By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
I had been watching the news more than usual lately. Now I realize why I stopped. It’s depressing. Part of the reason why it is depressing, is because of the speed at which you are hit by Talking Heads all over the world. Everyone is yapping at you. Everybody knows yapping doesn’t help solve problems. You need some quiet time and a new approach.
Thus consider this article my attempt to improve America and cut my own personal jitters by ignoring the media for one whole day. That’s right. That’s the beginning of how you can help America. Stop listening to the Talking Heads.
They are cuter than you are and they talk faster. But they don’t know any more. I have been doing an informal survey about the media. Turns out the media are nothing more than “no dead air” and give the drug companies lots of space to promote diseases no one ever heard of. That’s right. They don’t want to cast light. Their job is not to cast light. It is to make you nervous as hell so that you get a serious case of jitters and go on a shopping spree you don’t need.
I have come up with a list of things you can do right this very day, that will make America better. I am going to start with, turn off the media for one day. Let’s not listen to any media whatsoever. Turn off the tube. Don’t read any newspapers, and do not go on the internet and look for ”news”. Let’s just have a day as God intended. Quiet. Serene. Peaceful. That’s the first thing you can do for America and that America needs. You can calm yourself down and ignore the Talking Heads.
You can easily put these people in their places. They get there because you are glued to the screen. I know. I have been glued to the screen my whole life. Now that I am 70, I don’t need to know. Many years ago when I was going to school in England a very wise woman told me, “Don’t read the secondary sources, read the primary sources and avoid the rest”. Boy, was that good advice. In other words listen to the people, not the Talking Heads who are interpreting “the people”. Your interpretation is good as anyone else’s. Go for it.
Now let’s get started. I want you to go and get a box of donuts or whatever is in season in your neck of the woods. Go buy a dozen and take them to the Fire Department OR take them to the Police Department OR Take them to some service provider like an EMT at the hospital who stayed up all night. Or to a teacher. You don’t have to do them all. All you have to do is one box. It will cost you about 3 bucks. Best 3 bucks you ever spent. You will flabbergast everyone.
Or consider the people who run the water department OR people who run the sewage department. These are people who make America work. What you can do is astonish them with your gratitude because goodness only knows they get constant criticism. Now, speaking about criticism… Go for one day without criticizing America in any way, shape or form. Instead list five things that you love about this great nation. God shed His grace on thee. You know it. It is time to remind yourself.
You are on a roll, let’s keep it up. Let’s go a single day without having any racially charged language whatsoever. No N-words or F-words or any other kind of hate speech, just words doing what the way they were intended to do (facilitate communication). In other words use language to bring people together, not to rip them apart.
More good ideas.
Too many of us are guilty of racial profiling. Today, let’s just clear it all together off of our palette. Caution may be necessary in certain times and places but massive racial profiling is not. My father used to say ”red and yellow, black and white. They are precious in His sight”. Remember that song from Bible School
“Jesus loves the little children of the world”?
Well, not just the little children. He likes the big ones, too. You could help God by getting rid of all racially charged language. Do you really need it? Do you want to be defined by the expletives that you use? I sincerely hope not.
Next, here is a particularly good action. Help somebody. Just do a helpful deed. Do it. It becomes infectious. Only the other day I was carrying up some groceries in the elevator, and I managed to drop them. I am not the world’s most coordinated person but I have never before dropped a full bag of groceries.
As there were a number of cans in my bag; they rolled all over the lobby. I was chagrined, not least because I find getting up and down a little difficult. I wondered what I was going to do with my goods and cans that were spread all over the place. And all of a sudden I heard a voice from behind me and the voice said “You seem to need some help, sir”.
Frankly, I was astonished, and as I turned around I remembered that God works in mysterious ways. I saw a beautiful woman perfectly turned out, ready to help me. And she did.
Whatever mood or condition I was in prior to her speaking to me. I quickly changed my tune to; “Wow”, thank you! I wasn’t looking so much at her beautiful exterior as I was thinking about her beautiful interior which is far more important. We can all be beautiful inside and it doesn’t cost a cent.
So, she picked up my cans and helped me put them back in the bag. Then she went up in the elevator with me, another unexpected benefit. She then said “Would you like some help”? What could I say, I was putty in her hand.
A good deed resonates. When was the last time you simply helped someone? You didn’t have to ask. You didn’t have to make a big to-do about it. It could be a small thing, although picking up rolling cans off the stone floor did not seem a small matter at the time.
Let’s do something today that all of us should never forgo. Let’s listen to what someone else says. Actually listen. We don’t listen anymore. We yap at each other. It’s degrading, and it doesn’t get us anywhere. America works because we allow other people to have their say without jumping all over them when they are saying it. It is hard to do but if everyone just listened, we all will be better off.
Compliment people on their work. It could be a waitress. Have you ever watched a waitress or a waiter? They work hard, as Donna Summer said. “They work hard for the money”. Compliment them.
Remember, America is a land that works because we work together. We don’t have to like each other. God only knows we don’t have to like each other, but we do have to get along. The funny thing is once you start working with people and get to know them, most of the time you find out that they are pretty likeable.
Another thing you can do today is don’t pre-judge anyone. I am guilty of this myself. I have pre judged so many people in my life. They didn’t look the right way. They didn’t walk the right way. They didn’t have the right skin color. They didn’t come from the right prep school.
My whole life, and I don’t say I am alone. I have got 365 million colleagues in this battle. Let’s not pre judge. Let’s for one day go without pre judging anyone and see what happens.
Then, pass this on. America, the can-do country certainly can do this. We have met the enemy as Pogo once said, and he is us. There isn’t a thing on my list which admittedly is incomplete although helpful that you can’t do right now. That your spouse can’t do. That your children can’t do. That your next door neighbor can’t do.
We can remember, God shed His grace on thee. Let’s dig ourselves out from under and remember why He did it. Then when you are finished with the items on this list, sit down in a quiet place and think something good about yourself. This may prove difficult.
After all, we are getting older and we have wrinkles and things don’t work and medications that cost more every day. It may prove difficult to pull one to good thing from this cacophony.
My mother in her declining days got to be very hostile and negative to the point where it was actually painful to pick up the phone and call her because you knew you would have to listen to 30 minutes 60 minutes 90 minutes of abuse about almost anything.
Then, one day I snapped. I said to her “When we talk next week, I want you to say something good. If you don’t say something good about anything, I am never going to talk to you again.”
I called as usual the next week, she went on as usual abusing one and all. My mother. I said to her “Do you remember what I said last week that if you didn’t come with at least one positive thought about yourself; about the Cosmos; about Antarctica; about America; about the women next door; Just one thing at least. I would never talk to you again.”
She paused for a moment because she knew that I am just as bull headed as she ever was.
“The roses in the garden are beautiful today”.
And all of a sudden we were on a different path and this path, had possibilities and life and the prospect of renewal, optimism, hope, and love.
So today let us to take a different path. Let’s assume that we can improve matters because we can. Take the matter of improvement in your own hands. Remember, turn off the media. Their job is to disgruntle you, frighten you, and give you a mountain of anxiety. We don’t need that or the “facts” which prove so often to be ill considered, wrong, and unhelpful.
We are all smart enough to realize that the critical word for all our lives is “together.” As John Adams once said in 1776 to Thomas Jefferson, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall hang separately”.
Thank you for reading, now pass it on. Pass it on. Pass it on. In such a way we shall renew the grace of what makes America.
'There's rosemary, that's for remembrance.' The watery end of bright-smiled Marie Joseph and her unsettling fate.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
It is high summer in Fall River, Massachusetts, once a focal point of American commerce and the most elegant of sailing ships, now a city defined by its gnawing problems and of people who arrive only to count the days until they leave this way station to something better.
Many of these new arrivals are Hispanic and the place where the most adamant of New Englanders flourished is now a place where often the language is Spanish and the orientation Latin. How surprised the mariners of Massachusetts would have been... but even they, unhappily seeing the transformation of their works, would have looked twice at the radiant smile of Marie Joseph, the kind of smile that lightens loads, brings people together, and holds them together when it's needed, as it always is.
Marie Joseph graced lives, she did not impose upon them. Such people are too rare... always valued.... the sinews on which all communities rely, especially the ones which seem to have more than their share of problems.
The new arrivals, not yet ascending to country club status, rely on the plethora of municipal services which, in this year 2011, are stressed, pressured, threatened, deteriorating. But more needed than ever... especially if that service is the state-run swimming pools that provide relief on the so-hot summer days you always forget are a sweltering feature of summer hereabouts.
The thought of the beckoning pool, aqua marine, cool, refreshing, a blessing to folks without air conditioning is just what Marie Joseph wanted... and so, arrayed in that smile that wouldn't quit, she made her way to the modern city's version of the old swimming hole. In the last picture of Marie Joseph, taken the day before she died (June 26, 2011) her smile is incandescent, radiant, cast on the child in her arms with plenty left over for the rest of the world.
That image should have defined the event and the day, a happy memory in a life of challenges and tribulations... Instead, that image stands as irony, proof (if it were ever needed) that life is short, can never be taken for granted, and can end in ways inexplicable and horrifying... as it was about to do for Marie Joseph.
The water slide took her down indeed, to the conclusion of a brief life, just 36 years.
She saw the water slide. It looked fun... especially as she watched a nine-year-old neighbor go down the slide accompanied by the full panoply of quips, expressions, and ear-shattering squeals all kids horde for just such events. She was game. You had to take your fun when and where you could.
As she slid down the water slide into death and eternity, no one (except the nine-year-old) paid any attention. No need. That water slide was popular and no one gave it a second thought. But this day something went terribly wrong... while people who should have seen saw nothing... or at least they say so now...
The first horror: death by drowning, surrounded by people.
Marie Joseph may have known how to swim; her friends and family are not sure. She didn't ask. Why should she; she had watched her young friend use the slide joyously; she probably didn't know the water was 12 feet deep. Once in the water, Marie was in trouble... and must have made a fearful racket as anyone would as they faced the reality of their situation and fought for life. How could this death struggle happen before so many... with only one person, her young neighbor doing anything to assist?
He at least knew something was wrong and tried to pull Marie up, to safety; and when he failed, he called upon the lifeguard for assistance. But demi-god in his Ray Bans, he had better things to do than his job; ignoring kids' babble was part of what made him so cool and exalted.
Here the story goes from tragedy to the macabre, from one family's grief to an enduring symbol of ineptitude, scandal, and staggering incompetence.
Marie Joseph was now dead... but no one knew it...
The friends she came with wondered where she had gone; something no doubt had come up; she'd tell them later. And so the sunburnt children wanting more... and their mothers who had had enough, all went home...
... leaving the body of Marie Joseph entombed in water, her raven tresses in constant movement under the water under the summer's night. And so on this cheerful day did Marie Joseph pass a night peaceful perhaps for her, but of mounting worry and concern for her family and friends. Where had she and her radiant smile gone?
Business as usual.
The next day was business as usual... the kids came to swim and scream, the mothers to watch and gossip, complaining about the temperature and how hot it was; the lifeguard, high above, looked down on the scene and wondered if his girl was cheating on him, of all people.
And throughout this day, mere feet below the teaming activity, the lifeless body of Marie Joseph moved to the water's beat, its whereabouts known only to God. Yes, on this evening, too, and throughout the stages of the night, did her unseeing eyes abide in their incomprehensible resting place.
And, though its staggers belief, it went on for another day... another day with the corpse swimming with youngsters... and where chary mothers saw nothing... and lifeguards with plum summer jobs, envied, yet saw absolutely nothing.
And still the story worsens, morphing from the shocking to the incredible.
Now officials, making a periodic visit, appeared. Despite the inexplicable disappearance of Marie Joseph, now common gossip, these officials made only the most cursory of inspections... not one suspecting that the pool itself and its cloudy waters held the body. Like everyone else but one small boy they looked... and saw nothing, though the corpse of a beautiful woman was dissolving into debris....
... which teams of lifeguards missed and even the people charged daily with inspecting the pool, cleaning it, keeping the waters fresh and clear. Add these, too, to the staggering number who should have seen... but say they did not.
Now, of course, alarm bells ringing in the face of widespread condemnation, officials great and small come slowly forward, mutter platitudes, and run for cover. A tiny fraction of this energy would easily have saved the life of Marie Joseph or at least given her honorable burial, sparing her from becoming a thing of horror and nightmare. For such she has become, no longer the beloved
person she was but a fearful presence for the children who now see a place of sun, light, air and shimmering water as a place of dread and abhorrence, wondering what else they may find there.
Marie Joseph did not deserve her fate. Let some poignant lines from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, provide her one better:
"Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross'd themselves for fear
All the knights at Camelot;
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott." (1842).
I've chosen the original version of Lord Tennyson's poem, first published in 1833, and put to music by Loreena McKennitt (1991). It is haunting, spectral, and profoundly sad.
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
It all began when a handful of revolutionary students at the University of Andes closed the University, thereby trapping a delegation from the University of California; who were there on an overseas student program. The rebels closed the University of the Andes and the students who were already there from University of California didn’t get any academic credits for the year. Their parents were furious.
Pressure came to bear on the Chancellor of the University of California system, and he shut down the program in Bogotá. As a result I who was to go to Bogotá had to make a last minute switch to participate in the University of California’s program. I who was supposed to be going to Colombia went instead to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. The year was1968 and that is where my story begins.
While I was at the University of St. Andrews I saw a vacancy notice for the representative to the Student Representative Council (SRC). The vacancy that was open was for Faculty of Arts which was fully three quarters of the University.
I had been in Scotland for just 3 weeks but nothing daunted. I decided that I would run for the seat that had my name written all over it. Nothing was going to stop me from coming to a strange country and in the flickering of an eye lash, run for office. It was audacious. It was bold. It was thrilling. And as I pointed it out to my dear friends who were part of the University of California delegation; if I lost; no big deal, no one would know who I was anyway, but if I won… I would be at the cover of Time magazine.
Well, as things worked out. I was elected, to the astonishment of absolutely everyone at the University. However they didn’t like having an American on the SRC, much less as a representative of the largest block at the University. But because they had to do something, they appointed me Chairman of the Rectoral Committee. Rectors are a unique United Kingdom phenomenon. They are the elected representative of students on the board of trustees.
They traditionally come to the University. Spend a few days and don’t intervene too much. I was fortunate enough to meet Sir Learie Constantine (1901-1971) who was at that time the High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago. Sir Learie had been a famous cricketer in his youth and was now nearly at the end of his career which was capped by his selection as the first black peer of the realm.
As Chairman of the Rectoral Committee. I worked very closely with the new rector, Sir Learie Constantine and came to know him very well along with his charming wife, Lady Constantine.
The Rectoral celebrations at St. Andrews went off without a hitch giving us national publicity for the first time ever and so to speak put St. Andrews on the map. I spent many hours with Sir Learie planning things. Getting everything in order; arranging the speeches and so forth. It was in short a triumph.
Thereafter I looked around the University for other Triumph. And in my search I learned about the Royal Enclosure at the Ascot Races.
Now, I admit I am not a horseman. The quadruped doesn’t interest me very much. That degree of interest is reserved for my sister, Shelby Allison who is a horse collector and breeder. She would have been a better candidate for the Royal Enclosure. But I had my eyes open on what would increase my network of useful contact and experiences.
I wrote to Sir Learie and asked him if he could get me four sets of tickets. One for me and one each for my three friends from the University of California. Could he get me four tickets for the Royal Enclosure. He didn’t know the procedures but he willingly picked up the phone and called the Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal of England to get us 4 sets of tickets.
His Grace was rather taken aback as he pointed out to Sir Learie, that foreigner like us, had to go to their respective embassies to apply for tickets. That was the correct way. But what do you do when a charming man like Sir Learie ask you for a favor for his buddies? The tickets were immediately forthcoming.
This created a furor amongst my friends, because of what we would wear? The wearing of the proper clothes is absolutely essential for Ascot. You better be impeccably dressed or else you will be tossed out of the Royal Enclosures.
So, we looked around and when the tickets came; they came with instructions. There were three men in the delegation (Mark, Morris, William Powers, Ingoldsby and me) and one lady, Lucy Shepard.
Now, in those days there was a company called Moss Brothers ( universally known as “MossBros”). It is here that the gentlemen were outfitted for the Royal Enclosure.
I can well remember when I came to MossBros in London. I had absolutely no experience wearing top hat and tails. Not to worry. There is no one in the world fussier about decorum than a gentleman’s gentlemen at the establishment. He knew and he dictated. Your job was to stand quietly while the necessary decisions were rendered.
In short order we were out fitted with our royal kit. And we looked absolutely fabulous. Indeed, when I looked in the mirror the day I returned from my final fitting it was “mirror mirror on the wall, need you ask who is the fairest of them all? You are man .You are dude.” And I was.
So prepared for our trip to Royal Ascot. But where would paragons like us stay? We had no money. However, these were the days when it was still possible, according to the famous book by Arthur Frommer, to see “Europe on $5 a day”.
To do so you had to stay in places which were not at all fashionable in anyway. We chose to stay within our meager budget, by checking in the youth hostel nearest to the racecourse which was in Berkshire, England.
Such places were officially called youth hostels, but we in our grandeur called them “hovels”, and no wonder.
Here is the invariable routine of such a place. Up with the larks, to share some humble but nutritious gruel. To cheerfully do the chore you were assigned upon arrival (making beds, sweeping the floor, cleaning latrines) and exit singing “I love to go a wandering”.
As you may imagine we didn’t fit in to the designated routine. Nonetheless we did everything required. Cleaning and dusting in our Cinderella finery in which we would soon present ourselves to Her Majesty.
Work completed, we sauntered across the street to pick up a regular red two tier bus. We garnered every eye in the county. Everyone looked at us from the time when we dressed in the youth hovel to the time we got on the bus to the time we got to Ascot. We were the cynosure of every eye and quite right too. I felt like either a celebrity or a refugee from the winter palace. In those days before the renovation of the Ascot course and buildings, we were exceptionally close to the sovereign. We were, in short, her guests.
Her Majesty arrived with her family and guests in a landau. Highly polished and in the perfect condition, the British are so well known for. It made a lovely sight. Everything in place, it was a thrill for sloppy Americans who moments before were sweeping the floors and cleaning the toilets. Once we settled down, we had ample opportunity to see Her Majesty and I dare say she took advantage of her opportunity to see us. It was no doubt part of the reason why this year she found Ascot so successful.
We became quite comfy and we did this for four days. For four days we watch the queen drive up in different outfits with trademark diamond brooch, always looking regal. Everything Comme il faux.
Ascot is a place for queen to have fun, and she does. She puts some flowers in her bonnet to get into the spirit of the hats competition. She appeared at all times affable. I believe the year I went (June 1968), the queen mother was with her. She was the most affable and jolly old soul imaginable. The whole environment was light and gay.
The queen loves her ponies and no doubt places an occasional flutter at the betting window as we did, losing some of California’s money and subsidizing the profits for the racecourse. We were happy to do so.
For the four days we did this we became quite a sight in the neighborhood, after all every day we left the Royal Enclosure we returned to our youth hovel to our so-called regular life. This had no glamor in it whatsoever.
Liquor, Lunch, and Looking.
Ascot started in 1711 by Queen Ann and has always been about looking. It did start as racing and racing continues to be the official reason for having this outing. The truth of the matter for most people is the chance to be seen and to have their hats on the telly. In this competition gentlemen lose out immediately. Our role is simply to look smart and I have to add, I was delighted to preen, looking like no boy from Illinois has ever looked. In other words terrific.
Things are different for the ladies. Sadly, we no longer have milliners. Ladies have to rely on the help of their own imagination or their friends or someone in the village who creates hats. As a result most of the hats created are grotesque, garish, and something no real lady would ever wish to be seen in.
That’s where Cecil Beaton and Audrey Hepburn come in. Cecil Beaton was a marvelous artist. He designed the Ascot scene for “My fair Lady “(1964) and he did it with exquisite precision laying down a standard that no group of people has ever beaten.
What I want to do now, is show you some of the things which are at display at Ascot this year. As usual some of them were extremely regrettable sort of like a paper plate turned on upside-down on their head with a bunch of cherries or butterflies. All their on ladies heads making ladies look ridiculous. But it is all in a good cause. The queen herself often wears flowers and greenery in her hats as she is driven up in the Royal Enclosure and mingles with hoy ploy like me. Now I say to you,"Everyone who should be here is here. Every duke, and earl and peer is here." It is Ascot Opening Day.
P.S. The costume that took the cake this year (2017) was owned by rather rotund gentleman; who popped out of the crowd in a suit no one from MossBros could duplicate. He promptly became involved in some fisticuffs. There were people who didn’t like his taste so expansively on display. A moment later both ladies and gentlemen were involved in a melee. Oh, how the mighty have indeed fallen.
And click here for Lerner and Loewe’s Ascot Gavotte.
Dr. Jeffrey Lant, Harvard educated, started writing for publication at age 5. Since then, he has published over 1,000 articles and 63 books, and counting.