I bought a pair of capris the other day, with ribbons on the bottoms that are supposed to be tied in little bows. These were not in bows, however, but in knots. Late for synagogue on Shabbat morning, I left them as they were, but as I started driving, I thought it would be a good idea to untie the knots as I drove, so that I could tie the ribbons in bows when I got to the parking lot. I figured I would have plenty of time in an hour’s drive to accomplish that task, even while driving.
I know that the thought of me driving with one hand and untying a knot with the other may make some people, especially my children and husband, nervous. But I was very careful to only work on the knots when there was nothing else going on on the road, and I always had at least one hand on the wheel. Explaining this makes me feel a little like Lucy from I Love Lucy, when she tried to account for some outrageous maneuver she’d tried, but, seriously, it was not that bad.
I discovered how hard it is to untie a knot with one hand. This may be something everyone else in the world already knows, but, at 68, I don’t recall ever having tried the one-handed knot-untie trick before. I started with my left side and got that one done in about 15 minutes. Surprisingly, the right side took longer, perhaps because the knot was tighter. Eventually, I got that one done, got to synagogue, tied my bows, and was good to go.
So what? may be the response of just about everybody. Who cares about untying knots with one hand, unless you are driving on the road at the same time as some nut like me is attempting this maneuver and want to know what to avoid? Well, the deal is, there is an object lesson here.
Now this is where my children might sigh. Being together so much due to homeschooling, they learned, besides how to read and write and other academic stuff, that Mom can find a song for almost everything and an object lesson for many things. After all, what is an object lesson but a teachable moment? It’s when you can link a concept, a principle, a moral to something tangibly occurring in real life at that moment. The songs were not that; I mean, they were just things that popped in my head and came out of my mouth, very often to my children’s embarrassment and chagrin, like when I sang “I’m Telling You Now” by Freddie and the Dreamers, with arm and leg movements, in a parking lot. At least they didn’t have a boring mother. But back to the object lessons; I believe they are gifts from God, even when they are not especially deep or spiritual.
When I started thinking, as I was driving, about how hard it was to untie those knots one-handed, it gave me a picture of relationships. I’m sure most of you have heard the analogy about our lives being like a tapestry; we see the bottom with the knots and mistakes, but God sees the whole beautiful picture being made at the top. Knots in the right places are very useful, but knots can also tangle things up and keep things from moving smoothly. If knots develop in a relationship, it is so much easier to work together to untangle them. If they have become complicated and tightly knotted, it takes a lot more time and patience, but it can be done eventually with two hands, two people. Difficulties in a relationship, any relationship, are like knots that are most effectively undone as a partnership, working together.
However, one person can untie a knot. If you have enough patience and enough determination to do it, you can succeed at unraveling that which has become complicated and constricted. It just takes a lot longer and requires a lot more faith. If two people are committed to untying the knots in their relationship, it can be done. If neither cares to work at it, the knots will remain and the relationship will be in a hopeless tangle. But if one person determines to be the knot-untier, despite the difficulty of the task and the endurance needed to complete it, that relationship has a chance to run smoothly again.
Disclaimer: This object lesson does not apply to the following knot situations: stomach knots, tree knots, nautical knots, muscle knots, protuberant knots, or macrame knots. I can only stretch an object lesson so far….
I really wanted to have a separate blog for In a Minor Key, the blog story of my life, and I just figured out how to transfer over the first two posts to the new site. However, I will not even attempt to erase them from this site, because, aware of my technological limitations, I know I am likely to erase a lot more than intended. So, if you desire to follow that story, look up the blog In a Minor Key. If you are following Diary of a Depression, that is also a separate blog. I would like to keep this one just for what it says it is – reflections and opinions, occasional bursts of fancy, and other assorted stuff.
The sites are all linked through my original WordPress site, which is, I think:
Everyone’s life has a soundtrack, the music that plays in the background of the events of one’s life. When I discovered that iTunes carried so many of the songs that comprise my soundtrack, I decided to write my story in sync with that music. When I listen to these songs, they take me back to the places I inhabited and the person I was in those days, remind me of my friends and family, and mark out the rhythm of my life while I was listening to that music.
I am sixty-eight, and I’ve often thought of writing down my story for my kids. They’ve heard little snippets here and there, but I don’t want them to feel that they’ve missed out. I wish I had asked my own parents more about their lives, their motivations, their joys, their dreams, and their sorrows before they each passed on.
Prologue: Human Warmth
The wooden sign over the glass window of the storefront said, “Human Warmth,” which seemed to be a good omen. It was a few steps down from the sidewalk, across a small paved rectangular space. The front door opened into a room whose only furniture I remember was a padded wicker rocking chair, another good omen – a place to rock and nurse the baby who was coming soon. A counter partition in the back on the right divided the front room from a much smaller one, and then a curtained doorway on the left led into the minimalist living quarters: a bedroom with a low platform bed, divided from the small kitchen by a claw foot tub. and a bathroom whose toilet was flushed by pulling an overhead chain. The back door from the kitchen led out into what passes for a yard in a city apartment, a tiny space of flagstones and weeds.
The place had been advertised as a sublet, and the man who was subletting – whose name I think was Allen – was kind and friendly; the price was affordable, and we could move in soon. We did, several days later, and found that in the interim Allen’s kindness had extended to a bowery bum, whom he had taken in, bathed, and fed. Although the man was gone, the unmistakable reek of urine, concentrated in the very pillows of the rocking chair I had already claimed for myself, apprised us of where the man had been sitting before his bath. This should have given us pause, but we were in our twenties and full of idealism and energy. My husband Carlos, know to most of his friends as “Charlie,” got a job in a macrobiotic restaurant around the corner. At home, we baked bread. Carlos had scrounged up an old Fred Braun sign and had made it into one of our own, simply stating: BREAD.
We lived in New York City, in the East Village. The people in our neighborhood, and those passing through who came in to buy our bread, didn’t mind the drying diapers strung on a clothesline behind the partition. They didn’t know that we had to keep the oven pilot light on all the time to keep the roaches out of the oven. (Side benefit: We could make perfect yogurt on the back of that stove.) They didn’t know about the mouse our cat had chased around the tub while I was taking a bath, which she eventually deposited in one of the drawers of clothes kept under our bed. They only knew that we baked bread, bread that was good, inexpensive, and often still warm from the oven. The Hell’s Angels living down the street particularly liked the cinnamon raisin. We enjoyed chatting with the people who stopped in for bread, and we appreciated the ease of having everything we needed within a few blocks’ walk; we had no car. We did not intend, however, to live there for very long nor to bring up our precious baby boy in the noisy, dirty, crime-ridden city. We dreamed of moving to the country and starting fresh in a clean and peaceful environment. We searched ads for cheap homesteading properties in Alaska and worked on paring down our possessions to fit into one large trunk.
We had to move sooner than we’d expected, though, and not to the country. Two authority figures confronted us within a short time of each other. One was an inspector from the health department who told us we were selling bread illegally, with no license. He definitely minded the diapers, the roaches, and the mice, so our home business came to an end. The second visitor was the actual landlord, who’d known nothing about the sublet, which was in any case forbidden by the lease, because he’d not received any rent from Allen for several months – all the time we’d been living there. Apparently Allen’s notion of “human warmth” did not preclude his breaking a rental contract, lying to us, and taking our $300 a month.
We moved on, and so will my story eventually, but before it does, I will go back, back to the beginning, where I was shaped into the person who walked into that storefront in the first place.
I am a first-generation American. My father’s family came here from Russia when he was two years old, in 1904 or 1905. I never knew his parents – they died long before I was born – and didn’t know his older sister and brother well enough to ask about their lives before they emigrated. My father did not want to talk about his life before, what little he might have remembered of it; he was an American citizen, and that was what mattered to him.
My mother’s family came from Austria; she was born in 1907 and was about thirteen when they came here, so that would’ve been around 1920. I know a little more about my mother’s family history. Her father was Rumanian, her mother Polish, and apparently they were distant cousins. Her father had been in the Austrian army during the first World War. At some point they had lived in a small town in Austria, which they escaped when the Cossacks burned it down. In Vienna they had owned a hardware store.
When they arrived at Ellis Island, my uncles had had their heads shaved, and some of the family members had had their names changed. The admitting authorities had apparently found some of the Yiddish names unpronounceable, so they renamed my mother “Rose” and her sister “Jeanette.” My mother, at 13, was placed in a kindergarten class because she could not speak English and made her way up to sixth grade by the end of the year. Though she graduated from college and earned her teaching degree, she was not allowed to teach kindergarten until the very faint trace of her “foreign” accent that remained was erased through speech lessons.
When I was growing up, the United States was often referred to in our social studies classes as a “melting pot,” a nation of immigrants from all over the world who had come here to build new lives in an atmosphere of freedom, who generally retained and shared their cultural heritage in terms of food, worship, celebrations, but who also participated in the larger American culture as American citizens. Growing up in New York City, I experienced this first-hand. My parents had started out on Manhattan’s Lower East Side but had eventually ended up in Brooklyn. When my ex-husband and I first moved to the Lower East Side, my parents couldn’t believe it…..they had struggled to make enough money to move on and here we were, choosing to live there. We liked it. There was still a blend of cultures, so different foods, clothes, music were all available. Similarly, later in the East Village, we were part of an eclectic community. When we moved to the Midwest, I couldn’t believe how bland everything seemed. I missed the ethnic and cultural diversity we had become accustomed to.
In the past few years the question of immigration has become such a hot button for so many people. In thinking it out for myself, I had to rely once again on that concept of the “melting pot.” What does that mean, exactly, and how does that apply to the United States, in the past, present, and future? The closest analogy I could find was the process of making beef stew. Of course, in a stew, most of the things don’t exactly melt, but bear with me and see if the analogy makes sense to you.
To make beef stew, you must first have a pot, a fairly sturdy pot that can withstand sitting on the stove for quite a while without burning the stuff inside. There has to be a structure, a framework, within which to cook different things to make the stew. Similarly, in our country, we have a structure: the Constitution of the United States, the guiding principles of the people who drew up that Constitution, and the government that derived from it. We are still a relatively young country and our whole existence has been a story of immigrants and a desire for freedom. (I am not going to get into the wrongs we’ve done here, because those are part of another story). Without the specific American culture, however, there would have been nothing cohesive to bring all those immigrants from different places and different times into a unified whole. There had to a be a strong pot that could itself withstand the heat of change, while allowing the ingredients inside it to change enough to contribute to the recipe.
So, we’ve got a pot on a stove, and into it we put different ingredients: carrots, potatoes, celery, beef, onions, garlic, and whatever else is available…..plus oil and salt and spices and water. That’s the nice thing about a stew; you can put lots of different things into it, they each add their own specific taste and texture, but when you’re done, you have a finished dish, not exactly all “melted,” but all parts of a unified whole.
Similarly, each group of immigrants to the US brought their own cultures, their own specific tastes and textures, but as they assimilated into American society, they became part of the stew, not losing their cultures but adding them to the overall American culture so that it was enriched and flavored. There were common values that held us all together and the result was a country unlike any other.
Unfortunately, what has happened in my lifetime – I am 68, so I’ve lived through a lot of changes – is that we’ve allowed the pot itself to be damaged; we’ve allowed – nay, even encouraged – the corrosion of the structure of our country, the Constitutional pot, so that there is no longer a solid framework in which people can assimilate, and assimilation is crucial for the survival of a nation. Remember, assimilation in the US has not in the past meant giving up one’s culture; it has always meant declaring America to have the first claim on one’s political allegiance and it also meant that most American citizens held to the same values, the Judeo-Christian values of the founders of our country.
Furthermore, every good cook knows that there are some ingredients that just don’t go together. There are vegetables and spices that are fine in themselves but that will just not go with the stew you have made. There are also poisonous plants that you would never want to introduce into your stew…..they would make it toxic for anyone who ate it, eliminating the benefits of all the good stuff you had already put in there.
There are some people who just do not belong in our pot. They do not hold to the values that we as Americans have traditionally espoused. They just don’t fit, and neither they, nor we, would be comfortable with attempting to mix these values together. Sadly, there are also those who come here intent on only damaging and ultimately destroying the pot itself, those who embed themselves in American society only in order to bring it down. These misfits and destroyers are not always immigrants but are often those who have been born here but who don’t appreciate what we have; they want America to change to fit their political or religious ideologies.
It is so easy to make blanket statements about immigration, but that gets us nowhere. As a country that has always sought to help the downtrodden and the exiles, we need to find a way to do this without endangering our own American culture. There are people who have come illegally to this country who have assimilated as much as they could, who have jobs, kids in school; these people should be given a means to become legal citizens and not have to live in fear of being discovered and deported. There are others who are here and who express hatred for Americans and everything we stand for; these people need to be somewhere else. I don’t claim to know how to do any of this. It just seems to me to be common sense that if you hate America and seek to undermine her, you should be encouraged to leave. If you love America and seek to make a life here, to be part of a country of immigrants, a melting pot, then a means should be made for you to legally stay.
Becoming an American citizen was not easy for my parents, but citizenship was something they treasured and honored all their lives. They added their own flavor to the melting pot that is America, and their children and grandchildren have continued to be active citizens in what is still the most unique country in the world. Let’s not lose sight of who we are.
Even though Thanksgiving is a holiday established from a tradition dating back to colonial America, and July 4th is the day we celebrate the declaration of our independence from Great Britain, I think I could make a case for Halloween being the most-celebrated holiday in the US. Certainly it is looked forward to with much excitement and costume-planning by adults and children; even pets get dressed up. Stores make a mint selling large amounts of candy as well as costumes. People decorate their lawns and homes with elaborate, usually creepy, decorations; haunted houses and trails abound; costume parties are a given.
I don’t remember Halloween being all that special to me as a Jewish child growing up in Brooklyn, nor how young I was when I was allowed to dress up and trick or treat in my neighborhood. I remember as an adolescent doing “Trick or Treat for UNICEF.” The holidays that were most important to me were the Jewish ones, celebrating the miraculous intervention of God in the lives of my ancestors, reminding me that God was still a very present Being in my life, and just being really fun family times.
When two of my children were young, we allowed them to dress up and trick or treat in our neighborhood in Dayton, OH. The costumes were usually made by the kids themselves and not very elaborate. In those days, kids could still get homemade cookies or treats from the neighbors without fear of malicious damage, and we limited our kids on where they could go and how much candy they could eat.
When I became a Christian and started to look at the origins of Halloween, my views on celebrating this holiday changed. A friend of mine, who’d been involved in the occult before she became a Christian, was aware of the background of Halloween as a day celebrated by satanists, witches, and other occult groups, a holiday celebrating death and the macabre. When my husband and I decided not to celebrate Halloween, we were in a very distinct minority. Initially, to avoid the constant ringing of the doorbell, we’d leave the house early in the evening on the designated “Beggar’s Night” and return when it was over. After a while, people realized we were not participating and just stopped coming by, so we just hung out at home as on any other night of the school year.
We have plenty of friends and family members who do celebrate Halloween – some of our own now-grown kids do – but we have never tried to preach to them or belittle them for their choice to do so. When a child I know shows me a costume, I admire it, but I still don’t take part in Halloween parties, Harvest parties, or any other celebration of this day. I usually don’t express my opinion on this unless asked, but a recent article posted on FaceBook by a friend seemed to demand a response. The Christian author offered three choices for Christians on Halloween: to avoid the holiday, to celebrate the holiday, and to redeem the holiday. Somehow, those Christians who choose to avoid celebrating Halloween are often chastised – I’ve heard sermons preached about it – as if, by not engaging the culture in this area, we are not truly being ambassadors for Christ, not really being “in the world yet not of it.” Kind of reminds me of when we home schooled our children, or had our home births; people would make offensively defensive remarks to us, as if by our own personal choices, we were condemning theirs, though that was never the case. We would share our reasons, engage in discussion, and move on.
It’s been so long since I’ve done the research that I don’t remember the details of all the reasons not to observe the holiday of Halloween. The article I mentioned gave some of the background – the Druids, the pagan worship, the involvement of the Catholic Church – and I won’t go into much of it. You can always check it out on your own. I just have several points I’d like to make. Whether you agree with me or not, that is fine. Just expressing my opinion (which is getting increasingly hard to do in this country)…
First, no matter how you try to dress up the holiday – pun intended – with Disney character costumes, Biblical people costumes, Reformation leader costumes, or just very cute, original, and well-made costumes, you cannot really get away from the fact that the basic thing about Halloween is its scare factor. Halloween is all about being scared….because it is all about ghosts, witches, demons, and, to quote Yoda, “the Dark side.” Whatever lightness and fun you may feel at a harvest party or when taking your kids trick or treating in your neighborhood is not the same lightness and fun that is exhibited in decorations, movies, and the general Halloween atmosphere: it is SCARY. Personally, I don’t see the value in deliberately choosing to be scared, whether or not you think the scary things are real, but demons and witches ARE real, and they are not people-friendly; they serve a master whose goal is to corrupt and destroy people. Thankfully, we serve a Master who is greater than theirs, and I don’t feel that I honor Him by celebrating His enemy’s holiday.
Second, I disagree with the opinion that you have to participate in the holiday in order to engage people in a dialogue about Christ. I know people who choose to do this, and that may work for them, but it hasn’t for me. I need to stand up for what I believe to be true and to be willing to politely and kindly explain my views to anyone who asks me. “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” ( I Peter 3:15 ) To draw a parallel between the pagan animal sacrifices to their gods, and the rituals instigated to deter demons on All Hallows’ Eve, and the Jewish animal sacrifices ordained by and offered to Elohim is clearly to miss the point….. I would not participate in other pagan rituals, nor will I in this one, no matter how it has been sanitized. There is no equivalence between worshipping gods and worshipping God.
Years ago, when our kids were young and we were living in Dayton, OH, we knew another family who chose not to celebrate Halloween. One year, though, they decided that they would have a Halloween party for the neighborhood kids, hoping to reach some of them for Christ. No one came. Finally, they called us and asked us if they could just come over and hang out with us. While we were together….noshing, chatting, playing games….they mentioned a neighbor who was really struggling, becoming conscious of her sinfulness but unable to move from bondage to freedom. We ended up spending time in fervent prayer for her, and that night, she received the Lord as her Savior. That was probably my most memorable Halloween, because, instead of trying to be part of something we could not condone, we engaged in spiritual battle against the forces of darkness and won a victory. That was redemption – not of the holiday – but despite the holiday.
The book jacket of Atlas Shrugged has this quote from Ayn Rand: “To all the readers who discovered The Fountainhead and asked me many questions about the wider application of its ideas, I want to say that I am answering these questions in the present novel, and that The Fountainhead was only an overture to Atlas Shrugged. I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don’t exist. That this book has been written-and published-is my proof that they do.”
A less objective defense of a philosophy would be hard to find, and for a philosophy she called “Objectivism,” it is a ludicrous statement. I don’t claim to present anything objective here; just my own – subjective – views of her ideas as described in these two books. That I write, and that I publish a blog, is no proof of anything, except that I can.
I first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged years ago. Like Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, Rand’s Atlas Shrugged offered a chillingly prophetic view of the future, but I didn’t really like her characters. I just dismissed her books from mind until her name started popping up frequently within the last year, so I decided to read the books again. Living today in a society which has succumbed to a great extent to the laziness, mediocrity, and cronyism she described made me appreciate the accuracy of her depiction of such a society. However, I believe that the basic assumptions she makes are not accurate, and I still find her characters to be two-dimensional.
Everyone looks for a hero to worship. In Ayn Rand’s books, the heroes are like Nazi Germany’s Ubermenschen; they see themselves as so far above the common man that they become their own justification for their actions. Not content with actions, however, even though they claim that these actions are more important than words, philosophical speeches abound…..I had to skip over much of John Galt’s message to the populace because it went on… and on… and on. The idea is that these few people really live up to their potential as human beings, while everyone else just exists or is a parasite. These people are the dreamers who work to make their dreams reality, usually with little help from any one else, the artists and architects whose vision of the future shakes off the clinging tendrils of the outmoded past, the inventors, producers, engineers, and manufacturers who create, produce, manufacture, and run those material things that underpin a technological society and lead it to higher levels of growth and productivity. Yes, they are hard workers, singleminded, driven workers. They are brilliant overachievers who accomplish great things. They believe that they should enjoy the fruits of their labor and not be required to share it. They are happy to be considered selfish, because they believe that their self-interest produces good.
The philosophy teacher and mentor of the hero in Atlas Shrugged tells Dagny:
“All work is an act of philosophy. And when men will learn to consider productive work – and that which is its source – as the standard of their moral values, they will reach that state of perfection which is the birthright they lost…The source of work? Man’s mind, Miss Taggart, man’s reasoning mind.” (p 738)
John Galt, the hero, takes up the subject, expounding on it:
“…the man of the mind….was the man of extravagant energy – and reckless generosity – who knew that stagnation is not man’s fate, that impotence is not his nature, that the ingenuity of his mine is his noblest and most joyous power – and in service to that love of existence he was alone to feel, he went on working, working at any price, working for his despoilers, for his jailers, for his torturers, paying with his life for the privilege of saving theirs…..The tragic joke of human history is that on any of the altars men erected, it was always man whom they immolated and the animal whom they enshrined. It was always the animal’s attributes, not man’s, that humanity worshipped: the idol of instinct and the idol of force – the mystics and the kings…” (p 739)
He goes on to add that the mystics’ claim that feelings were superior to reason enabled them to enslave people to blind obedience, while the kings, desiring power to control men’s bodies, ruled by conquest. Both, he says, were united against the mind.
Touting reason as the highest of human abilities and exalting the singleminded work ethic to the level of a god, Rand, against all reason, denies that only the greatest reason of all, exhibiting the most creative acts of work, could produce people capable of reasoning and working. Only the greatest intelligence could produce man, a being whose “state of perfection” is a lost “birthright.” Only one whose own “extravagant energy” and “reckless generosity” was in existence first could have created man in his own image to possess these qualities. How is it reasonable to believe that man, Ayn Rand’s god, so infinitely complex and beautiful, could be the product of mindless evolution? Rand wants to claim the high place man occupies in creation without acknowledging the creator who made him and put him there. Neither does she understand that it was man’s own selfishness, his worship of himself, that led him to take the steps away from the only one to whom rightful obedience is due, steps leading to the debased condition of humanity that she observes so well.
John Galt states that he hates Robin Hood and everything he stands for. He sees him as one who robs from the deserving, productive rich to give to the undeserving, parasitic poor. In the stories I read, Robin took from the parasitic, corrupt rich to return to the helpless poor that which had been unjustly taken from them. Obviously we have different interpretations of the Robin Hood legends. Yet one of Galt’s best friends becomes a pirate to use violence for his own idea of income redistribution. It is not the violence that is a problem for Galt; it is the way it is used, and that, it seems to me, is not objective at all. Furthermore, when a train wreck kills many people due to negligence and mismanagement, the glimpses of some of the people on the train before the crash make it seem like Rand deems them deserving of death, as a punishment, not just a consequence, of unproductive behavior.
Speaking of violence, the relationships between the heroes and heroines is often a violent one. In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark rapes Dominique. In most of the sexual relationships – and each heroine has three separate involvements – sex is a means by which the hero demonstrates his conquest of the heroine; it is often violent and a means to humiliate a woman who is seen as a strong and worthy opponent. Yet each of her heroines, Dominique and Dagny, must suffer and grow before they can come up to the level of their men. All of this makes me wonder what exactly Ayn Rand thought about women. I found this description telling:
“On the slopes around them, the tall, dark pyramids of firs stood immovably straight, in masculine simplicity, like sculpture reduced to an essential form, and they clashed with the complex, feminine, over detailed lace-work of the birch leaves trembling in the sun.” (p 704)
It seems to me that she perceives the feminine as something of less value than the masculine.
Her heroines, like her heroes, are tall and thin, almost masculine. They engage in battles of wills and resources, competing against men. The mothers of the characters are either dead or interferingly obnoxious. There is only one mother portrayed positively, as are her children, who are growing up free from the constraints of a corrupted society. The most important creative act of life, the birthing and raising of children, is not a part of any of the main characters’ lives. They want to make their mark on the world producing material things, but don’t seem to realize that even those will fade and be destroyed. The only lasting legacy humans can have on this earth is their children and their children’s children…..souls that will live on when the material is gone. Children are the supreme production of the human race. It is interesting to me that children, and a healthy family unit, are largely missing from these books. I suspect because, in that family unit, the theories of objectivism break down. Parenting is impossible without the willingness to make and accept sacrifices. A healthy family unit, the basis of a healthy society, cannot exist on the basis of these philosophical statements:
“Productiveness is your acceptance of morality, your recognition of the fact that you choose to live-”
“Pride is the recognition that you are your own highest value,” and
the “symbol of all relationships among such men [“men who neither make sacrifices nor accept them”], the moral symbol of respect for human beings, is the trader.” (pp 1020-1022)
Ayn Rand had some very accurate descriptions of the political situation in the world today, but her basic understanding of humanity and creation was, I believe, flawed.
“To force a man to drop his own mind and to accept your will as a substitute, with a gun in place of a syllogism, with terror in place of proof, and death as the final argument – is to attempt to exist in defiance of reality.” (p 1023)
This situation IS a reality for many in this world, as radical Islam and terrorists are forcing people to make this choice. Yet what gives people the courage to stand up for the truth, to retain control of their minds, and accept death rather than give in, in most cases is not the objectivist philosophy, but rather their faith. Faith in the God who created us and gave us value, faith in the moral universe he gave to us, and faith in the one Man who sacrificed all for those willing to accept that sacrifice. I’m sorry that Ayn Rand did not have this faith; she might have attained to the happiness she sought had she worshipped God rather than man.
Note: Quotations are taken from the 35th Anniversary Edition, hardback, of Atlas Shrugged, Dutton, 1992.
This is one I wrote in February, when I still thought I would have time to take the Poetry 101 Class.
My window looks on
Icycled holly and pine trees
Bird feeders between
Hogging the feeders
Croaking like rusty hinges
Know my face at the window
Startled starlings flee
My little friends feed
Until rousted again by
Brazen black starlings
Red leaves wrapped in ice
Life frozen, mute, suspended
Like insects in amber
In an online magazine article, a blog writer told of her experience shopping with her three young children in a crowded store. She expressed her opinion that children are not valued in our society. I was amazed at the number of negative comments she received, most polite, but some resorting to name-calling. The one that stuck in my head, though, was that of someone who ended his remarks by telling her not to waste people’s time by publishing her thoughts in a public forum. I wanted to reply, “Who forced you to read it? Why should she be blamed for your choice to read and comment on what she wrote, her freedom of expression curtailed because you felt you wasted your time?”
Seems like it makes no sense, right? But it reminded me of another incident that “stuck in my craw” even more. Some months ago my daughter and I were hanging out in an ambulatory care waiting room, there to support a friend who was having surgery and to drive her home afterward. Being a people watcher, I studied some of the other occupants. There was a man there alone, waiting for his wife. There were two sets of grandparents and a set of parents waiting for a child. There was a woman on her cellphone, calling for reinforcements as she needed to be somewhere else, Eventually an older woman joined her; they both spent some time there, and then the first woman left. The TV was on and one news item was the upcoming local visit of President Obama to some rally or event. One of the grandpas remarked that he’d heard on the news earlier that they weren’t expecting many people to show up. There was an implication, perhaps, of the declining popularity of the president. Mind you, these were just six people sitting in a waiting room, facing each other and making conversation to pass the time.
The older woman, sitting on the outside of this family circle and apparently preparing to leave, said angrily, “You need to watch what you’re saying in public.”
The old man, taken aback, answered, “I’m just repeating what I heard.”
“Well, you need to watch what you say because not everyone agrees with you, ” she retorted, and then she marched out of there.
The rest of us looked at each other in surprise, commented about the inappropriate nature of the woman’s statements, and let it go….except that I couldn’t. It kept coming to mind and irritating me. What right did this woman have to tell someone to be quiet because she didn’t want to hear what he was saying? He wasn’t being loud or rude or uttering profanity; he was just expressing an opinion. This incident came to mind again when I read that comment on the article; apparently that commentator also felt he had the right to tell the blogger not to write what he didn’t want to read.
What’s going on here?
This used to be a country where the free exchange of ideas was encouraged. No longer. Our freedoms to express our opinions verbally, in writing, or through media have been seriously curtailed. There will always be someone who takes offense, someone who will then express his dissatisfaction by attacking the perceived offender, and it seems that in these days the political system is on his side. The ability to have a rational discussion of different opinions with the goal of understanding one another’s point of view is something we are fast losing.
Are we going to allow ourselves to be muzzled? Or are we going to continue to speak, write, and portray what we think despite those whose loud opposition to free expression is the real “hate speech.”
When I was taking Writing 101, there were some assignments that were supposed to be part of a series. I finished the first two but never did get to write the third one. The theme for it has been in my head for a while. Though not exactly fulfilling the original assignment, this third part relates to each of the previous two and ties them together because of lessons I learned in both situations. They were lessons I learned because of my own selfishness and insensitivity; in each case, I lost a valuable friend.
In the first blog, I wrote about getting a haircut and losing my trust in my sister. It had happened in a place called Muldavinville, where I spent most of the summers of my childhood. Muldavinville was an idyllic place for children, a safe environment with plenty of room to explore, play, imagine, and just run around. Because many of the families came back year after year, during my 10 summers there I had good friends that I looked forward to being with for July and August. One of my best friends was named Wendy. She had two teen-aged sisters – much older than we – and a baby sister. I loved to eat at her house, because her sisters would cut up our meat for us in tiny bites and call us “Lamb Chop.” It was fun to be there. It was also fun to run wild together outside. My memory has so many gaps, but I do remember playing pioneer in a miniature realistic log cabin belonging to a neighbor. I remember going down to the lake to swim and play in the sand, while our mothers chatted or played Scrabble. When we children realized it was getting late in the afternoon, we would cover ourselves in mud so that we’d have to go back in the lake one more time to wash off.
Wendy was a year or two younger than I was, but we were on the same wavelength…..until I got to be around 10 or 11. That was when I started showing the first inclinations toward growing up. I shouldn’t have been surprised when my two youngest daughters leapt almost overnight from unconcernedly playing with stuffed animals to caring how they looked and dressed; I did the same thing. The difference was that my daughters made the leap together, while I chose to leave my friend Wendy behind.
I remember the catalyst clearly. Wendy and I and some other kids were playing a twirling game; two of us would hold hands and twirl around together and then let go. The problem was that when we let go, Wendy fell and badly broke her arm. It was horrifying, not just because of what had happened – the arm at an odd angle, Wendy crying. all of us looking on in shock – but because I somehow felt responsible. My solution, when Wendy came back the next day with her arm in a cast, was to avoid her and to hang out with the older kids. I didn’t want to play kid games any more. She was hurt and didn’t understand. I remember her father and sisters talking to me about it, but I don’t think it made a difference in my behavior; I had moved on.
In the second blog of the series, I talked about finding my voice in a college class and of a friend who was instrumental in helping me to do so. This friend, Susan, was very independent. She lived in her own apartment, had a job and a boyfriend, and was always supportive of me. One day, however, she sat me down and talked to me about friendship. She told me that friendship had to go both ways, that friends needed to listen to each other and support each other, and that I had always been so wrapped up in myself and my own issues that I’d never asked her about hers. I had assumed that because she seemed so together on the outside that all was well on the inside. I had not gone beyond finding my own voice to learning to listen deeply and caringly to another’s. Susan broke off our friendship because she was tired of being the one who poured herself into it while I just received what she gave and didn’t reciprocate. She moved on.
I am blessed today with many good friends, from all times and places of my journeying through life. I think I have learned to be a good friend as well, and the hard lessons I learned from my failures with Wendy and Susan have helped me. Yet I still wish that somehow, some day, I could communicate with each of them again, ask about their lives and families, reminisce about the good times, and finally say to Wendy and to Susan what I have been wanting to say for these many years: “I am sorry I was not there when you needed me and that I didn’t offer comfort when you were hurting. I am sorry that I failed you as a friend and let you go out of my life, when you had already enriched it so much. I am sorry for the years of friendship that we have missed because of my selfishness. I am really and truly sorry for being such a jerk. Please forgive me.”