Outside, in the dimly lit darkness, in the land of the rising sun, our bodies still heavy with restless sleep, we stood in line, waiting.
Not knowing how quickly the cold night would pass, how thin the mountain air, not yet ready for our turn, we stood in line, complaining.
Inside, the large dining room overflowed with fellow hikers, nodding, sitting on mats, speaking words with no meaning, the lucky ones who’d arrived before us.
Sipping hot tea, murmuring, emptying rice bowls with wooden chopsticks, they took no notice of our shadows hovering, swaying, listening to a distant chorus.
Outside, in a line snaking to the door of the wind-blasted hut, refuge for too many, we wrapped thin blankets around our shoulders.
Why weren’t we the lucky ones sipping tea?
Why wasn’t it our turn?
Ahead in line, an elderly woman wearing white gloves, her lipstick perfectly applied, her jet black hair shining, silhouetted against the darkness, her face a friendly smile, turned towards us.
Touching a graceful finger gently to her lips, speaking the only language we understood, we knew patience would reward us, but when?
Not knowing what she said, still knowing exactly what she said, we sighed and stood in line, waiting.
Was that streak of light a break in the never-ending darkness?
Slowly, the line moved forward towards the light inside where we, too, would sit on mats and sip hot tea, no longer waiting.
Inside at last, the sun, a distant fuzzy orb, blinding in its intensity, freed us from sleep, brought promises of the new day, another ascent into the clouds.
And so, no longer waiting, our turn arrived, our spirits revived, we, too, sipped hot tea, emptied rice bowls, and listened to a distant chorus.
It is strange to say I used to play the French horn in an orchestra. I used to study Japanese. I used to hike. I once walked across England from St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay. I was once a doctor…49 years’ worth of medicine. My children were once young. I tell myself to get on with it. Leave it behind. Now I paint with watercolors. Now I have given either nine or ten courses at BOLLI (and will do two more this fall.) Now I bag ten thousand-year-old lithics as a volunteer in an archaeology museum. Sometimes I write. Last year, I wrote and illustrated four short books for my now seven-year-old granddaughter who wants me to write something new, something about chopping the Evil Virus that plagues us into tiny pieces that will never come back to hurt anyone ever again. Yes! I have left “I used to” behind and think more about what I am “going to do.”
It was on the 10th of May in 1843 that Henry received the fateful commitment letter from the woman he adored and had been courting off and on for the last seven years; she had finally agreed to his proposal of marriage. His first wife had died of a miscarriage eight years earlier while they traveled in Europe, and a few months later, he met Fanny, his wife to be, and her father in Switzerland.
Henry’s first wife had been embalmed, laid in a lead-lined oak casket, and shipped to Boston for burial. After the funeral ceremony, he took up his new post as a Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard and began living as a boarder at Craigie House near Harvard Square. Fanny, whose real name was Frances, also returned from Europe, with her father Nathan Appleton, to their home on Beacon Hill. As one of the original investors in the first integrated textile mill in Waltham, Nathan was quite wealthy.
After receiving Fanny’s letter, Henry was so energized that he pulled on his boots and started the three and one-half mile, 90-minute trek down Broadway Street and across the Boston Bridge to Beacon Hill to make sure that Fanny wouldn’t change her mind. It was a journey he made many times over the past seven years, and he had become something of a legend in Cambridge for his unrequited ardor, perseverance, and refusal to quit.
He and Frances married shortly thereafter and parented six children before Fanny died in 1861; she was sealing letters with wax when her dress caught fire, and she succumbed only a few days later. Henry, in an attempt to save her, suffered wounds to his face and body and was unable to attend her funeral. He retired shortly thereafter and devoted the rest of his life to writing and became one of the best known and popular poets of the 19th Century.
He and both wives are now buried at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, and the “Boston Bridge” that he crossed so many times while courting Fanny was re-christened “The Longfellow Bridge” when it was replaced in 1906. The pedestrian bridge recently built over Storrow Drive near the Hatch Shell has been christened The Fanny Appleton Bridge.
Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and have led BOLLI courses on architecture. Larry has been an active participant in and leader of the Writers Guild special interest group as well as serving on the BOLLI Journal staff.
At my neighbor’s recent socially-distanced cocktail hour, there was talk of the upcoming conventions, and I heard myself say, “I was a delegate to the 1968 Democratic Convention.” a show-stopper statement. Impressed and surprised, the others look at me.I, too, am surprised.Me?In another lifetime. Picture this:
I’m 31 years old;I have lived in Gallup, New Mexico for the past one and one-half years.I have given birth, in January of that year, to our second child, a son, at the Gallup Indian Hospital.It is now March. My older child celebrates her third birthday.Each year for the past 6 years my husband and I have moved cross-country, pursuing his career goals.This year, when my husband’s two years in the Public Health Service are complete, we will move once again–this time to Michigan.Now we are a family of fourpoised to make another cross-country move.At heart, I am a liberal New Yorker, radicalized like so many of my generation by the Vietnam War and the race riots roiling the U.S.I have sent a $5.00 donation to the “Eugene McCarthy for President” campaign.Turns out, I am the only person in all of McKinley County, New Mexico to have sent any donation to this campaign.
At the urging of a cadre (an advertising guy and a few nuns) of out-of-state organizers for the McCarthy campaign, I become “coordinator” for the “Eugene McCarthy for President” campaign in McKinley County.Turns out I have a flair for this sort of thing. (Six years as an English teacher in NYC must have helped.)
My “handlers” suggest organizing strategies with public health service people and with Navajos on the vast reservation, some of which is in New Mexico. They recommend publicity-grabbing actions—accusing the local Dems of picking delegates to the State Democratic convention in Santa Fe on an unsanctioned date, etc. I am surprised to discover that I am good at this!We hold “legal” precinct meetings on and off the reservation on the prescribed date, the first time that a few precincts have met and voted on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, and I end up leading a delegation of 36 from McKinley County to the State Democratic convention in mid-June.
Here is the “road not taken.”At the convention, I am asked to run for New Mexico’s State Committeewoman.I ask if it will matter that I am going to be living in Michigan in a few weeks?It does matter.I am not eligible.But I am rewarded for my good work and become an alternate delegate to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago that August.
My husband and I leave our two babies with friends in Ann Arbor.Armed with my delegate badge, we roam the increasingly dangerous streets, and I attend convention caucuses, meet Hubert Humphrey, enter the huge, raucous, smoke and noise filled convention hall.(It doesn’t help that I have a killer of an ear infection, complete with swelling, pain, and pain killers. )
On the night when the presidential candidate is chosen, my husband and I are outside on the streets.The rioting begins.To our eyes, the armed riot police are the instigators.When the demonstrators are unable to get a permit to march, Mayor Daly orders his police force to attack and disperse them.They attack with wooden clubs, in formation, roaring as they race into the crowd of unarmed young demonstrators.We stand in the Conrad Hilton Hotel’s lobby, our faces pressed against the plate glass walls.It’s hot, noisy, and alarming.I want to stay and see the action.I think my delegate’s badge will protect me. It won’t. My husband grabs my hand, and we run back to our hotel where we watch the mayhem on our t.v. screen, listening to the far-off police sirens, and Hubert Humphrey is chosen as the 1968 Democratic candidate .
In the morning, we examine the carnage left behind.The plate glass windows of the Conrad Hilton Hotel have been smashed.Upstairs, at McCarthy headquarters, young people, bleeding and bandaged, lay on the floor, beaten by the police.We leave Chicago and return to our babies, chastened. I never pursue a political career.That period of my life is over.
More than 50 years have passed.I now marvel at the gutsy young woman I was, and I am grateful for that experience.It has helped to form me and my opinions and some actions.Part of me wishes I had stayed in New Mexico and become that State Democratic Committeewoman,an adventure I did not think at the time that I could pursue.Instead, I followed a more conventional path:mother, housewife, teacher, social worker, counselor.Sometimes, I have a flash of activism.With ElaineDohan, I initiated the “Make a Difference” special interest group at Bolli a few years ago.I’d still like to “make a difference.”Wouldn’t you?
Choosing a president this year will likely cause more widespread violence than what we witnessed in Chicago, 1968.Now, as then, the fate of our democracy is at stake.All of us must bear witness.What actions will be effective in our strife-torn, pandemic ridden, democracy?Now that we are so much older, are we any wiser or more effective?Can we make a difference?
“As I grow older,” Eleanor says, “I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of over 50 years, and my friends.” To that end, she has led BOLLI study groups focused on aging, immigration, and more. In addition, along with Elaine Dohan, she chairs BOLLI’s political action “Make a Difference” special interest group.
AN ADULT FANTASY TO COMBAT MALAISE by Dennis Greene
I am a semi-grownup who admittedly escapes to imaginary worlds when confronted with the unpleasantries of life. When faced with Joe McCarthy and his “Red Scare,” the 1950’s polio epidemic, the fear of nuclear war, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, and finally the military draft and the devastating years of the Vietnam conflict, I sought refuge in Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Herbert’s Arrakis, the futuristic universes of Asimov, Bradbury, Bester, Niven, et al, and the hopeful visions of TV’s Tom Corbet Space Cadets and Star Trek. All these fantasies helped me handle the passing of the 50’s during which I was fortunate to witness the birth of Rock and Roll, the transformative effect of television, the explosion of this country as a world leader in everything, and the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. I felt, back then, that I shared an unshakable optimism about my country with all my fellow Americans. I now know that my view of the 50’s was not shared by many women, blacks, ethnic minorities, gay men and lesbian women, and others who are still victims of poverty, discrimination, and indifference. But I was a lucky (and “privileged”) 16-year old white boy in New Bedford. What did I know?
Lately, the problems of America, and the world, seem so insurmountable that fleeing to my imaginary worlds no longer affords relief. Not that I don’t spend lots of time there anyway. Recently, I have been escaping the insipid and never-ending stream of depressing news by binge watching the many popular TV series that I had somehow missed. These included Star Trek Enterprise, Good Omens,Stranger Things, Endeavour,Eureka, Battlestar Galactica,West World, Witcher, Schittz Creek, Northern Exposure, Bosch, The Umbrella Academy, Altered Carbon, and even Tiger Joe. But none of them cut through my present case of the blues. Then one of my daughters mentioned West Wing. I had somehow missed all seven seasons from 1999 through 2006. It was a political drama which, at the time didn’t especially tickle my fancy. But, desperate for any distraction, I watched the first few episodes. Wow! I was hooked. I am now just beginning the sixth year of the seven-year run, and it keeps getting better.
When it originally aired, this idealized White House—populated with brilliant, dedicated, compassionate and quirky people working for the benefit of the country—was juxtaposed against the Bush administration and offered some fine theatre. But the contrast between the West Wing and the circus of moronic sycophants and their reigning imbecile who now occupy the White house is so vivid as to be almost blinding. If Sorkin had had the current administration as his starting point, who can imagine what he would have created? As is, West Wing is a wonderful fantasy in which to seek refuge.
There remains a little voice in my head which whispers, “Why can’t we actually find some people like President Bartlett, C. J. Cregg, and the rest to save the admirable but imperfect union that our founding fathers created?”
I am now going to watch Season 6, Episode 3.
Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie. He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.
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