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Just A Minute, 4

Our thoughts are well stirred, and we can add to the pot of last words, well written by the deceased, but not forgotten.

Emily Dickenson (1830 – 1886), an American poet, wrote nearly 2000 poems in her brief lifetime, but she saw published only 12, many about death. Remember, “Because I could not stop for death, it kindly stopped for me. The carriage held but just ourselves and immortality.” We see the recluse Emily riding to the hereafter in a comfortable coach with Death, the loving sister, at her side. Her epitaph is brief: “Called back”, and she was heard no more.

Hilaire Bellocc (1870 – 1953), a prolific Anglo-French Catholic historian wrote, His Sins Were Scarlet, But His Books Were Red.” I could not find a listing of his scarlet sins, which might be interesting, but his Cautionary Tales for Children continues to be red.

Remember H.G. Wells (1866 – 1946)? The science fiction writer and author of War of the Worlds died of liver complications. In the preface of that book, he wrote his suggested epitaph, “I told you so, you damned fools.” His body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered in the English Chanel. An historical marker, called a Blue Plaque, was put on his last home in Regents Park in 1966. We can hope his epitaph was not a prophesy.

Born in Darby, Pennsylvania, a busy suburb of Philadelphia, W.C. Fields (1880-1946) was an American comedian and actor who shared his contempt for dogs and children and love for alcohol. He claimed to read the Bible looking for loopholes. His final message was, “On the whole, I’d rather be living in Philadelphia.”

John Yeast left us his sense of humor. “Here Lies John Yeast. .. Gentleman. .. Pardon Me for Not Rising.” Christians can only hope this unknown Yeast’s fate is not ours.

There lies “Woodson James, (Jesse) 1847-1882, Murdered by a traitor and coward, whose name is not worthy to appear here.”

With no dates, “Here lies Lester Moore, 4 shots from a ’44. No less, No moore.”

A wooden marker tells half of a sad story. Unwittingly George bought a stolen horse. “Here lies George Johnson, hanged by mistake. 1822. Nearby a marker tells the rest of the story. “He was right. We was wrong. But we strung him up and now he’s gone.”

Mel Blanc (1908 – 1989) is remembered for the voice of Porky Pig in children’s cartoons. His final words were “That’s all folks.”



Just A Minute, 3

Just a minute to wonder about time that eventually ends for all mortals and the final words they leave to mark their lives. Some might find reading epitaphs grim, but they are revealing. College classes in pre-Shakespearean literature wet my appetite for poetry and antiquity, while it made a terrible speller of me. Kyd, Marlowe, Spencer. and Lyly are not familiar names to the modern unacquainted reader, but Shakespeare borrowed from their works,. If one would honor someone, he borrows, but returns with interest.

Edmund Spencer (1522- 1596), author of The Faerie Queene is buried at Westminster Abbey in the Poets’ Corner. When Goode Queene Bess failed to pay the 100 pounds she had promised to him, Spencer wrote, “I was promised on a time— To have a reason for my rhyme… From that time unto this season… I received nor rhyme nor reason.” She paid. Spencer’s epitaph says, “Here lies the body of a poet. The prince of poets in this time, Whose divine spirit needs no other witness Than the works he left behind.” Self-congratulatory certainly, but contemporary poets and the public threw pens and pieces of poetry in his grave with their copious tears.

Ben Johnson’s (1573-1637) grave is simply marked, “O rare.” Nearby is the grave of his son. seven years of age. Johnson wrote, “lent to me, but escaped the world’s and flesh’s rage, and if no other misery than Age. My best piece of poetry, for what I love can never live too much.” A romantic  Ben wrote, “Drink to me only with thine eyes, and I will drink with mine: or leave a kiss within the cup, and I’ll not look for wine.”

John Donne (1572-1631) is remembered for his poetry and philosophy. We know him for “No man is an island entire of itself…” His epitaph expresses his religious beliefs, “Reader, I am to let thee know, Donne’s body only lies below. For could the grave his soul comprise, Earth would be richer than the skies.”

Not an Elizabethan, but the writer of many rhymed couplets, Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744) wrote, “Good Nature and Good Sense must ever combine. To err is human, to forgive divine.” His grave suggests his grand ideas. ” Heroes and Kings! Your distance keep. In peace let this poor poet sleep. Who never flattered folks like you. Let Horace blush and Virgil too.”

Robert Southey (1813 – 1843) wrote the first version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,”  in which a witch discovers and eats the porridge, and then jumps out a window when encountered by angry bears. He sleeps under the words, “Beneath these poppies buried deep, the bones of Bob the bard lie hid. Peace to his manes (spirit) and may he sleep — as soundly as his readers did.”    Dead poets leave their words behind them!


Just A Minute, 2

Please spare a minute for William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, born sometime before April 24, 1564 when he was christened. Sharing the responsibility for 39 plays, 134 sonnets, and other writings in his brief 52 years of life, he died suddenly on April 23, 1616, cause unknown. He is still considered England’s greatest poet. Writing in an age unconstrained by copyright laws, he shared the work of other writers. Sharing your work, then called borrowing, was the custom and no one sued him for plagiarism. With his unique sense of drama and poetry, he enriched his world and ours.

We know today’s present is tomorrow’s past. The Bard explained it thus: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in its petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.” (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5) “Out, out, brief candle.” Our time on Earth is limited to today, but do we judge the past with today’s standards? Will a more responsible future judge today with their vision?

In Macbeth we learn of the Scottish general who receives a prophesy from three witches that someday he will be king. In his haste and overcome with ambition, he kills the king. Wracked by guilt and the strife and disorder that prevails, he uses up his brief string of time. Macbeth is dead, but the sin of ambition persists today.

Time changes the world we live in, but seems to change little about its inhabitants. “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets its hour across the stage and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing —” continues Macbeth. The tragedy shows how ambition changes those who seek power, a truth to be observed 402 years later.

Epitaphs conclude our stories, and Shakespeare’s monument tells us, “Good friend for Jesus sake forbear — to dig the dust enclosed here. Blest be the man who spares these stones, and Curst be he who moves my bones. It seems to be a request for peace.

Happy Birthday Will, on the day I remember well since 1963. Happy Birthday daughter. You light my life.

Reading a gravestone is like reading the last page of a book first. Give me a minute and I’ll tell you more of the epitaphs left at death’s door.



Just A Minute, 1

“How little we know. How ignorant bliss is. How little it matters if the world around us shatters.” Sung by Hoagy Carmichael (1899-1981), the song seems to have relevant words beyond the romantic. Ignorance is not always bliss, and we know that– but –

We know Congress has a backlog of Republican nominees to confirm, but we may have missed that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has some prospective members held in abeyance. This bureau could use a spring housecleaning, for they have held some businesses to unattainable safety standards, punishing them for freak accidents.

An article in the WSJ makes us aware that they have picked on a favorite retailer of mine, an arts and crafts store, Michaels. All retailers need to assure that the products they sell are safe, and consumers need protection from dubious products. Reporting to the USCPSC in 2006, Michaels noted that nine vases had shattered, injuring customers. The first incident occurred in 2002, and they had sold 203,000 vases, making the accidents less than a 0.0004% of vases sold.

For this infraction they were fined $7.1 million. Michaels challenged, taking the matter to court. Vases are made of fragile materials, glass, china, and synthetic materials, so customers know they are breakable and usually handle them with care. But accidents happen, and these vases should be returned to the manufacturer as soon as recurring incidents are noted.

In 2006 Michaels settled for a fine of $1.5, agreeing that they should have reported the incident in 2002, and not sold the eight more defective vases before they reported the first broken vase. Certainly Michaels removed those vases from their shelves.

Perhaps the USCPSC will clarify their mission. Do they want an immediate report of each customer cut, bruise or scrape, or do they want to punish a business that can’t guarantee the safety of its more fragile wares. Legitimate product abuses warrant federal intervention, but regulatory power can be misused. The commission needs to concentrate on defective baby-cribs and such to correct problems in design, or warn that some products, like cigarettes, glass, china, and plaster are dangerous – Handle with Care. Don’t pick on Michaels.

So Congress, when you have a minute, please confirm some of the backlog for this important government bureau.

“How little we know. How much does it matter? When the world around us shatters, how little we know.”

Gone, Not Forgotten

Easter approaches to make a happy ending for a tragedy. This week a friend passed away quietly after a lengthy illness. Exquisite timing – Born on 3/31/31 (prime numbers), today would have been his 87th birthday. I miss him. But, I wonder – will anyone miss me when I’m gone? Sounds like a song — Google knows and tells all.

Yes! Written or adapted by Brian Vander Ark, the song is in his album, “Resurrection” (2004). The words go something like this —

“Another question hangs in midair. There’s an answer. I know it’s out there. Will anyone be aware when rain falls on my empty chair? Will they miss me when I’m gone?

There are some things I may have missed. I hope the answer’s merely this. Someone will miss me when I’m gone.

My friend’s will be brave ’til someone plays — my favorite song. Will they take a minute one by one to remember everything I’ve done? Or will the world spin on and on? Will they miss me when I’m gone?

And I missed my good friend when I asked a waiter for a table for six, and then realized there were only five of us this evening. I had become used to something that had to change, but there is such beauty in sorrow. Perhaps my friend misses us too, and is waiting patiently for us to join him for dinner.

Isn’t that the message of the Resurrection?

Happy Easter.



Musings 50, Why Write?

Memory is selective and temporary. Vaguely I remember that the pen is mightier than the sword. But it’s not the pen that’s mighty, it’s the words. WORDS – put the first letter in swords last. Words light our lives or blow out the candles. We can be pierced by cutting remarks or filled with the joy of the words, “I love you, Mom,” from our child. Words have power.

Our words have moved beyond the pen. Left-handed, I dragged and smudged the ink across my words with the bottom of my fist until a kind teacher showed me how to tilt the paper. Later the miracle of a fountain pen with ink stored inside the pen leashed the mess of written words. Fountain pens were soon replaced with ball-point pens, and the need for jars of ink disappeared. The noisy typewriter replaced the pen, but soon the laptop made writing simple. .. write and send with the press of some keys. Remarkable? All of this during a lifetime, but it is still the words which retain the power.

I have hidden inside me a need to write. How do I know what I think until I see what I say? I possess the opportunity to see my words, examine them, and perhaps delete them after I change my mind. Unlike written words, spoken words can never be erased or changed, but memory may wear them out.

A writer wrote “writers write because they have no one to talk to.” We live in a world crammed with strangers, and we feel alone. We need listeners, and without them we write to invisible readers who listen to us. By picking up a book or article we listen to the writers and feel embraced by their efforts. We are not alone.

Without words, we have no history. Spoken words disappear. Our memories dissolve with time and do not last beyond us. We learn from memories, called history, and hope to avoid the mistakes others have made. Psychiatrists tell their patients when their lives seem off-course to keep journals and reread them. They may diagnose their problems with their words.

Writers have a duty to write only truths or to label their non-truths. A non-truth is not necessarily a lie or a lack of candor, but an opinion that may be misleading. We intuitively know that all men are not equal in all areas, but we recognize we are equal enough to have equality under the law and our constitution. It may take time for our words to register fully in our shallow minds.

Writers are the artists who rearrange their perceptions in a public form with words. There can be no greater satisfying occupation.

Thank you, readers!

Musings 49, Changes

The more things change, the more they seem the same. A song by Bon Jovi reminds us, “I woke up this morning on the wrong side of the bed. I got this feeling like a train running in my head. Turned on the radio to the same old song, some big mouth saying where the world’s gone wrong. All this talk of peace and love is only for the news, “cause every time you trust someone, you just get scr—-, (disappointed.) My, how we hate change!

But change is inevitable – a process of time which we move ahead an hour tonight, making time go even faster than usual. There is a contradictory sense in most of us that things should remain the same so that we can ponder changes slowly and become accustomed to new ways.

But plus ca change, plus c’est la meme. Written in French by Alphonse Karr in 1849 in his journal, the aphorism refers to the proposal to abolish capital punishment. Today similar discussions take place, the same old arguments for and against gun control, free speech, and rights of immigrants and women.

Earlier this month Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, visited the president. He reinstated the importance of Esther and the festival of Purim, claiming it is prophesy as well as history. Israel faces the threats of the same old enemies. Persians now with the name of Iranians threaten Israel as they did with the Jews held captive in Persia under King Darius. (Readers may remember the 8 stories about this amazing woman I examined on this blog.)

Purim celebrates the brave actions of Esther, who saved the lives of her people and destroyed the enemy Haman, the king’s prime minister, with courage and cunning. Mr. Netanyahu reminded us again, that the more things change the more they seem the same.

Esther continues to have a message for all. The human condition is vulnerable. Make the best of it. It’s o.k. to eat, drink and be merry, but study the Bible, the Torah, or any history that celebrates mankind. Similar conditions appear and re-appear. Do good deeds to improve the conditions this world offers.

As written in Deuteronomy 31: 18, (Perhaps) God is merely hiding his face from us, for we are slow learners. The more things change, the more they seem the same.

I plan to change the format of these blogs — after the next one. Fifty Musings are probably enough!