In January 1939, E.B. White wrote:
I was sorry to hear the other day that a certain writer, appalled by the cruel events of the world, had pledged himself never to write anything that wasn’t constructive and significant and liberty-loving. I have an idea that this, in it’s own way, is bad news.
All word-mongers, at one time or another, have felt the divine necessity of using their talents, if any, on the side of right…
pg. 42 in One Man’s Meat
I feel this divine necessity. It’s hard to sleep. As a writer, teacher, Christian, father, traveller, U.S. Citizen, student of history, reader, poet, drawer of funny pictures, son of a kindergarten teacher and a scientist, recognizer of irony, reader of Orwell…my RED ALERT alarm bells have been ringing for some time.
When my son was a few years younger he would get mad and yell, “Not good!” After his “not good” he would add something I think of often. He would scream, “This is not good for our family!” His complete tantrum would sound like this: “NOT GOOD! NOT GOOD! NOT GOOD FOR OUR FAMILY!”
I want to think that the inclusion of what would be good for our family is an indicator of our attempts to share the importance of others. I must concede, also, that anger over crust on toast or not being able to go outside at THIS EXACT MOMENT may reveal a lack of perspective. And, sure, a naive understanding of what really matters in a family. He was only a few years old.
Reading the news, and listening to people commenting on people who comment on comments about the news via Facebook or wherever else, I want to scream “Not good for our family!” This all raises (vague pronoun reference…what is this?) this question: What is family? Or, frame it this way: neighbor. Who is your family? Who is your neighbor?
We, apparently, are in an age of Brexit and physical border walls. How do you define family? How do you define neighbor? Blood? Proximity? Language? Belief? Back account leverage capabilities? Historical precedent? Quid pro quo potential?
I can’t help think of Paul writing in Romans, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Yes, read before and after that verse. Yes, peace doesn’t mean weakness. Yes, many differ on what is possible.
I can’t help, also, thinking of Jesus making a whip. Jesus made a weapon and “escorted” the money-changers out of the temple. He threw over tables. He also, as you may remember, said to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. What is love? “Love is patient, love is kind, love…”
I read Paul, and Jesus, and go back to E.B and Thoreau and Orwell again. I started reading a book by J.F.K. the other day, the book he was working on when he was assassinated. It was discarded, unread, from my school library: A Nation of Immigrants. The introduction was written by his brother Robert.
These days, I want to scream “NOT GOOD FOR OUR FAMILY!” As I scribble this, the originator of that phrase is setting up a chessboard at my feet. Playing chess with him, and going to school to share the importance and definitions of words, and scribbling poems in the margins of my days, are good. For me, and the family.
E.B. White concludes his essay “Salt Water Farm” written in January 1939, with:
In a free country it is the duty of writers to pay no attention to duty. Only under a dictatorship is literature expected to exhibit an harmonious design or an inspirational tone. A despot doesn’t fear eloquent writers preaching freedom-he fears a drunken poet who may crack a joke that will take hold… I honestly don’t believe that a humorist should take the veil today: he should wear his bells night and day, and squeeze the uttermost jape, even though he may feel like writing a strong letter to the Herald Tribune.
pg. 43 in One Man’s Meat
It’s hard, sometimes, to know what to honestly believe. I do believe that there are things that are good for our family. There are things that our good for our neighbors. Understanding a definition of both of those words is a good start. But right now, for me, it is time for chess. And then off to school.
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