Tag Archives: history

Review ~ Is it something that we’ve left behind…

The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. By Wade Davis. $16

This was a book that has been on my “someday” list for quite some time. Written by an anthropologist, this group of lectures is structured using a wealth of information Dr. Davis has accumulated over a lifetime of travels to distant corners of the globe. His travels have been funded by such organizations as the National Geographic Society and the Harvard Botanical Museum. Don’t let the term “lectures” scare you off. Davis is a story-teller.

The presentation of this book genuinely touches me for a number of reasons. Davis does not attempt to throw away our technological advances. He does not suggest that we should return to some simpler time to unlearn the advances of the last several centuries. What he does call on us to do is respect the past, and to learn from its wisdom.

hokulea_sunrise_02_12

The voyages of the Hokule’a

[photo credit from the Hawaiian Voyaging Traditions page]

Long before we had compasses, GPS, and automated navigation systems, the Polynesians settled the South Pacific reaches under the guidance of Wayfinders. They were highly esteemed navigators. In Hawaii, the ancient practices are being recaptured. Hawaii’s Hokule’a has sailed since 1975 and has made its way all over the South Pacific using the same navigation methods that settled the area – finding the way. The ancient explores worked with their environment and learned the currents and the winds. They learned which birds flew how far from land. How to read the clouds and the paths of the fish. How to feel the very waves. In the ancient tradition, Wayfinders did not sail to find land; they called the land up from the sea.

Davis covers other ancient cultures, some of which have only recently been introduced to modern life. Each culture discussed in this book has found a time-honored way to live within the ecosystem that was home. Each culture has found a way of give and take with limited resources. Each honors the earth on which we live as the source of life and a treasure to be preserved.

I was taken by the story of the Penan of Borneo. On a visit to Canada to gain support against the clear cutting of their ancestral forest, they were exposed to the homeless of cities in British Columbia. To people who lived in a culture that would be considered impoverished by almost any Western standard, they could not understand why the inhabitants did not share. Their culture was built on the concept that everything must be shared – always. How, then, could there be homeless, hungry, people? Sharing is how the entire community learned to survive.

Davis was part of the expedition to research the growing and use of coca in South America. In the tribal areas, coca is a central part of the culture. It is also a source of protein to a people who have few other sources. Used in the manner developed in ancient rituals, they do not get addicted. The wide spread use of the plant for a number of applications is what gave modern governments the leverage to “take care” of the poor, drugged, Indians. It was the modern perversion of the plant that has caused so much heartache in modern society – not the former highly ritualized use developed through centuries of cultural stability.

From the Amazon to the Arctic, from Borneo to Australia and the South Pacific, Davis tells the story of ancient peoples and their time-honed methods of surviving in their home. He also tells the story of the impact of modern intrusion. His thesis is not that we should abandon our hard-won knowledge; what he does suggest is that we incorporate the wisdom of older cultures into our application of that technology. These cultures, the ones that survived, understood that it is a cycle. In order to receive from earth, we must return to earth. It is critical that we protect our heritage and re-learn the lessons we thought so trivial.

It’s a small book, and well worth the read. You may find yourself far more committed to preserving the life support system on our tiny piece of rock, hanging in a vast universe with no friends in sight. For me, Davis grasps the sentiment of my poem and asks that we not stop learning; but that we protect our heritage and preserve its wisdom in the process.

Is it something that we’ve left behind,
Or something that we’ve yet to find,
That keeps each one forever hoping,
To reach that thing for which we’re groping?

© 1988

1 Comment

Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Before Current Era

Reflections ~ SCOTUS and Equality Under the Law

Courtesy Creative Commons.org

Courtesy Creative Commons.org

 

Some time ago I wrote an article to be shared on a friend’s website. Patrick was kind enough to invite me as a guest blogger so that I could discuss something near to my heart that I was not prepared to share on my own site. Silly me, I thought it didn’t really fit. But it does. It fits very well. Why? Because I am a student of anthropology, philosophy, history and religion. I see in history and in literature so many facets of the human condition and one thing is clear: division destroys. Hatred destroys. Respect, equal access to law, genuine concern for fellow man – that builds. This rather long article is about the cultural approach to the union of two people (and ever so rarely more) into an emotional, physical and legal entity for mutual success and support.

Let’s start with a bit of history. Marriage, as defined by anthropologists, is a broad subject and the more we try to describe it the fuzzier things get. At the most basic level of understanding marriage was developed as an institution to provide two things: sexual monopoly (which may be with more than one individual), and some kind of birth-status rights for any offspring. This second issue also involves inheritance rights and rights to property. Some anthropologists feel that the marital status in some of these cultures did not actually protect the birthright of any offspring; it was simply a definition of status. What we do know is that marriage apparently developed as a way to (hopefully) ensure exclusive access to one’s partner and therefore grant some guarantee of the linage of offspring and to link kinsmen together in some bond. Cultures from the beginning of time have developed and supported various forms of this institution which included monogamy, polygamy, and polyandry (more than one husband). Group marriage is very, very rare; however marriage between two persons of the same sex is not.

In ancient Greece, no civil ceremony was required. Their tradition was something like modern day common-law arrangements where mutual agreement and public acknowledgement were sufficient to create the relationship. In Rome, a woman’s whole heritage transferred from the family of her birth to that of her husband’s. The only way a woman could keep her rights of inheritance was through something called a “free marriage” where she stayed under the authority of her father. However, she did not share in any rights to her husband’s family fortunes. Sounds more like a “friends with benefits” than some kind of commitment.

During the first century CE, Christian marriages were considered to be a private matter between the couple and their families with no specific religious or civil ceremony required. Around 110 CE, Ignatius of Antioch introduced the idea that marriages should be performed within the church under the authority of the bishop to ensure that things were going according to God and not the lust of the couple. By the 12th century women were made to take the name of their husband and such unions required the permission of a parent as well as the church. During the middle ages the churches registered marriages (this was not obligatory) and the mere mutual statement by each member of a union in the presence of a witness was sufficient to form a union. As the middle ages progressed and the Protestant faith began to expand, the Roman Catholic Church determined that offspring of a Protestant marriage (i.e., one not performed in a Roman Catholic Church) were bastards and could not inherit the fortunes of their parents. I’ll let you guess who did collect those fortunes.

History is just as rich in traditions and records of relationships involving people of the same gender. Anthropological studies have indicated that pre-industrial cultures were split fairly equally between those who didn’t care one way or the other and those who had some social taboo against it. Native American peoples considered homosexual or bi-sexual individuals as being of “two spirits” and really didn’t get overly stressed over the matter. In fact, if parents determined that their child was a “Two Spirit” the child was given the choice of which path they would choose to follow and he/she was raised accordingly. Many became shamans.

In Asia, recorded history for same-sex relationships goes back as far as 600 BCE. In fact, in the Thai culture these persons were treated as a third gender. They were and are generally accepted by at least some of the Asian societies. Records show that it was not unusual for Thai royalty to keep consorts of both sexes.

And, the list goes on. Every culture since mankind has had anything that could be called a culture has developed ways and means to deal with relationships between its individual members. In almost every case those traditions, rules and practices were meant to accomplish two things:

  1. A cleaving together in some form to indicate that these particular individuals are committed to each other emotionally and physically; and,
  2. The formation of a legal relationship that protected inheritance, lineage and legal status.

Even in modern times the arrangement of common law unions may start without religious or civil affirmation; but quite frequently end up with some sort of input from an official party to determine what obligations, rights and privileges belong with whom. In the least it generally requires a legal document filed somewhere that says the union is no more.

Why, say you, did I go into such great lengths to explain all this “relationship” stuff? Because it appears that our society has become terribly embroiled in a debate about relationships without really understanding what the issues are. Perhaps it is a bit understandable that after centuries of being bombarded with the terrible consequences of “forbidden love” some persons in our society may feel it is their duty to squelch even the appearance of such relationships, let alone any legal acknowledgement. They are entitled to their opinion. The scripture they quote, however, was directed to a people that wished to be “apart,” that wished to be “different,” and, consequently, to follow a certain set of rules. Scripture does NOT tell the Hebrews to march out into the world and destroy every homosexual that they find; it tells them how to conduct themselves if they choose to accept a certain way of life, if they want to commit to a certain covenant. As far as the fate of the infamous Sodom and Gomorrah, those two cities had problems that went far beyond the mere issue of homosexuality. For instance, there was human trafficking (Lot offered his virgin daughters to the crowd to avoid surrendering his guests), and kidnapping (people had to lock themselves in at night to avoid rampaging mobs), to mention a few. This was not a nice place to live by any civilized standards. And in the end? The cities would have been spared if only 12 righteous persons could be found. Think of that the next time someone says a whole state or country has suffered great loss due to “sexual orientation” or whatever.

So, we are back to who has the authority to tell a person how he or she should live his or her life (as long as said person is not causing injury to others). As it happens, the person that grants that authority is the individual. The authority over any life is granted to a leadership in a group by the members of the group. If you want to start a club where only people with green eyes and purple hair can join; then that is your prerogative. It is NOT your right to tell the rest of the world they must purchase green contacts and dye their hair. You are not permitted to insist that the whole population performs these requirements even if they are excluded from your group for some reason, or have no interest in joining in the first place. Yes, I know. The choice of one’s partner(s) in life is far more serious than this silly scenario, it is far more personal. And so, the choice should remain with the persons involved.

If you choose to adhere to a tradition that marriage is between one man and one woman and you feel that marriage should be blessed by a church; then by all means follow that path. Please be sure you do not run to the nearest steeple. Understand that if you accept the blessings of a priest, minister, rabbi or whatever that you are saying publically that you agree with their point of view regarding your union and what it means. The Catholic Church has this part down pat. Some denominations accept the validity of same-sex marriages and will respond accordingly. Some, obviously, do not. In any event this type of commitment is a spiritual one, one made based on the beliefs, dogmas and requirements of that particular institution. The adherents of any one belief system, however, do not have the right or obligation to enforce their point of view on the rest of the population.

If, however, a couple wishes to announce to the world that they have formed an emotional and intimate relationship, that they intend to go forward in the world building financial security and mutual support, and that they wish to have the legal protections and obligations available for such unions under the state in which they reside; then they should have that right, regardless of their gender or choice of mate. There is no requirement that any religion accept this union, many of them don’t even ask for that. These people simply want the ability to have the person in the world most important to them able to share financially, emotionally and legally with their successes and failures. They want the person closest to their heart in the hospital room with them at moments of life and death decisions. How dare we as a society deny an individual the comfort of a loved one in an hour of need? And yet by saying their relationship is not valid in some way that is precisely what we do.

I truly fail to understand why persons normally so committed to keeping “government” out of their own lives can be so insistent on using government to interfere in the lives of others. Yes, the country was founded by “god-fearing” men (and women). Those men, however, were deist who believed in the basic good in the heart of humanity. They were not evangelist trying to save the world. Perhaps they misplaced their faith in our ability to build a country based on the common good of people and blinded themselves to what seems to be our mutual drive to divide and destroy. Allowing committed individuals the legal protections and rights granted under civil or even religious unions is a matter of human rights and deserves the support of a civil authority. All citizens have an equal right of protection under law and in justice. Such a policy will not destroy the country. Really, it won’t.

One final word so that the record is complete and I ask that if I am quoted that it should be in context. One can at least hope. As it happens I am a Christian. Not a member of any particular institution, but, nonetheless, a Christian in thought process. The man attributed to the founding of that particular branch of human belief was quite different, in my eyes, than often described. He loved to feast with prostitutes and tax collectors. He was clearly able to display anger at the sight of bankers and merchants doing business in the heart of temple courts. He conversed with the outcast and never asked someone how they managed to get themselves in such a fix when they needed help. He chose to love, He chose to help. This is the one I choose to follow.

1 Comment

Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind

Reviews ~ How Old is This?

Bones, Rocks and Stars by Chris Turney Available for $12 -25.

IMG_1314

As I unpack all those books we’ve had for years I find treasures that I meant to read but, well, never got around to. It’s like Christmas in my house these days. This title is one I probably acquired through a book club. It was purchased to answer a question an avid history nut, such as myself, finds perplexing – how do we know how to date things?

This is no easy question in the world of historical and archeological investigation. It gets even touchier when we talk about the age of the earth, the universe, or the advent of man. For instance, you may hear something like, radiocarbon dating is unreliable. Fine, but why, and when? I felt it was time that I read the science and left the media hype to the tabloids and those with specific agendas. This book opened that door, and in an entertaining way. A lot of science, but an easy read.

Before I address the book itself, I would like to posit a thought. I have friends and followers with varying positions on evolution, creationism, and all the emotional baggage on both sides. I’ve been there, and reading up on the science is part of what gave me some sense of clarity.

For those who are more concerned with scriptural interpretations, I’d like to point out a few things that helped me. There are several chapters in Job where God puts forth on the wonders of the natural world. They are introduced with the question, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” Yes, indeed. The message in these passages burned in my heart was – don’t make assumptions. Look to creation for your answers, there is a reason things work the way they do.

Fast forward to New Testament times and the apostle Paul (whatever his reputation may be) and we find in Romans 1:20 “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” (New American Standard). Again, things evident in nature are meant to tell a story. There are many more similar references.

So, why the mini-sermon? Because if I am to believe that we have some direction, that the ancient holy books of our species have something to say about the place we find ourselves and what we should do about it, then I have to believe that there is value in what is said. My thought is this. If we are admonished to look to nature for the creative power within — if the ancients of many religions tell us to look, to see, to contemplate the marvels before us—then why should we expect something other than truth? Should we expect to find an “appearance of age” to mislead us? Should we find things that are not what they appear to be? Man’s knowledge is not perfect. However, we do have the ability to seek, to find, to follow where the evidence leads. What’s more, I sincerely believe we are commanded to do so.

Thus, we get to the book. How do we date things? Turney leads the reader through a step by step process of what amounts to the history of sorting out just how old things are. Starting with how we date things using calendars, and how we convert ancient historical documents to modern calendars to get a sense of time. He describes the fascinating science of dendrochronology: the use of tree rings to count the years and study climate changes. Comparing these records with journals and legends we can better understand when events occurred and some of the reasons a culture changed or died out.

He carefully explains how we compare the ratios of compounds in samples, check for luminescence, uranium content and even radiocarbon dating. Yes, it is true, radiocarbon dating has it limits. Due to the half-life of the Carbon 14 atom it is only accurate to somewhere near 40,000 years. I also learned that these methods work not because of one test, but because of a series of tests in and around a sample to plot curves in order to reduce the chance of contamination skewing the sample.

The steps taken on specific claims show how the frauds are discovered, and how science corrects itself. He speaks with clarity and provides headline cases and inside adventures to show the reader how the conclusions were constructed. How we learned and how our knowledge is growing.

We live in an incredible universe of unbelievable wonder. Our own history is filled with lessons, information, wisdom that we cannot ignore. If we do not put these events in proper context, we cannot learn, we cannot be all that we are created to be. Check out “the science of when things happened.” I think you will find much to contemplate.

Leave a comment

Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Before Current Era, My Bookshelf ~ Current Era, Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck

Book Review(s) ~ Our Mysterious and Beautiful Arctic Shore

Book Review(s) — Aunt Phil’s Trunk, now 4 volumes each $15-20.

NRCFAUNTPHILSTRUNKSERIESLC

It is, of course, rather nice to breathe the fine air of history once again. Through a chain of friends I was asked to take a look at the first two volumes of what is growing into a series called, Aunt Phil’s Trunk. Even the making of these books has a historical tang to it. Aunt Phil, Phyllis Downing Carlson, was a historian and a meticulous collector of Alaskan Lore. She bequeathed this body of knowledge to her niece, Laurel Downing Bill. Laurel, fascinated with the treasure trove she had found, took herself off to university to learn journalism and history. Upon graduation she began further researching the history of her home state, Alaska. Then she began the process of weaving her own tales with those of her aunt’s to create a really fascinating read. You never get lost because she always makes sure that while you are reading Alaskan history, you also know what was happening in the burgeoning country to the south.

I found myself quite delighted wandering through the pages of this collection of stories. Bill provides some background on habitation in Alaska as early as 850 BCE. In the early chapters of volume one, Bill gives a brief history of the violent geological nature of the land. She describes how volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and Arctic winters shaped the land and the islands that are near its shore.

Of great interest to me was her research of the Russian possession of the country, and the dream of Secretary of State Seward to own the northern frontier. The purchase price of Alaska was somewhere around 2 cents an acre; $7.2 million dollars. There’s a photograph of the check! There are photographs of the Russian forts, the lovely Russian princess bidding a sad farewell, and of the American soldiers taking possession of the territory.

She adds to her story further research on the purchase price. There have been some rumors that the payment included a thank you price for the visit of the Russian fleet during the Civil War. Bill, in story-time style tells you that history shows a different tale. The price of the territory was already in the process of being negotiated before the war (somewhere in the 4-5 million dollar range). As far as the Russian fleet was concerned, the wars brewing in Europe put Russia at a distinct disadvantage. It was necessary to get their fleet to safety and by parking it on the American shores, Russian helped to tip the balance of support to the Union. American officials studiously ignored Russia’s encroachment on Polish soil. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

When Volume 2 begins we discover that it wasn’t all settled with the deed and treaty. As gold was found and things started to perk up a bit, well, the Canadians had their own ideas of where the boundary lines were drawn. Interpretation and re-interpretation of the boundaries conveyed by Russia brought the US and Canada close to the threshold of a border war. With the building of the railroad, which ran through territory that both the US and Canada claimed, things were getting serious. As progress pushed north (1898) serious negotiations began in Quebec City to settle the issue. Finally in 1903 a panel was set up to decide once and for all where the Crown lands ended and America began. President Theodore Roosevelt informed the panel that if they didn’t get it settled he would send in the Marines.

The tales and the photographs (some 650 between the two volumes) continue to lead you through the development of this beautiful wild country including the conquest of Dinali (Mt. McKinley), the volcano Katmai, the birth of the Iditarod and stories of the men and women who had no wish to tame the wilderness, but to learn to live within its majesty.

It’s a good read and I highly recommend you check it all out!

Laurel can be found in these online hangouts

Email: auntphilstrunk@gmail.com
Website: http://www.AuntPhilsTrunk.com
Facebook: http://www.Facebook.com/LaurelBillAuthor
Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/LaurelBill
Google +: http://www.plus.Google.com/LaurelBill
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmh0wCifvbXYsVg5IkawkyQ

All of the volumes available to date can be found here:

Aunt Phil’s Trunk volumes 1 through 4 are available through http://www.AuntPhilsTrunk.com and Amazon.com.

Volume 1: http://j.mp/SSiIKX
Volume 2: http://j.mp/SSiOT1
Volume 3: http://j.mp/SSjEz2
Volume 4: http://j.mp/SSjR5q

This post is part of a blog tour and there are prizes!  Check out the details at

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/dc88698/

 

3 Comments

Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Current times

Andrew Johnson – Do you know where he was in September 1866?

Here is a history mystery for my readers.  My friend, Edward Frank, is working on a documentary film about the Black Guides of Mammoth Cave.  In his research he came across a reference that Andrew Johnson had visited the cave during one of his campaign swings.  However, he cannot find any confirmation.  Any one care to jump in and help sort this out?

http://blackguidesofmammothcave.wordpress.com/

Black Guides of Mammoth Cave

 

 

Andrew Johnson.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Current Era

Reviews ~ Unsung Ladylike (and not so Ladylike) Women of Note

4,000 Years of Uppity Women by Vicki Leon  Available for around $11.00

UppityThere is one aisle I should never, ever visit at Barnes and Noble; but oh the treasurers I would miss.  I really can’t walk into one of those stores without browsing up and down the bargain aisle.  Not only are there delightful treasures, but they are at such tempting prices.  Even though I’m now in publishing and know what those discounts mean to the author; well, they’re irresistible.  This past week I finally had an opportunity to check out one of those bargains and had a few much needed giggles.

Leon has created a little book of vignettes about the life and times of a number of women from the past.  This is a rollicking quick read.  It is obviously well researched.  You are introduced to the antics of ruler and slave, mistress and bored wife, business woman, intellectual, highway robber, patriot, nun and scoundrel.  Some of these women were way ahead of their time; some just made the best use possible of the available resources.  Here are a few of these windows on the past.

Fabiola, an early Christian.  Long before the Nightingale of the Crimean war, Fabiola established the first free public hospital in the Western world.  She didn’t wait for her patients to come to her – she went out and found them.

Back in the time of Alchemists, and interesting lady named Mary Prophetissa not only contributed much to the science of chemistry, she is the inventor of the double boiler.  It must have been very helpful boiling and brewing all those potions.

I loved the robbers and pirates, the brave patriots and Australian who arrived as a criminal and ended up on a $20 bill.  I learned that Betsy Ross did not create the Old Glory that inspired Francis Scott Key was one Baltimore widow named Mary Young Pickersgill.  She created a wool flag that was 42 feet long and 30 feet wide.  It used 400 yards of material and weighed 85 pounds.  Pickersgill’s handwritten invoice was $405.90.

A couple of other ladies never mentioned in such rousing poetry as Paul Revere is a lady who road on horseback for 10 miles alerting the country folk of an impending attack (Mr. Revere didn’t make it that far) and a Quaker woman who bluffed her way through enemy lines to warn Washington of an impending attack.  Never lying through her bluffing or through her integration (evidently the right questions were not asked) she was still kicked out of the Friends for being too involved in the war.

Many bits and pieces of the high and the really low, the celibate and those who found their identity less focused on the opposite sex, or not focused at all.  Each and every one had an impact on her times and some far into the future.  It’s a great short read and I highly recommend it.

3 Comments

Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Before Current Era, My Bookshelf ~ Current Era

Reflections ~ If you were “there,” it never really goes away.

This week, here in America, many of us are recognizing a moment in history when the course of our history changed.  I know there are many such moments; times when the myriad possibilities that stretch before us solidify into the future path.  However, if you were alive and well in the early 60s; the assassination of President Kennedy was more than a defining moment.  It was a moment when the darker side of American existence pushed and shoved its way into the public eye.  For better or worse, on that day, America did indeed “lose her innocence.”

ST-C420-51-63At the urging of a friend I picked up a copy of Stephen King’s, 11/22/63.   She opened a chat line on Facebook so that we could discuss our interpretations and feelings on the novel and that moment in history.  My answer will be to post a link to this blog.  For me, it was an all-consuming (whenever possible) read.  You see, I was around and old enough to be cognizant all those many years ago.

King’s story is an exquisite adventure into time travel.  I was completely drawn into his mental exercise of what the implications of time travel might be.  How no matter how fervently we wish to change the past that change can cause repercussions we are even less happy with.  No matter how hard we try to make sense of the horror or randomness of life’s pathways; there can be even more horrible consequences should we meddle.

Reading the story sent me on my own nostalgic trip. Using faithful and ever present Google I looked up the home that I lived in with my parents in 1963.  It was in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Interesting, the house is still green and the retaining wall we built is still there – at least it was when the street-level Google photo was taken.  It took a bit more research but I finally found the elementary school I was attending and as soon as I saw the name I had a “George” moment: Whittier Elementary.  A fairly sizable school within suitable walking distance of our home.  No, I only walked uphill one way, but the winds of my youth were very, very cold (dress code demanded that girls wear skirts) and the snow could get rather deep in that part of the country.  I also saw that my “short cut” was still there.

It was during our lunch time recess that there was an announcement on the PA system; we were having an emergency assembly.  I remember filing into the auditorium with everyone else on that day and seeing our principal and most of the teaching staff on stage.  Nearly all of them were in tears.   With a breaking voice our principal informed us that our president had been assassinated.  School was being closed, everyone was being sent home.  If you did not have acceptable arrangements at home, please speak with your teacher.  Thanks, but no thanks.  I’ll be fine.  And I walked home.

I don’t remember when my parents got home, or what their specific responses were.  I think my mother was deeply affected, I’m not really sure about my father. For me the world was suddenly something I heard down some tunnel we like to think of as reality.  My home life was not a pleasant thing.  Better than some, worse than others, but behind our walls some of that “innocence” of the day was most definitely cracked and pealed.

In the 60s child abuse was something that happened most often in the comfort of your own home (or educational institution) with hot chocolate and marshmallows.   It wasn’t talked about.  Any more than the performance of a drunken actress singing happy birthday to her own, very special president was talked about.   America had won the war.  We were healthy economically, on top of the world politically and our borders were secure.  Our president had avoided nuclear war with an intense game of chess (or poker) and we were all breathing easier for the victory.  Suddenly, that all shattered.  For me it was truly personal because I had held a belief that “once I left home” I would be in control of my own life.  The assassination of a controversial, but beloved president blew that vision into a million shards of star dust.  Nowhere was safe.  Absolutely nowhere.

I will, of course, never know what my journey might have been if I could have retained my belief in a safe America.  An America where people somehow believed that rhetoric does not create real events, real impact.  I say this because I firmly believe that at least part of the community guilt that Dallas suffered was due to the hot bed of racial and religious intolerance that was evident not too far below the surface if not quite frankly out in the open.  King does an excellent job of describing our country in that age.  The segregation, treatment of women, the slums, the real hatred that some held for our internationally renowned “leading couple.”  There was a bubbling current of talk about how the man should be shot; he was nothing but a commie and he would surely lead us all into perdition; most assuredly if he made us live side by side with “those others.”  I am sure there are many that thought good riddance; but there were others who felt just as guilty as if they had fired the shot themselves.  The underbelly of America.  Prejudice, poverty, fear for the future in a nuclear world.  It was no longer possible to ignore it.

King, after researching the matter with the zeal of a writer, does not think there was a conspiracy.  What feelings of “conspiracy” I have are limited to the opportunistic use of the event rather than any forethought or planning.  Although I’m sure there was plenty of that going on.  Of all of the work I have read myself on the subject, the best and most believable is Mortal Error: The Shot that Killed Kennedy by Bonar Mennings.  It is the story of 25 years of research by a man named Howard Donahue.  Donahue is a ballistics and gun expert and was involved in one of the many investigations that followed the event.   It is a completely different take on the events of that day.   Anything I say about the book will be a true spoiler.  It was, for me, a bit of closure.

After 50 years, where does this story leave me?  I have to say that it may have influenced my life more than I have previously acknowledged.  I am an avid student of history.  Not just the dates, events, names, and chronologies; I love to sort out the pieces and see if the trail of consequences leads me to some conclusion not obvious in the written record.  What were the pivotal moments in history that caused kingdoms to rise or fall or individuals to become heroes or villains? Do the same circumstances in another place and time change the label of hero or villain; do they change the outcome?

The other part of that repercussion is my intense interest in philosophy and religion.  Is life really random?  Is there anything concrete we can depend on, or is it all a blind act of faith?  Is there some hope that we can navigate our lives in such a way that our journey, and that of others that we touch, is somehow better and not destroyed in some small or great way?

That brings, me then, to my current work in progress.  I think in my exploration of the life of Job and in the various interpretations of his story and his response I am going back to these fundamental questions.  Why do such horrible things happen?  Is there a plan, or only a vague path through the “lesser horror” and a hope for mitigation?  What is the impact of “change,” when and if it is even possible?  Perhaps you’d like to make the journey with me.

5 Comments

Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Fiction, Personal Journeys