Winter Fundraiser 2016, Day Four
My ‘clock’ has settled into Fundraiser Time at last. No matter how often I’ve tried to switch modes early, or chosen a theme to contemplate ahead of time so as to be prepared, this process will not be hurried. I’m beginning to get it: as my grandchildren say, “It’s a thing.” [I know, I know: ‘it’s a thing’ is about as intelligent and interesting as ‘it is what it is’. But they have their uses at the moment. As some of you know the only cliché to send me screaming from the room is comments that end with some resigned sigh about ‘living in interesting times’. ARRGH! That was clever in 1998; it’s so worn-out now it’s well past cliché and into the thickets of suicidal ennui.]
So Fundraiser Day Four is nearly always mine. Sometimes the Baron has to pinch hit because I have a bad case of the vapors, but for the most part, Day Four belongs to me. Again, in English we’re missing a needed word to describe various kinds of time, since Day Four is decidedly different from, say, Day Five (belonging to the Baron). Each of the various dependably differing tempos of the different days should have its own evocation. We need a real word — not an adjective, but a stand-alone word — for this felt sense. It’s a kind of gestalt with its own particular contours. We all experience this: our minds and hearts shape themselves to fit specific situations or environments.
Mircea Eliade thought about and described part of this experience in terms of space: the sacred and the profane. He’s not everybody’s jar o’ moonshine, but I find his work congenial to my thinking. When I walk into the small country church we attend (the Baron attends. I just try), there is a special sense of place that can’t be duplicated anywhere else. Or when I enter our home after being gone, I have arrived in a way I never arrive anywhere else. Does any other place smell like home? Surely it is the same for you…?
[When I think of 7/7 or 9/11 it is always with the burden of sorrow for those people waiting for someone who would never again “arrive” home. I will always remember walking those long city blocks in New York City — ironically on December 7th, 2001 — experiencing with the Baron rows of begging letters as far as the eye could see from people searching for vaporized family members. Piled with the letters and photographs, the unending rows of tilted or fallen dead bouquets lined the bottom of the sidewalk barriers hiding Ground Zero from immediate view. It was three months later and we could still see and smell the acrid wisps of smoke. At the small church nearby, on Wall Street, I think, the graveyard’s headstones appeared to be covered with snow but it was the drifted, settled ash from the Towers. The powder covered every horizontal surface; I gathered some from the ancient wrought iron fence to bring back for my home altar. It’s in a tiny pill case, but someday I’ll find a suitable reliquary. For each in his own fashion, those who are spared, those left behind to mourn or memorialize realize full well, to the last tear, attention must be paid.]
Choosing “The Age of Reason” (from Al Stewart’s song “A Man for All Seasons”; the full lyrics were posted here) as our theme seemed immediately right, given the currents of world affairs. The Baron and I love Al Stewart’s grasp of history’s hinge-points, not only the grand sweep but the individuals who find themselves caught up in a present they couldn’t have imagined. We’ve played his music many times; I think history buffs are especially drawn to him.
As I mentioned before, he said of his work:
And, of course, the songs are geographical too. One of the ways I get inspired to write a song — and this will always produce a song that sounds like nothing else (I can’t, I can’t recommend this highly enough) — I just open a world atlas, just at random, and whatever page I’m looking at, at least six songs immediately occur to me.
So, if you look at pretty much any of the songs, a lot of them are geographical, historical, and from a movie.
The album Between the Wars is one of my favorites; it’s thematically similar to “A Man For All Seasons”. Indeed, the sweep of the whole thing is much like a movie, just as he says. Somehow he manages to capture the time and place as though he had been there. In a way, what he does is better than the songs that were current then (though I couldn’t give those up either). As much as I like ’30s and ’40s music, Stewart’s broad variety in this CD captures simultaneously the mood of New Year’s Eve 1938, as people laugh their way into 1939, and what amounts to our own sad prescience as we watch their unknowing.
Stewart calls us to witness an unvoiced terrible future in that bright tune. This seems to be his gift: to make his listener feel not omniscient, but just as powerless as those he sings about — our parents and grandparents in the case of this CD.[Stewart’s father died in World War II combat]
Someday another musical genius with an aptitude for history and geopolitics may be able to capture the essence of this time and place right now. Imagine a song that manages to evoke Mutti Merkel’s essence even as it portrays the pain of all the people she betrayed. Imagine how that future minstrel will sing of Viktor Orbán or Geert Wilders. Imagine the sweet-funny-horrific jaunty tune called “Who Killed Tommy Robinson?” Even as I shudder I can almost hear the bridge with the pipes playing [“Oh Tommy boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling…”].
It’s a long way from Thomas More to here, but there are similarities. We are up against the hubris of our ruling classes. Push them just the tiniest bit and they will strike like scorpions, hauling those that threaten them to jail.
Not for nothing did the Baron portray Geert Wilders as Galileo. The latter’s defiant words, Eppur si muove, were put into his mouth by historians in the following century. They summed up perfectly the anti-Church feelings of those who lived in a time when Galileo’s observations had been proved correct and the
antediluvian Church was forced into silence and eventual acquiescence, though with poor grace. Absolute power corrupts.
Thomas More faced Henry’s absolute power. He didn’t flee to France with his children, as others may have done. He faced this dying, deliberately invoked out of season, knowing his faith would not prevail against what Henry believed to be his own needs. Al Stewart is able to make us see the conflict from both sides:
Henry Plantagenet still looks for someone
To bring good news in his hour of doubt.
While Thomas More waits in the Tower of London
Watching the sands running out.
Thomas had been knighted by Henry many years before but that honor wasn’t enough to save him from Henry’s needs. Thomas’ allegiance to a principle higher than loyalty to his King put Henry in a corner. In order for Henry to be perceived as more powerful in his own realm, Thomas had to die. I’ve no doubt Saint Thomas More grieved leaving his daughters and son behind. But he left them a legacy that survived down the centuries till the family line died out in the early 19th century. Sic transit gloria mundi.
To be willing to die for principle, especially principles of faith, seems antiquated to many. But we are witnessing today a resurgence in the West of those willing to stand against all power in order to adhere to principles which take precedence over any state power.
Geert Wilders is one of those modern martyrs. I’ve no idea of his personal religious beliefs but they are probably in line with most of his fellow Dutch citizens. The age of Reason brings with it the Principles of Reason and, for those who believe in the inviolability of the individual vis-à-vis the state, those principles are paramount. They are worth dying for.
Tommy Robinson is another in a long line of Englishmen who put the good of his country against the powers of the state apparatus. He has been told all he needs do is recant, shut up, and the persecution will cease. His family can live in peace: no more having to move because of the neighbors’ fears of the incessant police raids. And he can get his business back, such as it is now. He can have his bank account, his computer, etc., returned for good. No more freezing his assets. No more being tossed into jail for trumped-up charges. No more five-month tortures in solitary confinement.
Thomas More told a king NO. Geert Wilders refused to stay silent in the face of what is happening to his country. Tommy Robinson’s rejection of the whispered temptations if he would just remain silent while his town and his country are destroyed… succumb to the temptations of living a normal life while English culture is destroyed… such are some of the Men For All Seasons, and they are increasing in number.
For our modern Thomas Mores are proof that one can still live a life of principle. They show by their example that passion for a higher cause is crucial to remaining human.
The rest of us aren’t called to make such sacrifices… yet. But we know the moment may come for at least some of us, and each of us rehearses what actions we will need to take, whether to stand for principle or to flee with our families to safety, there to await whatever final line is drawn in the sand.
The donations continue to arrive. I have been urging the Baron to take his time with the acknowledgments. I tell him that donors understand… meanwhile, as I look at the far-flung places from which donations come, I am reminded of Al Stewart’s point about geography. After each fundraiser I spend many weeks looking at the wikis for the towns of our donors. So many communities, such a variety of climate, culture, and people. We are blessed:
Stateside: Alabama, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington
Near Abroad: Canada
Far Abroad: Australia, Spain, Sweden, and the UK
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