Thursday, July 30, 2009

Books, Etc...

One of the good things about retirement is that you have more time to read and reflect. I just finished reading Robert Caro’s, Master of the Senate. This is the writer's third volume on Lyndon Johnson. This thousand page book won Caro a Pulitzer Prize. After reading it I can see why. The author focuses on Lyndon Johnson and his lust for power. He tells about Johnson’s dark side and I came away feeling Johnson was not a pleasant person to know. But I learned a great deal about how the Senate works and does not work and how God really does “write straight lines with crooked sticks.” Brilliant and ruthless, Johnson was responsible in passing the first Civil Rights legislation since Reconstruction. The book covers one of the most remarkable periods in American history: 1949-1960. I sometimes wondered if I would ever get through this long, long book. It was a good, good read.

For Devotional reading I have been reading This I Believe II. This I Believe began on NPR when people from all walks of life would tell briefly what meant the most to them and kept them going. I had read the first volume and was excited when Volume II came out. Many of these short essays lifted my spirits. Famous folk like Yo Yo Ma, Elie Wiesel to ordinary people like a diner waitress, an Iraq war veteran and a multitude of others. People tell about forgiveness, personal integrity and being open to change. In this time when some days it really does seem like the sky is falling I find books like this to be supremely helpful.

I keep coming back to a poet I discovered just a few years ago. Alden Nowlan’s Selected Poems does the same kind of lifting my spirits as the This I Believe series. Nowlan was one of Canada’s finest poets. Hew was born in Nova Scotia. He died in 1983 but left behind poems that continue to move and help. Amazingly he only had five years of official schooling. He left school when he was twelve years old to work as a pulp cutter and millhand in the forests of the Maritimes. His poem, “He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded” tells of visiting a school for the mentally handicapped. A female resident came and sat down beside him and put her arms around him. Not knowing what to do he responded by holding her in his arms. The end of that poem is moving:

“It’s what we all want, in the end,
to be held, merely to be held,
to be kissed (not necessarily with the lips,
for every touching is a kind of kiss).

Yes, it’s what we all want, in the end,
not to be worshipped, not to be admired,
not to be famous, not to be feared,
not even to be loved, but simply to be held.”

Even though I read his poems some time ago, I keep coming back to him. He touches my heart—maybe his poems hug me when I need it.

Like Documentaries? I recommend Food, Inc. I saw the movie recently and I think it is taken from a book by that same title. The movie jolted me awake to some of the problems that greed has brought to the food industry. Thinking about it, it looks like every institution has been infected seriously with greed. Health care, education, politics, of course. This constant demand for entertainment has forced television news and newspapers to mute their most important function. Walter Cronkite’s death made many of us come to terms to how much we have lost. Money seems to run everything. And so we come back to food. I learned that corn is in just about every product we eat. Montesano controls 90% of the corn supply in this country. Farmers who do not bow to their wishes are simply squeezed out of business. Agri-business has just about killed off the farmers anyway. This is a disturbing film. If you are interested at all in one of the real problems we all face this movie would be worth seeing.

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