But, one worries: is it possible to gain all and to have it not matter? As the saying goes: To gain the whole earth but to lose your mortal soulâ€? With so many greedy neo-conservatives poised to pack the Supreme Court and to turn back the clock on all the social gains of the past two and a half centuries, many of us, in this case at least, sincerely hope not.
[Notes From The Frontline]
Through intermittent rain, that helped moderate high temperatures we celebrated Independence Day on the 4th.
Transforming the night outside into deep leafy dark, a smoky, enveloping mist veiled the sparkle of fire works and fire flies alike.
Each year, like clockwork, my friend, Hal Bromm, an art dealer-interior designer-preservationist in Tribeca, invites 100 people to his country house for a party. A diverse group, with little in common, apart from esteem for our host, we happily gather to celebrate July, 4th.
Stately, notwithstanding his casual bearing, Bromm is the quintessential patrician. Whenever he entertains, there’s always lots of superb food and drink. Sun, art, antique and flower filled, his retreat near the Delaware River, is an old fashioned Italianate farmhouse. It was expanded in the 1870s to host hot, paying summer guest from the city. As a result of this addition, Bromm’s place boasts 12 spare bedrooms.
At last year’s fete, Bromm and his partner, Doneley Meris, an Aids activist, solemnized 20 years together with a commitment ceremony. Through it all, Bromm and Meris, meets life’s pains, pleasures and privilege with an easy poise.
Central to his festivities is Bromm’s aged, increasingly ailing mother. Though wheel chair-bound, touchingly, she dresses in red, white and blue to gamely join in the fun. Trained as a chef and expert at applying makeup, Grace Bromm’s nurse today, Martha, is from Haiti.
A great aspect of Bromm and Meris’ house is its lengthy porch below high trees. An annual feature of its decoration is old bunting and innumerable flags. “Why?” asks this visitor from the Caribbean, smiling, so one sees her gold tooth, “do you-all have so many flags for your party?”
As one grows older, few things become as valuable as an obvious but unexpected question. Like little else, they force one to examine and analyze what it is that you believe.
Outlining the moving pageant of American history, we cover a lot of ground. Jefferson, like Washington, Madison, Munroe and Jackson, owned slaves. Yet, 268 years ago, he wrote, right in the Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal.”
Brilliantly, he and other men who owned fellow human beings, also laboriously formulated a system that facilitated slavery’s dissolution, one that even now, allows for our nation‘s redemption. “Which actions represented the real man,” asks Martha of our second executive?
It’s wonderful to be a student of history. “Of all our studies…,” wrote Malcolm X, “history is best qualified to reward our research.” What’s especially great is to realize, again and again, how people from Washington to Lincoln, though they did many dreadful things in their lives, each did so much more that was laudable.
Naturally, we ought to all be careful to leave an exemplary record. Famous or not, we’re bound to be watched and imitated by someone. A great President, who initiated key early civil rights measures, Franklin D. Roosevelt, also led America out of the Great Depression.
However, in a misguided desire to vigorously pursue the Second World War, he also disregarded the Constitution and Federal law. It was, the president felt, alright to take such questionable actions, because America was backed into a corner, engaged in a viscous contest with crucial consequences.
So, hard working American citizens, on account of nothing more than their Japanese ancestry, were rounded up and interred. Drafted to fight and serving with distinction, African Americans were forced to do menial work. Often unable to vote at home, in segregated units we fought to keep our country safe and to free foreigners abroad.
Worse, in the name of hastening the war’s end, Roosevelt willfully ignored the murder of millions. Far short of ordering that European rail lines and death camps be bombed, he didn’t even urge a change in immigration laws to save groups threatened with annihilation by our German enemy.
Tragically, it’s this shameful, flaunting of decency and the law and not FDR’s valorous endeavors that President Bush has used to justify his own foolish illegal and immoral actions. But, as I explained to Martha, about Jefferson and Roosevelt: “With some people, even if what they do, sometimes, is regrettable, history shows, that if they are great, they can still do wonderful things; things that diminish their miss-steps to a point, that by comparison, they almost become insignificant.”
Frankly, this is what many of us are hoping now about Senator Obama. Sure, the road to the White House might well to be paved with right-leaning “compromises.” Perhaps granting immunity to communication companies, firms that helped the President by-pass the law, isn’t really as bad as it sounds? After all, Malcolm X also wrote: “By Any Means Necessary!”
But, one worries: is it possible to gain all and to have it not matter? As the saying goes: To gain the whole earth but to lose your mortal soul”?
With so many greedy neo-conservatives poised to pack the Supreme Court and to turn back the clock on all the social gains of the past two and a half centuries, many of us, in this case at least, sincerely hope not.
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