“Mi sopragiunse uno soave sonno” (Sweet sleep overcame me) ~ From Dante’s La Vita Nuova

Korean War Memorial in Snow, Washington, DC (image by Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Vide cor tuum (See your heart)
E d’esto core ardendo (And of this burning heart)
Cor tuum (Your heart) ~ From Vide Cor Meum from Dante’s La Vita Nuova

U.S. Capitol in Snow (image by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Well, the snow has left the area, melted, gone, no more. We were lucky. Not much accumulation, but we did get icy roads on Saturday night. Apparently, those to the north of us in the state were hammered. Pretty much everything in the DC metropolitan area is closed today—federal agencies, local governments, schools, and forecasters are predicting more snow tomorrow. Flights have resumed at National Airport, where people have been stranded for days, and tens of thousands of people are without power, with no predictions as to when power might be restored. Amtrak has resumed train travel, which means long lines at Union Station filled with people who cannot get out of the area any other way. 

Cross country skiers made their way through the snow, while others were left digging out vehicles that were completely covered by the storm. I’m including pictures of DC/Northern Virginia to give you an idea of what it’s like there. Thankfully, none of that for our area. In fact, today it’s a whopping 39° F. That’s almost 20 degrees warmer than yesterday. I spent most of yesterday wrapped up in the blankets trying to keep my nose warm. Ah life. Always an adventure. 

So yesterday was the Super Bowl. I did not watch as I am completely uninterested in the NFL. That doesn’t make me un-American, just not interested in football. I did, however, peruse the Super Bowl commercials earlier today as these commercials tend to be a little more creative than most mainstream commercials. I’m including my two favorites, KGB’s I Surrender, and E-Trade’s Milkawhat. 

 

 

Io sono in pace (I am in peace)
Cor meum (My heart)
Io sono in pace (I am in peace)
Vide cor meum (See my heart) ~ From Vide Cor Meum from Dante’s La Vita Nuova

Downed Tree Branch in Alexandria, VA (Cliff Owen/AP)

I told Corey earlier that I didn’t really have any idea on what to post today. I mean, there are things going on: In Washington state, a 17-year-old boy crashed his parents’ car into his school and drove down the hall . . . In New York, a 61-year-old woman was cited for driving in the Plus-One lane with a mannequin, decked out in wig and sunglasses . . . And in tech news, Dante’s Inferno has been turned into a video game. 

You might think that with my background in literature I would be offended by gamers taking this classic and turning it into video fare, but I’m not. I’m all for anything that introduces the classics to people who might otherwise be uninterested, even if it is but a glimpse of the original. I don’t kid myself that the game will delve too deeply into the original, but if playing the game causes even one person to turn to the book, then something has been accomplished. 

The movie version of Beowulf that came out a few years ago took liberties with the Medieval tale, yet many of the original aspects were there. Of course, Grendel’s mother in the original did not look like a shimmering Angelina Jolie, but the original storyline of the warrior Beowulf slaying Grendel was kept, albeit embellished. 

The movie 1980s movie Excalibur still remains one of the best retellings of the Arthurian legend, including the betrayal of Lancelot and Guinevere and the search for the grail. Clive Owen’s King Arthur added new dimensions to the tale by incorporating the battle of Baden Hill, which is believed to be the actual battle fought by the Arthur on whom the legend is based.  

Robin in Snow (Jewel Samad/AFP Getty Images)

I’m not saying that I think that our youth should be getting their history lessons from games and movies; however, when a game or movie does present a relatively accurate depiction of history or a literary classic, I view it as a good thing, yet another way in which to teach those who under different circumstances, might never hear of Dante’s Inferno or be interested in reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. 

I mean, think of all of the movies that have given viewers glimpses into actual events: Saving Private Ryan (veterans praised the accuracy of the beach-storming scene); Schindler’s List (Shoa survivors were gratified by Spielberg’s honest retelling of the Holocaust); Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 (depicted the fateful flight that almost didn’t make it home); Enemy at the Gates (the battle of Stalingrad); Mississippi Burning (the 1964 slaying of civil rights activists); The Killing Fields (Viet Nam under Pol Pot after the Americans pulled out). 

Of course, the list could be much longer. I just chose the ones that came to mind readily, those films that have stayed with me through the years, some of which my own children have seen and from which they have taken away pieces of history. 

Digging Out in Maryland (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

For every boatload of garbage that Hollywood produces, there is one gem. The same could be said of any medium—music, literature, television. So much is rehashed, redone, retooled, and not towards making something better but usually for lack of original thought. But those few that stand out are the ones from which we take away a sense of time or place or person. The ones that, at the end of the day, we gleaned something from and were made better because of it. 

Consider the movie version of Hannibal, based on the book by Thomas Harris. No. I’m not holding the movie up as a substitute history lesson. Rather, I am pointing out that even in the midst of one of the goriest movies around, great beauty exists—this time in the form of the aria “Vide Cor Meum,” which was written specifically for the movie by Patrick Cassidy. The aria is based on a sonnet from Dante’s La Vita Nuova, in which Dante professes his love for Beatrice. Of course, I could do an entire post on the use of classical music in movies, television, even Loony Tunes, but that’s for another time. 

More later. Peace. 

  

Katherine Jenkins performing “Vide Cor Meum.” Sublime. 

The Sour Milk of Human Kindness?

I freely admit that I am a curmudgeon. I am impatient with people who purport to be intelligent and then open their mouths and prove otherwise with but a few misspoken words and phrases. I detest sweeping intolerance of entire groups of people simply because of their beliefs or their sexual orientiation, and I cannot abide bigotry, racism, sexism, or someone telling me that I am going to hell because I am not of the same religious belief. All of that said, believe it or not, I can also be the best friend you have ever had and your most loyal supporter. I cry at sad movies and am completely overcome by beauty in nature.

When our boys were relatively young, we took a detour through Washington, D.C. in the evening to show them homeless people living over the subway grates to stay warm in the winter. They had never seen such a thing before, and I wanted them to know that such things existed in this, the wealthiest country in the world. I sat through Schindler’s List with my children so that they would know what horrors we have witnessed in this world, and even though we have said “never again,” I explained to them that it has happened yet again and again in places like Rwanda and Bosnia and in other corners of the world. And I told them that sometimes the world watches, and sometimes the world helps, but I had no answers as to why some people seem to matter more than others.

I have explained to my children about bullies and heartlessness and name-calling and the long-lasting effects that such things can have, and I have prayed that they would never become these people and that they would never become the victims of these people. I have warned them against becoming immune to violence by not being able to distinguish between what they see in movies and video games and on television and then what is real life as I am just as fearful as the next parent about what affect video violence is having on this generation that does not seem to feel fear.

In spite of all of this, I cannot answer my son when he asks me why there is no human decency in this world. I have no answer to such a deep question. But more telling, I have no answer as to why he would be asking me such a question at such a young age. What could possibly prompt a 16-year-old to wonder such a thing? Has my cynicism jaded him already? The ironic thing is that I do believe that their is goodness in the world. In spite of W and his war, in spite of men like Dick Cheney who have no soul, in spite of CIA-trained terrorists who have turned their training back on us, in spite of car bombs that kill and maim without a target, in spite of thousands of flag-draped coffins that have come home, in spite of anthrax and sarin gas . . . in spite of all of these abominations, I do still believe that their is goodness and kindness, and good and kind people in this world.

There are people who will offer you that four cents that you need for your bill when you are in line at the grocery store. There are people who will hold the door open for the man with the walker coming in to the bookstore. There were the people, at least 10, who stopped and asked Corey and me if we needed them to call a tow truck, when we were stopped by the side of the road when the truck broke down. I’m sure you all have some kind of similar story to tell: a neighbor who is always there to help, a total stranger who helped to push your car out of an intersection, someone who picked up your tab for coffee at Starbucks for no particular reason.

And I’m sure, you also have your own tales, personal or otherwise, about a person who was careless with someone’s feelings or indecent for no particular reason other than to be an asshole. Or maybe that person was you. I’ll share two: When I was sixteen, I was walking home from my best friend Sarah’s house, and some guy in a black Camaro came barreling down the street and flew head on into a flock of ducks. At that time, wild ducks roamed freely in my parent’s neighborhood. I watched in horror as ducks flew into the air, feathers went everywhere, and carcasses landed at my feet. The driver didn’t stop. I reacted normally for me. I started running after him, screaming at the top of my lungs. My father ran out of the house, as did several of my neighbors, including one of my friends. The driver finally stopped the car at the corner of the street, and I started pounding on his window, screaming at him. I never even thought about who he was or what he might do to me. I just demanded that he go back and clean up the dead ducks, after I told him never to drive through our neighborhood that fast again. Astonishingly, the driver apologized to me, turned his car around, and went and cleaned up the pile of dead ducks. My friend put his arm around me and walked me to my porch where my father was waiting. My whole body was shaking as anger coursed through me. I couldn’t believe that anyone could be so callous. My friend couldn’t believe I could be so angry as to not even think about what I was doing in running after a stranger’s car. My dad just took me in the house and gave me a cup of tea.

The second incident is far less dramatic, but something of which I myself am ashamed. I was in high school, and there was someone in my class who had a very pronounced overbite. One day, I turned to a friend of mine, and I said, “she is soo ugly.” My friend paused and replied, “I can’t believe that you would judge someone based on how she looks.” I’ll never forget that. She really put me in my place, and boy, did I deserve it. That girl that I was commenting on was extremely nice and had never done anything to me. Who was I to judge her, and she might have heard me. I was being just plain mean.

So getting back to the main question: Why is there no human decency in this world? Is there? I’d like to believe that there still is. I’d like to be able to show my son that yes, there is still decency in this world, in large ways and in small ways. But mostly, I would like to be able to enfold him in my arms, hold him in my lap, and shut out all of the bad things that would make him think that there is none, but I know that I cannot do that any more. He is coming into his own, and unfortunately, he has hit a rough spot that is causing him to be anxious and to feel some of the pains of this world. And this is the part of parenting that genuinely sucks because mommy kisses are no longer magic. Would that I could kiss his eyelids and make the bad images go away with his sleep as I did when he was but a baby.

Brett
Brett

Nothing prepares you for the times when you are absolutely powerless against to come between the world and your child, no many how many times you might encounter such a situation, and I hope that you never do, but if you have a child, you will. To say that I would give anything for him not to be feeling this way does not begin to embrace the helplessness I feel. To know that I have passed on to him this predisposition for melancholy (what a polite way to put it) does nothing to assuage the guilt. So I sit by and watch him closely, offer to listen, this boy/man, so much like my father, the one who holds everything deep within, the one who I must read through his eyes.

Yes, there is goodness in this world, just as there is pain. But human decency begins with the decent. That is what I want for you to understand.