The intense debates over health-care reform have brought to mind some poignant memories. When my father was in his early 40s he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Our entire family was shaken, but perhaps no one more than Granddad and Grandma Clapp. Moving into their elderly years, they had to watch a son die.
Halfway through Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, about the time I should have been engrossed in the tommy-guns-a-blazin’ battle between bad guy John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and good guy Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), I found myself staring at the beautiful overcoat Dillinger was wearing, the hip sunglasses he had on and the way Purvis’s stylish hat was nattily cocked upon his head.
Mine is reasonably small having always lived low, turned off lights and faucets, eschewed useless stuff, reused, recycled. I do not aspire to shrink it, but, like the first people in these green hills,
I want to leave no footprint at all, to move through life in gentle, charitable silence not disturbing fragile things, cosmic balances or the universal pulse so that, when my candle sputters into darkness, the tiniest leaf is unmoved by the wisp of its rising smoke.
One morning this summer I was basking in the sun With the brother closest to me in age. We had been Brought up almost as twins but then took disparate Roads, as twins do. He was sobbing and I was near Tears and the ocean was muttering. I heard a heron. We had been having the most naked open talk we’d Had in many years. I wanted to tell him how deeply I loved him but words are just so weak and shallow. So I talked about the forsythia bush we used to hide Under together. It was the safest place on the planet. The light was always amazing in there and it wasn’t Ever muddy somehow and you were draped in gold. It was a hut a huddle a tent a canopy a cave a refuge. Sometimes you have to use a thing to say something Else. We do this all the time. We talk sideways, yes? But sidelong is often the only road that gets to where You know you need to go. So much means lots more Than it seems like it could mean. Tears, for example.
John Coleman, who died recently, presided over Haverford College during the tumultuous Vietnam War era. He sympathized with students’ antiwar protests but also tried to channel the antiwar movement in constructive ways. When students considered burning the American flag, Coleman placed a washing machine at the center of the campus and encouraged students to wash the flag instead. He persuaded dozens of college presidents to sign an antiwar statement. On sabbaticals he took blue-collar jobs to explore the gap between academics and workers (Inside Higher Ed, September 12).