November 11th: Sending out invisible, constant currents does immense good

armory-square-hospital

Devoted the main part of the day, from 11 to 3.30 o’clock, to Armory-square hospital; went pretty thoroughly through wards F, G, H, and I — some fifty cases in each ward. In Ward H supplied the men throughout with writing paper and a stamped envelope each, also some cheerful reading matter. […]

My custom is to go through a ward, or a collection of wards, endeavoring to give some trifle to each, without missing any. Even a sweet biscuit, a sheet of paper, or a passing word of friendliness, or but a look or nod, if no more. In this way I go through large numbers without delaying, yet do not hurry. I find out the general mood of the ward at the time; sometimes see that there is a heavy weight of listlessness prevailing, and the whole ward wants cheering up. I perhaps read to the men, to break the spell… […]

He who goes among the soldiers with gifts, etc., must beware how he proceeds. It is much more of an art than one would imagine. They are not charity-patients, but American young men, of pride and independence. The spirit in which you treat them, and bestow your donations, is just as important as the gifts themselves; sometimes more so. […]

To many of the wounded and sick, especially the youngsters, there is something in personal love, caresses, and the magnetic flood of sympathy and friendship, that does, in its way, more good than all the medicine in the world… Many will think this merely sentimentalism, but I know it is the most solid of facts. I believe that even the moving around among the men, or through the ward, of a hearty, healthy, clean, strong, generous-souled person, man or woman, full of humanity and love, sending out invisible, constant currents thereof, does immense good to the sick and wounded.

~ Walt Whitman, recounted his wartime experience in a diaristic piece titled “Hospital Visits,” published in The New York Times in December of 1864


Source: Quote – Brainpickings. Passage found in Walt Whitman: Poetry and Prose. Photo: Armory Square Hospital (1865)

For we need that grace now (Right Now)

george-h-w-bush

In the aftermath of the loss of his first race for office, in 1964, Mr. Bush wrote a heartfelt letter to an old friend: “This mean humorless philosophy which says everybody should agree on absolutely everything is not good.” He continued, “When the word moderation becomes a dirty word we have some soul searching to do.” The words — touchingly naïve and heartfelt — seem to come from a vanished world…

Mr. Bush was the last president of the World War II generation. A decorated combat hero, he nevertheless found it incredibly difficult to talk about himself — a legacy from his mother, who discouraged self-reference and self-absorption by saying that no one wanted to hear about the Great I Am. As a child, Mr. Bush was nicknamed Have-Half for his tendency to split any treats in two to share with friends. His was an ethos of empathy. Mr. Bush always wondered about what “the other guy” was thinking and feeling.  […]

Mr. Bush tempered his own ambition with empathy and dignity. Late in his years as Mr. Reagan’s vice president, Mr. Bush was shown into a children’s leukemia ward in Krakow, Poland. Thirty-five years before, he and his wife, Barbara, had lost a child to the disease, a family tragedy of which he rarely spoke in public. In Krakow, one patient, a 7- or 8-year-old boy, wanted to greet the American vice president. Learning that the child was sick with the cancer…Mr. Bush began to cry. “My eyes flooded with tears,” he dictated to his audio diary, “and behind me was a bank of television cameras.” He told himself, “I can’t turn around,” can’t “dissolve because of personal tragedy in the face of a host of reporters and our hosts and the nurses who give of themselves every day.” So “I stood there looking at this little guy, tears running down my cheek” — “hoping he didn’t see, but, if he did, hoping he’d feel that I loved him.”

Mr. Bush’s is a voice from a past at once distant and close at hand — and a voice we should seek to heed, for we need that grace now, in our own time.

~ Jon Meacham, Nostalgia for the Grace of George H.W. Bush


Notes:

  • Don’t miss full Opinion piece in the NY Times by Jon Meecham: Nostalgia for the Grace of George H.W. Bush
  • Photo: Former President George H.W. Bush during a portrait session for Parade Magazine at home in Kennebunkport, Maine on September 29, 2009. Portrait by Doug Menuez via Stockland Martel

Walking Cross-Town. With Lightning Strikes.

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5:40 am.
2nd morning train: Metro North to Grand Central.
Dark Sky reports: Clear, 45° F and Rising.

Wardrobe check:
Black Belt.
Black Suit.
Black Socks.
Black Tie.
Black Shoes.
Black TopCoat.
Black Underwear.
BLAAACCCCKKKKK.

Train rolls into Grand Central 2 minutes late, red ants swarm, clamoring and jostling to get to the exits.

The pace accelerates, foot traffic is flowing. I bear down on a doodler staring down at her smartphone, and need to slow, way down.

There’s heavy foot traffic on all sides, I veer right to pass, glare at her, but it misses wide as Ms. Oblivious’ is clueless as to the traffic backup.

As I straighten up, I ram into a Suit, who teeters, wobbles and regains his footing.

“Hey.”
[Read more…]

They live closer to the bone

humpback-whale

In common parlance, the word ‘soul’ pops up everywhere…Soul music gets us swaying. We want our lover, body and soul. In each case, ‘soul’ connotes deep feeling and core values…Today, studies increasingly show that many non-human beings feel. Elephants appear to feel grief, while dolphins and whales express joy, or something much like it. Parrots can become cranky, pigs and cows terrified, chickens saddened, monkeys seemingly embarrassed. Experiments have shown that rats become agitated when seeing surgery performed on other rats and that, when presented with a trapped lab-mate and a piece of chocolate, they will free their caged brethren before eating. […]

One might even argue that other creatures are more cognisant of feelings than humans are, because they possess a primary form of consciousness: they are aware of themselves and their environment but are less burdened by complexities such as reflection and rumination that typify human consciousness. They live closer to the bone, so to speak. Jeffrey Masson, author of When Elephants Weep (1995), has remarked that animals possess feelings of ‘undiluted purity and clarity’ compared to the ‘seeming opacity and inaccessibility of human feelings.’[…]

Extraordinary examples of ensoulment among non-human animals abound. Ethologist Adriaan Kortlandt once observed a wild chimp in the Congo ‘gaze at a particularly beautiful sunset for a full 15 minutes, watching the changing colors’, forsaking his evening meal in the process. Elsewhere, African elephants belonging to the same family or group will greet one another after a separation with a loud chorus of rumbles and roars as they rush together, flapping their ears and spinning in circles. […]

A particularly striking case of animal gratitude occurred in 2005 off the California coast, where a female humpback whale was found entangled in nylon ropes used by fishermen. As recounted by Frans de Waal in The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society (2009): ‘The ropes were digging into the blubber, leaving cuts. The only way to free the whale was to dive under the surface to cut away the ropes.’ The divers spent an hour at the task, an especially risky one given the sheer strength of the animal’s tail. ‘The most remarkable part came when the whale realised it was free. Instead of leaving the scene, she hung around. The huge animal swam in a large circle, carefully approaching every diver separately. She nuzzled one, then moved on to the next, until she had touched them all.’ […]

In the end, soul may be a profound matter of fellow feeling. The stronger the capability of a given species for fellow feeling, the more that species can be said to exhibit soulfulness. To view things in this way offers another important step in humanity’s progression towards understanding its place in creation – and to appreciate the inheritance we hold in common with other sentient beings on this increasingly small, restive, and fragile planet.

~ Michael Jawer, Do only humans have souls, or do animals possess them too? | Aeon Ideas


Photo: Humpback whale bubbles by Scott Portelli (via lovely seas)

Zeke. Post Mortem. Did you cry then?

zeke-vizsla-dog-pet

I ran the morning of his “expiration.” Same route. There was no rustling, no reason to turn, but my attention is pulled hard right to the other side of the highway.  A doe, large, silent, and frozen in spot, stares. Our eyes lock. Go ahead Girl, speak to me. I’m listening.

Two hours “before”, I’m watching The Man Who Knew Infinity, an inspiring flick about Srinivasa Ramanujan, a self-taught Indian genius who forged a bond with his math professor, G.H. Hardy, while fighting an institution that refused to acknowledge his achievements (racism, jealousy, fear). Here’s Hardy, an atheist and his mentor, in a speech to a skeptical decisioning board:  “So, now we see the enormous breakthrough that he has achieved…Mr. Ramanujan told me that an equation had no meaning unless it expressed a thought of God…Well, despite everything in my being set to the contrary, perhaps he is right…So, in the end, I have been forced to consider, who are we to question Ramanujan, let alone God.” Just as Hardy finishes his impassioned plea, Zeke, prostrate on the hard wood floor, starts choking, unable to catch his breath, the tumor working its devilish deed. Why now? Why so soon? Who am I to question…?

Minutes “after“, I look in his water dish, peanut shells float in lukewarm water, undigested remains and backwash from his lock jaw. We need to remove the water dish, his food dish, his crate, his toys and everything else.  Yet, while all physical remnants have been cleared, the silence from the absence of his footsteps, his swishing tail, his presence, all Thunder in this empty house.

Vizsla’s are “velcro” dogs, restless, following you everywhere, all the time. What happens when your shadow of eight years, is no longer there, no longer anywhere but in your head. You continuously look over your shoulder feeling something, yet there’s nothing there. With the velcro detached, when do You become detached, unstuck, unhinged? [Read more…]

Running. With a Mystical Moment.

parec simon

The eyes pan the green carpet of the unmarked plots at the Spring Grove Cemetery. Geese feed silently, showing their respect. The Police station is to my left. The Public Library in front. And there’s four miles of track ahead.

I slow my pace.

The eyes are drawn to the flock of Canada Geese.  It’s a large flock, fifty or so.

The eyes spot a difference. I’m awed at how the eyes can hone in so quickly on “what’s off.” I begin to hum the Sesame Street jingle: “One of these things (is Not like the others).” (Your mind works in mysterious ways, friend. Wow.)

She’s limping, badly. Her children, late season goslings, furry now, trail behind her.  Their necks are all down, pecking at seeds, the grass.

It’s been a week now and the image remains fresh.

Was it a car that hit her?  Or was it a scar from fleeing from the clutches of a predator? A hunter’s bullet grazing her webbed foot?  Or was she simply born lame? There’s no emergency room for repair. No splint or cast to heal.  No morphine to cut the edge. She limps. She lives. She protects her family.

And it’s Sunday. And your morning sermon doesn’t come from the inside of a Church, or from a person of Cloth, but from a Book.  This Agnostic is deep into his readings of Thomas Moore and his teachings of creating a personal religion. It’s as if he opened this chapter speaking to me: [Read more…]

25 Words.

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Source: Penumbra @ GarimaObrah (via Paper Ghosts)

Walking Cross-Town. With Scruffy Shoes.

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Tuesday morning. It’s early. I’m walking down the tunnel at Grand Central Station. The air is heavy, the mammoth air conditioners have not yet fired up. I punch through the day’s calendar as I walk: Light.

I look down at my shoes. Scruffy.  Light Day, nothing major looming, scruffy shoes.

I accelerate the pace, the step counter on my watch silently records the activity. I stare at the watch face as the counter tracks each step, and marvel at the technology. I speed up and slow down, speed up and slow down, the step counter with me with each step.  What a child.

I walk by the shoe shine stand. It’s not yet 6 a.m. They are setting up:  A middle aged man and his wife (?) of Central American (?) origin. I slow, but decide I don’t have time to wait, and keep walking.

He catches the flicker of my interest, not unlike the habits of thousands of commuters who walk by, slow their pace, and think: Do I have time? Do I stop? Or some other time?

“Sir, please. Come. I can help you.”

[Read more…]

Seared into Flesh

cow-hug

This insomniac is scanning the early morning papers. It’s becoming a 3 a.m. ritual.

My right index finger swipes through the Photos of the Day. Another ritual.

I freeze here. Right here on the dairy farmer from Budapest.

And like Marilynne Robinson in Housekeeping, where every memory is turned over and over again, and eventually becomes flesh.  Or Jim Harrison in Golden Window where memory is more vivid than life. Memories begin to roll backwards.

The dairy cows laying under shade trees in pastures lining I-77 S.
The docile cows chewing their cud on the side streets in New Delhi.
The black dairy cows on the towering mountain hillsides in Geneva.
The dairy cows (“Maggie & Betsy”) on our hobby farm growing up, waiting for their 5 a.m. milking.

But no, it wasn’t these memories that seared the flesh.

It was this one.
[Read more…]

The Moment

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