All Capital Letters are considered rude. But the headline for this Sunday’s walk together might sound similarly cross or dictatorial. Let that just underscore the difficulty of finding a brief few words to capture the topic suggested for our conversation by the past week’s events. Take it that this observer of Street Seens has lately been a sort of semi-shut-in continuing the daunting task of liberating her home from the tyranny of papers and all the other things that have, over the years, disguised themselves and crept in to files and folders naively labeled “Keepers.” Join me in affirming that since there are no coincidences in life these fragments that floated to the surface last week could have the potential to enrich kindly readers as much as they have me.
The happy news is that I stumbled upon, found or resurrected some marvelous jewels that I will now share with you and hope you find them soul-nourishing, or laugh provoking, eloquent, renewing or just plain great to come upon as second chances to savor something worth remembering.
Think of what Proust made out of the remembered fragrance of madeleines! And speaking of Proust, that’s as good a place as any from which to start. Once upon a time, now nearly three years past, I sat across the aisle on a Southwest flight to Chicago and when, towards the end of our flight, I could no longer restrain my amazement, said to the man sitting across the aisle that I could not help but note that he was reading Proust. “Have you seen Alain de Botton’s wonderful book on How Proust Can Change Your Life?, I asked. He had not, and so I resolved to get the book to him.
Then life intervened, and I could not safely send the book to Tom Post who had moved on from his office at Forbes. Next, in a notable non-coincidence I stumbled upon news of this amazing person on LinkedIn and learned that he is an Author and SVP Content Strategist for a firm that offers counselling to client executives on the art of “storytelling” that lies at the very heart of successful marketing. Now, I need to find a bricks and mortar bookstore that will set up what I hope will begin an alliance between two champions of highly imaginative insight captured in the pages of a book that qualifies as a definite “keeper.” I even found the handwritten note from Mr. Post that recommended how I might take some next steps in my own pursuit of writing.
This mixed bag of sayings and observations came via radio waves, file folders, television interviews, pulpits and sources as varied as they are unsurprising to this person who becomes surer by the moment that there are no coincidences.
Hudson, Ohio is a singular place and it was a reference from Hudson-born Farrell Fitch-Cosmas that made me take a second look at a print-out I requested her to find about her childhood neighbor from Hudson. The New Yorker “Double Take” that (again no coincidence!) was entitled, Magnificent Jewels featured a multi-carat square cut sapphire (making it in my estimation, a double-barreled “no-coincidence”) signaled the magazine’s offering of “Eighty-Five from the Archive: Ian Frazier.” And so, I rescued for the real “Keepers” file an addition to the many “Shouts and Murmurs” written by Frazier that have given me so many laughs courtesy of one described as a master of “the tough representation of Idiocy.” That same humorist also said, “Words are charms…It’s like a song you didn’t know you knew.”
Writing in a different vein of the death of Crazy Horse, Frazier told of the Chief’s refusal to lie on an army cot when he breathed his last. Lying on the floor of an Army office, Ian Frazier described him and the scene in these words,” With his body he demonstrated that the floor of an Army office was part of the land, and that the land was still his.” It fortified my own conviction regarding the proposal by the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to rescind President Obama’s order to protect Native Americans’ sacred lands and instead “return them to the states.” That, I think, goes what might be paraphrased as “a bridge not far enough.” Wouldn’t it be far better to return them to their original occupants?
On the positive side of the ledger during the semi-imprisonment imposed by the work of “clearing” was the chance to hear a video interview with Walter Isaacson. The iconic media executive and biographer of giants such as Einstein and Steve Jobs ended a conversation with an encouraging observation that is especially consoling in our turbulent times. He expressed his belief that in the worst of times (and he cited the period of McCarthyism, when lies were the rule of the day) that there seems to be a saving “gyroscope” at the heart of our brave adventure of democracy, that somehow rights our nation and resets it on its path to achieving its Founders’ hopes. I think I remember that Isaacson told his readers that the last word of Steve Jobs, was “Wow.” I choose to believe that that leaves us realizing that the great inventor, at the end, came face to face with the Supreme Creator. And was in awe.
Last Sunday was observed as “Good Shepherd Sunday” and so in the Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer, the gathered community heard the following words from the Gospel of John. They came as the climax of a description of the contrast of a true shepherd committed to the safety of the sheep, “I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” That is the motto of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, who since 1849 have been dedicated to going wherever there is need, from the streets of Beziers France, to classrooms, court rooms, community centers, hospitals, even the United Nations offices for NGOs. I don’t need files or papers to have those words be a permanent part of my life.
Some of the words I found written or recurring in memory during this period of winnowing through the records and memories embodied in the “too much paper masquerading as things I need to keep” evokes smiles, and even laughter. For example, the brilliant James Agee’s observation in his novel, A Death in the Family. There, the central figure characterizes the difficulties of speaking with his brother in these words, “It’s like putting socks on an octopus.” Every bit as memorable as his script for African Queen!
So, the challenge of “socking” the octopus of 8+ years of excessive “saving” continues. I celebrate the validated “keepers” and promise myself that I will use them as the litmus test of future “data storage.” And I remember the innocent remark of a young man struggling under the weight of the too many books a friend had hired him to remove from the fourth-floor walk-up he was leaving, “You know, Mister, all this information would weigh a lot less if it were in your head (or I might add, in your heart), and not in books.”
With all due respect to actual librarians, archivists and the Library of Congress, I think he got it right. Stay tuned, and wish me well…preferably, verbally or via mental telepathy.