Hatcher had built a house on the land as required by Fairfax as a condition of the deed, or patent. That stone patent house has been home to generations of farmers.

Like most Quakers who came to Loudoun County, Hatcher was drawn to its fertile pastureland. Stone Eden Farm was typical of the small farms owned by Quakers in the 18th century. Because of their religious beliefs, Quakers did not rely on enslaved labor, and their farms tended to be smaller than the plantations in eastern and southern Loudoun. Continue reading Here’s a Great Look at the Quaker “Good Old Days.” Beautiful — But a Lot of Work

Seeing Our Future in the Past? Flashbacks from the 1850s

I don’t believe in reincarnation.

But if I did, I’d be pretty sure that in a previous life, I shambled through the American 1850s. That might help explain why lately  I’ve been having vivid dreamlike flashbacks about them. A few acquaintances would nod knowingly at this admission, and murmur something about “past lives.”

What I think explains it is that in this current, 20th/21st century life, I spent several months studying the 1850s, from the perspective of Quakers who really did live through them.Sometimes, the wrinkled vintage letters and sepia-stained books I was working with seemed to meld into scenes from an extended private mini- or rather maxi-series; I often had a sense of spying on the Friends through some special binoculars that saw through time rather than distance.

Outwardly I was like a monk, an absent-minded antisocial drudge, mostly closeted in my small room at Pendle hill, poring through long-forgotten documents, pecking at the keyboard day and night.

But for me the work was gripping, not least because I knew what the characters in my scholarly maxi-series didn’t — that their idealistic dedication, their years of risky activism and pious devotion to achieving a nonviolent end to slavery — all were doomed. Continue reading Seeing Our Future in the Past? Flashbacks from the 1850s

Why Madison Cawthorn Was The Biggest Winner In the NC Primary.

Simple: Because in narrowly losing his congressional seat, he won, by a landslide —

A chance.

A chance for a second chance.

Until a few days ago, I was ready to simply cheer if Cawthorn lost: my largest cup for schadenfreude was more than ready to run over.

But then I read a long, deeply researched piece in Politico,  by Michael Kruse.

The profile did not change my political judgment: the sooner Cawthorn is gone from Congress, the  better.

How bad was his first term? Only recently, Kruse recounted (a partial list) —

Police stopped him for driving with a revoked license (again). Airport security stopped him for trying to bring a gun onto a plane (again). He made outlandish and unsubstantiated comments on an obscure podcast about orgies and cocaine use by his Capitol Hill colleagues. He called the Ukrainian president a “thug,” he suggested Nancy Pelosi was an alcoholic (she doesn’t drink), and the seemingly ceaseless gush of unsavory news has included allegations of insider trading, pictures of shuttered district offices, a leaked tranche of salacious images and videos, and ongoing proof in FEC filings that he’s a prodigious fundraiser but a profligate spender as well. All of this comes on top of multiple women in multiple places accusing him of sexual harassment, his role in the insurrection on Jan. 6 of last year, his growing catalogue of alarming provocations on social media and on the House floor, and his politically imprudent decision to announce he was switching districts only to reverse course. His marriage amidst all this lasted less than a year.

Yes, the sooner the better.

But when I finished, the piece had done what I thought was impossible: it awakened some empathy for him.

In a 2015 text message, more than a year after the car crash that made him a paraplegic, Cawthorn told Brad Ledford, who had been driving, that

Cawthorn, right, and Brad Ledford, on spring break before the accident.

“I miss my life,” he said. “I miss being able to defend myself … being able to dress myself … being able to use the bathroom without someone helping me … I miss not peeing the bed because I have no control over my penis … not having to have pills keep me alive … being able to compete … being checked out by girls … I miss my pride as a man … the pride my father swelled with when he spoke my name … I miss,” he said, “not having to convince myself every day not to pull the trigger and end it all.”

Cawthorn has sued Ledford’s father and his father’s company. His deposition included more searing detail:

“Can you give me,” asked the attorney for Ledford’s father’s company, “a list of 10 things that you enjoyed doing before that you can’t do now?”

A excerpt from Cawthorn’s lawsuit deposition.

“Yes, sir,” said Cawthorn. “I can’t work out. I can’t play football. I can’t stand up and pee. I can’t wake up in the morning by myself. I’ll probably never be able to procreate. I can’t run. I can’t jump. I can’t wrestle with my brother. I can’t get through the day without pain. I can’t wake up in the morning without forgetting I’m paralyzed and also falling out of my bed. I can’t be too far away from my doctors. I can’t climb anything. I can’t go adventuring in places. I can’t hike. I can’t ride horses. I can’t bail hay. Do you want me to continue?”

“You said you can’t procreate,” the lawyer continued. “How do you know that?”

“Just because I can’t.”

“Who has told you?”

“My urologist.”

“That will never change?”

“Everyone is always hopeful, but, I mean, with my injury, it’s unlikely that I’ll walk or procreate or, you know, recover.”

But he “recovered” enough to take a job with then-Congressman Mark Meadows, and when Meadows resigned to become Donald Trump’s chief of staff, Cawthorn ran for and won the seat from his wheelchair.

In the campaign, he projected an inspiring “comeback from horrible trauma” image, and pledged to be a constructive, conservative-but-ready-to-cross-the-aisle Member of the House.

But three days after he was sworn in, on January 6, 2021 Cawthorn spoke, at the “Save America” rally at the Ellipse. He was one of the speakers who riled up the crowd, many of whom later assaulted the Capitol.

“My friends,” he said, “I want you to chant with me so loud that the cowards I serve with in Washington, D.C., can hear you.”

During the storming of the Capitol, he called into the radio show of right-wing talker Charlie Kirk and said he believed some of the ransacking mob were “antifa” and “people paid by the Democratic machine.”

It was all an increasingly erratic, two-year downhill roll from there, capped by recent photos of him in women’s lingerie during a cruise, talk of orgies and cocaine among his colleagues echoing in his wake, and culminating in the primary defeat on May 17 by state senator Chuck Edwards.

The change won’t much alter the political character of the deep-red western North Carolina district. Edwards, now the heavy favorite for November, is reliably Trumpy, if more quietly so.

But maybe now, the exit door from the House could open a way for Madison Cawthorn to put his life back together, out of the limelight, with some semblance of constructive hope.

The Kruse profile describes how Cawthorn made serious efforts at physical  rehabilitation and overcoming the loss of direction and depression that survivors of such accident survivors often face.

He was on a tough road. Yet research studies have shown that many do manage to overcome the despair and find a new sense of purpose and even happiness.

Clearly, Cawthorn’s recovery was derailed by the lures, klieg lights and arrogant loopiness of the Trump world he was sucked into.

Now, as I said, when the result was clear last night, I felt empathic hope: Cawthorn had won –won a chance to have a real second chance.

It won’t be easy, quick, or guaranteed. But I hope he takes it.

Quotes from the (American) Era & A Vanishing Kingdom

 

From “America’s Vanishing Kingdom,”
By Thuy Linh Tu
Ms. Tu, a professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University, moved from South Vietnam to Connecticut as a child, not long after the fall of Saigon.

My dad’s American dream was made of aluminum. Not that he would have put it that way. He did not talk much, and never about his dreams, but most days for nearly 25 years he headed off to a factory and turned aluminum and other metals into parts and a paycheck. He started at the Torrington Company, once one of the largest producers of metal bearings in North America and the biggest employer in Torrington, Conn., where we somehow found ourselves in 1980. Half a decade had passed since the fall of Saigon. My dad had been in and out of a re-education camp; we had been in and out of refugee camps. After we did stints in Thailand and Hong Kong, someone, somewhere sent us to Torrington. My father died there three decades later, having spent the rest of his life making industrial and military supplies in America’s gun belt.

Aluminum is a “magic metal.” It’s so light and strong that without it, “no fighting is possible, and no war can be carried to a successful conclusion,” proclaimed a 1951 pamphlet. . . . During the First and Second World Wars, about 90 percent of U.S. aluminum production went into military uses.

My father spent years working this famously malleable metal. He knew it well — its remarkable versatility, its shine, its feel. I wonder if he also knew that it was a main ingredient in “daisy cutter” bombs — once described as the world’s largest non-nuclear weapon — which were dropped near my mother’s home in central Vietnam to clear out the trees surrounding her commune. . . .

America spent the second half of the 20th century more or less continuously ramping up its production of war technologies, expanding its military-industrial ecosystem. The Korean War was a major leap forward, bringing along with it advances in nuclear weapons, but it was the Vietnam War that changed everything.

As the economic historian Adam Tooze tells it, we inherited from that conflict not just new weapons, but also more sophisticated doctrines of warfare, and better coordination of air and land forces. We also got a professionalized army and an abiding faith in the necessity of military spending. Since the defeat in Vietnam and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it has become nearly impossible to reduce military budgets without stoking outrage over factory closures and international threats.

The United States’ recent withdrawal from Afghanistan has prompted many to ask about our responsibilities to Afghans now that fighting has ceased. Before we’ve even had a chance to answer, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has displaced millions more. As yet another war-induced refugee crisis mounts, military spending continues to grow. . . .

Inside factories across the United States, war never really ends. Will the newly dislocated also be invited in — to build more weapons, abet more wars? To accept this work as an opportunity, even a kind of refuge? To continue the cycle of destroy and rebuild?

. . . An industrial town, Torrington prides itself on being a place that made stuff: bikes, guitars, needles, bearings. Despite its reputation as the home of sleepy suburbs and commuter towns, Connecticut makes lots of stuff, including guns. . . .

It’s hard to imagine the Stepford Wives state as a ground zero of military-industrial capitalism. But for decades Connecticut has received billions of dollars in Department of Defense contracts annually. . . . These companies made the parts, in other words, that turned men and machines into fighters. Or as an advertisement from Torrington’s manufacturers during World War II put it: “We are ‘Behind the Men Behind the Guns.’”

My father became one of those men. Not that he would have put it that way. Connecticut’s industries gave my dad a rare opportunity for steady, unionized work, open to him thanks to decades of organizing by activists to integrate factories . . . .

As I watched the coverage of the withdrawal from Afghanistan on the news, I couldn’t help thinking of my father. Some scenes would have struck him as very familiar: There is the helicopter, here is the rescue, those are the ones left behind. Many have said that Kabul is a replay of Saigon. For years, while Vietnam was under a U.S. embargo, people hungered in the way that many Afghans now hunger. Left with a decimated landscape and devastated economy, families like mine set off on a raft of hope, following our own arrow forward. I imagine some in Afghanistan are contemplating the same.

But Kabul is not really a replay of Saigon — it’s a continuation. And now the United States has become a shrinking kingdom, with far less generous immigration policies, fewer opportunities and little sense of responsibility for the damage it has caused. Freedom, for the more recently displaced, is all that much farther ahead.

Shortly after retiring, my father died of leukemia, a condition affecting many U.S. veterans, some of whom believe it’s caused by their exposure to the chemical mixture Agent Orange, millions of gallons of which rained down on Vietnam. Who knows what caused it in my dad — the war, the work or the recursive loop that feeds one into the other and from which no one emerges unscathed?

— New York Times


From “Why do Putin, Trump, Tucker Carlson and the Republican party sound so alike?” [The Guardian]

Putin’s lies, and the lies coming from America’s extreme right, are mutually supporting. There’s a reason for that

The Guardian – Tuesday, 29 March 2022

[Vladimir] Putin’s fixation on transgender and gay people has also been echoed on the American right. . . . Last fall – months before Texas’s Republican governor Greg Abbott threatened to criminalize parents who give their transgender children gender-affirming care – Putin argued that teaching children about different gender identities was “on the verge of a crime against humanity”.. . .

To conclude from all of this that authoritarians think alike is to miss a deeper truth. Putin, Trump, Carlson, and a growing number of rightwing commentators and activists, have been promoting much the same narrative – for much the same reason.

Remember, Putin was put into power by a Russian oligarchy made fabulously rich by siphoning off the wealth of the former Soviet Union. Likewise, Trump and the radical right in America have been bankrolled by an American oligarchy – Rupert Murdoch, Charles Koch, Rebekah Mercer (daughter of hedge fund tycoon Robert Mercer), Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman, and other billionaires.

What do these two sets of oligarchs get in return? Strongmen who divert the public’s attention away from the oligarchs’ hijacking of their economies toward cultural fears of being overwhelmed by the “other.” Putin’s MO has been to fuel Russian ethnic pride and nationalism. The Trump-Carlson-radical right’s MO has been to fuel white American nationalism.

In both cases, strongmen and their allies have mythologized a “superior” culture (replete with creation stories of blood ties, motherlands, and religion) supposedly endangered by decadent forces intent on attacking and overwhelming it.

To Putin, the decadent force is the west. As he put it Friday, “domestic culture at all times protected the identity of Russia”, which “accepted all the best and creative, but rejected the deceitful and fleeting, that which destroyed continuity of our spiritual values, moral principles and historical memory”. Hence, a mythic justification for taking Ukraine back from a seductive but inferior western culture that threatens to overwhelm it and Russia.

The Trump-Carlson-white nationalist narrative is similar: America’s dominant white Christian culture is endangered by Black people, immigrants and coastal elites who threaten to overwhelm it.

The culture wars now being orchestrated by the Republican party . . . emerge from the same narrative as Putin’s culture war against a “decadent” West filled with “sociocultural disturbances.” As does the right’s claim that “secularists” have, in the words of former Trump attorney general William Barr, mounted “an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values”.

These tropes have served to distract attention from the systemic economic looting that oligarchs have been undertaking, leaving most people poor and anxious. Which is why the grievances that Putin, Trump, Carlson, and the Republican party use are unremittingly cultural; they are never economic, never about class, and most assuredly not about the predations of the super-rich.

Reduced to basics, today’s oligarchs and strongmen (along with their mouthpieces and lackeys) are trying to justify their wealth and power by attacking liberal values that have shaped the west, beginning with the enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries – the values of tolerance, openness, democracy, self-government, equal rights, and the rule of law. These values are incompatible with a society of oligarchs and strongmen.

. . . But the culture wars won’t end any time soon, because so much wealth and power have consolidated at the top of America, Russia, and elsewhere around the world that anti-liberal forces have risen to justify it.

Learning to Endure with Bill Kreidler & “Tending The Fire”

To everything there is a season . . . and in the small field of Quaker publishing, this seems to be the season for books to help Friends, and friends of Friends, get through hard times.

I won’t rehash the reasons for this spurt; they’re as near as the morning’s headlines. It will suffice to cite recent comments by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a founder of the much-maligned Critical Race Theory, in the Washington Post, about:

“[T]he history of progress around race in the United States: Modest reform creates tremendous backlash. And sometimes the backlash is more enduring than the reform.

Consider, we had about a decade of Reconstruction. And [then] we had about seven decades of white supremacy, racial tyranny, utter and complete exclusion.

[Then] We had probably a good decade, maybe a decade and a half, of active civil rights reforms. And then three, four decades of conservative retrenchment, reactionary responses to these reforms that allow for people to say what they’re saying now, which is that anti-racism is racist, your civil rights violate my civil rights.

These are very old and repetitive ideas. So the reform, retrenchment frame is now taking place in the midst of a tremendous resurgence of anti-democratic, anti-inclusionary politics.”

The one thing I would add is that the “retrenchment frame” that seems to be building now concerns much more than race: women’s rights, labor organizing, assaults on the press and education, book banning, LGBT rights, forging a de facto religious establishment, and a drive against what is called the “administrative state.” To name a few.

No wonder so many progressive folk feel beleaguered and depressed. Continue reading Learning to Endure with Bill Kreidler & “Tending The Fire”

Martha Schofield & A Great Quaker Escape

It was a fine day for an escape.

Imagine we were in Aiken, South Carolina: a pretty town, near Augusta and the Georgia border, with a fine mild climate (headed for the low fifties today, February first, while much of the rest of the US freezes and shovels out).

But we’re visiting there in 1916. Aiken’s climate is a major selling point for the town. It has numerous hotels which attract well-heeled Yankees fleeing the deep freeze of northern winters, and even the heat of summer, plus a railroad to bring them and various cargoes up and down the Southeast.

February first in 1916 was also a Tuesday, and as  the Southern Railroad morning train pulled in from Georgia, the streets were already busy. A great many people of color, dressed as for Sunday churchgoing, were on the streets, heading for the old school.

There were enough of them that few noticed a family of five calmly making their way along the sidewalks toward the station: a tall couple, and three girls of school age.

But not only were they dressed in their best, they were wearing coats heavier than needed in the cool day, and carrying parcels, elderly-looking suitcases and covered baskets. If you were looking for them it would be evident that they meant to get on the train, not to meet someone getting off.

But they hoped no one was looking for them. They had planned for this day a long time, and with care. And part of the care was keeping quiet about it. Continue reading Martha Schofield & A Great Quaker Escape

King Day Special! “Eating Dr. King’s Dinner” – Told LIVE

This weekend, Chuck Fager told the true story of Eating Dr. King’s Dinner, by  Zoom at the  historic Fairfield Friends Meeting in Camby, Indiana, near Indianapolis.

The invitation came from Fairfield’s well-known pastor (and best-selling author) Phil Gulley.

You can now watch Chuck telling this story (34 minutes), right now, at this free link.

(You don’t need to register, and we won’t collect your data.) Continue reading King Day Special! “Eating Dr. King’s Dinner” – Told LIVE