Reflections in a Dangerous Time
LEXINGTON, Mass. -- As bombs daily turn considerable swaths of civilization to rubble, this has been a month of landmark celebrations in my family.
On Monday, Kathy and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary on a sultry, sunny day, taking a ferry to and from Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod, biking eight miles through the National Seashore’s big dunes, stopping for beer and lobster before the boat cut through the waves back toward Boston and the sun set, blood red, through the gathering dusk. It was a day to share memories of more carefree times, especially of that day in the Rocky Mountains when a girl with freckles, a big smile and speckled eyes came up to an Eastern dude desk clerk at Grand Lake Lodge in Colorado to ask for the simple pleasures of hot water and a bar of some sort to hang across the closet in her pine cabin to hold her clothes. The desk clerk -- that was me -- solved the second problem; I cut a hanger rod from a tree branch. And therein began the illusion of competency that carried me through the first few years of what’s been a mostly rock-solid, but occasionally bemusing, lifelong affair of opposites attracting.
On Tuesday, I scalped a pair of sweet Red Sox tickets to share my brother Dennis’ 60th birthday with him. We watched the Sox’s first one-hitter in some time from 15 rows behind the home team dugout, keeping movement to a minimum in the evening’s 95-degree heat.
“I feel like a kid again,” Dennis said as we entered the ball park. And, indeed, baseball and beaches have held the greatest constancy in our decades of often intense and embracing times together. The beach part came on Saturday, when I took Dennis on Birthday, Part 2, a kayaking trip through the morning fog and mist near his home on Cape Ann, a gentle journey that in reality was also a diversion to keep him away while the guests arrived from as far away as Los Angeles for a surprise party to mark his six decades of life.
In the midst of this all, Kathy and I struggled all week with what should be the last day for our beloved golden retriever, Casey, a California-born dog whom we bought a few months before moving East again in 1994 after seven fond years on that other coast and who, now 12, has a menacing tumor growing beneath his ribs. There is no good time, no good day, to say goodbye to a dear friend. Nature forces that call.
So it’s been a week of passages, of reflection on time and loss, of memories, most sweet, some bittersweet. These passages have been respite from a world seemingly gone mad. Last month, I read a book called Saturday by Ian McEwan, a post-9/11 novel that follows one day in the life of London neurosurgeon. It begins in the pre-dawn hours as the insomniac doctor watches a plane, its wing on fire, head toward Heathrow Airport. He fiddles with the television news and speculates whether a terrorist is in the cockpit. Only the routine and competency of work and the love of family bring periods of peace to Dr. Henry Perowne. The underlying edge of life in a world always on the verge of something cataclysmic is never far away.
The book has stayed with me in a month that began when ceiling tiles in Boston’s Big Dig tunnel collapsed, killing a woman, but sparing her beloved husband, as the two headed to Logan Airport at night to pick up a relative. The same day seven bombs (I believe an eighth was defused) exploded in the crowded commuter trains of Mumbai, India), leaving a bloody trail of carnage and more minutes of silence in yet another major global city to mark the lives of the innocent and random dead. (“Some world we live in,” I said to Kathy that night. “If you drive your car, the tunnel wall collapses on you. If you opt for the train, a bomb goes off.”)
The killing seems to have grown more wholesale as the month progresses. A United Nations report says more than 100 Iraqis a day now are dying in brutal acts of sectarian violence. Thousands more are fleeing their homes in the country to which America brought gunboat “democracy,” shifting the balance of power in the Middle East sharply toward Iran and various Islamist extremist groups who are anything but concerned about freedom and liberty. The blood and bombs of Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah still fly.
What to make of this world, especially when the United States careens under the leadership of a man quite unable to grasp its dimensions and one prone to listening to the neo-con crazies whose friends on Fox News keep predicting, almost gleefully, that we are at the start of World War III?
I have few answers to this world landscape. Too often, it leaves me numb. Perhaps my brother Dennis is on to something. He has turned to a film form of myth-like documentary, "In Search of the 36," as he records the lives of people whose contributions fit the bill of those wise men of Jewish tradition who selflessly make things well through their good deeds.
I think he's on the right track. It’s an old and idealistic concept. but for the moment I can think of no better. What if we all find a way each day to reach out to those we love and those we don’t know, to consciously make one small gesture to bring kindness and acceptance to a world evicerated by violence.
Pass it on, as the movie by that name said. If ours is to become a better place to live, we all must reclaim it, one small act at a time.