Friday, December 30, 2011


I was about thirteen when I first read Invictus, by William Ernest Henley, it immediately became my most favorite piece of prose and has remained near the top of my list of favorite things to read and feel, even today over five decades later.  I was quite upset when Timothy McVeigh chose to recite that beautiful poem as his last words on the day that a needle was inserted into his vein to deliver, via the attached tubes, drugs to stop his heart stopping his life in exchange for the lives of one hundred sixty eight men, women and children whose lives he stole and for the injuries to eight hundred more occupants of the federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and for the families he destroyed.

The words of Invictus recited by a heroic figure on his or her death bed would seem appropriate, but just the thought of a mass murderer thinking his life could be reflected in those words simply sickens me.

Henley was a heroic figure. At the age of twelve he was stricken by Tuberculosis of the bone and at age seventeen, in order to save his life, it was necessary to amputate his leg just below his knee.  Henley lived in England, had he lived in the United States, he would have joined the untold number of young men who lost limbs as a result of battlefield action during the American Civil War that had just ended.

Just like the Americans who had to adjust, Henley led an active life until he died at age fifty-three in 1903, the year my father was born.  He was a man so full of vitality that he inspired his friends with his active lifestyle, even though his life was interrupted for often and sometimes long stints in the hospital.  His friend, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote to him after the publication of Treasure Island and said:

"I will now make a confession. It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver...the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you".

For those of you that may have never read Invictus, I will share the beautiful words and deepest thoughts of a beautiful man who chose to share them with the world.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

In truth, life in general is simply a walk through hell.  This thing we call life and cling to so stingily is just years of sadness, tears, and intense sorrow.  We go through life wanting what we can never acquire and wanting to hold a position we can never attain.  We harm others as we scramble after the same limited rewards.

Love is a very elusive prize but a very common emotion.  Each of us crave love at some level.  We each have our own definition of exactly what love is. Love can be a dangerous thing that involves sharing the most intimate thoughts, words, and actions with others and risking hurt if that love is unrequited or the mutual emotion dies.  But, without love, life would be nothing.  While love could be fleeting, much of the time it is lasting, everything else, however, is definitely fleeting.  Those material things we clamor after, many times stepping on friends and foes alike will remain here in the material world when our time here is expired, but love will follow us beyond the grave.

Henley, through his life as well as his words gives us a blueprint for how to live, and die.  No matter how badly the world beats us up, we still have the opportunity, if we take it, to stand tall, shake our fists, and yell to the world and to the heavens that we may have been beaten but we did not break and that what ever punishment or reward awaits us at the next stage of life, we earned by living a life of virtue and avoiding the moral corruptions that surround and tempt us constantly and ignoring the taunts of others.  We can all be heroes if we do not waver and as we pass from here to there we can have on our lips that proclamation best expressed in the last two lines of Invictus.

When I read the words of Invictus, my thoughts have a tendency to drift to the Jews, and others, who were subjected to the most unthinkable horrors known to the modern world during the Holocaust Period of Nazi Germany, and yet held true to who they were and did not give up their personhood, and in the end, those who survived, could stand, for themselves as well as those who had their lives snuffed out by the animals who established and ran the camps, bloodied but unbowed, victorious against those that sought to destroy them.

Tim McVeigh had no right to utter those words, he was no hero, he destroyed life.  He appointed himself the arbiter of what was right and what was wrong, then became the executioner of those he judged to be wrong.

Those who walked out of the death camps, those who gave their lives or limbs on battlefields, those who stood against hatred and violence were heroes and can claim the message of Henley’s words as their own.



Recently I watched a program on the local PBS station.  The program, “John Sebastian Presents: Folk Rewind” was the backdrop for the PBS fund drive.  As I watched, it became evident to me that the program meant more to me than the PBS telethon and brought back memories and stirred deep emotions      some caused me to face very disturbing questions.

So that you understand my need to look in the mirror and ask questions that may not have an answer, I was born in 1944.  I grew up during the most volatile and rapid change in the psyche of the nation and, in my opinion, the world.  I refer to myself as a child of the sixties because, even though I, and most people of my age, had thought about and discussed the future, who we were going to be in that future and how we would fit into that future, before the sixties arrived, it was during the 1960s that we put into practice those things we said we believed, those things we said were important to us and to the world, and when we became who we think are, and that we have been throughout these several decades.  For the record, I served our country during the turmoil in Southeast Asia.

Those of us that grew up in that period had high ideals, many will not see it that way, but we were out to build a better world.  Each of us, no matter our political ideology, social class, or race felt that we were contributing to the future as we envisioned it.  For some reason, I was part of what you may consider to be the more radical segment of the Post World War II Generation.

I grew up in North Eastern Ohio.  The Civil Rights Movement was just gathering steam and we did not understand what it was all about.  Where we lived, there was no race problem, at least to our young eyes.  Black and white lived near each other, we went to school together, played sports together, hung out together after school, some of us Do-Wopping, hoping that we were going to be the next Dion and the Belmonts or The Drifters.  As I got older, and after my excursion into the heart of the activity, I noticed that blacks lived near whites, but not like next door.  I realized that, even in Ohio, there were places where black people did not go and I realized the degrading nature of some of the names that were used in reference to black people.  By the time I left home, I heard young people, my age, using the very words we hated so much when we heard them form our parents generation.

We had such high ideals and such high hopes of changing the world, and then we were gone.  We were still here physically but most of us had to change our focus from changing the world to putting food on the tables of our young families.  Advancing in our jobs so that we could make more money and have more things became more important to us than the billions of our tax dollars that were being spent around the world influencing governments so as to shape them into our vision of what they should be.

Suddenly one day, we looked around and discovered that we had become the very thing that we had fought so hard to destroy.  We had become them.  We were part of the establishment, living our lives of affluence, always wanting more and not caring about the suffering that many may have endured to bring it all to us.

We dreamed, and fought for real education, education that would prepare students for the world they would someday enter.  The two sizes fits all educational system of the 1950s needed to be updated with more individual attention for those with learning difficulties and curricula designed with the person in mind rather than the cookie cutter systems we had all grown accustomed to.

We dreamed of, and fought for equality.  Not just for the word but for the meaning.  We wanted every person in America to be afforded the same right to a good education as his or her neighbor.  We wanted every person of legal age to participate in the election of government officials and to vote on issues and to run for and be elected to government offices.  We wanted any person with the means to pay for a home to be able to buy a home in any neighborhood and to live in harmony with their neighbors as part of the community.

We dreamed of, and fought for peace.  Peace, in our community, in our country, and in our world.

What happened?  Where and when did our dreams get derailed?  To where did we, and our big dreams of a better world disappear?

Today, the poverty we dreamed of eliminating encompasses more of our countries citizens and is deeper than any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s.  To add to the despair of those in the most need, members of our congress are fighting to eliminate the very programs put into place, during and after that Great Depression, to ensure that the basic needs of all American Citizens would be met.

Shady real estate brokers and their equally shady Wall Street cohorts cheated the process of home sales and the handling of the subsequent mortgages so severely that they have sent this country’s and the world’s economies to near total collapse, and profited from the whole mess.  As their empires began to disintegrate, we, the taxpayers, were forced to bail them out of their troubles and save their companies.  They used our tax dollars to pay themselves, the very people who destroyed our economy, put millions on the unemployment line, caused thousands of businesses to close, pension funds to shrink to such a level that made retirement for most a forgotten dream and destroyed the lives of many already counting on their pensions to live, multi-million dollar bonuses.

We have engaged in two wars lasting a decade and financed by raiding the Social Security Trust Fund and borrowing money from China.

As these events unfolded and continue to unfold, our national balance sheet presents us with a deficit so large it is hard to comprehend.  The answer for many of our members of congress is to eliminate the programs that assist the poor and elderly while refusing to allow a slightly higher tax rate to be levied on the richest, very small, segment of our population.  Our country has become populated with people whose motto seems to be, “I got mine, screw you.”

Somehow and by someone, a determination has been made that our public school systems are failing students.  There seems to be two main reasons cited for this situation; the failure of some students to pass a standardized test and the fact that teachers belong to a union and therefore get paid too much.  The resolution; get rid of the public schools, except to serve the poor and basically disenfranchised students, and use our tax money to fund private schools, catering only to those students the private, for profit, school operators deem worthy of their particular school and whose parents can pay the additional tuition.  This plan will, as it is intended to do, leave the children with the most need stuck in the remaining public schools with very limited resources, like books, teachers, chalk, you get the picture!

I do not have enough years left to list all the wrongs I see in this once great country.  What disappoints me most is my generation, including me, that gave up the fight far too soon and then failed to pass the torch.  The Occupy Movement is far to disorganized and lacks the commitment, and intestinal fortitude, to bring this country back to its senses.  What we need is another round of “children of the sixties” to wake us all back up before it is too late.  It may be too late now!  Think about it!

This was written by a nineteen year old young man in 1965.  This video is one of many.  Some show scenes from the 1960s, some, like this one are updated.

Same old world, only worse