"And the days dwindle down..." Thoughts for dear friend and colleague Wallace Johnson upon the occasion of his 86th birthday April 18, 2011,
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Today is a special day, a festive day, a day of celebration and
hijinx... today Wallace Johnson, friend, turns 86 years young; legions of
his friends and well wishers will gather via the Internet to toast, to laugh
with and to note the day and the man.
Wallace, for all that he was a test pilot with the Apollo Project, (and so truly
flew high) is a man of sentiment, art, culture. So I looked for a suitable song to mark this event, and had no trouble selecting "The September Song" by Kurt Weil (music) and Maxwell Anderson (lyrics). It first appeared in the Broadway musical "Knickerbocher Holiday" (1938).
It is a grand tune with haunting music and a message that grows more
apt and poignant day by day.
A host of top artists have recorded this song, and no wonder; Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante (in 1955 in a particularly touching manner). I select Lotte Lenya. She did, after all, know Weill best; she married him twice. Her rendition is mesmerizing. Go to any search engine and find it; let the music and its lyrics envelop you as you read an article straight from the heart on this his special day.
".And the days dwindle down
To a precious few September, November
And these few precious days I'll spend with you.
These precious days I'll spend with you."
Thoughts from a whippersnapper of only 64.
Readers, if you're lucky in life you have a friend and colleague like Wallace.
He is dedicated, conscientious to a fault, and he knows the fine art of handling a CEO, which (being the CEO in question) I appreciate more than he knows Today, greatly daring, with grave temerity, this self-same CEO offers a few limpid reflections and observations in the hope that they are welcome...and, more to the point, correct.
1) You've lived.
In 1955 best-selling author Patrick Dennis wrote a pip of an novel entitled
"Auntie Mame". It offered this pithy admonition well loved by my mother, "Live! Live! Live! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death."
Wallace, you are a lucky man; you have lived... you have loved... and most
importantly you have been loved, and still are. You have known and lived by
the truth of Sigmund Freud's famous observation that the best life is composed of love and work. It is not given to all to know, much less to benefit from, this.
"Happiness is composed of love and work."
(Gl?k ist Liebe und Arbeit zusammen.")
You have, of course, made errors; not one of us is immune from that. But
I suspect, as well as one human can know another, that yours were the faults of generosity. You, I know, are quite capable of giving too much to those who may not have been worth the gift, being neither capable of understanding nor reciprocating. If this is a "fault", it is a good one to have. It is, after all, always better to have given, even if from time to time, to the unworthy. Let a man be evaluated by such errors...and he shall be found, assuredly, a good man, a kind man, a man of heart. That man is you.
2) You served America proudly, regarding her as needing the support of all
who love her, a bastion, not a milch cow for exploitation.
Wallace, you have been since your earliest days, a man who knew the secret
of life was always to look up, to the place beyond the rainbows, for it is only by the exertions of untrammeled people that progress can come. You looked up and saw the cosmos as a subject of study, as a great adventure, as a never-ending source of wonder; a place to embrace and excite, never to shrink from. As a test pilot for the Apollo Project during the heady days of its inception and development, you saw first-hand what this great nation can do... no technical impediment too difficult... no vision too unlikely... no
destination too remote.
You are one of the very elect who can say, and proudly, "I was there... and it mattered." And so it did. The salary was meager; the hours long; the effect profound and inspiring. And you were there, dedicated.
3) You have been a great teacher.
Ask a new member of our Worldprofit community to name a single member, a single monitor, and the odds are overwhelming they will name you. I know why. First because you saw in us the best of you and in joining did no lip service but made the most serious of commitments. You resolved not merely to take, but to enhance, improve, and through every season and year, to give.
You learned our innovative business... you excelled. You understood, as so many have not, that the Internet is not a destination; it is a process, a process of connecting the members of our species, wherever they are located, so that they may communicate the very best of which we are capable.
You embraced this mission as you embraced all your missions: with seriousness of intent, with full commitment, and with an unexampled talent for training other good people worldwide who understood the vital importance of our monitor program and wanted to add their talents to the corps epitomized by you. As such you have, first, touched the lives of these monitors, directly, personally, diplomatically, thoroughly.
In turn these monitors, with their important tasks, have touched the
lives of untold thousands, who may perhaps never know they have benefited from you and your gift of giving. But they most assuredly have.
4) You have helped your CEO, a "lad" still on the sunny side of Social Security, just. Wallace, many people today, and on many days to come, will extol your virtues, and rightly so. But I am the only man in the universe who can extol you for this: that you have helped your CEO, not least by your empathy, diplomacy, and the art of knowing just when to offer home truths, the better to attend to them... and to listen. I appreciate your deftness... and your unflagging assistance.
Many people, 2 decades and more senior in age, would have found ways to roil the waters. You chose with consummate loyalty, to smooth the road... without the slightest hint of servility or arriere pensee. You have been amidst so many loyal, the most loyal of all.
You have given me the benefit of wisdom, without condescension. You have listened... you have spoken candidly... you have reminded when necessary and "forgotten" when prudent. I am appreciative, in your debt, impressed and grateful.
"And these few precious days, I'll spend with you."
If we are known and greatly defined by the company we keep, then surely we are here at Worldprofit, all of us the beneficiaries of this: that from a multitude of other companies and opportunities, Wallace Johnson selected us.
Now my 86th birthday gift to you, Wallace, is this:
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face...
(ancient Irish prayer).
Wherever you go, whenever you go there, you take a particle from us with you, just as we carry a bit of you on our own unique journey through time and space.
Readers: for more information on Wallace Johnson and the Apollo Project,
visit any search engine.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
My left hand had been shaking for some time, over a year or so. Dr. Chris Cordima, one of the most decent of men, treated it weekly, as if it were carpel tunnel syndrome; an easy guess given my daily residence at the computer keyboard and my duties as CEO at Worldprofit.com.
His treatments were intermittently productive; my hand, and it was principally my right hand and wrist which were affected, getting a bit better, never (yet) so very much worse.
Then one day, as frustrated as I was by treatments which didn't improve, rather offering hope that grew thinner and thinner, never a cure, at best a frustrating palliative , Chris raised the inevitable words; neurologist, specialist, tests. It was no longer his problem; he had done his best, but it was not good enough.
Thus it began... and I was soon on my way to a rendezvous with destiny, or at least the first part of destiny's decisions for this date: December 19, 2006.
My appointment at Faulkner Hospital was early in a very busy day where I had people to meet, places to go. I was clipped, focused on the day ahead, no time, no worries for yet another doctor's sure-to-be inconclusive opinion. However man proposes, God disposes.
I arrived on time, was directed to a nondescript cubicle where lives are shifted and redirected, and told to walk down the corridor and walk back. Nothing more, that was all. On the basis of this single "test" my fate was determined...
The physician, for no doubt there was some license on the wall asserting as much, spit out words indicating a new era was at hand; a very different era from the one about to expire. And so the daunting words came, Parkinson's Disease and all the fixings that would distinguish me within the next five years or less, blindness, general paralysis of hands and arms and legs with tremoring to rock the Richter Scale. In short the very and complete implosion and rebirth of this Jeffrey Ladd Lant, as some lesser being of
acute helplessness and fatuity, a being I had never known, could not imagine, come to spread dismay and change everything, immediately and for worse.
It is time for music, thrilling, powerful music that challenges the greatest and most inimical of "truths" and screams for the will to win oneself back, whatever its flaws and imperfections. "God, give me me and the chance to save myself, not a miracle, but a chance". And for this we need Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto Number 2 (1897). It is the music of defiance, of prayer, of determination and resolution, of soft reflection, and of a love that will find a way to persevere. Yes, it is all there in its inimitable colors, a nucleus of possibilities and dreams that can inspire and must come true.
In Just 5 Minutes.
The man in his white coat and licensed arrogance and condescension had done his joyful damndest, and I shall go to my grave believing this little man, this messenger of pain enjoyed his grievous news and its impact, not a whisper of humanity in look, delivery, touch. Only fact so casual to him, so acrid, so bitter to me.
"Would you like another opinion?" Would I?
Aime Joseph was waiting for me, but the transformation process had already begun from the man he had delivered to the one he was taking back. After such grim minutes whatever happens one is never the same again, and there must be sadness in this, profound and enduring.
I remember sitting quiet and pensive in the back of the cab, but even now I did not forget my manners. As he sped along the Jamaica Way filled with people who did not know and would not care, I was heading home to my safest place, now threatened, now shrouded. "I'm sorry to be so quiet, but I have some important news to consider." And so Aime Joseph and his dear wife entered my life, to enhance that life, and keep the demons that will come -- that have come already -- at bay. Thus was the second portion of this momentous day set in place, for it is nothing less than the truth that God moves in mysterious ways... He had me, so He gave me Janissaries so I could fight and win against the greatest of odds, with valor, grace, and good heart.
"Live in 20 minutes".
Worldprofit, Inc. is a most unusual company, not least because my two partners George Kosch and Sandi Hunter are Canadian, whilst I am a real live nephew of my Uncle Sam. They contact me only when the matter is important, and I like to think I do the same. Our roots grow deep, but we need not say so or wonder. We are tenacious one with the others, and that is sufficient. And so I did not tell them the elements of this tale... until now. They are learning it as you do. There was no need to say more before..
My head was in my hands, my thoughts full of rage and self pity. But God was not ready for this. We were far from that failing of the light that Dylan Thomas raged against, and which comforted POM in her turbulent struggles, her despair, and despondence that withered all.
Now I, too, would "rage, rage", giving no quarter, asking for none; beaten back now and again, forced to give way inch by inch, but only by force. I might die but even en route to oblivion I would live, I would give, I would laugh, and I would love. Such was the Credo I made with myself, and I have kept this faith day by day, yes, I have kept it. Thus certainly I continue without either regret or recrimination.
"What's a Live Business Center anyway?
George told me to rush out and get webcam and head set, and for the last time I ran,
for mad dashery and irresponsible capers are the first things Parkinson's strips away. But this day I ran to Radio Shack and ran back, installing these crucial tools, too, all in just 20 minutes. "The last of life for which the first was made." I had just seconds to go before the LBC was officially opened: Worldprofit, Inc.sailing into her next incarnation.
This occurred when George and Sandi were golfing in Mexico, leaving me firm instructions: If there were any questions or perplexities I was to email George who would solve them while waiting to tee off, for, yes, GK was living by that old USMC adage, "The difficult...." Very Gary
Within just 60 seconds.
It didn't even take a minute before the LBC was packed with people from around the world; people, often desperately, needing help with the creation, growth, and development of their home-based business. And there was just one Monitor, me!, to assist them in their dozens, then in just minutes, in their hundreds and hundreds. I had no time for inward self reflection and the luxuries of despair. I was alive! I was helping people who needed the help. I was in the game, perhaps to lose, perhaps to win... and this was the best deal of all in those few days before Christmas and all the days thereafter.
Dr. Bonnie Hersch, hope.
The objective had changed, was very different now; not just about making the oodles of money I spent with joyous alacrity, always aware that however much was needed would be there, the produce of fertile mind and constant application. Now the focus was not on living well, opulently, the "Wow Factor" in every view, but on just plain living, now the sine qua non of absolutely everything.
Here's where Dr. Hersh stepped in, "You'll like her," Dr.Zorn said, and I do. For one thing she told me the physician who had made the original diagnosis was notorious for injuring his male patients, happily delivering pain, not just fact. Some time later, his door open, he delivered in my perfect hearing a diagnosis almost exactly the same to a handsome patient in his salad days. I wanted to rush across the thin strip of corridor and tell the fellow to escape before the evil sorcerer blighted his life forever. But, of course, I did nothing, and despised myself, for evil rendering me discrete which is just another word for coward.
Let me tell you a bit about Dr. Hersh, for though I am her senior by twenty years or so, packing my own Doctorate, I never venture to call her "Bonnie". She constantly runs behind, her dance card full of movers and shakers who come for betterment but get more than that, hope being the primary medicament of all.
In pursuit of this necessary drug of hope, she invited me to participate in a drug trial organized by a major Belgian pharmaceutical company. The goal was nothing short of obliterating the tremoring and its related deleterious effects. For participating I was to receive a life time's supply of what I wanted most of all: normality, the thing so prized, desired and profoundly prayed for when lost.
Perfect again, for a minute.
My condition was perfect for what they wanted, and so I signed the hundreds of documents which absolved them of every responsibility, no matter what they did to me. Normality was worth the risk, all the risks, and no one wanted a most successful outcome than I did... what's more for weeks it looked like my heart felt dream, the most zealous of my life, would come true, for after all...
"When you wish upon a star/ Makes no difference who you are/
Anything your heart desires/ Will come to you"...yes, no difference... "If your heart is in your dream/ No request is too extreme." (from Walt Disney's "Pinocchio", written and composed by Ned Washington and Leigh Harline for the 1940 film).
Each week, they upped the dosage of this extremely powerful and expensive drug, and each week I improved, less shaking, more hope; I could see the future, recapturing my lithe and agile self.
Then one never-to-be-forgotten day my hand was perfect as the day I was born. I was myself again... and for the first time in months truly happy and grateful. "Like a bolt out of the blue/ Suddenly, it comes to you/ When you wish upon a star/ Your dreams come true." As mine surely had.
"Is she menacing?"
As if I didn't have enough on my plate, I was in the middle of a ridiculously expensive remodeling with a contractor who drank, whored, and lied like a trooper, all the while gulping my resources as if there was no tomorrow. He was a proven parasite and my escalating blood sugar (for let us not forget the diabetes I harbored) proved it. My home, packed with the artifacts which if not priceless were most assuredly pricey, was a study in dust covers.
It was late afternoon, and I knew immediately something was wrong, terribly wrong, menacing, foreboding. There was evil present, and it had settled everywhere in my hitherto joyous precincts, the whole now writhing, a scene of unexampled fright and terror.
The first thing I particularly noticed was a headless woman in the Red Drawing Room, her displaced head in hand. She was sinuous, twisting, a macabre picture of seductive undulation. As I looked at her, she stared at me with what nefarious schemes I could only imagine. I called Dr. Hersh at once. My life was about to take another notable turn.
For the music for this change, add the deep and unsettling theme from Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 masterpiece, "The Birds".
"Is she menacing you?" Dr. Hersh asked, the anxious word "yet" hanging in the air. Here's where my precise use of language became invaluable, for over the next several weeks as the potent drug slowly waned, I described what was happening, clearly, precisely, with clinical exactitude, right up to and including the unforgiving days when monsters seen only by me, kept a paw on my shoulder during my daily on air program.
I could see the monster, the monster could see me and the audience, but the audience saw only me. Thus, I lived a dark parallel existence in which I was the focus of creatures who wished me no good, especially at night when my bed chamber was filled with creatures creeping closer, minute by minute, malice their agenda.
My home was alive with movement, my brain supplying the lurid, unthinkable, grotesque images; the drug designed to ameliorate and cure, now destroying my equanimity, a fearsome thing controlling me, awesome in its power, intimidating, replacing hope with despair. And I dared tell no one but Dr. Hersh and the drug company which begged me to continue the study into which they had invested so much; the study which she had removed me from at once... in so doing she took care of the immediate problem... but broke my heart... for with my withdrawal went any chance that I would ever be normal again. And this was bitter, so awfully bitter... I can only hope Jiminy Cricket is right:
"Fate is kind/ She brings to those who love/ The sweet fulfillment of/
Their secret longing." From his lips....
Then through the open shutters, framing the deep, deep green of this perfect day, this perfect evening came divine song, "Casta Diva", composed in 1830 by Vincenzo Bellini; most famously rendered by Maria Callas (1923-1977), who in comforting dreamscape came to me to sooth everything acrid, desolate, daunting, and corrosive.
Note by pleading note the power of this supplication filled the Red Drawing Room, bathing my sleeping form in the most resilient of sentiments, hope, sweet hope, hope enough for the whole world and one more."Casta Diva, Virtuous Goddess, accept my ardent plea for this noble prince now sore oppressed, troubled of mind and spirit. Hear me Virtuous Goddess/ covering with silver/ these sacred ancient plants. Hear me that he may yet live and his worthy endeavors prosper. Hear me!"
So I awoke by soft stages, humbled by the sound, the pure and true sound rising for me to the great Cosmos beyond. and I found myself on prayerful knee in earnest beseeching, arrogantly repulsed in happier days, humbly offered now in these sadder hours.
"Ah, come back again as you were then/ then when I gave you my heart/ Ah, come back to me."
"Your Excellency, wake up. Today is your special day."
It was Max, of course, essential, anticipating, affectionate, the best of creatures, who so many years ago had called to me from Calliope on Brattle Street. I thought I had rescued him, but it was very much the reverse.
"Sir, I have taken the liberty of picking up these notes off the floor in the Blue Room. They look important."
"Out of the tree of life..." (Quoted from Sinatra's version of "The Best Is Yet To Come"; ) composed by Cy Coleman in 1969).
It is 12:52 p.m. I have been up for hours and hours. I demolish a colon and fret. I add a semi-colon... and fret. Today is the day. I have been through this 19 times before and 19 times I've grabbed the brass ring from the painted ponies that go up and down. Today is no different. I am giving birth again after the again and again and again that's gone before and may well come again after today.
This is good, all good. It is, after all, "a real good bet, the best is yet to come." Yes, it's all good. I've had my way with the wayward words and the refractory subjects. I've caressed these pages... I've made these pages a slick of tears so that there was no escape until your heart was touched and your vision changed.
I've stopped along this so often, so difficult way when I saw, sometimes misplaced for decades, a pair of mischievous eyes that once upon a time, I loved to distraction, beyond reason, beyond even desire itself.
"The best is yet to come, and won't it be fine."
When Gibbon finished "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" (1787)... he went into the chill evening air falling to his knees to sob. He had given birth to a masterpiece whilst knowing he could never produce such an astonishing opus again that would change the world... and he never did.
David McCullough sat at his well littered desk and wept over the body of the late John Adams, just killed by McCullough's unerring thrust. He felt as if he had killed his best friend... and he had.
"Wait till you see that sunshine place."
The shutters are all open, the green, green outside enhancing the brilliance of The Red Drawing Room within. Max' work. I always know when he and his genius have been at work. There is then not only the spectacular. There is the humane, delicate and refined, things the more valued because so rare.
"We are stepping out, mon prince."
Max stands before me, my battered Harvard cap in one hand, my unscarred, unused cane in the other. It is a moment of the utmost importance. I have not left the house in weeks, terrified of what another fall could mean. But Max, loving Max understands that being a self-incarcerated prisoner, no matter how comfortable and gilded the jail just won't do. It is a moment of supremest decision, and the tension is palpable.
"The thousand mile journey starts with a single step.
Who nimbly roamed the ancient isles of the Aegean in search of adventures and Odysseus, one bold, audacious step before the next?
Who stepped lively and with determined purpose through the corridors of power in a hundred jurisdictions, astonishing even himself, an agile empire the result?
A step can lead to all this and more, but it may also lead to an eternity of sickening descent, into impenetrable darkness and unease that becomes fearful disorientation and unwonted panic, dark and uncontrolled.
This is the moment immediate reality becomes the stuff shaping all the future and all the denizens of my observant establishment know it... and waft hope my way. And so I, the boy, the man, who trusts with the greatest difficulty is forced to trust now.
It is Sinatra, "We've only tasted the wine/We're going to drain that cup dry."
Thus I take the step, small, uncertain, in anxiety...but achieved, amongst the greatest achievements of my life of achievements. "Lean on me, mon Prince, lean on me." And I do... with doubt, with grave uncertainly, with just fragile conviction, but I do, I do... and this is everything. "You think you've flown before, but you ain't left the ground."
But now I am, each step however small fueling the next...and I am surrounded by joy, growing confidence, and the love which eclipses all.
Sinatra can do this. He is, after all, the Prince of Impertinence, iconoclastic, take no prisoners, do it my way guy. He could be -- and often was -- insolent, impudent, a master of the smirk and the put-down.
The timid world looked to him in longing, because for just a moment they, too, wanted to do what they wanted, critics be damned, elusive truth the grand goal, but so rarely achieved.
Sinatra shouts at me, "Do it! Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! Live life no matter how much or how little you have." "You think you've seen the sun, but you ain't seen it shine"... and you insist upon seeing it shine, whatever the cost.
Then he turns to the assembled company and flips the unmistakable bird, but whether at anyone in particular, or at the world in general, at what has gone before or what is now on its way, no one can say and even that most perfect courtier Sir Max gives way to a broad (but quickly suppressed) smile of the "thatsa my boy" variety.
With that Max in full regalia, holding the emblem of the Prince and his Principality of Tornavan, black, orange, and white with but a single word "CREDO" under a princely crown, claps his paws three times, instantly gathering the full attention of the distinguished company.
"Your Majesties, Your Imperial and Royal Highnesses, Your Graces, Milords, Ladies, and Gentlemen All, I give you the undoubted Prince of this realm."
"Three cheers for the Prince".
And with that the music of Giocomo Meyerbeer rises rhythmic, regal, imperial. It is the Torch Dance No. 3 in C-minor (1856), a dance which only princes may walk.
"The people are waiting, mon Prince. Reign for them and reign happy. Here is the secret"...whereupon Max hands me a golden box.... then its key. There are two words engraved on it, "Credo" and "Veritas." It is locked.
Then the kiss of loyalty, fidelity, and love, left, right, left.
It is a new beginning... and I embrace it, for even life encumbered and difficult is life, and that is the most important thing of all.
Thus, the Prince took up his cane and took the first step, strenuous, arduous, uncertain, essential, for from this single step all else must and would ensue. He would walk, and he would walk the Torch Dance, too, in all its intricate figures of dazzling fire. Fall or falter, he was a Prince and this royal walk was his birthright, and as he walked, the brilliant lights went on in the Green Room, in the Blue Room, in the Red Drawing Room, "Fiat Lux", each one a summons to the world in acute need and growing desolation.
Thus take heed. Whatever your condition or status, this light is for us all, and so he progressed, humbled but determined, love his constant companion, though he might not always know it.
But the good people of Tornavan and everywhere else on Earth determined the Prince would know it. In a moment their collective good wishes began to rise high and ardent, "Ease on down, ease on down the road/ Come on, ease on down the road/ Don't you carry nothing/ That might be a load", and Prince Jeffrey knew for a certainty that he had everything he needed in a single phrase whispered in his ear by the Wiz (1978).
"Don't you give up walkin'/ 'Cause you gave up shoes, no." And he stood suddenly at his full height again, bathed in the pure light emanating from the Red Drawing Room, and he raised his cane, a moment ago a tool of subservience and diminution, now one of defiance and life enhancement, and heard himself say what he had never said or even thought before, "I love you. I love you all." With this, there wasn't an eye still dry or a heart untouched, such was the undoubted power of unbridled affection and joy, and it all happened here. I was there. Max. Credo.
June 1, 2015 in the Blue Room.
'God rest you merry, gentlemen'. At my home that means preparing everything for the visit of the Prince of Peace. It's a true labor of love.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author's program note. Please note the date: Saturday October 13 for this is
the opening of the Christmas preparation season for 2012. Archeologists and cultural historians will be grateful to me in years hence when they get their government grants and write their learned tomes about the whys and wherefores of Christmas in this our particular era. Yes, I say they will be glad to have each salient fact, observation and deduction gathered by yours truly and herewith shared with the world.
For we are talking about the most joyous event of the Christian year, Christmas, and its preparations, staggering for some, meagre and tardy for others, but all acknowledging that this is and continues to be an event of significance to each of us.
How was October 13 selected as the commencement date for this event? Easy! It was the first day when your observant author was assailed by not one but a series of "the Christmas season has commenced" portents, signs which might easily be dismissed were there but one or even two, but which in their concerted numbers make it clear that the great count-down to Christmas, with its traditions, meanings, songs, poems, foods, displays, sentiments, travels, resolutions, friends, observances has now commenced in earnest and for the next 71 days until the day itself your life will be affected, influenced, shaped and to a greater or lesser extent determined by what our fellow travelers do or don't do, buy or don't buy, wear, stand in line, decorate... or don't wear, stand in line, or decorate.
In other words, because of the birth of a child you may or may not believe was the Son of God your life and all its prosaic concerns and tasks will be hi-jacked; weeks of your life will be less yours, significantly influenced and directed by others you don't know, will never meet, but who are nonetheless powers over you, determined you should listen to them... or else.
The first portents.
The thing about portents, that is a clue to future occurrences, is that they must for maximum impact take you completely unaware. One moment you're doing such and such a task; considering such and such a thing; talking about such and such a topic. Then the portent arrives, preferably delivered by one or more appropriate gods of Olympus, all of whom seem to traffic in the dicey business of portents, omens, divinations, and auguries. The portent (often obscure and therefore more amusing to its deity deliverer) having arrived, pushes other quotidian topics to the bottom of your consciousness, pulling out the rug on what you were focused on a moment ago and substituting quite a different agenda.
Yesterday, October 13 mind, these portents arrived thick and fast; itself a sign that a seismic moment had arrived; actung! stop what you're doing and pay attention. And unless you're that hapless noodle the bored and therefore capricious gods have determined to make even more hapless and miserable, you do pay attention. Thus does your life cease to be as much yours as it was just a moment before. The gods know this, but they have kept this insightful observation for their own delectation and benefit ere now. They wouldn't dream of imparting this intelligence to you; "free will" for humans being one of the most potent and popular of their shrewd devices for controlling the not so sapiens homo.
Let me make one thing clear, for sharing this with you I shall be persona non grata at Olympus tonight, for if mankind knew just how little true freedom their gods have allowed us, there would be such a revolution as has never been even imagined before, much less consummated. And the gods would surely have to make concessions, or they would never regain exalted position and control... and what would their excellencies do then to amuse themselves at our expense?
What is your portent saying?
Portents must be clear but capable of complete misunderstanding. In other words, when reviewing an event that could be a portent, two reasonably intelligent people must be capable of drawing two dramatically different conclusions, for a portent is not a directive... not a declaration... if it were the gods would be most unhappy... for if their signs could be so easily read by everyone the muddles beloved of these ancient deities would cease and the gods who already have to wrestle with the matter that is eternity...would fall into even deeper despair; for they already have too little to do and far too much time in which to do it. Remember, their irritation, ennui and pique become the basis for our misery. No wonder
they don't want us to know.
Christmas portents by the hour.
The gods realize humans are short sighted, careless, capable of massive confusions and misunderstandings. Thus, the game becomes determining the precise formula that will give us clues (but not too many) and insight (but not too much). Even the Olympian gods are not born knowing these things; they must learn. And they do so at our expense, for what are we humans for if not to provide the wherewithal for their education and expertise?
We are just so many lab rats to divinity. Nice work if you can get it.
Store sightings, catalogs, email.
The first shop in my neighborhood to deck the halls was the smoking shop in Harvard Square. Given the fact that teen-age smoking has dropped dramatically; thereby proving that even heedless adolescents can get the message if we adults have the patience and deliberation to beat them about the head with it.
As a result, the revenues at the smoking shop have most probably dropped... whilst their Harvard-charged rent has undoubtedly done the reverse. It is therefore obvious why they want to weigh in with a cheery seasonable greeting and display. "Give the gift of cancer."
Even the most knowledgeable of advertising executives might think twice before taking on this daunting account. Still, there they are, hoping that the dwindling number of young smokers will purchase their diminished life span from them, especially if they can do so in the name of Jesus, who promised the eternal life the smoking shop is doing so much
to curtail. Cool.
Catalog temptation (and ease) by mail and the 'net.
Stores like the smoking shop need to lure you into their premises as early as possible before Christmas; their continuing survival depends on it. But catalogs live to remind you how difficult and irksome store shopping is in the age of catalogs and 'net. Simply mentioning the invading hordes, the unending lines, the harassed staff, the parking difficulties is usually enough to tip the scales to catalog shopping online and off. That persuaded me. As a result the last several years such shopping constitutes all my shopping.
The problem is the proliferation of mail-order Christmas catalogs, especially after you become a proven buyer. Then you may expect to hear from each catalog at least 3-4 times before their last frenzied promotion, hitting about December 15. All prophesy consumer distress if you fail to ACT NOW, visit their website and ORDER!
But here the retail stores re-emerge as they reap the considerable advantages deriving from procrastinators like you. At this point you will most assuredly wish you had heeded their October warning. You will pledge to do better next year. You won't, of course. And so you'll keep your name on every list; a portent of things to come, especially purchases you're
sure to make. They know that, even if you don't.
Polishing the silver.
In my house there is one certain activity that indicates the coming of Christmas. That is polishing the silver. It is a very time-consuming task, taking a couple of days. Mercedes Joseph, so giving and warm in all her aspects, will take these traits and leave the silver burnished into eye-popping radiance. It's a significant part of our invitation to the Prince of Peace, an invitation that will see us clambering up step ladders to clean the chandeliers in all the rooms to ensure that all is brilliant and every facet sparkles. So that there is not a single molecule of tracked in dirt or bunched carpet. We work hard to make it perfect; we work early and late to make it perfect... and we do it all because of the advent of this harbinger of our salvation; because we will do it, not because anyone tells us what to do or oversees our efforts, evaluating what we do.
We do it, because this is Christmas and the greatest gift we give is our voluntary adherence and a belief that starts in our hearts and has no ending whatsoever.
That is why October 13, I awoke to the strains of my favorite carol running through my head, "God rest you merry, gentlemen/Let nothing you dismay", first released in 1760. In an instant I find Bing Crosby's 1945 version; then in a search engine one other version after another, including a rendition by "Barenaked Ladies" (2004). Only the very young can find the sniggering humor in such sophomoric nomenclature, but today I don't care.
For you see, every off key note I sing proves that I have become a portent myself of the great event en route "For Jesus Christ our Savior/Was born upon this Day", and we rejoice in the Good News passed from me and mine, to you and yours, to a burdened world which needs "tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy", the true meaning of Christmas and why we gentlemen and gentlewomen rest merry and shall remain so long past the day and season itself.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.
Author's Program Note
All of a sudden things are radically different. A week ago, even just a day or so, the implacable summer sun reigned supreme, turning even the most energetic and equitable into sweat soaked complainers, facing even the least demanding task as if it were a firing squad.
Then, on a morning like this one, you know, you sense, you feel that that sun, with all his dictating of every particular, has passed into long-gone history. You remember him without regret, though his leaving brings the incorrigible winter into plain sight. Thrifty housewives catch themselves
while sweeping the porch, "My, my Christmas will be here before you know it. How time does fly." And she shakes her broom with a vigor that no one in the whole town had just the day before.
She shakes again to be sure things will be just so, ship shape. She didn't feel this way a single moment of the summer. But she feels that way now. She catches herself, "Oh Come All Yea Faithful" her favorite Christmas song; she must check the attic. That's where she'll find the seasonal necessities. Then she smiles. It really is good to look early... she can't help herself. The summer is gone, that's for sure. And another line of "her" hymn slides out. She'll check the attic today... just to be sure. It will never do to be unprepared... and she never is. That summer which ordered all just hours ago is gone. Dancing reindeer must follow.
One sure way you can tell the season has changed is the sound. You look quizzical, "Sound"? Yes, summer is full of Apollo's happy music, the unbridled laughter of the young who pined for the summer, that May a million months ago, and long ago tired of it; though they must be coaxed to admit to this dark heresy.
Summer comes with whoops and shouts and slammed aluminium doors. Summer is boisterous and capable of rebuffing any amount of "Jeffrey, come in NOW!" But in summer no one means it, for everyone wants to linger in the last twilights of sun and nowhere to go. Fall is a very different thing. And so the sound is a very different thing, too.
Summer is pagan, sprawling, pocket full of secret treasures from tree limbs and swamps where the cattails are always just a few inches too far and ingenious methods are required to avoid the mud that laughs at your inadequacies. Fall is disciplined, organized, clean clothes and a new lunch box without a single scratch and extra supplies for trading.
Summer is full of sound and laughter. Fall is muted, quiet, a time of sacred spaces and promises; some of which will haunt you for a lifetime, too precious to disregard, too painful to remember, except alone, head bowed.
Summer slows, autumn speeds.
The summer sounds say "bide a while" and even if we cannot, we know we should. In autumn we are too focused on arranging the remainder of the year now swiftly ending. It is always going somewhere, and never takes us along. This is the definition of sadness, and it is the leitmotif of the season we cannot stop for even a moment of "Once upon a time."
Autumn returns the people, our friends and neighbors, who slipped away one summer day wearing sun glasses and the battered heirloom that is a grampa's straw hat with its unexpectly bright riband in a fanciful color called cerulean.
The children who shouted their boisterous adieux as they left the security of drive way for the great imperial highways which take them anywhere; these children are full to the brim with stories of acknowledgement and high adventure, including first love with a broken heart and blurred photos you must promise never to reveal, cross your heart...
Summer may accept no destination as acceptable. Autumn is nothing but destinations, all important, even the least of them. Summer dawdles and saunters. Autumn has a date, a time, a purpose. It is for those who want to move up, move fast, and never tarry.
In summer, we slow down to smell the flowers; in autumn we grab the few remaining flowers as we race by, never stopping to sniff; grabbing because we need to give our hostess a bouquet, thereby enhancing our reputation, even if we rip the blooms from her very own garden, unthinkable in autumn.
Back to School
I'll become a septuagenarian my next birthday and yet I caught myself just yesterday telling a guest to go to bed at once, after all tomorrow was a "school day", a day for improvement, dreams dreamed, defined, refined, improved, achieved and new ones launched to continue the process for life.
To so aspire I was taught soundly and well. For this my teachers of yore deserve an encomium they will not get unless from me, for when I was in the schoolyard God was in His heaven, and all was right with the world. And I have always ladled out ample pomp and circumstance to those treasured beings who made it so.
I waited for them impatiently through the days of high summer. Then one day in the dwindling days of summer, all these beings, all women, all graduates of Illinois teaching colleges came back, like so many macaws in flashes of color and insistent chatter. Now their serious endeavors could begin. I, for one, needed no encouragement.
Summer has no standards. Autumn reveals new standards with daunting regularity. My fellow students decry the new destinations, some so they will not be seen as "teacher's pet"; some because they know these new standards push them down and under, another obstacle to their ever less certain advance. Summer, for these, was better. Then they had only to regale us with new formulations of mischief and frolic, traits in limited demand for the rest of their three score and ten, unmissed by everyone else.
The smells of summer are clean, fresh, the honest scents of the good earth, crucial, good for a thousand years. They are strong, uncompromising, too real for the fastidious whose well being rests
on the smells they seek to avoid at any cost. These waft down corridors enveloped in manly whiffs of Old Spice and Right Guard or, for the ladies, perfume like Chanel, No. 5 my mother's scent.
One day when alone at my grandmother's, I tried her Coty and understood its power at once. A single drop was enough to envelope you in a crowd of violets, wanton and beautiful, my favorite flower. I never tried this experiment again. I could not trust myself. I have seen the results when it is used without wisdom or restraint. It is where seduction ends and cruelty begins and never leaves.
Without any effort whatsoever I can close my eyes and smell the workaday smell of mopped floors in the cafeteria where sticky linoleum did not preclude our dance class; boys awkward, girls already proficient at entrapment, perfecting skills they will use for a lifetime. If they married "well", their parents could congratulate themselves -- and the school.
A different smell permeated the floor of the new gymnasiusm, the pride of the parents who bought it and entirely believed that those who engaged in manly sports upon its lacquered surface would never do anything squalid or dishonorable, on the floor or off. We were shocked to the core when we found off differently.
I only remember one such game on that supremely polished floor. It was a basket ball encounter, and I was coerced to be there. The star in that pipsqueak league was Bobby Lucas, who at 13 or so already knew the full power of the word "suave". Indeed the word and all its moves might have been invented for him.
As usual he dazzled with irresistible footwork, a junior Globe Trotter for sure. And then one of those thrusts calibrated by God himself brought the crowd to its feet, even me.
To celebrate, I threw my head back and hit Bobby's dad squarely in the face. A trickle of blood ensued, enough to remind me these almost 60 years later of the astonished look I generated when I was young and careless, when everything worked and painful limps and uncertain organs were not my portion. I'd bump old man Lucas again and again if I could bring grace and agililty back, even for an hour. I'd even go to basketball games and holler.
The trees in summer beguile and snooze under the humidity that slows all, then slows all again. Summer is happy to stay home. Fall can hardly wait for all the tickets it receives to gad about. Summer says "Come by whenever you like." Fall makes it clear the event begins at 8 p.m. and don't be late.
The last days of summer now demand our full attention, demand but don't get. All eyes are on the rising sun, where every colored leaf arrests the eye. We cannot remember summer when God's arbor wafts such allure to our attention. And so the children pile all this windswept moribundity with rakes bigger than they are and jump in, youth and beauty in every jump; their laughter infectious.
Dappled with sunshine, bedecked in only the choisest leaves, life's acolytes walk to the shrine, from Woodward Avenue, where Mom waves and waves again. "How fast they grow up", the mantra on her lips and every other mother's.
From Woodward they move to Prairie, cross Belmont Road to Puffer School, which my grandfather helped to build, brickwork his specialty and where Principal Hefty had been my mother's teacher and lived across the street from my grandparents. Many a day I ate the mulberries that fell on her sidewalk. Delicious though they were, I was the only one who partook of their richness. Now I've always wondered why.
"... And to the Republic for which it stands..."
At last we were all assembled, rooms of Baby Boomers, the pride of the nation, our hope for years to come. "I pledge allegiance to the Flag..." and amongst us some did so with a fervor impossible to disguise.
These were the children and grandchildren of Europe's internecine destruction, grateful every day to thank God for the Great Republic, "liberty and justice for all." They more than anyone knew it wasn't so everywhere. And soon, to our chagrin and peril, it wasn't true here either. "O, say can you see...?"
The music for today's program is the theme song for "Ding Dong School", which ran on NBC from 1952 to 1956. You will remember Miss Frances (Horwich), the host. She was very low key and talked exceedingly slowly, perfect for small ears and hands and irritating to anyone over 6.
Her approach made her a star. For at the height of her popularity, she had 3 million rapt viewers, one of whom was me. I can remember so very clearly carrying Miss Frances's messages to my mother, and leaving the television set when she said she had a private message for mom.
This approach was media magic, and led on to Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood, and "Sesame Street", all gold mines. Now here is a link that will take you back to where it all started.
About the author
Harvard educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant has been a "schoolboy" his entire life, his life ruled by the rhythms of the classroom. Using the knowledge gained and abiding by the commitment that produces results, Dr. Lant has written over 1,000 published articles, and over 55 books of merit and achievement. If you aim for success for yourself or your family, he is the man to connect with. Start with his autobiography "A Connoisseur's Journey: Being the artful memoirs of a man of wit, discernment, pluck, and joy."
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author's Program Note.
It is nineteen years ago this date, August 31, 2016 when the reeling world confronted the twisted steel and mayhem that marked Princess Diana's egress from every pedestrian concern, eternal now, a Legend.
In retrospect I see so clearly the full extent of the sadness which trailed this Princess like an ermine train, constricting.
For me, it began on Februrary 24, 1981, when the always calculating Windsors took the pudgy aristocrat Diana Frances nee Spencer out for the airing that was the day her betrothal to the High and Mighty Prince Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales etc., etc. was proclaimed.
HRH was asked whether the purportedly happy couple was in fact as ecstatic as they were supposed to be, as expected to be for something the entire world watched with awe and envy.
And so the direct question, one would have assumed to be routine and inevitable, was put to the groom apparent, "Are you in love?", up to this moment the most eligible bachelor on Planet Earth. What was his robust reply? "Whatever in love means".
And so Nemesis, grinning, threw down the gauntlet and challenged all comers to enter the lists where happiness was the golden prize. This was going to be fun, oh yes it was... for Nemesis.
Overlooking the broad Atlantic.
It was 5 a.m. or so, and I was enthralled by the Royal Wedding, (July 29, 1981) as billions were. But I had the best seat in the house. My friend Paul Bloom had outdone himself, creating on Crane's Beach a 1950s drive-in movie scenario. There he planted me and television set in the front seat of his immacutely clean automobile, blankets, pillows, and novel dainties to tempt the most fastidious, all present in excess. I was pampered. I was grateful.
And so I watched the event as the sun rose over the tranquil Atlantic... happiness for all, deception unimaginable, but, if truth be told, already on its way.
Already the titillating rumor circulated that Prince Charles had told his stern-faced, implacable parents he couldn't marry Diana (often cited as the last suitable virgin in the Empire); that he loved another who was married to another, and that he didn't find the shy teenager with the extra pounds enticing.
At this HRH of Edinburgh Prince Phillip exploded with the language of the quarterdeck he always favored. This language was harsh, guttoral, unyielding and violent. He had agreed to the wench, he would take the wench. And that was that. Mazel-tov.
All the key players were unhappy, including the newly minted Princess of Wales. I was the only one content... until August 13, 1982 when two thugs with random murder in mind pumped three shots point blank into Paul's beautiful brain, brimming with utility, and his supple body, mocking the happiness that had been so fragile and lasted so little. I could not even imagine that sun splashed tableau now. The slightest thought was exquisite cruelty, no antidote to this affliction, but the most painful of all, oblivion.
"The Pleasure of Your Company..."
Time rearranaged the furniture. Charles shucked off Diana whom he could not love, for Camilla Parker Bowles whom he already did. He favored odd behaviors; she preferred dazzling gowns with high
octane bling to match. And so I was invited by Christie's auction house where my acquisitions were frequent and increasingly important to meet Diana, Princess of Wales and see the gladdest rags she was selling to benefit one of her bold charities. "And of course you went, Dr. Lant, didn't you?"
As easy as it would have been to take the shuttle from Boston to New York, return, it was a trip I didn't care to make. So I declined. After all, she was decades younger than I was; our paths would surely cross again, and again.
Thus I passed up what became my only chance to talk intimately with the most famous woman on Earth, for not even 20 guests were at that Manhattan soiree, and all were presented, "Dr. Lant, marm." Her hand into mine, slight bow from the neck my obeisance.
Another Invitation, NECN, New England Cable News.
Diana was already dead, her body cold, on August 31, 1997, when John VanScoyoc my unheralded newsroom friend of so many years called and summmoned me to history, to be NECN's on-air expert and commentator on what was happening in London. Little did I know when I sat down with gravel-voiced anchor man R.D. Sahl that I would be spending long hours at the podium explaining to Boston and the nation the most important Royal event since the Abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936.
I was ready. And so over the next hectic days I was driven back and forth between home and studio, making it my particular point to ensure my remarks were apt, thorough, and exclusive to my listeners; that they should know more, better, faster was my constant objective.
I covered the sharp and bitter remarks of the Princess' brother Lord Spencer about the Queen and Royal Family and how they handled Princess Diana, perhaps the most jolting words Her Majesty ever had to hear in her life, and to her very face.
I advised Her Majesty myself and strongly, too, about her need to unbend and defuse a dangerous moment for the monarchy by embracing Diana in death, as she would not do in life; gall and wormwood to Elizabeth of England, but absolutely necessary for the uneasy nation.
I detailed her charities and good works as they took their novel places in the long cortege, so unorthodox. I pointed out the rainbow colors of Gay Liberation. George V, the Queen's gruff and rigid grandfather, urged "perverts" to shoot themselves for their shocking deviance. Diana was a key factor in altering this grim landscape, and so many others. She was the "People's Princess" indeed, and it was my privilege to tell her story and tell it well, without rancor, bombast or prejudiced point of view.
Now these long hours of candid, erudite and thorough film reside amongst many others chez moi, and on many other topics of my particular interest and commentary. If I have done my work well, you hear their authentic voices, for they have the right to such integrity and truth, none more so than Diana, Princess of Wales, morphed into legend this date 19 years ago (August 31, 1997).
"But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, 'She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace'..."
("The Lady of Shalott" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, published in 1842.)
Here's the music to accompany this article. It is "Zadok the Priest", coronation anthem, composed by George Frideric Handel in 1727.
About the Author
Harvard educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant was the first American granted access to the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle. His book "Insubstantial Pageant: Ceremony & Confusion at Queen Victoria's Court" was treated as front page news when it first appeared. It was followed by "Happy and Glorious: Encounters with the Windsors".
To see Dr. Lant's complete collection of books, now 55, check out his Amazon author page:
To learn more about how Dr. Lant can help you write better, go to www.writerssecrets.com
"... our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." Independence Day, 2013. "From the mountains, to the prairies, To the oceans white with foam...."
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.
Author's program note. She made the request as if she thought I might deny it, as if I might deem it inappropriate for a business website. However, if she thought this, she didn't think it for long. "Of course you should read the Declaration of Independence in the Live Business Center. I'm only irritated that I didn't think of it myself." And thus did Barbara Buegeler, Senior Monitor in Worldprofit's LBC, do what every Citizen should do one day each year this day: that is not just to think about this exalted document, but to actually read it aloud as our ancestors used to do, beginning on July 4, 1776.
Sadly, most people do nothing, no thought, no reading, no consideration at all of one of history's signature documents, the document that laid the revolutionaries' case, our case, before the bar of public opinion worldwide, thereby not only alerting our English masters that a new reality was at hand, but every oppressive government wherever it might be, not just then but forever after.
And so the lady from rural Texas began to read, each word famous, but some touched by God Himself...
"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of this earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."
Having thus forthrightly stated their risky intentions through the genius of young Thomas Jefferson (just 33 at the time he put quill pen to paper) the members of Congress assembled; each now a marked man, a man venturing everything that makes life comfortable and sweet, thrilled to the riff each hoped would unify 13 fractious colonies; the riff that would forever brand George, by the Grace of God, King as the very archetype of tyranny, when in fact he was anything but.
To make his point and to foment the revolution to which he and his resolute colleagues were committed, he did what all revolutionaries do: he contorted the truth. He exaggerated, misstated, rearranged, and reshaped, the better to achieve his treasonous goal. For make no mistake about it, these were men who were playing for the biggest stakes and were betting everything on being right, for the consequences were staggering if they were not, for each one individually and for all collectively.
And so Jefferson, a world-class propagandist, gifted with the power of words, took sharp aim at his anointed sovereign, never mind that hapless monarch and the monster of iniquity conceived and portrayed by Jefferson had virtually nothing in common. No matter.
Thus, at least 18 times in prose that grew in harshness and intensity with each new clause beginning "He has...", Jefferson walloped his king and liege lord, the man, he asserted, who never tired of menacing, upsetting, exasperating and even destroying the colonies which were the jewels in his imperial crown. Thus....
"He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary to the public good"... to... "He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."
It was splendid, masterful invective, broad, audacious, designed to outrage and turn every colonial, no matter how disengaged, loyal and pacific, into a fervent partisan, a new breed called Americans.
However, there was a problem, a big problem. The real king George III and Jefferson's bogeyman were not the same person... no way. How to handle this conundrum? Lie. For after all, if a man is proposing treason, what matter a lie or two? You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.
About the King, a true revolutionary himself.
But if Jefferson had carefully distorted his facts, sometimes in degree, sometimes in veracity, sometimes by a word or two of artful arrangement, sometimes false in every particular, who then was the man for whom his subjects worldwide sang "God Save The King"?
That man, George William Frederick (1738-1820) was the product of revolution, the heir of revolution, the living pledge of revolution and the man whose very life confirmed that the promise and settlement of the great and Glorious Revolution of 1688 abided; that the sovereign reigned but ruled as little as Parliament allowed, and that year by year was less and less.
For this revolution, lead by renegade aristocrats, assured the final victory of Parliament over Crown, thus turning this Crown, however radiant and burnished into the creature of the people and their potent legislature, from whence came everything, including whatever colonial policy they thought best, whatever obstreperous colonials might think.
And this presented Thomas Jefferson with a stupendous, daunting problem which would surely have confounded and thwarted many a lesser man. What's more Jefferson had many other things on his always active mind. For one thing, he was physically uncomfortable as all the delegates were. It was insufferably hot in Philadelphia those crucial days of argument and revolution. Delegates grew irritable from tossing night after miserable night, unable to find the rest they sorely needed for matters of such high
Worse, they discovered the tenacious presence and bite of bed bugs, determined creatures, no respecters of persons or causes, savoring the flesh of delegates, happy in their work.
Then there was the matter of his parlous financial condition. Throughout his long life, Jefferson lived like the wealthy man he never was. He spent money he didn't have, borrowing money he had no way, and perhaps no intention, of paying back. He was well acquainted with duns pestering him for long overdue sums. And so it was in Philadelphia, where its many Quaker residents curiously adhered to the quaint notion that what was borrowed needed to be repaid in timely fashion, a point of view entirely
foreign to Jefferson, a man of careless finances and high living.
But there was another reason, too, and that was his beloved wife, Martha Wayles Skelton, who was a 23-year-old widow when he married her January 1, 1772. Theirs was a love match with all that entailed and in the long, uncomfortable nights he missed her to the core of his ardent being and longed for her passionate embraces. Remember, he was just 33...
However, the revolution needed him and so he put his genius to work crafting the words of revolution. Fortunately he had opponents who were not remotely as gifted in that department, opponents who failed to answer Jefferson and his colleagues, and so lost the crucial battle for hearts and minds. Jefferson made a brilliant case; his opponents relied on their established rights and disdained the messy business of human persuasion. And this wasn't remotely good enough.... as the loyal royalists learned to their eternal detriment and rue.
This brings us to the very antagonist Jefferson might have wished to have...
Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford, Knight of the Garter, Privy Councillor (1732-1792) known to history by his courtesy title, Lord North, the man who, along with his dread lord, threw away the greatest of empires. His tenure in office running from 1770 to 1782 was disastrous for the Crown and the greatest possible benefit to Jefferson and the Great Republic which grew from the great Declaration. In short Jefferson and his colleagues lucked out, and as Napoleon later said, "Give me the lucky man." That was most assuredly Jefferson, most assuredly not North.
And the sad thing is, North knew it and often begged his sovereign for permission to resign. But the King wanted a man as prime minister he trusted, and that was North, a man of no vision, no knowledge of Americans and the colonies, without empathy, inspiration or the ability to cut a deal that would keep them British. He pleased the king and so his majesty kept the man congenial to him, catastrophic to his realm. How Jefferson, brilliant, dazzling, splendid Jefferson must have whooped at his unrivalled fortune in having such a hack, such a mediocrity as his opponent...
Thus was the greatest empire sundered; thus did the Great Republic grow apace, the one lead by the blind and inadequate, the other driven by determination, brains, and growing expertise in the artistry of revolution. In such circumstances, the English could not prevail; they had so little to offer whilst the revolutionaries promised everything including "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness", the hand that trumped
"God Bless America!"
Thus we arrive at today by stages short and long, difficult and easy, losing and winning, proud and abasing. But always important and influential for such is our destiny, and we must play it out. But I have this question for you, my reader, my every reader. How can we do so with massive ignorance about who we are, where we came from, what we have done and why it matters, for that is our painful and dangerous situation today when so little is known of America and that little so often wrong. How long can we sustain our might and mission under such enfeebling circumstances... and how can we possibly help the world and be that bright city while presenting such a poor and tawdry example?
That is why I urge you to read the great Declaration aloud and help rescue the Great Republic from her sad plight today, so dangerous, so inglorious, so abashing in every way.
Then go to any search engine, and find Irving Berlin's great hymn to the Great Republic, "God Bless America," first written in1918, revised in 1938. I recommend the stirring version by Kate Smith, a chanteuse who belted it out and brought a tear to the eye of every true American, every lover of freedom, and every citizen trustee for our great story,
"Through the night with a light from above".
Independence Day 2013. On the road again. Manchester-by-the-Sea. And a grande dame with the gift of friendship and joy. Come and get acquainted.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.
Author's program note. Aime' Joseph never ceases to amaze me, and of the
foundations for lasting friendship that felicitous agility is surely one of the best.
Knowing my habits, the need to have everything about the new tale, the current article
readily at hand, even old napkins, smudged and ripped, valuable artifacts notwithstanding so long as they contain a single indecipherable letter, for my handwriting has never risen above the abashed level of execrable; given these habits, I say, I shouldn't have been surprised that he had dropped over with a paper in one hand, a question in the other.
It's the kind of good deed he does and why I permit him to raid the refrigerator with
impunity, leaving me to wail from time to time, "But I was saving that ginger beer...",
giving the strongest possible impression that my bite is indeed worse than my bark,
but even I don't believe it.
He knows this and at the earliest possible moment restarts his researches
into and acquisitions from the food and wine which I always purchase in far too
ample quantities for the amount I eat and the nullity I drink.
This, of course, provides the rationale he needs for raids which would impress a
Viking, though in truth the fact he is my constant helper and friend provides all the
reason he'll ever need... although I do wish he'd ask before gallivanting home with the
last morsel or drop of any much craved delicacy.
"Do you need this?"
And, of course, I did... for this tale of Independence Day 2013 would never
have taken place -- for me -- without it and the grande dame who mailed it
and so literally made my day. Here is what it looked like. Here is what it said.
"Generations, Friends, Families. Please join us!"
There then followed explicit directions of what these generations, friends, and
families must do in the matter of furnishing food ("your favorite and a little extra
to share"), and drink ("Also your favorite and a little extra to share")... with further
detailed instructions on such critical matters as "places to swim, eat, sit, chat,
rest, sing, ice, cups, plates, knives, forks, spoons", and the most important directive
and admonition of all... to bring your crucial holiday spirit and so increase its already
ample measure stemming principally from our hostess, Diane Neal Emmons.
Distinctive right from the start.
Did you pronounce her first name DIE ANN. Of course you did. I did when first
introduced. The world does, but you, me and the wide generality of the planet,
all of us, are mistaken. For she pronounces it DEE ON and woe to thems who gets
it wrong, for as every Eskimo knows, a name is totemic, the thing that holds your
spirit and first tells the world who you are, where you have come from, and where
you are going.
In this way, with this subtle variation, Diane (did you pronounce it correctly this time?)
announced that she was not and would never be of the humdrum, prosaic or everyday
variety of mere Dianes, much less (horror of horrors) of the Dee Dees who derive
therefrom; that she was instead something quite different, distinguished, unique; though
as a lady to the manner born she couldn't possibly tell you this. You'd have to find out for
yourself, if only you had the good sense and good manners to do so. And so are the real
gems separated and higher valued than the baubles who, at first, seem the same.
The happiest girl in the neighborhood, maybe the happiest girl in the world.
I don't have any proof for what I am about to say, no proof at all. However, people
like me, called commentators are given wide latitude and what is called "the benefit
of the doubt" in advancing their cases; in other words so long as what we write is
not specious in the extreme or wildly implausible we may dream, wonder, ruminate
and speculate to our heart's content. I am about to use that privilege here....
There is something larger than life about Diane, and this is especially true when
she first glimpses you. There is in that moment the ghost of Ezio Pinza singing
"Some enchanted evening."
You sense rather than see that her eyes light up and she is no longer that woman of
a certain age, but a girl in flying dance slippers with bright pink ribbons in the much
considered hair of a twelve year old; the twelve year old who greets you like a favored
child greets her favorite relation with nothing more troubling on her youthful horizon
than who to ask to the Sadie Hawkins dance in just two weeks.
When you are the boy who receives this high energy treatment, you think, no you know
that you are the boy she'll invite... and that you'll have a spiffing good time, because Diane
knows to her fingertips how to make sure you -- and everyone else -- leaves happy and
recalls each event with a smile. It is her special secret, and you are glad she is lavishing
Fashionably late and better so.
People who run 24-hour-a-day Internet enterprises learn to be approximate in the
matter of time; technology, after all, is a capricious mistress, smooth running one
minute, causing mayhem the next, even on holidays when one is expected out of
town at a particular time. "Technology is great when it works." Thus my party,
Mr. and Mrs. Joseph and I left late... and arrived as my grandmother used to say
"fashionably late." This proved to be a good thing, since many guests having
partaken of luncheon under a tent most often used at weddings and anniversaries
went home to laze the blistering afternoon away dozing in the shade. And thus both
Josephs and I were able to spend more time with the hostess, a happy result of
But first I had literally to sing for my supper.
"Songs to Sing When Two or Three or More are Gathered Together."
Open upon my desk now is a thin volume of the name above, a volume compiled
by Diane and providing numerous clues to the lady and her metier. It is her personal
song book, and it is both curious and touching. Diane, you see, is of the generation
where people entertained each other by each being responsible (particularly young ladies
of good family like Diane) for an enjoyable rendezvous, with and for only the right people,
which for this lady and her friends, meant prep schools like Winsor and Groton,
colleges like Radcliffe and Harvard, social clubs like Chilton and Somerset, and
above all the Mayflower Club always remembering that if you must inquire about it,
you were most decidedly NOKD, "not our kind, dear."
The Kennedys, not yet with a postal code in Camelot were in this category, and in the
Irish way their revenge was thorough and hurtful, not least because they soon shunted
the old families of the Commonwealth (called Brahmins) aside and to the rest of the world
portrayed themselves as Bay State aristocrats, which caused society matrons on
Commonwealtlh Avenue to fume... and plot revengeful motifs they no longer had the
money, power or unquestionable social position to dictate.
Diane Emmons was caught up in this sea change in Boston. She was born to
adorn a particular universe and that universe was changed beyond recognition.
It was a world into which you were born, where acceptance was automatic and
life long for those with the right surname and genetic code. Never mind It was often dull,
dowdy, smug and insular, none of which mattered to the people who wanted entree they
would probably never get until club revenues fell and provided a compelling reason
for new members mere equity could never provide.
"In" could only be valuable in relation to who was "Out", a fact which social novelist
Frances Parkinson Keyes (1885-1970) captured to a nuance, in books like "Joy Street".
This street on Beacon Hill was cut in half, the top socially acceptable; the bottom mixed
and dubious. I wrote my first book in an apartment well down from the acme, yet adored
for all that.
She must have regretted at least some of the changes, but her Fairy Godmother
made sure she had the one essential feature she needed to live through such
massive change and come through it smiling, albeit saddened by the loss of what was
after all her birthright and cherished reality... now just so much ancient history, gone with
the wind. Her great attribute? She liked people and people liked her. In the truest tradition of real ladyship, Diane took pains to help when she didn't have to; assisted beyond the call of duty so many charitable endeavors; and always, always had time for
that far-flung and heterogeneous group, her Friends, of which I proudly call myself
With a song in my heart... and nowhere else.
Ever since I was a child at church, I have been rebellious and adamant on the matter
of group singing: quite simply, I hate it, not merely because I am unable to carry a tune
in a bucket, but because when one sings in any venue even remotely public one is
expected to boom out the song in question, your role (happy, amorous, joyous, sad,
whatever) determined by just what you're singing and always overdone.
Instead of entering into the spirit of the enterprise, I did everything imaginable to ensure
that any such involvement would only be by force and after a masterful display of temper
and high volume obstinacy.
Diane, of course, loves to sing, never mind that her voice is reminiscent of a species of
frog found only in the swimming pools of the well heeled. She is awful... However, she
believes in the social utility of what she is doing... and, as hostess, she is unrelenting in
"persuading" her guests into her unyielding view that group singing on very hot holidays
is a privilege, not cruel and unusual punishment to be avoided at all cost, which is my
abiding take on the matter.
But I am a guest, I aim to please, even if I transgress against my core beliefs... and
so I sing... about 15 words or so of "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands."
It is one of the most insipid tunes ever composed, therefore popular with people for whom
their inexhaustible jauntiness and perkiness is a gift from on high, to be celebrated
whenever possible around those of a sarcastic and insufficiently civic spirited demeanor.
That would be me, and it is a measure of how highly I esteem my hostess and her chipper
orientation that I sang and clapped at all, never mind with tepid demeanor. I knew my rights and obligations as guest, and calibrated my finger movements and strain on my vocal chords accordingly. And so, obdurate, I listen to -- but do not sing, warble or chant -- the eccentric litany in the song book that jumps from "Blue Moon" to "Chattanooga Choo Choo" to "Good Night, Irene."
Diane was zealous but she had long odds against her, the day sultry, the repast generous,
delicious, ancient guests drowsy, eyes determined to close, collective nap time at hand.
Then there it was... the perfect song for the day, the hostess, every visitor and even
for me, hardened city dweller and professional scoffer determined to stay an anthropologist, watchful but disengaged.
"What would you think if I sang out of tune/Would you stand up and walk out on me?/
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song/And I'll try not to sing out of key"...
And then the words that define us all:
"Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends."
Better because of DEE ON.
As I looked around the backyard of her rambling colonial-style home just blocks
from the well-known Singing Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea (officially incorporated
in 1645) I saw it populated by her friends, old, young, some vibrant and running over
with high animal spirits, some for whom moving at all, especially on such a stifling
day, was a labor... I thought of how lucky the human is who can conjure so many
and make them sing this song first written in mid-March 1967 by John Lennon
and Paul McCartney.
Just click on the link below and hear it all over again and ask yourself if you've
been a good friend today, the kind of friend you'd like to have, the kind of friend well
deserving of your esteem and high regard, the kind of friend I am so lucky to have in
Diane Neal Emmons... the one person I am prepared to sing for, out of key of course,
but completely sincere... and grateful.
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.