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E.M. Monroe

"I knew, not from memory, but from hope, that there were other models by which to live." Weems

Month

May 2014

Models Monday: Memorial Day

Norah Jones’s rendition of the Gene Scheer song “American Anthem” hits all the right notes and it frames my thoughts about this Memorial Day.

My grandfather, Charles Albert Hite, served in World War II and by all accounts he was none too happy about it. My Uncle Eric wrote about my grandfather’s views on serving in some of our correspondence. According to Uncle E’s memory, my grandfather “listened to FDR’s speech promising all them mamas that their boys would be safe from the draft, but if I can remember correctly,” notes my uncle, “he and Uncle Frank received their draft notices the next week.” What isn’t apparent from the Honorable Discharge report itself and my grandfather’s frustration with FDR involved his enlistment date on February 19, 1943: my grandparents were married only six days before he was drafted on February 13, 1943.

The Honorable Discharge report shows that my grandfather mastered the rifle, but according to my Uncle E, my grandfather had no interest in using his skills. “I can remember the Ole Man being angry at the Blacks back home who constantly went to the press about wanting the Blacks to have a bigger participation in the War effort,” he writes. According to my uncle, my grandfather “didn’t like that shit at all.” In fact, my uncle continues, “he was real cool with ‘digging ditches,’ and didn’t want nothing to do with the fighting.”

Today, as it is Memorial Day, I think about my grandfather’s service now through the lyrics of Jones’s resonant voice–even though those lyrics don’t quite fit his story. When I think of my grandfather, I wonder how he must have processed going into war with a new wife and and a baby on the way. I wonder how flimsy hope must have felt to him as he thought about making it back to them. My grandfather was fortunate since he did return to his wife and son. Today, I’m wondering about the soldiers he met who didn’t make it back. Did they have young wives and children who inspired their dreams of making it through the war? For my grandfather, Norah Jones’s bluesy, plaintive voice doesn’t quite strike at the core of what he might have been feeling–Louis Armstrong’s (What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue best captures the frustrations of a Black man from the Jim Crow South sent off to fight for a country that did not even protect him from Kentucky. When I imagine the friends that he might have lost, though, Norah Jones’s tender, raspy voice moves in deeply when I think of their mothers. I think of the soldiers telling what they might have believed but when Jones sings “America, America, I gave my best to you,” I imagine their mothers singing that part and I am deeply moved.

I know a lot of folk who celebrate Memorial Day with barbecues and picnics on Sunday. When I look around my neighborhood, there aren’t too many folks partying today, which seems appropriate. Today should really be a day for thinking about those mothers who gave us their “very best.”

Models Monday: Racial vs. Racist

Jane O’Toole, the woman who exposed Wolfeboro Police Commissioner Robert Copeland after hearing him call President Obama a nigguh, was even further appalled when Copeland wrote her a letter wherein he maintains his views about the President. O’Toole confessed to being shocked and appalled that Copeland made “an open admission of being racial.” Racial? I wonder why O’Toole described Copeland as being “racial” and not racist? What exactly does her choice of the adjective “racial” describe?

It’s as if nothing can be described as racist these days: Kill a black kid for walking home wearing a hooded sweatshirt in the rain–not racist; Kill a black kid for playing music that you don’t like and think is too loud–not racist; Imprison a black woman for firing a warning shot to prevent an abusive man from killing her–not racist; Kill a black girl who knocks on your door in the night after being wounded in a car accident–not racist.

I hope the Wolfeboro community sees fit to examine Copeland’s involvement in building and gathering evidence against suspected and convicted criminals under his watch. I’m convinced that being “racial” influenced how Copeland maintained law and order in Wolfeboro. Unfortunately, since this community only appears to think that Copeland said an embarrassing and bad word, it is highly unlikely that they will seek anything more than his resignation.

Given the apparent moratorium on racist activity or racist action being possible at this moment in U.S. history, silencing bad words apparently passes for justice. Unlike O’Toole, I find Copeland’s smugness, arrogance, defiance, disrespect, as well as his hateful description of “the current occupant of the Whitehouse [sic]” as all the evidence I need to determine that he’s racist. It wouldn’t be prudent to find comfort in Copeland’s age, as if he represents a dying breed. Substituting “racial” for “racist” ensures that racism will never die…

Models Monday: Jogging

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Yesterday, a family friend asked me  about building endurance given her quest to run five miles. Given that she prefaced her remarks by referencing my track and field history, this became my starting point for addressing her question. I was around 8-years-old when I first joined a track team so I explained that my endurance resulted from continuous training. In order to build endurance, I suggested that commitment and dedication to practicing consistently were at least two requirements. My friend went on to tell me how she had walked five miles and now wants to run the distance. I told her that walking before running is a reasonable place to start, but going from walking five miles to running the distance will be littered with frustrations without a sensible strategy. To that end, I told her that if she wants to eventually run five miles, she should set her sights on running one mile first. It makes sense that a novice to the sport would set a five mile goal given that road races are commonly set at this distance, but there’s even a step before this. The standard distance for cross-country races is 3.1 miles. Recognizing these levels prompted me to I ask my friend a few questions: What timeline are you working on? Is there a road race you’re aiming to participate in? Can you combine walking and running until you can run the entire mile? In response, she told me that what she really wants to do is “to go for a jog.”

I guess when you live in the United States your entire life and are inundated with the uncontested assumption that dreaming is a civil right, it then makes sense to just wake up one morning and decide that whatever you say you want to exist should simply happen. Manifest. Be. My friend was dumbfounded by her inability to run five miles given that “that’s just what [she wanted] to do.” Being asked to present a plan for realizing this goal, led to her own discovery that she just wanted “to go for a jog.” If you have an end in mind, like running five miles, and you don’t have a reasonable plan for bringing this about, you’re still just running around aimlessly; running, as in my friends case, lacks purpose in such a scenario.

I’m happy it didn’t take very long in our discussion before my friend made her goals explicit because I didn’t have to waste too much time taking her seriously. Taking someone seriously takes time! If I had invested this time, I would have asked questions about speed; about improving; about races beyond 5k. As it stands, I don’t understand why my friend just can’t go for a jog if that’s what she wants to do. What’s stopping her? If it doesn’t matter how fast she goes or if she stops and walks during the five mile course, it’s not clear to me why she can’t just run or walk, fast or slow, today or tomorrow…what difference does it make? There are no requirements for one’s hobbies. If you want to jog five miles, jog five miles…good grief.

 

Models Monday: Consolation

As I’ve been reading The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing, a collection edited by Kevin Young, I’ve considered how this book might have worked as a dynamic text. Two songs that I keep playing in my head while thinking about scoring the book, if you will, are Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter” and Mike & the Mechanics’ “The Living Years.” Both songs confront different forms of loss. Henley’s song contemplates the end of a romantic relationship and the Mechanics’ song addresses regret upon the death of a loved one.

Henley asks a question in “The Heart of the Matter” that I find compelling and also apt in its description of history: “How can love survive in such a graceless age?” I’m hard pressed to name an age in U.S. history and culture that wasn’t “graceless;” the contemporary moment certainly fits this description. Rather than despair, as I am wont to do, these images offer some consolation that kindness and compassion are possible:

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