The Lopsided Friendship and The Other Side

She turned 30 a couple of months before we met. I turned 50 a few months before that. Consequently, ours was a lopsided friendship, kind of like riding a bike with a flat tire. She said things like, “I don’t want something to just get me through the night,” and I said things like, “I worry about coming on too strong.” Neither of us needed to worry: We were frozen, beyond the reach of fire.

Each morning I stop, with a sock and shoe on one foot, before I move on to the other, to remember, and say a silent prayer to the goddess of love. I ask her for forgiveness, and for relief of suffering – inflicted and endured – but mostly I ask for the warmth and illumination that only she can provide.

I will not know until I reach the end if there is a judgment to be passed and a reckoning to confront but, if there is, I will find some comfort in the fact that my greatest sins were the ones I did not commit. I know there are few penalties left that I need to fear. And I know that the people waiting for me on the other side of the mountain have laughter in their hearts.

Veterans Day 2020

Washington by N.C. Wyeth

This Veterans Day, let’s remember that every soldier to join forces under the American flag was risking their life for democracy – the right of all our people to have their say in who governs them.

This year’s election saw the greatest percentage of American citizens to vote since 1968. In the middle of the worst pandemic in a century, 62% of eligible voters cast their ballot this year. That alone is reason to celebrate. The percentage that voted for Joe Biden is the greatest for a challenger against an incumbent president since FDR defeated Herbert Hoover in 1932, a little better than Ronald Reagan did against Jimmy Carter in 1980. The election officials, poll workers, and vote counters of all political backgrounds and beliefs did an incredible job, under unprecedented difficulties, to protect the rights of all Americans to have their voices heard. We owe them our thanks in fulfilling the trust that our veterans placed in their hands.

And let’s never forget that this year, the president of the US, and his political party, are lying to us about the integrity of our electoral system with their baseless claims of voter fraud. They are purposely undermining democracy for their own ends, and in the process insulting the sacrifice of every veteran.

America, the Beautiful

One of the first things I thought of when I saw the spontaneous outpouring of emotion that followed the news that Joe Biden had defeated Donald Trump was the importance of music to the celebration. The power of music – to express joy, to comfort sorrow, to inspire the best in us – is overwhelming and inescapable.

Music has been a part of America’s identity from Yankee Doodle to hip hop. Musical forms as diverse as blues, jazz, rock’n’roll, and country music all grew and blossomed in the fertile soil and soul of American culture.

The lyrics to “America, the Beautiful” were written by Katherine Bates, an English professor at Wellesley college, in 1893. She was 33 years old when she took a train ride from Massachusetts to Colorado, inspiring the poem that she called “Pike’s Peak” because it was written at that mountain’s summit. Over the next 17 years, more than 75 melodies were written as a frame for Bates’ words but the tune that worked best was written a year before her lyrics, by Samuel Ward, the organist and choir director for Grace Church in Newark, New Jersey. His melody came to him during a ferry boat ride home from Coney Island. Bates and Ward never met but their art did.

On September 18, 1972, less than two months before Richard Nixon was reelected, Ray Charles appeared on The Dick Cavett show and performed this transcendent interpretation of their work.

Oh, beautiful for heroes proved
in liberating strife
Who, more than self, their country loved
and mercy more than life
America, America, may God thy gold refine
'Til all success be nobleness
and every gain divine

when I was in school, you know, we used to sing it something like this:
Oh, beautiful for spacious skies
for amber waves of grain
for purple mountain majesties
above the fruited plain
Look here, I'm talking about
America, sweet America, you know, God done shed his grace on thee
He crowned thy good, said with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea
America, ooh I love you America, because my God done shed his grace on thee
and you ought to love him for it 'cause he
crowned thy good, he told me he would, said with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea
Oh lord, oh lord
Thank you Jesus
Shining sea

Vote For Me

Graphic Designer: John “Teflon” Sims

Two-Tone was a short-lived musical movement that came from the West Midlands of England, combining ska and punk in songs that are equal parts socially conscious and danceable. The two tones are black and white and the musical movement was virulently anti-racist, in sharp contrast to the skinhead punks, whose ranks included many white nationalists.

The movement peaked in the late 70s and early 80s with bands like Madness, Bad Manners, The Selecter, and The Beat (who were known in the US as The English Beat). But nobody did it better than The Specials. This song, from their 2019 album Encore, is my nominee for unofficial theme song of Election Day 2020.

If we vote for you, do you promise
To be upright, decent and honest
To have our best interest at heart
You understand why we don't believe you
You're way too easy to see through
Not the best places to start

There are no rocks at Rockaway beach
And all that glitters isn't gold

You're all so drunk on money and power
Inside your Ivory tower
Teaching us not to be smart
Making laws that serve to protect you
But we will never forget that
You tore our families apart

There are no rocks at Rockaway beach
And all that glitters isn't gold

So if we vote for you, do you promise
To be upright, decent and honest
And take away all of the fear
You sit and wait for us to elect you
But all we'll do is reject you
Your politics bore us to tears

There are no rocks at Rockaway beach
And all that glitters isn't gold

Our President

The president, more than any other elected official, is America’s image of itself: the one who represents us on the world stage. It is the president’s job to embody our national character. The heart of that national character, borrowed from civilizations going back to ancient Greece, by way of the Enlightenment philosophers of France (although recently disparaged by one of our own Senators as “not the objective”), is democracy.

In the beginning, one of the things that set the United States of America apart, in a world ruled by monarchies, theocracies, and warlords, was the belief that the people, given a decent education and accurate information from a free press, have all the tools they need to rule themselves. Technology has changed how we learn, and what we learn, but nothing has changed the virtue behind the belief that we can know the truth and rule ourselves.

We were never a perfect union. That is understood. But I believe that most people, even those on the “opposite” side, want to make this union more perfect. More just. More honest. More free. And as close as we can get, in our time, to a perfection that will be forever out of reach. One way to do that is to vote for people who share our values. I hope everyone votes, and votes their conscience. It is a duty – not just as citizens of a nation, but as sentient beings on this heartless but beautiful planet – to make all of our unions as perfect as we can. Because no matter who “wins” on election day, nothing is going to change unless we make it. We are going to rise, or fall, together. E pluribus unum.