Once upon a time, Tappahannock, VA’s Essex Court House clock chimed over the town hourly. Audible for many blocks, the strikes seemed reassuring – always reliable.
As a small boy, I thought nothing about time….tomorrow was a given. Now, some 70 years later, I’ve discovered there is nothing predictable about time and what it brings. There are always moments in your life that you will never be prepared for. Once a moment is spent, maybe wasted, it can never be recovered. It took me forever to learn to not throw time away on supercilious people or issues.
With my decade of medical misbegotten, this latest summer episode comes off as duck soup – my season of agony, pain meds, and suffering (herniated discs) brought positives, with self-inventory and reassessment. Is it just possible that I am comfortable with myself….without apologies to those who take offense on views held?
How do we emerge spiritually, politically, and philosophically? It started with my grandfather, Allen Douglas Latane, a small town newspaper editor, and Essex County clerk. I remember clearly his recollection that Essex County remained loyal to Democratic presidential candidate, Governor Al Smith – in the 1928 presidential election – over Herbert Hoover. One could feel his shared pride, enthusiasm.
Then there was a July 4, 1963, trip to Washington D.C. for a National Draft Goldwater Committee Rally at the D.C. Armory – with sunburned friend, fraternity brother, Hugh Edmunds. We met early at Union Station, Richmond Va.
William Lundigan, movie actor; Paul Fannin, Governor of Arizona; Efrem Zimbalist Jr., TV/ Film personality; plus the show-stealing character actor, Chill Wills, appeared with great endorsement…of the then Hamlet – like Barry Goldwater, who had refused to appear.
Yet, my take-home lesson from the Armory began with standing in line beside two newly married Hungarian couples – new citizens – about my age. They assured me that Americans had no idea what they were about to lose, with the massive growth of the U.S. Federal Government, its intrusions in all aspects of our lives; they were quite knowledgeable, and very serious.
The Humanities of Hampden-Sydney College had profoundly exposed me to serious individual thought – even the individual mind where one’s accomplishments can birth. It further occurred to me that man cannot survive except through his mind. He lands on earth totally unarmed….his brain is his only weapon. But his mind is an attribute of the individual. There is no such thing as a collective brain.
The man, who seriously contemplates, must think – then act on his own. The reasoning mind cannot work under any form of compulsion. It cannot be subordinated to needs, opinions, or wishes of others. Most important, it is not an object of sacrifice. In so many words, it is the individual against the collective – remember “inalienable rights”?
Naturally, this took me to Whittaker Chambers, and his published book, Witness, on his life of Communism – then the final escape. Riding back with Hugh Edmunds on that train to Richmond, I could think of little else. Those young couples had been THERE – with government abuse and a widening socialism; they were deeply affected….that’s why they showed up.
It was much later that Marilynne Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize novelist, essayist, made me wince – in agreement – with her observation: we are willing to disparage any one if “the reward is the pleasure of sharing an attitude one knows is socially approved”. It certainly did endorse what I’d observed.
Often we seek approval over truth – that is, a deep desire for human bonding…over truth-seeking.
Remember Erich Segal’s Love Story with the famous take-home-trash quote: ‘love means you never have to say you’re sorry. The latest: popularization of a Theodore Roosevelt quote: “Comparison is the Thief of Joy.” For me it’s like clanging a stick in a cage. To live in a non-comparison world is to live in one unmeasured….one which refuses to acknowledge goals; discourages accomplishment, and which equalizes everyone into one sloppy category of mindless, dopey weakness.
Then the classic film: The Third Man, 1949, with Orson Wells. The scene was near the Wiener Riesenrad, the large Ferris wheel where Harry Lime uttered: “You know what the fellow said – in Italy. For thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, and murder….but they produced Michelangelo; Da Vinci; and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had 500 years of democracy and peace… and what did that produce: The cuckoo clock.”
The Tappahannock Court House clock still strikes on the hour; and I’ll get up every day until I can’t; if we are wise, we’ll treat time thoughtfully.