Lucky Man

luck
Illustration by Michele Marconi

 

Are you what is called a lucky man? Well, you are sad every day. Each day has its great grief or its little care. Yesterday you were trembling for the health of one who is dear to you, today you fear for your own; tomorrow it will be an anxiety about money, the next day the slanders of a calumniator, the day after the misfortune of a friend; then the weather, then something broken or lost, then a pleasure for which you are reproached by your conscience or your vertebral column; another time, the course of public affairs. Not to mention heartaches. And so on. One cloud is dissipated, another gathers. Hardly one day in a hundred of unbroken joy and sunshine. And you are of that small number who are lucky! As for other men, stagnant night is upon them.  

Victor Hugo

He had white horses
And ladies by the score
All dressed in satin
And waiting by the door

What a lucky man he was

White lace and feathers
They made up his bed
A gold covered mattress
On which he was laid

What a lucky man he was

He went to fight wars
For his country and his king
Of his honor and his glory
The people would sing

What a lucky man he was

A bullet had found him
His blood ran as he cried
No money could save him
So he laid down and he died

What a lucky man he was

The Presence of the Past

History is the process of the past negotiating its terms of surrender to the future.

Although the past cannot defeat the future, it will do, and is currently doing, all it can, to break as many hearts as possible in the present. Cruelty seems to be the guiding principle of those in power, in the USA and across the globe, as they confront the horror of knowing that their power will soon be gone forever.

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This is nothing new. In 19th Century Europe, monarchies crumbled under a rising tide of democracy. In the 21st, with a little courage and devotion to honesty and justice, we might see white male privilege go the way of kings, kaisers, and czars.

See if you recognize our current situation in these words that Victor Hugo wrote in 1862:

The past, it is true, is very strong right now. It is reviving. This revivification of a corpse is surprising. Here it is walking and advancing. It seems victorious; this dead man is a conqueror. He comes with his legion, superstitions, with his sword, despotism, with his banner, ignorance; within a little time he has won ten battles. He advances, he threatens, he laughs, he is at our doors. As for us, we will not despair.

We who believe, what can we fear?

There is no backward flow of ideas any more than of rivers.

But those who do not want the future should think it over. In saying no to progress, it is not the future they condemn, but themselves…There is only one way of refusing tomorrow and that is to die.

He concludes that chapter of Les Miserables with this observation of the relative powers of the hopes of the future and the fears of the past:

The ideal…thus lost in the depths – minute, isolated, imperceptible, shining, but surrounded by all those great black menaces monstrously amassed around it, yet no more in danger than a star in the jaws of the clouds.

Temple of Hera2

Conservatives and Liberals and Soccer and Religion

We live in societies that have lost the ability to clearly communicate across the divides we have created for ourselves. Or so I thought yesterday. Today, laid up with a bum back, I got to watch the American soccer team’s celebration in my home town, and I heard one of its captains, Megan Rapinoe, say this:

“We have to be better. We have to love more. Hate less. We got to listen more and talk less. We got to know that this is everybody’s responsibility. Every single person here. Every single person’s who’s not here. Every single person who doesn’t want to be here. Every single person who agrees and doesn’t agree. It’s our responsibility to make this world a better place.”

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Megan Rapinoe

I have been thinking a lot lately about how we have divided our nation into conservatives and liberals, with a ferocity you can feel by just looking at the labels. In truth, I think both sides want the same basic thing – to make this world a better place.

Conservatives main impulse is to preserve what they see as good in society. Liberals main impulse is to change what they see is bad in society. These are not antagonistic impulses. Good people of any political persuasion should aspire to both of those things. We can disagree about what is good and bad in society and we should honestly and constructively talk about those disagreements, but we should be careful not to demonize people and create straw creatures to argue with and set on fire.

One of the things that is seen as good and bad in society is religion. The number of horrors that have been committed in its name are beyond counting. The number of lives that have been saved, or fulfilled, or made kinder in its name are equally incalculable.

In the 19th Century, Victor Hugo said this:

Religion is undergoing a crisis. We are unlearning certain things, and that is good, provided that while unlearning one thing we are learning another. No vacuum in the human heart! Certain forms are torn down, and so they should be, but on condition that they are followed by reconstructions.

In the meantime let us study things that are no more. It is necessary to understand them, if only to avoid them. The counterfeits of the past take assumed names, and are fond of calling themselves the future. That eternally returning specter, the past, not infrequently falsifies its passport. Let us be ready for the snare. Let us beware. The past has a face, superstition, and a mask, hypocrisy. Let us denounce the face and tear off the mask.

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Victor Hugo

The Richness We Gain…

I didn’t know I could be happier to be a Yankees fan until they unveiled this plaque tonight in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium:

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In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the events at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, which sparked the modern LGBTQ movement.

This plaque serves to honor the struggle for equality and is a reminder of the richness we gain by nurturing inclusion and diversity.

Acceptance forms the bedrock of our community, let it be known that Yankee Stadium welcomes everyone as a gathering place for all.

Yankees2

Victor Hugo and the French Aesthetic

I have long admired, even loved, the French but I don’t think I ever quite understood why until I read Victor Hugo. Their commitment to liberty inspired two revolutions – America’s and their own – that created the best of the world we live in today. They are more responsible than anyone for the evolution of government from hereditary monarchy to a system that exists to serve its people, not the other way around.

Their culture, their devotion to beauty, their appreciation of romance inspires artists and lovers everywhere. Their lust is not simple desire, but desires, eternally mingled with playful affection. In addition to their reverence for fine wine, cheese, and bread, they have an appreciation for the peculiar wonders of femininity and masculinity that aren’t chained to rigid concepts of gender. Makeup, wigs, and high heels were always for men as well as women.

Love is not a rigid concept either. It flows. It mutates. It entices. It satisfies a hunger that even the finest meals cannot. In this passage from Les Miserables, Victor Hugo produces a fine reduction of the love between an old blind bishop and his adoring sister that could easily translate into the love between parent and child, or between lovers:

To have continually at your side a woman, a girl, a sister, a charming being, who is there because you need her, and because she cannot do without you, to know you are indispensable to someone necessary to you, to be able at all times to measure her affection by the degree of her presence that she gives you, and to say to yourself: She dedicates all her time to me, because I possess her whole love; to see the thought if not the face; to be sure of the fidelity of one being in a total eclipse of the world; to imagine the rustling of her dress as the rustling of wings; to hear her moving to and fro, going out, coming in, talking, singing, and to think that you are the cause of those steps, those words, that song; to show your personal attraction at every moment; to feel even more powerful as your infirmity increases; to become in darkness, and by reason of darkness, the star around which this angel gravitates; few joys can equal that. The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves – say rather, loved in spite of ourselves; this conviction the blind have. Are they deprived of anything? No. Light is not lost where love enters. And what a love! A love wholly founded in purity. There is no blindness where there is certainty. The soul gropes in search of a soul, and finds it. And that soul, found and proven, is a woman. A hand sustains you, it is hers; lips lightly touch your forehead, they are her lips; you hear breathing near you, it is she. To have her wholly, from her devotion to her pity, never to be left alone, to have that sweet shyness as your aid, to lean on that unbending reed, to touch Providence with your hands and be able to grasp it in your arms; God made palpable, what transport!

Victor-Hugo-cropped

What is love?

wedding

Twenty-nine years ago today the law finally caught up with us after a decade on the lam. The commitment forged by my love for Nancy, and hers for me, became a legally binding one in the time-honored ceremony known as marriage. We made our declarations in front of our dear family and friends, and asked one of our oldest and closest friends, Terrence McDonnell, to say a few words. These are the ones he came up with:

Terry

What is love?
What is love?
Love is an unconditional commitment of the mind, body and soul
Love comes in many different facets,
many different meanings and
many different ways.
Love is not always kind
Love is not always gentle
But love is always shared
and love is always everlasting

Wishing love for each other is a power that grows and strengthens with
every passing day,
every passing moment,
every passing year.
But wishing love from oneself is the most important
The exchanging of marriage vows begins, reinforces and continues the gift and the overwhelming joy of love.
This is love. This is love

I do take this man to be my husband.
I do take this woman to be my wife.
I do take this person to be my friend
to be my companion
to be my love
This is love
This is love
This is love
WHAT IS LOVE