“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of a passionate intensity.”
— from “The Second Coming”, by William Butler Yeats
© 2014, 2015 By Bob Litton
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Some things you’re better off not looking at too closely. One of them is Thanksgiving.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re Christian, Jew, Muslim, or pagan. How can you count your “blessings” without their being contrasted with somebody else’s “lacks”? If you are blessed, are they therefore condemned?
How can we keep from choking on our turkey when we know people are starving here and across the world? Still, it is not, strictly speaking, our fault. We have tried to get food to war-torn areas as well as to places where natural disasters have rendered people homeless and even isolated. Even to share our “bounty” has sometimes become such a problem as to require diplomats, as was the case in Cambodia in 1979, when I published the original version of this essay.
And yet I wouldn’t have Thanksgiving not be. It has always been my favorite holiday — based on a religious origin yet not as heavily saccharine as Christmas, nor as ridiculously extended.
Many of us will be taking off to distant places (if we can afford the gasoline or plane tickets) in order to spend a few days with our relatives, whom we may not have seen for a year or more.
We’ll all disappear into warm houses and have a cordial meal. We’ll look at photos and watch three or four football games. If we’re wise and not too lazy, though, we’ll walk a few times around the park to aid digestion before we bury ourselves in those easy chairs.
That’s what I like about Thanksgiving, getting all muffled up with only the face exposed to get a red nose from the frosty air. It will be dusk, with just enough daylight to create an orange-red horizon as though there were a forest fire going on over the nearby hill.
The trees, without a single leaf left, will lose their definition as we observe them from trunks to twigs, and they become a mousy gray mass at the top, where they meet the golden and purple sky.
All the field of grass will be brown and quiet, not a breath of breeze to disturb it. But no, a rabbit just jumped out of a clump of bushes we were passing and darted in a triangular pattern into another hedge.
Down the road a ways, some little boys will be playing football in the park, in their imaginations identifying with their NFL heroes of the time. As they fall and roll they collect bits of the brown grass and dead leaves on their coats and stocking caps.
The next day we can return to the concerns of Iraq and our own stumbling democratic discourse. Just for this day it is better to forget it all and to lose one’s self in a revery of the scene of frost and trees and boys playing. That’s what I can be thankful for.
© 2015 By Bob Litton
“You find the beauty in ordinary things. Do not lose this ability.”
— Note from a fortune cookie
I love serendipity. It has played such a prominent role in my adult life that I have granted it mystical powers, for the things I find while looking for something else have often spoken eloquently to my mind, my heart, my soul. Sometimes the messages have not been as positive as the epigraph above: sometimes they have been melancholy, but more often they have indeed been enlightening and even funny.
That cookie fortune, for instance, I came upon serendipitously just a few days ago while clearing my computer table of the mass of larger papers on it. Of course, I obtained the fortune months ago when I ate lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. I saved it for some reason I have forgotten; I would surmise, however, that I liked its assessment of me and the sentiment attending that assessment. Even the imperative sentence that follows is appreciable: it both exposes the fragility of the attuneness and enjoins me to nurture it. Not the sort of “fortune” I expect to find in such cookies; it does not predict anything.
So, how does that relate to the above photo of leaves? Well, the more obvious connection should not be difficult, dear reader, for you to perceive. Most people, I believe, look forward to the few weeks when the crisp air causes the leaves of the many trees to change from green to russet, gold, yellow, maroon, brown and even combinations of those colors within the same leaf. The last mentioned aspect is typical of the non-bearing mulberry trees on my apartment’s campus. I have been fascinated and amused by the color combinations in some of the leaves on the sidewalk and the driveway: one leaf, for instance, was a perfect imitation of a soldier’s camouflaged field jacket — tan and olive; another leaf was yellow with small brown dots, almost uniform in size and shape, that reminded me of a ladybug. I picked up four of the leaves the other day and laid them on my computer desk, where I am admiring them now even as they curl with dryness.
I have always enjoyed the color changes of autumn, but it seems that only this year have they meant so much to me that I practically adore them. This sudden acuteness to the sight of leaves is akin, I believe, to the vividness that the sounds of the acorns falling and rolling down my roof revealed; remember that I wrote about the acorns a few blog posts ago (Oct. 3). All the senses participate in this miracle of perception.
You remember, don’t you, Karen Carpenter’s song “Where Do I go from here?”? The early lines are:
Autumn days lying on a bed of leaves
Watching clouds up through the trees
You said our love was more than time.
It’s colder now;
The trees are bare and nights are long;
I can’t get warm since you’ve been gone….
Well, without the evocative music — not to mention Karen’s voice — some of the point I wish to make loses some of its emphasis. Those words remind me of my youthful days in Dallas, during the early winter, when the skies were a solid gray, with sagging clouds promising snow. The darkness of such a day was paralleled by the stillness of it. Someone unattuned to the fall season might imagine that such a scene would be depressing, but it did not strike me that way; as long as there was not a strong, cold wind I felt comfort in that setting. Now that the seasons are vanishing, the romance has diminished also.
Another old song — from ancient days when lyricists actually said something worth paying attention to in their lines — is “Autumn Leaves”, one of Andy Williams’ first hits:
The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold.
I see your lips, the summer kisses,
The sun-burned hands I used to hold.
Since you went away the nights grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song,
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall.
Now, I will concede that these two songs do reflect melancholy, but it is a melancholy of gentle love…of the yearning for coziness which only two bodies hugging each other can provide…which a fireplace cannot.
We also view the color-changing and falling leaves as symbolic of the transiency of Life itself. The curse in the fruit of Eden’s tree is not just new awareness of nakedness and fear; it also includes more momentously the anticipation of death. While fore-knowledge of death is not restricted to humans, we do seem to have a more lifelong curiosity and occasional fear of it; perhaps what sets our knowledge of death apart from that of other creatures is that we can visualize it, to an extent, as pre-existing within ourselves.
But then, after the leaves have been swept away and a few snowfalls have bonneted the bare limbs for a few months, the buds of new leaves appear. I wonder how many people, like me, are a bit disconcerted by this cycling from chartreuse and forest greens to a multitude of fiery tones. And then their disappearance. Yes, it is a topsy-turvy world where winter symbolizes our giving up the ghost, and then the spring interrupts our acceptance with a “Hey, hold on there! Don’t give up just yet! There is more to this show!”
And so, we start all over again…a bit surprised, a bit amused, a bit perplexed.
To add a little seasoning to the above essay, readers, you might want to check out the YouTube presentations of the two songs I mentioned. Try the URL’s below:
“Where Do I Go From Here?” (Karen Carpenter)
“Autumn Leaves” (Andy Williams)
Text: Bob Litton
Photo: Courtesy of Mike Howard
In contrast with my self-description as a flaneur, I seldom go out at night anymore. Most of my sauntering about town is done during the morning and late afternoon.
One recent evening, though, I roused myself to venture to a local venue called “Brown Dog Gardens” where native plants and large crystal rocks are sold, and where small social fetes are sometimes conducted. The reason for my outing was that my friend Chris Ruggia and the two women who have joined him in a group they have dubbed “The Swifts” were slated to hold their first “gig” at BDG.
The crowd wasn’t huge — only twenty to thirty persons, several of whom I hadn’t seen since I quit the night-time bar scene a few years ago — but they comfortably filled up the available area. Most of the folks stood, sipping their wine or water and supping on chili con queso; but a half dozen folding chairs were there, and I seated myself on one near the small stage.
Nearly a year ago, Chris (at my request) brought his guitar over to my apartment and sang a song. I can’t recall which one, but it was an old pop song or maybe a folk song…one I knew. His voice at that time was soft and seemingly hesitant, and his playing appeared the faltering effort of a new guitar student. The other night, however, he came on strong vocally during the three numbers in which he was the singer. His fingering on the strings was likewise much more professional, it seemed to me. In one rendition, especially, he reminded me of Paul Simon doing one of his more energetic vocals. The heavy-set woman did most of the singing — very powerful lungs.
I really enjoyed the performance, which extended for only about an hour, beginning at 6 p.m., with a brief break. I guess they played and sang a total of approximately twelve songs, none of which was recognizable to me. The genres were a mixture of blue grass, American folk, and New Orleans blues. Chris told me this morning that one song was a slightly modified version of Elvis Costello’s “Blame It On Cain” (Post Punk Rock). A few others were “How Dark My Shadow’s Grown” (a contemporary blue grass borrowed from The Bad Livers), a rendition of Doc Watson’s “Lone Journey” (old time country), “Three Is A Magic Number” (an educational TV song from School House Rock), and the Depression era song “One Meatball”.
I regret that I don’t have a recorded file of any of the The Swifts’ songs to share with you, but maybe one day soon they will produce an album, and we can return for an encore.
The Swifts debut was very enjoyable! I wish them much success!
Above is a photo which one of my other acquaintances — Mike Howard, a former NYC fashion photographer — took at the musicale.