Sunday, October 25, 2020

Remember Me

Way down yonder in the brickyard.

Remember me.

Way down yonder in the ole brickyard.

Remember me.


Gonna step it, step it, step it down.

Remember me.

Gonna step it, step it, step it down.

Remember me.


Gonna turn my loved one round and round,

Remember me.

Gonna turn my loved one round and round.

Remember me.


-       Georgia Sea Islands game song


I often use this song to open a workshop, invoke the ancestors to be present in the circle. This is not a common practice in American education. Yet the ancient understanding is that time is not just the present moment of our ticking clock, but a fuller mix of past, present and future. To feel the fuller dimension of the moment, the seriousness of our undertaking, why not invoke and invite those who have come before? They can be particular people who have passed on—in my Orff workshop, it might be Avon Gillespie, Carl Orff or Gunild Keetman—or a more general invocation, like thanking the original inhabitants on whose land we’re standing.


How have we arrived where we are, in a world that mindlessly razes rainforest, that excuses 20,000 lies from a national leader, that shouts angrily across created divides? I think some of this is a forgetting, both unintentional and purposeful. It is as if we have drunk from the River of Lethe, erased a collective memory of how to be on this earth, in this life, in these human bodies. We certainly need political strategies, clearly annunciated laws, scientific solutions, new imaginative ideas, but all of it can, and perhaps should, begin, with the simple act of remembering. 


We have forgotten so much. 

• How to welcome creation and re-connect with the bugs and the birds, the trees and the flowers, to feel ourselves as a co-participant of the natural world intimately, directly and more profoundly than just taking our dog for a walk. 

• How to expect and insist on civility in our leaders. 

• How to keep money and material things in proper proportion to the really important things in this life.

 • How our body can be an instrument of intelligence and carrier of spirit beyond an appendage to merely exercise and count out steps. 

• How the imagination is not an add-on, but a central faculty to be nurtured and cultivated. 

• How the heart is made to love and can only love fully after being repeatedly broken. 

• How the mind gifted with the capacity to think, to analyze, to compare and contrast, grows through the habit of constant reading and writing and thinking and discussing, how exercising that capacity is essential to good citizenship. 

• How the simple pleasure in moving bodies expressively, feeding the mind, working the imagination is sufficient unto itself and doesn’t need an American Idol panel with their bells and whistles. 

The list is long.


To forget how to honor our human incarnation is like losing a limb. To remember is to re-member, to grow that lost limb again. Also to sign-up again, renew your membership in both the human and the natural community.It is to move toward the truth we need, truth as in being true to ourselves and what life promised us that we have squandered. The Greek word for truth is Aletheia, which means “remembering” (notice the word “lethe” embedded there). 


So the “me” in the song “Remember Me” can refer to a person or our own plea to be remembered when we are gone. But it is also the rainforest speaking, the diminishing habitats and their inhabitants speaking, our Constitutional promises speaking, our sense of civil discourse speaking, our lost imagination and diminished intellect speaking, our hardened heart and inexpressive body speaking. Note how the song suggests we step it down, which means to get up to dance and not just alone, but with a partner and not just one partner, but all our loved ones. It will be in the act of remembering that we can begin to move forward from our stuck place. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Uncorking the Bottle

No secret that my daily practice of trying to gather experience in the net of language is somehow something I simply have to do. Some people’s minds are still water, some are on a low simmer, but mine, for better or worse, is a constant rollicking boil. Whether it be a Zoom class or a workshop or an interview, someone asks me a short question that lasts five seconds and off I go for 5 to 15 minutes. A bit like uncorking a bottle and out comes the genie (related to the word genius, our unique pattern of soul) and the one wish it rarely grants is that it be silent. J


I have to consider the simplistic conclusion that I’m just one of those obnoxious mansplainers that can’t shut up and should have stopped 4 minutes and 55 seconds ago and anybody shaking their head in agreement is entitled to their opinion. But others listen attentively and notice that I’m tying in all sorts of ideas normally outside of the question and bringing them together inside of an answer that goes far beyond the simple sound-byte, that generates more questions and leads to more ideas and reveals the true complexity of even the simplest questions. A lifetime of reading, writing, thinking doesn’t automatically qualify me to do so, but in many cases, has gifted me the ability to thread them all together in a coherent whole. I’m not boasting about it nor feeling shamed by it, it simply is my truth and hey, I suppose that’s partly what writing these blogposts is for.


I often begin these posts with an image, a phrase, a thought, that leads to other thoughts and helps me make sense of what just happened to me on that day. But without such a lead for today, I decided to just start writing and see what came out.


And this was it.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Letter to My 11-Year-Old Self

Dear Young Doug,


It has been 58 years since we were together, but I thought of you today because I voted and remembered something you wrote all those years back. 


“It was early on a November morning when Old Sol, my natural alarm clock, beckoned me to reluctantly arise. I was in a daze until the chirping of the woodland creatures put me out of it. It was then when I realized that the future may depend on today. For today was the day to select leaders in various states, cities and our country. 


I am grateful that our nationwide leaders provided the ideology of almost everyone being allowed to vote freely. Children or newcomers are not allowed to vote for they do not know the necessary facts. Children have to be over twenty-one years old and newcomers have to become citizens.


I pray that the right man or woman be selected to continue our government of democracy, so our future will be one of peace."


You were the Assistant Editor of the elementary school’s annual “literary magazine,” The Harrison Echoes and this was your editorial. Looking back all those years, I was impressed by four things:


1) Your attempt at poetic imagery and some connection with the seasonality of the natural world. 


2) Your emerging understanding of our duty as responsible and responsive citizens to vote to actively shape a worthy future.


3) Your inclusion of “man or woman” as eligible to “continue our government of democracy”—and timely as today I voted for a man and woman.


4) Your hope for peace.                   


Reading the rest of the magazine, I was struck that the other kids wrote little pieces about bicycle safety, fire safety, their pets and so on. All of which was fine and make sense, but I could feel you already so young stretching for something a bit larger. (Except for Lindy Nimy, who wrote: “Peace is like a quiet stream moving over ignorance and hatefulness.” Good one, Linda!). 


At any rate, young Doug, just want to let you know that those emerging sensibilities kept growing and more than ever, “I pray that the right man or woman be selected to continue our government of democracy, so our future will be one of peace." May it be so.

Your friend,

Old Doug



Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The New Gold Rush

              “Some people are so poor all they have is money.”  - Bob Marley


I can’t be too critical of the California Gold Rush because it was clearly responsible for the creation of San Francisco. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to bike through Golden Gate Park to the ocean today and delight in the view of the fog snaking under the Golden Gate Bridge. But from the point of view of the indigenous people and the land itself, it was, of course, an unqualified disaster. 


But let’s talk about gold. It’s all over the fairy tales, it’s in the King or Queen’s crown, it’s inlaid into exquisite Japanese pottery. It brings the light of the sun to the earth. Gold shines like the sun, but it lives in the dark earth. To get to it, you have to dig deep. 


The problem with Columbus and his successors, all the way to the California Gold Rush and beyond, is that they took the mythological truth of gold as the literal truth and organized their lives around dreams of material wealth. Columbus cut off the hands of indigenous people who didn’t collect enough gold for him, the 49’ers ravaged the land and each other in their quest for striking it rich.


So here we are in a time when material wealth is—or rather, should be— a cause for some level of shame. Just as my pride in attaining my Million Mile Status on United Airlines now is a shameful indictment of my carbon footprint, so should millionaires and especially billionaires feel some shame in plundering so much more than their share of the earth’s resources while others go hungry, are homeless or struggle for survival. 


Our time is calling for the shift from the literal to the mythological/ spiritual, to stop obsessing about the outer gold and begin digging deeper for the inner gold. The New Gold Rush is afoot. Rush may be a misnomer, as the work of the Soul is slow and meticulous, but in terms of how quickly we need to shift our thinking, “rush” is perhaps too slow.


“There’s gold in them there hills!” they used to say, but turns out the hills are the ups and downs of our own soul’s life and if we spend our days paying attention while we walk them, we will become millionaires of the spirit, the kind Bob Marley refers to. Worth repeating his line as our new mantra:


              “Some people are so poor all they have is money.”  - Bob Marley


Sunday, October 18, 2020

This, That and Fear of the Other Thing


It has been a remarkable five-days straight of San Francisco summer without the fog coming in to crash the party. I actually floated in the Bay looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge! The water was still a bit chilly, but possible and believe me, this does not happen often in San Francisco! Perfect temperatures in the shade, that delicious sense of the outside and inside in perfect accord, neither shivering to keep out cold nor sweating to keep away heat. One of life’s little pleasures.


And so my days are spent walking in company with Dombey and Son on my phone’s Audible (4 hours out of 40 left!) or biking here, there and everywhere, the most constant exercise I’ve probably ever had in my lifetime, literally one day where I missed either a substantial walk, bike ride or swim in the past three months. I’ve heard tell that our present human body is the same as our hunter-gatherer ancestors who walked around 12 miles a day (how they figured that statistic out is anybody’s guess!), so I’m almost coming back to my ancestral inheritance. Regardless, it feels good and even better that I’m not in a gym, but out in the world in the fresh air (well, except for those smoky days), noticing the Coyote in the Arboretum, the small group of red-winged blackbirds singing in the bushes and ravens everywhere. 


Back home, the piano still beckons, I’m singing with my neighbors out on the streets, teaching Orff workshops online at least once (and often twice or three times) a week, occasionally practicing banjo from my online banjo class, enjoying new Netflix films like The Trial of the Chicago Seven, searching for the Get Out the Vote format that fits me and doing what I can to keep hope alive amidst the ever-tense shadow hovering over Nov. 3th. As I have many times in my life around Election Time, I’m “waiting to exhale,” either with a long-repressed triumphant shout or an anguished wail. And stupefied that this is even a question after all that guy has done. It’s simply beyond my comprehension.


But a slightly cooler (79 degrees) afternoon awaits me and my ancestral legs are eager to get walking. Just thought I’d check in before taking off, trivial as this all is.


Happy Sunday!

PS Went out I did into the sunny afternoon only to discover… the fog indeed had come! Oh well.


Friday, October 16, 2020


Listening to the talking heads analyze and dissect the Biden Town Hall, going through the details of his policy as if there might be some fine points that bear further discussion, is testing the limits of my patience. In any normal election, that of course, would be normal. But by keeping the appearance of normality going while in Trump’s Town Hall he dodges the question of supporting qAnon, a group that thinks the Democrats are a satanic pedophile ring and Trump is the savior of humankind—well, I think it’s safe to say that the news analysts need to get some perspective here. It’s like there’s a raging fire in the house and folks are taking time to discuss whether this person’s plan of evacuation is a better option than the other person’s. When the needed word is “RUN!!!!!!!”


And so, undecided voters, here’s your real choice in the house on fire we’re all in:


1) BIDEN: Let’s go, people! Now! Get out! Here’s the door!


2) TRUMP: (talking from his fireproof bunker): It’s a fake fire. If there was a fire, I’m the perfect firefighter. And you can wear that mask if you want, but I don’t think it’s necessary. This is just a distraction from Hilary’s e-mails. And aren’t you proud that we have the greatest fires?



Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Circle and the Square

After seven months of Zoom meetings, I finally convinced my Men’s Group to meet outdoors. Instead of the usual 7:30 to 10:00 evening meeting, we met in the Redwood Grove of the Arboretum at 3 in the afternoon.  What a pleasure that was!


The weather cooperated, a Fall “summer” day with temperatures in the 70’s and us comfortably settled in the shade seated appropriately apart, but still close enough to feel the power of the circle. And full bodies in three-dimensions, voices that resonated in open air instead of over computer speakers. When people talked, their words supported by gestures, body postures, facial expressions. And while we listened, we also heard the birds, drifts of conversations from people strolling near, distant drone of traffic punctuated by occasional motorcycle roars, sirens and even a helicopter. I made little sculptures with woodchips while listening and also delighted in their fragrant smell. 


In short, we came together (minus the opening and closing hugs) the way human beings have always come together before being pinched into gridded squares on screens. And it made all the difference in the world.


No great insight, this. Just renewed appreciation for one of the many norms locked away during these COVID times. I remember (and keep this confidential!) that once this men’s group started meeting on Zoom, our words and thoughts seemed so much less interesting that they were before. Were we really that boring?


Maybe. But I think that was more than partly due to the removal of all the other sensory stimuli that makes conversation alive and dynamic. In other words, the music and dance of our speech, the how of what we say and the background surrounding it, is part of, and often, more important than, the what of what say. And that the power of this men’s group that has been meeting for 30 years now is not the depth of our insight into the challenges of being male, but the power of being physically together in a space, to enjoy the simple pleasure of being men together in a room. Or a redwood grove. 


In poetic form: 


    Being together in a room far exceeds 

    Being together on a Zoom. 

    Sitting circled wholly seen far exceeds 

    Being squared on a screen.

    Being out in open air far exceeds

    Being indoors on a chair.


Russian Journey

Last week, I was in St. Petersburg, Moscow and Novobirsk. Now I write from the Ukraine, soon to go to Armenia, two places I have never been. And then stop by to teach in Verona, Italy on my way home. Just in time to be the guest bagpipe player at The SF School Halloween celebration. 


This was the blogpost I would have written before the pandemic hit. I looked at my old calendar with those dates marked out with a bit of wistful longing. I’m pretty much adapted to this new reality and have learned, like all of us, to accept it for the necessity of the moment it is. But still, there is loss here worthy of some moments of sadness and even grief. My life as I knew it and loved it is locked away in some attic of the future, with no assurance that I can again open that trunk. 


Meanwhile, I did a Zoom online class with the Russians and another short one with the Iranians who would have come to Armenia. Next weekend is the Verona workshop and a few weekends after, the Ukraine one. I can appreciate the fossil fuel saved, the bureaucracies of visas sidestepped, the ease of teaching from my own home. But still, it is far removed from the real deal in a circle holding hands with strangers who quickly become friends. I miss that.


But still the sun rises and sets and new opportunities abound—like Zoom teaching a Music Ed class at Wayne St. University who is reading my Teach Like It’s Music book, a class that never would have happened live with all the expenses of bringing me out in person. And instead of retreating to my hotel room after a workshop, I can take off on my bike through the parks of San Francisco in perfect temperature Fall days or walk through our colorful neighborhoods with Dickens’ Dombey and Son being read on Audible as I stroll. And then come home and cook my own meal without worrying about reading Russian menus. 

As the saying goes, "it's all good." At least for now.


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

10-Letter Bio

Early in my adult years, I set my life’s compass by three short words: 


            • Zen

            • Orff

            • Jazz


Such faithful companions they have been! Such difficult friends! And once I introduced them to each other, how the conversations flowed between them! 


And why not? They all shared some key qualities:


1. What is Zen? What is Orff? What is Jazz? All three defy simple explanations, impossible to describe to your airplane seatmate even on a 17- hour flight to Singapore talking non-stop.


2. All three are impossible to wholly master, are paths with benchmarks of possible attainment—enlightenment, mastery, Grammy awards—but ultimately are paths with no end. They say that even Buddha is still working on himself somewhere. The expert Orff teacher does not exist and his or her perfect lesson can be demolished in one second by a three-year old. The jazz musician embarking on the next solo is always in uncharted territory.


3. All three demand first-hand experience over belief or faith. All three live as verbs, as practices rather than dogma. All three insist on your own unique way of understanding and expression. All three demand mastery of difficult techniques and understanding of complex ideas which are then gathered together to fully express themselves in a spontaneous response to the given moment— the Zen student’s answer to the koan in the interview with the teacher, the teacher’s response to the students, the jazz musician’s response to the notes out in the air. 


4. All three are living examples of Rilke’s line: 


“This is how he grows, by being defeated decisively, by constantly greater beings.”


It has been quite a wild ride with these three and the conversation between them. Zen brought me to Japan and the haiku poets, jazz brought me to Ghana and the West African ancestors (as well as New Orleans and Harlem), Orff brought me to Salzburg and the legacies of Bach, Beethoven and beyond. So when they all gather to party in the house of my body and mind, it’s quite an occasion! Wise African elders hanging out with Zen masters, blues singers rubbing shoulders with Bach choirs, potluck dinners with miso soup, red beans and rice, Viennese pastries and fufu. Jazz is present in my Orff teaching, Orff is present in my jazz performance and some occasional mindful breaths in both. It’s at once delightful, maddeningly difficult, strangely interconnected and wholly mine. It’s the life that chose me and I’m doing what I can, knowing it always falls short, to do it honor. It is the tri-part thread I have never let go of that weaves through the unique pattern of a life. My life. And I am grateful for it all.



Monday, October 12, 2020

The Courage to Be Happy

My Jazz History class tonight was about Louis Armstrong and what a pleasure to spend time with this man I have visited so often before. One doesn’t need to see a photo of him with his broad grin to be infected by his joy. You can feel it in his trumpet playing and hear it in his voice, no matter what the content of the song he sings. And yet, this is how he began:


• Born into poverty. Had to work as a child to bring food to the table.

• Father left when he was born, mother a part-time prostitute.

• Lived in a violent neighborhood called “The Battlefield” amongst houses of prostitution.

• Dropped out of school in 5thgrade.

• Arrested at 11 years old and put into reform school for two years.

• Married a prostitute who tried to cut him with a razor. 

• Black in a segregated and racist culture.


In the typical American rags to riches story, he would denounce his childhood and praise his ascent to fame and (modest) fortune. And yet. Here’s what he says in his essay “Growing Up in New Orleans.”


“I’m always wondering if it would have been best in my life if I’d stayed like I was in Hew Orleans, having a ball. I was very much contented just to be around and play with the old timers. And the money I made—I lived off it. I wonder if I would have enjoyed that better than all this big mucky-muck traveling all over the world—which is nice, meeting all those people, being high on the horse, all grandioso. All I this life I have now—I didn’t suggest it. I would say it was all wished on me. Over the years you find you can’t stay no longer where you are, you must go on a little higher now—and that’s the way it all come about. I couldn’t get away from what’s happened to me.


But man, I sure had a ball there growing up in New Orleans as a kid. We were poor and everything like that, but music was all around you. Music kept you rolling.”


And the music rolled him right out of New Orleans, up the Mississippi to Chicago, on to New York and then over the Atlantic to play for the Queen of England, to be adored in Italy and France, to touch some ancient roots in Ghana. And further yet to Asia, Australia, South America. He recorded with other jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Oscar Peterson, was in a movie with Billie Holiday, on TV with Dizzy Gillespie and also shared stages (and screens) with Mahalia Jackson, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and countless others. Wherever there was jazz, there was Louis.

When Miles Davis was asked to describe the history of jazz, he said it in four words: “Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker.” “Pops” grew up with the folk music of New Orleans, music made “of the people, by the people and for the people,” an American incarnation of the West African practice of music as the binding force of community, realized in parades, picnics, processions, in funerals and Mardi Gras and woven inextricably into the daily life of the folks. But coming of age at just the propitious moment when the technology of recordings and radio amplified one’s voice far beyond the boundaries of being in earshot, he ascended the ladder of increased visibility (and audibility!) to capture the ear of people far away who he would never meet in person. He entered the firmament of larger-than-life stars and combined with the other technology of increased ease of travel and the growth of movies and later TV, became one of the brightest stars in the firmament of the 20thcentury, known and beloved by people in just about every corner of the world, his voice instantly recognizable and welcomed. As an entertainer and icon of popular culture, he offered music that the masses did not participate in as they did in the streets of NOLA, but enjoyed vicariously as a member of an audience, sitting in their paid seats in the club, concert hall or movie theater.


But Louis was also the one who lifted jazz from its folk music and popular music beginnings and brought it into the Western ideal of a classical art form, something that demanded prodigious technique, a deep understanding of complex harmonies and scales and a unique talent that brought the elements together in a personal voice to express something far beyond the daily round. His opening 11 bars to The West End Blues in 1928 catapulted the emerging jazz solo into a new stratosphere, the art of the intricate and expressive improvised solo. Jazz musicians of every ilk spent the next 20 years or so trying to come to terms with those 11 bars and every musician, not just singers and trumpet players, was inspired to follow his lead and craft their own memorable improvisations, finding all the notes implied by the blues or simple popular tunes and bringing them out into the open to uplift all who had the ears to receive them. And again following Pops, all with an apparent effortless ease, soulful feeling and irrepressible joy that offered a different look at the Western artist, the one so often portrayed as the tortured soul ahead of his time and separate from the people. These new classical artists were at once right in their time and rubbing shoulders with the people (literally in the intimate jazz clubs) and also transcendent of their particular moment, reaching for some universal and timeless expression that finds us still enjoying and uplifted by Louis’ Hotter Than That scat singing, Coleman Hawkin’s Body and Soul solo and just about anything that Art Tatum played.


We owe him so much. Louis traveled from I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues to What a Wonderful World without missing a beat. “I know of no man for whom I had more admiration or respect,” said Bing Crosby, a singer he both influenced and sang with often. And yet Bing Crosby never once invited Louis to his house. Nor did Joe Glaser, his manager for so many years. He publicly criticized President Eisenhower for failing to enforce the Little Rock school integration, calling him “two faced” and “no guts” and then sent a telegram telling him “he had a good heart” when the President finally decided to send in the federal troops (perhaps influenced by Louis’ comments?). Like any black man then or now, he knew racism intimately from the bottom to the top, but refused to let it break his spirit.


I ended tonight’s class with these quotes below and “What a Wonderful World” playing and corny as it may be, it made me weep. Neil Armstrong may have said, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” but Louis Armstrong already beat him to it, making his giant leap from his life on Jane Alley to beating out the Beatles on the No. 1 Hit Parade in 1964 and all of humankind refreshed by his journey. He embraced life, accepted life, grabbed life by the tail and swung it joyfully over his head, ending so many songs with his signature affirmation, “Oh, yeah!” 


“I had begun to recognize that Pop’s grinning in the face of racism was his absolute refusal to let anything, even great anger at racism, steal the joy from his life and erase his fantastic smile.”                      -Dizzy Gillespie


“My whole life has been happiness. Through all of the misfortunes, etc, I did not plan anything. Life was there for me and I accepted it. And life, whatever came out, has been beautiful to me, and I love everybody.”         -Louis Armstrong


" …those who can most truly be accounted brave are those who best know the meaning of what is sweet in life and what is terrible, and then go out, undeterred, to meet what is to come."   - Pericles


May he serve as a beacon for us in these hard times when the daily news tries to bring us to our knees with the “terrible” and drowns out what is sweet and brave and joyful. May we have the courage to be happy. Oh yeah.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Grahamy Award

I was recently reminded of a Martha Graham quote that so perfectly summarized every feeling I was having about performing recently in a Jazz Trio. As confessed a few posts ago, I wonder why I dare enter the territory of musical performance. I wonder if I’m worthy, if I belong, I often wish I could sound like “so and so” (long list), I wonder if anyone else likes it, I wonder why more people didn’t come, I wonder why those who didn’t come didn’t say anything (though a few much-appreciated comments from some, thank you!). I wonder why I want people to come or to comment or to like what I did or complement me or urge me to keep going. In short, I am plagued by the kind of doubts that much more talented folks than me have always had and probably always will. So we need someone to remind us that it certainly isn’t about fame and fortune, it’s not about getting 

"likes" on Facebook, it's not even about us feeling convinced we did a good job. It's simply about our commitment to make an effort to give voice to that inner voice that needs our determination to have it be heard, needs our commitment to “keep the channel open.” Needs our perseverance to come to peace with “queer, divine dissatisfaction, blessed unrest.” 


No matter what your field, reflect on what brings you joy, what makes you feel most alive and consider if you’re paying it enough mind and if not, why not? And if you should be so brave as to make or renew a vow to commit to it, read this quote slowly, speak it out loud, translate it to two other languages, and then read it again, often. It is the only Grahamy Award you will ever need.


“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

PS For those who want to witness a few moments when I felt my voice emerged truly (and equally note when it didn’t!), this will be up on Youtube for awhile.



Friday, October 9, 2020

Character Study

“ It was not in the nature of things that a man of Mr. Dombey’s mood, opposed to such a spirit as he had raised against himself, should be softened in the imperious asperity of his temper; or that the cold hard armor of pride in which he lived encased, should be made more flexible by constant collision with haughty scorn and defiance. It is the curse of such a nature—it is a main part of the heavy retribution on itself it bears with itself—that while deference and concession swell its evil qualities, and are the food it grows upon, resistance and a questioning of its exacting claims, foster it too, no less. The evil that is in it finds equally its means of growth and propagation in opposites. It draws support and life from sweets and bitters; bowed down before, or unacknowledged, it still enslaves the breast in which it has its throne; and worshipped or rejected, is as hard a master as the Devil in dark fables. “                

-       Charles Dickens; Dombey and Son; p. 647


Read that over again. Slowly. Our soundbyte vocabulary is not tuned to the depth and sophistication of Dickens, but with some effort, we can figure out that this description of someone imprisoned in “the cold hard armor of pride” keeps that intact, grows it yet harder and more impenetrable, by the deference of the fawning people around him. But then the surprising insight that it also thrives on those who oppose it, that resistance makes it dig in its heels yet deeper. In short, having chosen to hide from life in that hardened shell, to be incapable of flexibility or gentle emotion or care for anyone beyond one self, is to wreak havoc on one’s own soul and all of those around one. 


Sound familiar? Having contracted the disease that it denied, there was a brief moment of “now I understand it.” And then just when I was ready to believe in a just God, there was the inexplicable mildness of the case and the new position, “Hey, it’s nothing. Nobody should be afraid of it.” (Is God keeping him alive so he can end his days in jail?) There simply is no hope for any redemption in a person like this. 


That’s sad, of course, for the person, but catastrophic for those around him. Especially when “those around him” are an entire nation. These are the most dangerous people to put into positions of power. Please, voters, keep this in mind. Character counts.