Tuesday, November 2, 2010

We Are the Heirs of that First Revolution

Today is Election Day. If you haven't yet voted, STOP reading this and do that. There is nothing more important today than voting-save this dithering for dessert and I'll hope I can deal with that pressure.

For no especial reason, I've been thinking about how my generation pretty much screwed our children out of the joys of literature. When you next visit your library, take a look at where the action is. Wherever boxes with wires going into the wall are located, that's where the traffic goes--IUA, Internet Uber Alles. Few of us, adults and/or children and/or their children spend a lot of time anymore with books. We lack the patience to read them or the attention span to appreciate the intricacies of plot lines and character development. Even Reader's Digest is too long...well, almost.

We can do magazines because by the time we get bored with whatever the article is about, it's over and both we and they are on to something else. One day last week or so, a friend from another life with whom I've reconnected on Facebook, Sara J, shared an item that had been shared with her from the mind of Stephen Fry, as clever a person as I'll never meet. And then Sunday, speaking of clever people I've never met, one more passed away, Theodore Sorensen.

In light of the assaults on language to which we are subjected in every election campaign cycle (which now means in perpetuity since the cycle has neither ending nor beginning), Sorensen's passing is worth noting but I wanted more to celebrate his life and most importantly, his words. You cannot think of Sorensen without Profiles in Courage, a Pultizer-prize winning book written by then Senator John F. Kennedy (but conceded to be Sorensen's work).

I devoured that book as a child as Kennedy, the first Roman Catholic elected to the Presidency of the United States-'ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country' (heady stuff, indeed for a third grader in St Peter's School in New Brunswick, New Jersey), was murdered shortly before Thanksgiving 1963 in Dallas, Texas (November 22) and television, the electric fire in the living room, replaced newspapers and radio as our first choice for news.

Later, we realized there was no need to read or even listen closely as pictures told the stories (man walking on the moon, the Fall of Saigon and so much more) and it was even later we learned the images were processed by the left hemisphere of our brain, responsible for daydreams where words and thoughts seemed to have less import and importance until they disappeared entirely.

"We campaign in poetry and govern in prose." Most of Kennedy's words written and spoken, which I found so intoxicating as a child and young adult, were penned by Ted Sorensen in the service of a greater good and a larger purpose. On your way home today after voting, stop at your library and see if they have his book Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History (this may have to do for now).

I'd hope we can say of Ted Sorensen as he used to observe about Ambassador Joseph Kennedy (father of Joe, John, Bobby and Ted), "(He) was never present, but his presence was never absent." We shan't read his likes again, ever.
-bill kenny

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