Retroactive Providence

It’s always good to remember the classics.

One of Karen’s favorite weekend activities is watching a movie. Or, to be more exact, multiple movies. I groaned a bit when she started streaming You Can’t Take It With You from Netflix a couple of hours ago, as I felt I had better things to do. I really didn’t feel as though I had the time to watch a black-and-white oldie that I’d never heard of.

Film is an art form in the history of which I’m not well-versed. Thus, there are many “classics” I haven’t seen. Karen is always amazed by my answering negatively to the now-infamous question in our marriage, “Have you seen _____?” In turn, I’m always amazed when she isn’t familiar with music that I thought anyone would have heard. We all have our interests. I’ve been taken by how excellent a movie this has been tonight, very pleasantly surprised. The quality of story and of acting is a higher level that we normally see today. It’s always important to be able to reference turning points in any art form. How could one be conversant in modern rock music, for example, without being somewhat familiar with Led Zepplin or the Beatles?

Likewise in our lives, it is important to be able to recall critical events, events that have turned our lives in a direction to form us as we are today. Some of the most important of those events were often less than pleasant, even painful ones. After all, discomfort, as C.S. Lewis points out, tends to turn our attention to where it needs to be most effectively. This morning, it occurred to me that my life is in a similar situation as it was several years ago. That time in my life was a critical crossroads, but, while eschewing details, a painful and difficult one. While not painful today, Karen and I find ourselves at a crossroads again, and had this morning’s thoughts not found their way into my consciousness, I fear I would have proven forgetful of the lessons learned years ago. Knowing that history repeats itself when forgotten, I’m glad that I was granted remembrance today. I’ll even say thankful, because I learned long ago that these sorts of things can’t be attributed to mere coincidence.

A strong theme in You Can’t Take It With You is providence. I find that to be a strong theme in our life, as well, and it is that providence that I am comfortable with as we prepare to make major life decisions, a knowledge that, as I heard said today, the things at work that we can’t see are bigger than the ones that are visible.

Let us all endeavor to remember our past as we strive toward our future.


A long time ago in a galaxy known as grad school, I decided to launch a blog called unobtrusive lucidity. When I created the blog and wrote my first post, I was enjoying the fact that I had the freedom to indulge the inspiration that always seems to come at late hours for me. Thus, I chose a black background for the blog. It has morphed a bit over the years, but some things have stayed the same. I still follow many of the same blogs that I encountered when I first began blogging, for example (and I still link to them on my sidebar). Unfortunately, what hadn’t changed up until now was that I have focused on the writing of the blog to the exclusion of the way the blog looked. So, in the interest of aesthetics (and after some complaints about the white font on black background), I’ve decided to correct that error.

Thus, the new look around here, which I’m continuing to adjust slightly (hopefully I’ll discover exactly how to edit the html code under this new template soon, because I’ve been unsuccessful thusfar). Hope you enjoy, and let me know what you think.

Looking Backward

Last weekend Karen and I received an impromptu invite from some family members to drive to Bedford, VA, and visit the National D-Day Memorial for Memorial Day. In the absence of other plans, this seemed as good as any, so Monday morning we awoke (much to my chagrin) early and we were off.

The D-Day Memorial isn’t quite completed yet as I understand it, but I was surprisingly impressed with the place. I say surprisingly because war memorials really aren’t my thing, but I firmly believe in observing what a holiday was intended to observe when it rolls around, so we felt it a fitting thing to do. As much as I find myself a pacifist, I think those who have fallen in the barbarism of war should be remembered. Somehow, it is the least we can do.

One of our family members who accompanied us is a vet. Visiting one of these memorials with a vet makes it into a completely different experience. He became very emotional during the visit, and for the remainder of the afternoon I enjoyed dialoguing with him about what may or may not constitute a just war. Those who have served in the military bring a very different perspective to this issue, and when they dialogue with a pacifist such as myself…well, I love our family.

Of course, being that Monday was Memorial Day, there was a ceremony there that didn’t intrigue me so much. I’ve never made any secret of dislike for ceremony, and calling a war monument a “sacred” place as one of the chaplains intoned during one of many prayers left me a bit disconcerted (although he ended the same prayer with a request for peace, which I think does not happen nearly enough). I suffered through the ceremony though, mostly by people-watching. I watched the crowd more than I did the presentation of colors or the playing of “Taps.” I observed those around me salute or place hands over hearts during the National Anthem, and I listened to the way in which the speeches were crafted. To me, the whole ceremonial thing smacked of equating patriotism with faith, which leaves a nasty taste in my mouth (although not as nasty as an opening prayer addressed to the “god of all faiths.” I’m all about being ecumenical, but sheesh…). What I found, however, was that most of the audience, at least those I could observe around me, appeared to be, at best, profoundly moved or, at least, extremely appreciative of the ceremony.

The rest of our visit was spent strolling around the monument itself, with Karen as a brochure-bearing guide, which is the way we tend to engage these things. The artistry in the sculpture was excellent, and the creative manner in which the sculptures were arranged brought my admiration (at one point, the landfall of the invasion itself is re-created with life-size statues, complete with water jetting upward to simulate bullet strikes and a stylized landing craft from which they have emerged). The gardens were arranged as a huge replica of the symbol of Operation Overlord, with a large statue of Eisenhower at the head of the sword, and busts of all of his commanders surrounding the garden, complete with biographical plaques. Even the height of the central monument is significant.

I pondered how different people relate in different ways. Our family members connected primarily through the ceremony, Karen and I primarily through the artistic symbolism of the sculpture and overall design of the Memorial. As much as I dislike ceremony, I recognize its importance, and its difference from ritual (which I find useless a vast majority of the time). Ultimately, though, all of us experienced a deep ushering into remembrance for those fallen in combat and the history of that particular hellish day. That’s what the holiday was for, and the designers of the Memorial enabled this to happen wonderfully. I think I may have found a new appreciation for these things, and certainly have a deeper appreciation of those lives and souls lost during war.

I still stop short of having appreciation of war itself.


Karen is occasionally into old episodes of the Muppet Show. I almost always have the same reaction: she puts in the DVD, I walk out of the room to do something else, convinced that I won’t be interested, only to end up coming back to watch it because it’s just a variety of comedy that isn’t done anymore, at least not done well. Many of the jokes are quick…the type you have to be on point to catch. What I enjoy about them is that they aren’t just pop culture references that only the “cool” will get, but rather cultural and artistic references in general that require education to pick up on. Tonight we watched an episode with Brooke Shields as the guest. The episode centered around the group’s humorously ill-fated attempt to do a comedic performance of Alice in Wonderland. The episode was full of fast references, visual and verbal, to this and many other fairy tales, in such a way that the audience wouldn’t pick up on them if they didn’t know what went with which, and didn’t have time to stop and think because everything kept moving. There was a reference to War and Peace early in the episode, and, my personal favorite, a performance of Jabberwocky! I couldn’t believe my ears, nor could I believe that I was able to still recite a good part of the poem along with the performance.

Why don’t we see comedy like that anymore? Don’t get me wrong, I loved Letterman through my college years, and appreciated the particular brand of humor that came with the late shows. That humor, however, was nothing compared to the educated humor that (even) the Muppet Show was able to provide. I think the reason is that our culture at large just isn’t nearly as educated as it once was.

In college, I watched an episode of Frasier in which a reference was made to someone “yelling ‘Heathcliffe!’ across the moors!” I laughed hysterically. My room-mate didn’t get it. More recently, while brainstorming a writing project for my faith community, I wrote a short piece patterned after A Modest Proposal. The editorial staff rejected it, stating that they had never heard of this essay, and thus were afraid readers wouldn’t understand my piece as satirical.

Is it possible that this many people haven’t heard of Wuthering Heights, or A Modest Proposal? Even if they haven’t read them, to have never heard of them?? The last thing I want to do here is be elitist: there are many, many pieces of literature I haven’t read. I don’t look down on those who aren’t well-read because I know all of us are gifted in different ways. Still, what happened to the level of education that was at one time held as the standard? When did the standard become exceptional?

I see an attempt in educational venues of all types, from faith communities to schools, to “bring down” the knowledge to where the audience is perceived to be. This underestimates the audience and students, whatever their age. Instead, why do we not leave the knowledge where it is and endeavor to bring the audience up to that level? The intense focus on the end result (i.e: test scores) is, I fear, doing a great deal of damage to the fabric of our culture, affirming an under-educated generation and raising one behind it that appears unapologetically ignorant in many realms. Already, the things that matter most are minimized in the name of industrialized progress. Spirituality and the arts are pushed to the back as science is deified. At the risk of pushing too hard with the sometimes sweeping generalizations I’ve made above, I have to sound the alarm: we’ve lost so much already…how will that be compounded when video completely replaces the written word, and language is degraded to succinct bullet-points in outlines?

Hopefully, that is the fear of a dark, alternate future of science fiction, and won’t ever become a reality.

If it does, though, I suppose no one will remember the genre anyway, so the irony will be lost.

True Love…In An Elevator

I was in a hospital today…well, more accurately, an outpatient wing of a major university medical center. As I was leaving to begin what would turn out to be an ordeal in the parking deck, I stepped into an empty elevator that had arrived with blissful expediency, and was waiting for the door to close. An elderly couple approached in the proverbial nick of time to beat the doors closing, asked if I was going down, and joined me in the elevator.

When I say elderly, I’m placing this couple in their upper 60’s or lower 70’s. It appeared to my brief observation that one of her eyes had just had a procedure performed, as it was red and perhaps a bit bloody. I was hesitant to make any extended eye contact…something about doing so in an elevator marks you as someone to be avoided, so my gaze shifted to the closing doors and the digital indicator of our current position between floors.

“Does it still hurt?” the man asked his wife, reaching over for her hand and taking it. She indicated that it did, more non-verbally than verbally, and he replied, “I’m sorry.”

Then we reached our floor, and went our separate ways.

While his vocal tone was tender and compassionate, the thing that struck me about this scene was his reaching for his wife’s hand; the caring and reassuring manner in which he grasped it, the way he held it as they stepped together, side by side, into the lobby of the building. There was little difference in the way I have grasped Karen’s hand in situations in which I was concerned about her. Or, for that matter, times when I’ve just been affectionate. Karen and I were taking a walk this past weekend. As we were talking about future dreams and goals, she gave me one of those smiles that are so rare and so impacting in their beauty, and I gave her hand a firm squeeze. She asked what that was for, and I told her it was “I love you” squeeze. She said she could tell.

No difference between us in our 30’s and the couple on the elevator today in their 60’s or 70’s, except that their affection toward each other, sort of like wine I guess, had grown much better with age and wisdom.

If Karen and I are still alive at 60 and 70, I hope our affection for each other has deepened the way that this couple’s obviously had, because there is so very little of that in the world at large. So little of love seems to last, because so many cheap substitutes for love abound and are readily accepted in our culture, not to mention all of the wars and pressure for possessions that drown out it’s voice. The end result, I think, is that we are at best deprived, or at worst forgetful, of the power of real love and affection. The world needs the sort of love I felt emanating from the couple in the elevator today to fly in the face of a cultural cynicism, a pervasive angst. We are in serious need of more real love.

Hopefully, in our 60’s, we’ll be like the couple today in the elevator. And, hopefully, someone perhaps newly married will be observing us in a given situation as I was observing them today. And, if so, then hopefully we’ll inspire that person.

Hopefully. Because hope is what that kind of love is all about.