Appalachian Rhapsody–God’s Comic Intervention

Out of the void of darkness came the Big Boom and another mountaintop in Appalachia tumbled down the mountainside, buried a graveyard, filled up a stream and killed a fish. The fish asked why but nobody answered. A small boy heard and looked up at the old man sitting on a cloud, coughing and waving away the coal dust. “Gee whiz, God,” said the boy, “Whatcha letting them do that for?”

And God laughed. “T’ain’t funny,” said the boy.

“Oh, yes it is,” said God, slapping his knee, almost choking on his laughter, “you’ll see.”

The boy grew up and became a man. He went to Detroit to work in the car factory. He sent money home to his maw to help care for the other youngins, and one of them even became a mining engineer and told the mountaintop removers where to set the charges. More Big Booms, more mountaintops crashing down into the valleys. Huge machines now did the work requiring fewer and fewer workers. While the valleys filled up with all this debris more and more people left the wrecked mountains and moved to the cities.

There they married people whose ancestors had left the mountains over the past two hundred years, generations that had mingled and merged with others throughout these United States. Whose genes had  grown weaker and weaker the further they had strayed from their source. Weak brains had become rampant in the populace, and it was the ones with weak brains who had plundered Mother Earth and destroyed the mountains. Others of the weak brain had stood by and watched the plight of the mountaineers with disinterest, even prejudice.

But with the new infusion of the blood of the mountain people who were forced to move to the cities, a new race was born. They came to be called the Neomelungeons.

“So you see,” said God to the boy who had become a man and was now a very old man. “By letting the weak-minded destroy the mountains, I brought forth a new race. The blood of your ancestors was kept sacrosanct behind your mountain walls, where they retired after your Revolution. In their blood lives on the history of America, forgotten by many whose blood has been diluted this past two hundred years. The mountain blood is that of the mixed races of all people, come together for a divine purpose: to help mankind evolve to the next stage of your journey on your return to the One True Reality. Your place of origin at my side.”

The old man said: “Well, pon my soul and honor!”

The Human Condition: Poop Has Always Been With Us

Woe am I, the haunted, beset by fates unkind; blessed with a royal demeanor and cursed with a common behind – the human complaint

Not long after my first husband and I were married we found we both liked to read in bed. One night he was reading a history about ancient Rome and I was reading the latest Perry Mason mystery, which he had ridiculed as low-brow. Upon discovering a new word, something he enjoyed immensely, he stopped to tell it to me; tepidarium, he said, was a Roman word for bathhouse. 

Immediately, I picked up a notebook and pen from the nightstand, suddenly inspired to write a poem. Although at that time attempts at poetry was not my normal thing, the verses came flying out of the stratosphere (or scatological sphere?) so fast I had to hurry to get them down before they left again:

“If all men joined together on this earth in dreams of royal origin in their births, then each must blush for shame at his delirium when nature prompts him to the tepidarium.

“I wonder too, if kings join in the mirth when they bare their royal backsides to the earth, or do they dignify and grace their lonely station as they join the common herd in defecation.”

Now I don’t know where the words came from but there they were, and as far as I can tell, were original. However, later when I looked up tepidarium in the dictionary to see the definition for myself, I realized the poem had a fatal flaw. According to Websters Unabridged a tepidarium was described thus: “in the ancient Roman baths, the warm room, situated between the steam room and the cooling room.”

I had equated a Roman bathhouse with a modern day bathroom, which has both a bathtub and a toilet. But in Rome, bathhouses and latrines, where the defecating was done, were separate. And latrine does not rhyme with delirium. If you can think of an appropriate word that does, please let me know as it will make the poem salvageable. Although I doubt that anyone will ever want to publish it.

Actually, Rome was more like my early Appalachian home, the bathhouse being situated in a washtub that hung behind the kitchen stove and the latrine at the end of a path leading away from the house. An interesting difference though, was that the Romans, instead of using pages from a Sears catalogue as we did, since they didn’t have them, used a communal sponge on a stick–rinsing it out after each use.  Duh!

But it surprises me still that my intellectual husband, upon hearing the recitation of my poem, just stared at me without a comment, his mouth gaping open. Were he behaving normally, I would’ve expected him to show off his superior knowledge about bathhouses and latrines. I think my poem flushed the word tepidarium right out of his mind though. Or else he quickly decided, to paraphrase Aeschylus, that even if one is wise, he may sometimes deem it profitable to appear to be foolish.

The Myth in the Race for the Presidency

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”  —  Niccolo Machiavelli The Prince (1532)

News Flash: In a little village in Kenya called Nyangoma-Kogelo, people gather around the radio listening to the latest update on the voting in Iowa, United States of America. According to the radio, one of their own, who has blood kin still living in the village, is winning in the first step of an election leading up to choosing the new president of that faraway country. Before the year is out, Barack Hussein Obama could be the leader of the strongest nation in the world.

It is of such things that myths are made, and herein lies proof that beneath the horrible events in America during 1963 and 1968 the tattered dreams of liberty survived. In spite of the rampant corporate greed and dirty politics that has besmirched the face of America its heart still beats to the drums of the promise of liberty and justice for all. This election year is proving to us that the bright and shining future we once envisioned for America, although hard to see beyond the recent carnage of war, still waits if only we have the courage it will take to reach it.

We must, above all, have a strong leader, one whose fortitude is proven. Although wonderful speeches gladden our hearts, we need a leader who can take on the fiercest dragons and withstand their fire. As worthy as he is in many ways, this is not Obama. Although he has it in him to be a great statesman, his moment is not yet. When he is more seasoned his time will come, and then his relatives in West Kenya will once again gather around their radios or televisions — and listen with pride.

So far, this election year has revealed that, on the Democrat side, a black man can run for president and win the primary vote in Iowa, a state where less than 3% of the population is black. That a woman can reach third place in the same contest and leave a few male candidates in the dust. The second place winner, an all white male, is not gay or we would have a third category attesting to our progress in keeping America’s promise of liberty and justice for all. But this man is a great fighter for justice.

We also have another party from which to choose. On the Republican side the winner in Iowa is a former Baptist minister, and the second place winner is a candidate of the Mormon religion. Winning third place is a former actor, politician and lobbyist. The fourth place, won by the last of the most viable candidates, is a man with a calm countenance that belies his myth, the old warrier who fought the dragons of olden times and offers his aging wisdom to his country and its young warriors.

A new world order is on the horizon whether we seek it or not, and we must choose our agent of change carefully in order to make the right choices in the future while not sacrificing our integrity as a nation. Only in preserving the good from the past can we hope to stay on the right course in the future.

And even if we stray from our course, we should do as Washington Irving did when traveling in a stagecoach, find comfort in shifting our position and being bruised in a new place. 

Update: January 8th, New Hampshire, the second battle: After a tight race the First Woman wins on the Democrat side and the Old Warrior wins on the Republican side.  The arena will move to the state of Michigan for the next Republican battle, where the *First Mormon will attempt to wrest the scepter from the hands of the Old Warrior. In the next Democrat battle, in South Carolina, the First Black will try to regain his earlier lead over the First Woman.

*Although the First Morman’s father competed for the nomination in 1968 but lost, as will he who is trying to fulfill his father’s dream.  In the past other candidates have vied to be the “First” of their kind but this year marks a turning point in history.  Whether they win or not, the Firsts have broken down the barriers of the old order in preparation for the new. 

Is Your Soul Stored in the Rafters?

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited – whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution” – Albert Einstein

As a child I often imagined a door in my mind. Even though it was closed, from underneath it a golden light beckoned, trying to entice me to open it. But my heart would pound as I crept near, forcing me to stop in fear of what might lie behind the door. And even though the light glowed warmly from the crack along the bottom, for a long time I withheld my trust. Not long before this a terrible thing had happened in my life, something that had taken the innocence of my childhood and introduced me to death and poverty, and I had learned to be afraid. But in recent years I’ve likened that yellow light to a flow of inspiration and imagination that I gradually began to draw on during my lifelong search for meaning. I view it now as a spiritual gift from the Universe, which even during my childhood, saved me from despair.

As for the mundane things in life, I often had to struggle to understand them. I learned acceptable behavior for the most part by imitating others. Well, I thought, if this is how things are done, I guess I will do them–but why? The world made no sense to me, but I was stuck here so I made the best of it. And since the first step in learning how to be is through learning how to do, I learned how to do, although often getting it wrong. It took me many more years to learn how to be–and I’m still learning yet. I made a great leap forward when I was finally able to make my outside more closely match my inside, but it sometimes requires a conscious effort not to get distracted by too much of the deadening doses of what is often referred to as reality.

According to Carl Jung “All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy,” and Immanuel Kant said “Happiness is not an ideal of reason, but of imagination.” I’ve heard people say they have no imagination but I think they mean by this the ability to create fiction. When they tell something they believe to be factually true they do not think they are using their imagination since the story they’re relating is “real”. I wonder how many of them limit themselves to the facts and miss out on the beauty of their own existence when their imagination is engaged? How many, like myself, have years of feelings stored in the rafters because they haven’t yet found the tools with which to express them?

King, Kennedy and the American Revolution

All of us, from the wealthiest and most powerful of men, to the weakest and hungriest of children, share one precious possession; the name American. — Robert F. Kennedy

I’ve been thinking a lot about Bobby lately. In watching still another year end as I go further into my dotage, I’m reminded of other years from the past that cry out to be remembered, the year 1968 being among the most poignant. When the announcement came over the television set that Bobby Kennedy had died from the assassin’s bullet, I called my husband at work, tears streaming down my face. “Now they’ve killed Bobby,” I cried.

Who were “they”? I didn’t know, but like many Americans I felt the presence of evil. A black miasma skulked amongst us as if waiting to see what we held most dear as a people so “they” could take it away. The feeling had lingered since that shocking day four and a half years before, on November 22, 1963, when our beloved president was taken down by an assassin’s bullet. As a nation we had never recovered, the shock still reverberating throughout our psyche like a terrible wound that would not heal.

Then another wound, the assassination of our great Civil Rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, younger brother of our fallen president was on his way to a planned campaign rally in his bid to get the 1968 Democratic nomination for President. Just after he arrived in Indianapolis, he was told of King’s death and advised by police not to make the campaign stop. It was in a part of the city considered to be a dangerous ghetto. But Kennedy insisted on going. He found the people in an upbeat mood and realized they didn’t know. In breaking the news of King’s death he referred to his own loss of his older brother and quoted from memory the Greek Poet, Aeschylus. “He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

Just two months later, on June 5, 1968, while celebrating his victory in the California primary Bobby said to his supporters only minutes before he, too, was gunned down by an assassin’s bullet. “I think we can end the divisions within the United States. (W)e can work together in the last analysis. . . We are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country.”

Some say that in 1968 America came close to political disintegration. Millions of people opposed the war and the military announced in early 1968 that it would draft 300,000 more troops. Americans were dying in Vietnam by the hundreds and young people lost confidence in our leaders and in the official version of reality. There was a movement afloat, a revolution at hand before our beloved leaders who had brought hope to the country were cut down. Although the war was later ended and the troops brought home, after 1968 many of us detached ourselves from the painful public square and turned our attention on matters closer to home.

Surprisingly, though, we ended up rearing children who became educated, sensitized and responsive to their natural and political environments. Adult children who were able to agree or disagree without rioting in the streets, who also have inculcated and are passing down the dreams that King and Kennedy inspired in their lasting contribution to the ongoing American revolution.

The View From the Crypt

Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines, it’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mines – Miner’s song

I’m trying to find my sense of humor. I seem to lose it this time of year but I know it’s around here someplace, probably in the passage in my brain known as Places You don’t Want to Revisit. The last time I went there I was looking for a bit of macabre humor to support my latest thesis on What’s Wrong with the World in Five Hundred Words or Less.

Well, if that’s where it is, no wonder I lost it! That place was like a dungeon, like dark shafts in a coal mine. It was the pits. An utter nightmare that sent me running so fast I must’ve left my sense of humor biting the black coal dust behind me. But I have to go back in; I must find it. I know God does not expect me to live the rest of my life without my sense of humor. He gave it to me to help me through the travails of this world; without it I will flounder in a mass of black despair.

As I go in, I find the passage to the Places You don’t Want to Revisit and turn onto the Black Humor Trail. Since I am armed with resolve to find my sense of humor, I march forward firmly into the dark, into the place from which things have on occasion sneaked into my conscious awareness, providing me with chilling humor of the worst kind. Alongside the trail I spy an instance of macabre humor and feel compelled to stop. Since everything plays its part in the order of the Universe, I assume I am meant to pass this story along.

It is a thing that leaked out many years ago from the crypt of a widow I will call Mrs. Wallace, who lived near us in our old neighborhood. This was in the days of Beige and Butte Knits and Simplicity and the widow Wallace walked with an erect carriage in her proud clothes. I knew from another neighbor that Mrs. Wallace had gone to school with another old lady who lived across the street from her, a little old lady in a print housedress. But Mrs. Wallace had nothing to do with her former classmate because, she said, the woman had “no class”, referring to the print housedress and the gray, frizz-permed hair, I presume. Mrs. Wallace also had a sister who lived in town whom she never saw for the same reason. Her sister had “no class”, she said.

When Mrs. Wallace died I missed her funeral but another neighbor came over for coffee after I got off work to tell me about her view of the widow in her open casket. “I couldn’t believe she had that dress in her closet!” my neighbor said. She described the dress Mrs. Wallace was buried in as a print dress with huge red roses all over it. I looked at my neighbor for a moment, open mouthed. “She didn’t have it in her closet” I exclaimed. “Her sister bought her a new dress to bury her in.” Now, this might not strike some people as funny at all, but I found it so hilarious I couldn’t stop laughing.

That’s what I mean by my macabre sense of humor, you see.  Imagining this poor little old lady with “no class”, tears of grief running down her withered cheeks as she bought the pretty new dress to bury her sister in, and Mrs. Wallace in the open casket for all the world to see, trying to roll over so nobody would recognize her. Here she had all those classy clothes in her wardrobe and her sister had probably given them to Goodwill! I’m sure when Mrs. Wallace reached the pearly gates she apologized and explained to St. Peter about the dress, but I wonder what she thought of the robe. Or, for that matter, if St. Peter let her in.

The thing is–even though I’ve recovered my lost sense of humor, I find I am unable to wash away the black coal dust. My mind has become tainted with it.  It clings like bats to the walls of a dungeon.

God, the American Dream and the Select Few

It’s not enough that the rich have co-opted the American Dream. Now they are trying to co-opt God. Forget all that stuff about the poor inheriting the earth, it being easier for a rich man to go through the eye of a needle than to get into Heaven, or that Christ tossed the usurers out of the temple–the rich are not worried.

Because they don’t believe it. They believe God is on their side. After all, He made them rich, didn’t he? And He lets the poor live in poverty, doesn’t he? Which obviously means He finds the poor undeserving. Old Rockefeller said “God gave me my money!” and it is more obvious than ever before that this is what the rich believe.

Until recently I had not realized how pervasive the idea of the deserving rich is in our society. I mean, I knew money bestowed power, but I had no idea it also created and supported such a belief system. For the very rich, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the after-tax income of the top one percent rose 228 percent from 1979 through 2005, while the earnings of men in their thirties, based on a study released by the Pew Charitable Trusts, have remained flat over the past four decades. Improvement in family incomes during that time has been mostly due to the increase of wives and mothers in the work force.

I guess you could blame my naivete on my birth as a member of the undeserving poor. I was born into coal, on the excavating side. My father was a coal miner for twenty-five years before he pursued the American Dream by getting out of coal to become a barber, upward mobility to much cleaner and less dangerous work. Meanwhile, families who had never seen a coal mine lived wealthy lives provided by royalties from coal while romping beneath the golden Sun on the French Riviera.

This belief system of the rich that God gave them their money works as well as it does because it is supported by other belief systems that are working in tandem. One, built around the theme of entitlement, inclines the believer to acept the rich’s approbation of themselves as deserving of their immense wealth because they think that with time and chance, they too can belong to the select few. Although the second group hasn’t yet arrived at the very top, they, like the rich, feel entitled to the best of everything. Based on what? Their looks, talent, intelligence, education? Culture? Their sparkling personality?

When my father died, my family was thrown into poverty. Despite how hard my older siblings worked to keep us together–warm, fed and clothed, I remember one day at school having nothing to eat for lunch and I hid from the other children until lunchtime was over so they wouldn’t know. I was ashamed of being hungry.

Except for a small group who provide much ammunition to the welfare critics, most of the poor do not feel entitled to anything, and even blame themselves for not doing better than they are. After all, this is America, land of opportunity and the American Dream. Or was. But even though the Dream has died for many, God cannot be co-opted. He lives within the heart of His people. His love shines on us all.