It's history we witnessed and were a part of. Mr. Dick Cavett put this magnificent event as eloquently as anyone can.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
World U.S. N.Y.
January 23, 2009, 10:00 pm
I'm Not Weeping; It's an Allergy
These foolish drops do something drown my manly spirit.
– Shakespeare, "The Merchant of Venice"
I had neither planned nor expected to cry.
If it's true, as some maintain, that men who cry are pantywaists, then I stand condemned.
Not being one of those whose tear-production is either quick or voluminous, I was amazed at how many times, watching the all-day spectacle, I lost it.
And it wasn't just at the easy times like, say, during a sudden close-up of a tear-streaked elderly black face in the crowd, but also at moments that were just plain "for the country."
"Historic" and "historic moment" and "historic day" were repeated mercilessly, but remained true. Only a zombie could fail to feel the truth of it.
It seems, doesn't it, that there are two kinds of tears?
There's the kind produced by the death of your dog (which just happened to me once again, and about which I always offend someone by asserting that the reason the death of a pet is worse than the death of a human is that you have mixed feelings about all people), or by the loss of a loved one. And there's the almost opposite kind — but still tears — produced by watching Astaire and Rogers, the young DiMaggio and the young Ali, a sudden Picasso, Ol' Blue Eyes's voice, the 23rd Psalm, or any performance by Meryl Streep. Or Obama's grin for his daughters.
Music bypasses the brain and goes straight to the heart. I wish my life had more of it. Once, years ago, I was taken along to Tanglewood for a concert by the great Zino Francescatti, a name scandalously unknown to me the day before.
Somehow we were in the front row. I was not on TV yet or I would have been even more embarrassed when, repeatedly and to my total amazement, the virtuoso violinist caused me to, as suddenly as a hiccup, give forth with an audible, gurgling sob. Beauty tears, I guess you could call them. Tears of joy.
Aretha can make me cry. So could Ella, and Etta, and Ruth and Billie, and Carmen and Lena, and, and . . . the list goes on and on of female black singers who have unlimited access to my emotional innards.
And yet somehow I was never moved — a limb confronts me and I am about to venture out upon it with a dangerous confession– by the sanctified Marian Anderson.
Her affectations and regal bearing I found embarrassing. It takes a heart of stone not to be moved by just about anybody's rendering of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," but her choosing to make "hand" sound too much like "hahnd," and her queenly personal use of the royal "we" and "our" in both speech and writing sort of put me off. (Sorry to those for whom this admission will place me beyond redemption.)
The refreshingly robust delivery of "Amazing Grace" by Wintley Phipps last Tuesday got to me big-time. And I always worry for that great song, fearing it might grow stale through overuse. It gets trotted out to give instant depth of feeling to mediocre dramas that can't otherwise spur emotion. One year, it was the theme music of three feature films.
I find most "sacred music" pretty dismal. I don't have a strict policy of "nothing sacred." Once past the overly familiar "Mine eyes have seen the glory" stanza of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," at least a dozen lines in the sublime later verses — even just reading them — can make me gurgle and (since I don't own one) ask for a hankie.
At least a dozen lines and passages in it simply cannot be read impassively, from "I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel" to whole stanzas like:
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
One moment in that stirring hymn never fails me. Though not much of a believer, I have only to think and hum the first line of one of the less familiar stanzas to induce instant throat stricture:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free
While God is marching on.
Why was Julia Ward Howe not forced to turn out at least 20 more hit singles?
I felt bad when George Bush was booed.
But only briefly. My sympathy for that man has a half-life of about four seconds.
There was a surprising number of outpourings of sympathy for his having to sit there and, as it was too-often described, "take it on the chin." Was there ever a chin more deserving of taking it?
"You have to feel sorry for him," someone cooed. "No. You do not!" I shouted at the screen. I know he "tried" and he "did what he thought was right." But so does the incompetent surgeon.
What does that excuse?
His brief discomfort "sitting there" can't have been less endurable than the discomfort of the young soldier describing on the news how he watched helplessly as his gut-shot buddy bled to death on the sands the smirking Texan sent him to.
And a hearty sayonara to that other fellow.
Do freshman philosophy classes nowadays debate updated versions of the age-old questions? Like, how could a merciful God allow AIDS, childhood cancers, tsunamis and Dick Cheney?
As with all good entertainments, there was unintended comic relief.
Not since Robert Goulet forgot the words to the national anthem has there been a moment to rival the chief justice's blowing his lines, turning The Oath of Office into an Abbott & Costello "Who's-on first?" routine.
The giggling schoolboy side of me thought it laughable as hell. What would the funny man do next? Drop the Lincoln bible on his foot?
Yet the increasingly curmudgeonly side of me frowned and found it inexcusable. It isn't as if some tipsy, third-rate actor did it. It was the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States!
And he was playing to perhaps the largest audience in world history.
Nerves? Stage fright?
How nervous could a man in his position possibly be? As one of the dozen remaining people in the country with job security — and for life — oughtn't he be at least relatively calm?
All in all it was, to put it feebly, a day to remember.
And, remarkably, I heard, the mobs of millions produced not a single arrest. All kinds of history was made that day.
What this — as Tennessee W.'s Blanche DuBois says, "young, young, young man" can do for the country and the world is yet to be revealed.
But for starters isn't it nice having someone in the Oval Office with smarts? And class?