Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


A Year of Thanks

A human thing

What she told us last night, among other things, was that she was much despised among some members of her community. What they wouldn't really forget, she said, was that she wasn't born among them, had spent her first several years a long ways away, and had a spirit that was, they claimed, well, different. What she told us was that some in her community don't like her or are afraid of her, even though she'd come to love their customs, their traditions, their means of making meaning out of life itself--traditions which are, by the way, hers too.

What she told us was that some other people thought that she acted too much like people from the world, people from outside the community. What she told us was that some, at least, didn't trust her because, by their perceptions, she'd had no faith in the way things had always gone; they accuse her of abandoning her very identity because she isn't doing things the old way.

She told us much more too--much, much more--and she never acted like--nor played--the victim. Not once did she attempt to secure our sympathy or pity. She just told us what she thought life is like right now. She told us the truth.

She's Native American, just as Native as her community.

This morning, after a wonderful presentation last night, it's a joy to recognize that the phenomenon she described--the skeptical sneer of traditionalists, the distrust of those who don't want to change--isn't just a Native thing. It's a human thing. Happens in my community too: the sometimes rough-and-tumble push-and-pull of tradition vs. change.

I'm thankful, really thankful, for the many colors we humans come in because we're blessed by our glorious diversity. But I'm even more thankful to have seen once more that, somewhere beneath those coats of many colors, we're all powered, for better and for worse, by pretty-much-the-same human heart.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


from A Year of Morning Thanks

Heart

I received a CD from a friend a few days ago, the story of the history of church music, sweetly told by a musician, who embedded plenty of old favorites within the story he was telling—including early Christian music and a gorgeous Gregorian chant. Luther’s “Mighty Fortress” was sung by a choir in the way Luther intended that old favorite sung, a style which made it sound more like its own antecedent chants.

One of old hymns, Wesley’s “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” sung in joyous solemnity by the audience, just made me cry. I don't know why, but there I was, walking down the street, ear phones in, blubbering. No one saw me.

In the ever-present battles between mind and heart in the life of this college professor, mind quite regularly wins, reason triumphs, and that’s okay. But at that moment, on an ordinary city street, just for a moment, I suffered an attack of the heart. As John Donne once wished, I was assaulted, battered by a three-personed God.

But then, why make it a war? Out there on that busy street, tears rather mysteriously flowing, really everybody won.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008



Clearing the Land


Tomorrow night, a woman named Sarah Snake will visit a class I teach and, I hope, introduce my white students to Native American life. Never met her. She's coming in with a Father Korth from the St. Augustine Mission School, in Winnebago, Nebraska, and the two of them will talk with us about Native life today--especially, I suppose among the Winnebagos.

I may well be the only human being in the world who cares, but, in a way, I have a history with Sarah Snake and her people. The Winnebago history includes lots of warfare, of course, but it also includes dramatic and unprincipled displacement by the hoardes of white folks coming west, mid-century in the 1800s. One can spin the story in a variety of ways, but the inevitable and irreversible fact is that the Winnebago people were kicked around throughout the upper Midwest by white folks from a dozen or more European countries and Easterners looking for adventure and free land (or so they thought) in the upper Great Lakes region, my own Great-great grandparents, an immigrant family from the Netherlands among them.

That anyone from my family ever met anyone from Ms. Snake's family is beside the point. My people, my tribe, most assuredly displaced her people, her tribe, in a sad story that begins in the 1840s, and doesn't end--if it ends at all--until the eventual relocation of the Winnebago people (or a part of them) out here in the rolling hills of northeast Nebraska.

I've never met a Winnebago. This will be a first. I look forward to it. Should I tell her I'm sorry? Should this story come up? What would my white students say if I apologized to her in front of them? What's an apology worth almost 200 years later? What would it really mean from me? What might it mean to her?

For all of these questions, I have no answers. I have only the history.

"The early pioneers, who came to the unbroken wilderness in the early days, felled the trees of the forest and cleared the land ready for the plow, deserve much praise and commendation from the generations who have entered in to reap the fruits of their labor. One of these men, who should receive one of the first places of history of his adopted county and state, is the sturdy pioneer whose name appears at the head of this biography. He is well and favorably known in Sheboygan County, where he has lived since 1846, being one of the oldest settlers living."

So begins the biography of my Great-great grandfather, Evert Hartman.

"With his father and the remainder of the family, our subject came to this [Sheboygan] county in 1846. They were compelled to take their axes and cut roads land, paying $1.25 per acre. This property was in the midst of the forest and had never before been occupied by while settlers. Then the hardships and trials of the early pioneer were experienced, for they had very little to eat, not much clothing, and scarcely any of the comforts of life. The red men were still numerous in this section, but were not troublesome to the white settlers, except as beggars. The first home of the Hartman family was a rude log cabin, with puncheon floor, and the chimney was a simple stovepipe thrust through the clapboard roof."

Here's the intersection, I suppose: "The red men were still numerous in this section, but were not troublesome to the white settlers, except as beggars."

Were the "red men" Winnebagos, or Pottawatomie, or Fox--I'll never know which tribe; but I do know this: history makes clear that the Winnebagos were dispossessed of most of their Wisconsin lakeshore lands and eventually--after a series of moves--relocated to the treeless hills just west of the Missouri River. This fact seems irrefutable: my great-grandparents, and every generation since, were buried on Winnebago land.

I wish I knew what to do with history. Do we simply dismiss it? 175 years have passed, after all. But it seems to me that we have an ordinary word for those who have no memory--they're senile.

On the other hand, I've met more than my share of people who've been misshapen by the trauma of their own history. Emotional scars are not easy to heal. My own denomination broke away from its own mother church, in part because the mother simply didn't regard the agony of scars my people suffered in persecution in Holland. History divides. History can conquer, should we allow it.

I don't claim to know the value of history in this moment. What I do know is that, almost 200 years ago, my poor, immigrant great-great grandparents, who came to America with hardly anything at all, found--and "cleared"--rich land on the forest edge of Lake Michigan, in a state that would become known as Wisconsin, where he built a home for his family and people, me among them.

That's my story.

Tomorrow night I'll meet Sarah Snake, a Winnebago. It's not hers.
________________________________________

NOTE: The photo at the top celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Sheboygan County Dutch immigrant pioneers at a gathering in 1896 or so. At the very center of the photo, four rows back and beneath the men standing, are two men. The man to the right, with the strap beard, is Evert Hartman, my great-great grandfather.

Monday, January 28, 2008


from A Year of Morning Thanks

Getting Patronized

Not long ago, in class, I was trying to explain something students sometimes have trouble understanding.

I must have tried too hard. After five minutes of my own incessant blabbering, I looked at them and asked them if they understood. “Questions?” I said.

No one moved.

“Get it?” I said.

No response.

“Am I beatin’ a dead horse here?” I said. “You’ve got it, right?”

When they looked at me almost pathetically, half smiles all around, I understood I'd gone on too long.

The older I get, the harder it is for me to see myself as others see me. I wish that weren’t true; but, this morning, I’m thankful, at least, that I can still see when I’m being patronized, albeit sweetly.

I hope God never takes away my vision, even if, for some reason, he someday takes my eyes.

Sunday, January 27, 2008



A New World

Finished up On Beauty this week, a Dickensian novel, by Zadie Smith, that features a whole score of central characters from two families linked by both the fathers' careers art historians and their widely divergent political and religious views. On Beauty is set in suburban Boston mostly, also in England, and features a whole syllabus of sweet derision about academia, where, as someone long ago said, the fights are always so absurdly viscious because the turf is always so incredibly small. Much of the novel is really a romp, a satire.

Somehow, on my suggestion, it became the read-of-the-month for our department's little book club--before I'd read it (I'd seen a front page review in the NY Times that was more than gracious), which is to say before I'd waded through a couple of vivid sex scenes that left my glasses thoroughly steamed. I was thrilled when just two kids showed up at the book club last week; some parent could have had me burned at the stake for suggesting their children witness that level of explicitness.

I may yet escape with my life.

Anyway, I liked the novel for a bunch of reasons, but one of them--maybe the most significant--is that while the book is all about the racial tensions that exist in this country, it's take is really brand new. I took courses in African-American literature, one in a college where there were no blacks in the class, the other at an urban university where I was one of only two whites. What linked both classes and the reading lists was the racial narrative that we've used to undergird the dialogue about race for more than a century now. The story is slavery and its legacy.

I grew up in a provincial culture of Dutch Calvinist people, most of whom didn't know a black person. Yet, my own God-fearing grandfather, who spent some good time weeping for his sins, was a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies because they were the last team to integrate. I have no idea where racism ever entered the hearts and souls of ordinary people in Oostburg, Wisconsin, but it did, my family also.

What most surveys illustrate about the Millennials, Generation Y, is that they somehow don't have it. Something, somehow, got explunged from the DNA--I don't know how. One can speculate, however--is it the fact that the media has made Oprah into the most well-known woman in the world? Does the color-blindness younger people grow from tolerance lessons they've been given in school and on TV for all of their lives? Who knows? Read the surveys yourself. Try Pew, for instance: http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?PageID=754 .

On Beauty is a novel that Jesse Jackson just wouldn't get--and even if he would, he wouldn't want to. It's a novel without the earmarks of the civil rights struggles of the Sixties. It's a novel about identity, not identity politics, and that's a significant part of its energy. Zadie Smith, like Barack Obama, is bi-racial, of mixed racial heritage.

Last night, after Obama's thumping of what people call "Billary," MSNBC featured two pundits I really appreciate--and there are many these days, and many I appreciate. On one hand, Eugene Robinson, of the Washington Post, and the other, Pat Buchanan, himself an ex-candidate. In the post-primary analysis, and for reasons of his own, I'm sure, Buchanan insisted that Bill and Hillary wouldn't stop the way rough-and-tumble way they campaigned in South Carolina, that they would continue to bait the race with race because, he insisted, ultimately that kind of divisiveness will win. And Billary knows how to win and will do anything get there.

Eugene Robinson took issue because, he said, Obama is something new. The exit polls--if they can be believed--made it very clear that among the young, who voted in droves, the racial lines that separated their parents and more specifically their grandparents, were simply gone. Obama's race, to the young, makes no difference. They live in a different world.

Pat just shook his head, as if Mr. Robinson was tilting at windmills.

I think Robinson is right. We're moving into a new era and leaving behind the most significant grand narratives that have been at the heart of our thinking and posturing--the whole Sixties' thing. Bill and Hillary, like me, a products of that turbulent era; they're stamped with it, as I am. They carry its whole load of triumphs and losses; their identities are tied up with pounding the pavement to a different drummer, telling their own parents they were dead wrong about Vietnam.

When our former President says, as he did yesterday, that Obama could be expected to win South Carolina because Jesse Jackson did, he's not lying; but he's spinning the truth with ideas and divisions manifest in the old civil rights paradigm, a paradigm slowly exiting the stage. What he and Hillary and Pat Buchanan have trouble understanding, I think, is that we live in a new world.

It's not nirvana, but Obama represents, right now, a significant generational shift. He's black--or is he? Amazingly, just two short months ago, he wasn't black enough, as he said this week. Now it seems, to some he's too black. But not to young people, and they're voting. Interestingly enough, there are actually more Millennials than Boomers. It's time to reprise Dylan because once again the times are a changin'.

In this morning's NY Times, Caroline Kennedy says she believes she sees in Obama something of the charisma so many people saw claim they saw in her own father. Okay. The man is inspiring. To hear that victory speech last night--as in Iowa--was to hear poetry, really. But lots of people can give good speeches. Hitler could pack the house.

He's not a messiah, and there's no question about his having to put his boots on the ground from here on in, if he hasn't already. But I like him. He got my vote in the Iowa caucuses, and, should Billary go down in defeat, I'll vote for him again.

But what's even more interesting to me is what's happening before our eyes. He's leading a charge from a younger generation who've grown up in the shadow of anti-war protests and are now asserting the inevitability of a new way. The race problems in this country are not going away--racial divides are not gone from the world Zadie Smith creates in On Beauty.

But they're different. And I think that's a good thing.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Saturday Morning's Catch




Shooting pictures out here on the edge of the Plains isn't all that easy--either that, I'm too old to learn. This morning the sun came up behind a band of clouds that turned the eastern sky into a campfire--small but spectucular. I didn't get it, sadly enough, and in just a few moments the fire was gone. I tried.

Once the sun cleared that low-slung battleship of cloudiness, it rose robustly. There isn't much color, mid-winter, so basically, on a landscape as broad and open as ours, the only materials convenient are tree limbs--dark and scraggly lines against the nothingness.







They do catch at least something of the cold.



Sometimes sheer texture can be interesting.





And I ran across this old corn crib/barn or whatever, three doors within ten feet of each other. Three brothers once lived there. People said they had a heckuva time getting along (I made that up). Maybe it once was the county jail. Who knows?



Only bunnies call it home today.






I stayed out a long time but didn't come back with much. It was almost ten degrees--felt balmy. Just a little Saturday morning therapy on the Northern Plains.

Friday, January 25, 2008


A Year of Morning Thanks


Cabin Fever


Mid-January has been an ice-box, and I’ve got cabin fever, a symptom of which is crankyness, another, the resolute inability to see the world I live in, despite its beauty, as the winter wonderland it really is. If in mid-November we'd had the snow-cover we do now, I would have been struck dumb, and out daily with the camera. Today, three months into winter and two weeks of temps so cold you have to thaw out chunks of steam to know what you were saying--after all that cold and all that snow, I'm tired of it, as most are, I'm sure.

Right now, all one can do is dream. Wednesday, shoveling back the latest couple inches of snow, I got a jolt of joy just imagining that somewhere beneath that foot-high bank at the edge of the sidewalks, a couple of itchy spears of grass were checking their own calendars. Last night, walking back from school late at night, the temp was -15; this morning, on my way to work out, it was +10, maybe even a balmy 12. Felt like seventy, I swear.

There's a long haul of school ahead, more writing work than I can shake a pen at. Buried as I am beneath all this cold and snow and work, right now the only sweet releif is to dream.


It's the end of January, and, I'm going to assert that we're probably. . .therefore. . .maybe. . .well. . .over the hump—knock on wood. For certain, I can say this: until, once winter's prison doors are flung wide open--and that will happen--my frosty heart is warmed by the image of quiet dusk on a Minnesota lake, late June, walleyes biting. And if they aren't biting, that's okay too.

Up in the cabin on the hill, my wife is curled up on the couch, shorn of responsibility, reading some book she loves. Soon enough, I'll dock the boat, hike up there, make her a s'more--maybe two, the lowly sounds of the loons behind us from the open windows. That kind of night. Who knows?--maybe we'll light a bit of our own early summer cabin fever.

Late January, from here on the edge of the Plains, that dreamy narrative--this mid-winter, basemented morning--is a delight for which I can give great thanks.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

New Boots

I bought a pair of new boots yesterday, and I'll tell you why. I'm among those few in our country blessed to live within walking distance of my job. My commute is ten minutes at best, a short walk made especially treacherous as of late by snow that hasn't stopped falling in three or four days. But I admit to the infirmities of the flesh too: my balance isn't what it was when I was playing ball. I can barely put on pants without having to sit down. Walking on frozen snow requires a dance nowhere near ballet.

It's a miracle that I haven't fallen. I should thank my lucky stars.

(That's two cliches right there. I'm adept at dropping them. I should be more sincere.)


Anyway, the soles of the boots I have been wearing are fashioned from banana peels. Another pair (I confess to obscene opulence) holds the road better, but make me look like I've strapped on surfboards. I could wear tennis shoes (I have hosts of those), but they make me look like a joke when the weather is -15. I know, I know--I'm rationalizing. I bought new boots--they're called "survivors."

If I tell my pious mother that I'm lucky to have made it back and forth to school this past week without going down at least once, she'd scold me. She'd tell me I should thank the Lord for not letting me fall. And maybe I should. After all, I'm sure he's sovereign and knows my goings to school and comings back home. But her far less pious son?--he just buys new boots. Does that make me a secularist?

Piety, I've always thought, is a nest of hooks. After all, if I thank the good Lord for keeping me topside on my way to school, who do I blame for my neighbor's going down? Just two days ago, I saw his legs go from under him when he turned a corner behind that blower. He went down like a stick-man. He's 80+ years old, I think, deaf as stone. I was a half block away, but he went down in a way a man whose 80+ shouldn't. It's a wonder he isn't in a nursing home right now.

Maybe God blessed him, keeping him from injury, right? That's what my mother would tell me. But why on earth did God let him go down in the first place? And if today--two days after--he's incredibly sore, which I'd guess he is, why must the old gent suffer? Did the Devil trip him up? Did Satan inspire a species of arrogance in him to make him go out there and clean his own blasted sidewalks when he should have been prudent and just hired some college kid? Did God deck him for pride?

And why did he go down and not me? If all our wanderings are determined by a sovereign God, if we're really Pinocchios on divine strings, then why did a Geppetto God pull his legs from under him?

I'm wary of pious language, I guess, just plain wary. What's seems a blessing to me may well be a sharp stick in the eye to someone down the block.

I tell my beginning writing students that they really can't harm a research paper by putting in too many references to researched sources--they can make it tedious, but at least they're doing what they should. On the other hand, they can flunk if they don't reference enough. That's plagiarism. That's a crime.

I'm thinking maybe that's true of God talk too.

Is it my own pride that keeps me from footnoting God in every last conversation I write? Is it my arrogance that invests faith instead in a new pair of boots? Am I less a passionate Christian if I don't use Jesus footnotes? Geesh, what a nest of hooks.

I've lived in Christian communities my whole life. Even when we lived in cities, we were part of a strong church community that demanded so much of my time my non-churchgoing friends were slack-jawed. "Are you in a cult?" they used to say.

But nothing has been as exhausting as having to live up to the standards of what others feel is the Good Book's own code of ethics with respect to everything from keeping your yard clean to footnoting the Lord in ordinary conversation. In all my sixty years, I've never lost my faith in God, but when it comes to his people, I'm right there behind Doubting Thomas.

And then there's this. Twenty years ago, early in the morning, on an icy freeway just outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I did a 360, right in the heart of city traffic, but hit nothing--no one, no car, nothing. It was choreographed, almost. I ended up facing oncoming traffic, but no one touched me either.

Immediately thereafter, I shook, literally, all the way to the university. It was early in the morning, still dark, as I remember, when I got to my office. Soon enough, as he was want to do, the janitor showed up, a character right out of Flannery O'Connor, a hook on the end of a plastic, flesh-covered prosthesis he left completely exposed in a cut-off sweat shirt.

He liked me. I liked him. He took one look at my ashen face. "Whoa!" he said, "What the hell happened to you?" He swore more than my Calvinist brothers and sisters.

So I told him. I went through that morning's freeway dance, a pirouette right in the middle of all that traffic without a slip.

"You better get down on your knees right now, young man," he said--I was young then, "and you better thank St. Christopher."

I didn't. But I did hear the voice of the Lord from a one-armed janitor given to profanity.

Amen.

Time to strap on those new boots, for which, by the way, I'm thankful this morning.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


The Future

Wesley McNair

On the afternoon talk shows of America
the guests have suffered life's sorrows
long enough. All they require now
is the opportunity for closure,
to put the whole thing behind them
and get on with their lives. That their lives,
in fact, are getting on with them even
as they announce their requirement
is written on the faces of the younger ones
wrinkling their brows, and the skin
of their elders collecting just under their
set chins. It's not easy to escape the past,
but who wouldn't want to live in a future
where the worst has already happened
and Americans can finally relax after daring
to demand a different way? For the rest of us,
the future, barring variations, turns out
to be not so different from the present
where we have always lived--the same
struggle of wishes and losses, and hope,
that old lieutenant, picking us up
every so often to dust us off and adjust
our helmets. Adjustment, for that matter,
may be the one lesson hope has to give,
serving us best when we begin to find
what we didn't know we wanted in what
the future brings. Nobody would have asked
for the ice storm that takes down trees
and knocks the power out, leaving nothing
but two buckets of snow melting
on the wood stove and candlelight so weak,
the old man sitting at the kitchen table
can hardly see to play cards. Yet how else
but by the old woman's laughter
when he mistakes a jack for a queen
would he look at her face in the half-light as if
for the first time while the kitchen around them
and the very cards he holds in his hands
disappear? In the deep moment of his looking
and her looking back, there is no future,
only right now, all, anyway, each one of us
has ever had, and all the two of them,
sitting together in the dark among the cracked
notes of the snow thawing beside them
on the stove, right now will ever need.

from Talking in the Dark. David R. Godine, 1998.
---------------------------------
It's mid-January, I'm getting old, and while there ain't no storm a ragin' right now outside, when the next one comes--as it will--I'll hope for the kind of blessing McNair reminds us life itself can offer. "Adjustment. . . ," he says, "may be the one lesson hope has to give."

Just read this poem from The Writer's Almanac. It's a blessing, for which I'm thankful this early morning.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Babies

Something about babies makes us all babblers.

I remember listening to a adoption center worker go on and on about absolutely not allowing out-of wedlock, high school moms to bring their babies to school. The mere sight of a babe in swaddling clothes is dangerous to young women, who—she claimed—see only the love and nothing of the responsibility we all take on when we “have kids.” Teenagers—especially young women—lose all sense of reason when they hold babies, she told me. About that, she was as adamant as some old Puritan preacher.

But I think we all suffer such weakness. I remember being struck with the story of the temple priest, Simeon, who was “righteous and devout,” the Luke account says, a man who, once he held the Savior, simply said he was ready to die. That story came unbidden into my mind the very first time I held my granddaughter, my first grandchild. I don’t believe my holding that baby had anything to do with the Biblical account, nor was this little sweetheart any kind of savior. What I felt was likely something deeply anthropological, as if at that moment something had changed forever, something was, strangely enough, behind me. I was ready to go. Weird. I don’t know how to describe it, other than as an epiphany I’ve never felt before, nor again. Right here in my office stands a picture I took the morning of that baby’s baptism. It’s ancient now, my granddaughter rapidly turning thirteen, even though she’s only six; but I wouldn’t replace that image with any of the gallery of sweet shots I’ve taken since.

There’s something about babies. They are what they are—and a whole lot more, which is, of course, the textbook definition of a symbol. They are hope, they are future, they are somehow life itself, the apotheosis of death’s grim reaping. And we gaze at them, I suppose, in a kind of silly human triumph. We babble, all of us.

Yesterday in our church, a baptism. I’m guessing that those evangelicals who don’t do infant baptism have created some ritual to celebrate the joy of birth and the glorious mystery of new life. If they haven't, someone better write something up this afternoon. There is no cause for greater glee.

Once the sacrament was over, our pastor admitted, shaking his head as if coming out of a dream, “One of the best moments in church life.” Who on earth could disagree?

Well, maybe some could. Babies are so rich in meaning that I’m sure they awaken us to our greatest miseries, too. I sometimes think of the grandparents in a pew not that far away from where we were sitting yesterday, a couple who lost a grandson more than two years ago. Or the folks on the other side of the church—several of them—who realized, several months after just such a gala sacrament, that their baby carried some incurable disease, a burden that innocent child would have to contend with for their rest of his or her life.

And then yesterday, in the afternoon following the baptism, this story. We walked into my in-law’s apartment in the home, where a grief card funeral parlors create is tented on Mom’s table. Not unusual. When you’re almost ninety, you could go to funerals weekly.

But this one looked different. I opened it. The woman’s face was young, hair spikey. I asked my father-in-law the story.
It seems that when she discovered she was with child, the doctor also found cancer. The treatments themselves would be severe enough to threaten the new baby, the oncologist must have told her.

It’s almost impossible to create a more horrendous scenario because whatever one chooses, death will be at least half-victor.

I don’t know the people, don’t know how the determination was made, don’t know the anguish or the pain—don’t know whether, once made, she lived her last days in the splendor of peace—that could well be. But whatever happened in the year that passed between conception and death, this young woman chose to give her life for her baby. So today, last week in some local church, a widowed father stood, babe in arms, two young children at his side.

I felt slapped around—the exhilaration of baptism just hours before, the agony of death in the tented card standing on the table.

That woman—the one so adamantly against unwed moms taking their babies to school—I told her once that I envied her job, taking adopted babies to new parents who wanted so badly to have children of their own. Must be immensely gratifying, I told her—those parents so hungry to hold a little one in their arms.

“But I also have to take that child from the arms of a birth mother,” she said, as if to remind me that all of this joy is really about life itself.

There’s just very little to say about that tented card. An old Jewish proverb goes like this: “He who saves one life, saves the world.” That’s a beautiful sentiment, a cause, a mission, a proverb worth pinning to the wall above one’s desk.

But saying it over and over, like a mantry, doesn't mean I forget that widowed father, baby in his arms, on an immensely cold day in a cemetery.
My father-in-law claims that people say she was a wonderful woman, 33 years old. Her own grandparents are residents of the home. The woman was deeply religious, he says, a loving personality, a giver. That she was, a giver.

My guess—and my hope—and my prayer—is that her husband is at peace too, as much peace as any of us will ever find in this world of ours, this vale of tears.

He has this much at least--he has their baby. And for that, this morning, I give thanks.

Monday, January 21, 2008


from A Year of Morning Thanks

Ethanol Plants

There are two of them out west, both of them spewing steam like old factory smokestacks on cold winter days like today. One lies in a broad flat plain, a river valley, and virtually destroys the landscape. At night, the place lights up as if a chunk of Las Vegas fell out of the sky. They're not pretty.

But I’m thankful for both and dozens of others that have sprung up in the region because they’re at least doing something about America's insatiable need for foreign oil. Some say, and rightly so, we buy the armaments for both sides in Bush's War on Terror. Our refusal to reduce our dependency means only more favor and bucks spent on the Middle East and elsewhere, on governments and the people running them who are growing only more belligerent to us and our interests.

They’re not pretty—these ethanol refineries in our backyard—and I hope that researchers can come up with better remedies; I'm told that ethanol is already a third-rate innovation, of questionable ecological value. But I’m thankful that it seems we're beginning to recognize that we simply can’t go on guzzling the way we have.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


A Year of Morning Thanks

Just Plain Shelter

I know there was a fire in the middle. I know there were buffalo hides piled up everywhere. I know a half dozen or more warm bodies in the teepee must have helped some too. But I don't know, honestly, how the Lakota ever lived out here on the Plains in the deathly cold we're in right now, mid-January.

Yesterday, I think the high was 3. I don't really want to know the low, although I believe on Friday night the wind chill was somewhere in the neighborhood of -26. "Minus 20 keeps out the riff-raff," some people like to say. In July, it's a funny line.

Just on the other side of the north wall of this basement office sits a relatively new furnace--maybe five years old. It's working overtime these days, running up a bill that ought to make the Saudis happy.

But outside the cold is a killer, literally. People die in this weather. Run in the ditch somewhere and you don't wake up again. The cold is brutal.

So this morning, my thanks are profoundly elemental. I'm thankful for shelter, for a warm old house, a purring furnace, a cozy family room, where tonight I can watch the Green Bay Packers take on the New York Giants on Lambeau Field, where the temp, weathermen say, will be somewhere close to zero.

Life could be so much worse.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


A year of morning thanks

Edgar Allen Poe

I'm aware of the fact that other people were scribbling things down in this country before the Civil War, but the annals of American literature are wall-to-wall Puritans--either those who prayerfully fell in line with New England's austere pieties or those who fought like hell against them. Emily Dickinson, some say, is the quintessential Calvinist poet; I can't help but think she'd shed whatever white dress she was buried with and run naked in the streets of Amherst if she knew people were saying such things.

But what to do with Poe? Born and reared in Virginia, he shared none of his counterparts' pieties. He married his 14-year-old cousin, never saw a bottle he didn't drink, regularly savaged his literary peers, lied like an adulterer, and wrote bizarre stories and pathetic poems that featured narrators who seemed to want to wallow in the anguished beauty of profound grief. Horror--'twas his life and his trade. He hated sermons, just hated them--from pulpit or magazine page.

But, no matter how you cut it, American literature is a better for place for his being there, a mad Virginian among the New Englanders. And all our towns and villages--no matter how small or sprawling--are far better places because of our eccentrics and eccentricities.

I'm a Calvinist and a Christian, but I don't think on this earth I'd want to live in a world where everyone was, or is.

So this morning, the birthday of Edgar Allen Poe, I'm thankful, really, for all of those around us who don't fit in. Long may they live. They give our lives texture and context--not to mention something to talk about, even those who seemingly can't get enough of premature burials.

But wait--what is that I hear? Lo, a gentle tapping, sweetly rapping, at my basement's ancient door. . .

Friday, January 18, 2008


A Year of Morning Thanks


Change


For the last several years, the relationship between management and labor, between administration and faculty, at the place I work has been torn and shredded into sheer non-existance. For an institution that sells itself as "Christian," it sometimes appears that love itself has left the building. And all of that prompts some--me among them--to want to leave.


But as I speak, the possibility of change is imminent: the institution is seeking a Provost, and we've got good candidates.


Yesterday, a colleague from another division came over to chat about prospects. A number of his cohorts, he said, favored the candidate most clearly an agent of change. They're favoring him, he said, despite the uneasy sense that the college could get itself in worse trouble under his leadership. No matter, he said; things are so bad around here that the mere possibility of change offers most hope in the present circumstance.


I'm in that camp myself. And he's right. Right now, change is just another word for hope.


So this morning, for morning thanks, I'm grateful, simply, for change. Tomorrow I could well be thankful for tradition and stability and foundational gravitas--I'm an old man, after all; but this morning, in our present circumstance, even the possibility of change seems to me and others to be a rich and hearty blessing.

Thursday, January 17, 2008



from A Year of Morning Thanks

Heroes


A man from Australia sent me a translation he once did of the story of his father’s life—and death. I just read it.

His father, Dr. Kornelis Sietsma, was a preacher in the Netherlands during the Second World War. On 1 February, 1942, he preached a sermon at his church in Amsterdam, then directed the congregation to take an offering, as designated, for a mission to the Jews. He’d been warned—as had others—that there would be Nazi collaborators in the audience, and there were.

On the 2 February, 1942, Dr. Sietsma was arrested. He never returned to his family or church, and died, some time later, in Dachau.

This morning, so many years later, having just now read that World War II story, I’m thankful once again for all of those who risk their lives for the Whole Truth, and how much their sacrifice means for the rest of us.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008



A year of morning thanks
Owner/Operators


Yesterday, the first day of another long semester, I walked into a classroom of 19-year-olds whose course of study set them right in front of me for a college writing class. None of them chose to be there; it's a core course.

They don't know me; I don't know them. We're a forced marriage. So yesterday I started courting because passion sells in education; and part of my job--a significant part--is motivation. What happens in a classroom is really a species of courtship. And, after almost forty years, I don't know that I have the heart and soul for another round.

Yesterday, a exceptionally sweet note from a student from last semester graced my e-mail. But then, yesterday, another kid walked past me as if I were a load of excrement. That relationship failed, miserably.

The very idea of starting this semester's dalliance is as daunting as it is wearying. Love requires giving--of self, too, in spades. For years in September and January, I've watched 18-wheelers run by and imagined how great it would be to have a job that put you alone in the cab, and allowed you to shut the door once the day was behind you. I'd like to be an owner/operator, no room full of students in front of me. I want a regular job.

Is there such a thing? I doubt it.

But on mornings like this, I feel as if I'm standing on the shore, too blame tired to get back in the water. Just how big is the soul? How many times can you give yourself away?

It drives me to my knees--honestly, it does, this teaching thing. And this morning, an endless sea before me, that teaching keeps me humble, that's what I'm thankful for because it's good for me to be reminded that I'm not an owner/operator, that I am not my own. It's good for me to be on my knees.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

for MLK's Birthday -- January 15, 1929

What I remember--
What I won't forget

The night Dr. Martin Luther King was shot, four of us—small-town, small-college, white boys—followed the Gulf of Mexico's eastern shore on an all-night trek from south Florida to New Orleans. It was spring break, 1968, only a few months from the summer that seemed, even at the time, to change all of our lives.

Lyndon B. Johnson had withdrawn from the Presidential race just a few nights earlier. We'd heard the news at a dance on the beach at Ft. Lauderdale, while hundreds of bodies jerked and squirmed to the bashing bass of the Rolling Stones, pumped out by some utility band up in front on a makeshift stage.

The lead singer had announced it, yelled it through a screeching public-address system as if all the partiers had just nailed down a great upset. "LB-J.'s quit!" he yelled. "L.B.J.'s out of the race!" Momentarily politicized, the whole lot of us raised our fists in the official power gesture of my generation and screamed out our joy before the massive beat resumed.

It was early evening several days later when we heard about Dr. King's death over the AM band on the radio in that '62 Chevy with the Iowa plates.

We were on our way to New Orleans' French Quarter, sin city, four lusty guys, tired and sun-burned, traveling along some several hundred comfortable miles south of our own evangelical Christianity.

All night long, from the time we'd scarfed down cheap hamburgers for late supper, through the next morning's first whispered glow behind us, the radio kept spilling news about King's death — news stories interrupting music, statements being read by just about anybody big enough to merit media time, memorials and obituaries likely produced and taped months before a man by the name of James Earl Ray had even known about a garbage strike in Memphis, the event which brought King to the place where he would be shot.

The sun wore a heavy mask of gulf fog that morning when light finally opened our eyes to the coast. I don't remember where we were exactly, but the chore of keeping ourselves awake made us pull over at the nearest dive, however seedy.

It was still before six, the morning dressed in haze. Two guys kept right on sleeping in the back seat, but Larry and I walked up to the door of a greasy spoon and found it very much awake.

What we saw inside remains as the most vivid picture I took during 1968 spring break. It was a party, and the place was full of rednecks, open bottles standing on the tables, even though the place was not a bar.

A sign up near the cash register told us that all proceeds that day would go to the Klan. The jukebox wailed out music I'd never heard before, half rock 'n' roll, half-countly, all thick with racist spit. I remember wanting to write down the words as we sat there and waited for our hotcakes. I wanted to remember them. But I was afraid. These men were men I'd never seen before, men another man knows as dangerous, just by sight.

We had walked right into an all-night party--all-male, all-white, and all hate, a whopping good celebration of a dead body sprawled in a mass of blood on some Memphis hotel balcony.

We sat quietly and ate a breakfast served up, ironically, by a cook whose black face appeared then disappeared above the window shelf where plates full of breakfast came up miraculously from the back.

The partiers were oblivious to us. As I remember it now, years later, we sat there and ate hotcakes as if something invisible sat between us, as if some omniscient theater director had staged this moment for us, something we'd never seen before and will likely never see again.

That’s what I remember best about the night Dr. King was murdered. That’s what I know of unalloyed racist hate.

But Martin Luther King had come into my life already several years earlier, when my friend's father, a good man, asked me to go along with him to a meeting, a meeting spread around in whispers and fleeting glances, a get-together of like minds in a huge mansion, on the bluffs above Lake Michigan in a small Wisconsin city near the town where I grew up.

It was the middle of the Cold War, and I was a boy — barely 16, an evangelical Christian, a sworn enemy of atheistic communism, a patriotic American youth who that very fall wrote a civics essay about our American responsibility in Southeast Asia in the face of the global communist menace. I still have that essay, written delicately in a fine cursive hand.

We sat on folding chairs on the lower half of that mansion — not just steel folding chairs, but padded folded chairs — in straight rows, facing a screen. The meeting was opened in prayer.

I remember feeling excited about being in that place, as if we were banded together like the disciples, doing some upper-room plotting to determine what measure of righteousness America really needed. Invitation to the mansion had come only by word of mouth, and I felt privileged to be there.

The feature of that evening's meeting was a slide/tape presentation featuring Martin Luther King caught in candid shots talking to people who the taped voice insisted were communists. This was Wisconsin, after all, home to Senator McCarthy.

I remember the clearly stated message of the presentation because I knew my own father somehow believed it: that behind the movement for civil rights in America, the Russian bear--atheist communism itself--sat back calmly and waited, like some forest cousin, to devour the honey sweetness of American liberty.

I respected my friend's-father, the man who'd asked me to come along; I still do, very much. Maybe that's why in my memories of that furtive mansion meeting is complicated by my own respect for the man and his devotion, even love of country, of culture, of home.

Maybe that is why those two moments in my life — a all-night bayou party and an evening's anti-communist meeting, shrouded in secrecy and glutted with conspiracy theory, both virulently racist — seem almost to clash in tone and spirit, while the line that separates them is actually thread-thin.

Most of us do not find hate particularly attractive. Love redeems us, cleanses us, after all. I've never felt any affinity with the men in the all-night diner, but I still admire the man who brought me along to the mansion, even though that night and forever since I've not shared his politics.

In those moments when I feel latent racism running in me—as I do—I know that its source is often least recognizable and most unmanageable when it emerges from love.
Hate is not one of the seven deadly sins, oddly enough, although it has a kissing cousin in Wrath.

The king of seven deadlines, to the world of medieval theologians and to the world we know today, is still pride, pride in self first of all, but also pride in culture, in country, in race—pride that sometimes upholsters itself in the soft fabrics and gentle lines of love.

I wish, sometimes, it were easier. But for that lesson, this morning--King's birthday--I'm thankful.

Monday, January 14, 2008


from A Year of Morning Thanks


A room of one's own

There’s one little basement window above my head and to the right. On mid-winter days, the sun rides so low in the southern sky that for a time in early afternoon that it shines directly in my face, which means I can't work here--at least not on the compueter. Any other time of day or year, this little corner of my basement is a sweet place to sit—warm in winter, cool in summer.

There is, after all, comforting silence all around, the opportunity to be very much alone. Virginia Woolf forever linked the phrase to the plight of women artists, but she’ll forgive me, I think, if I abscond with it right now because I think the necessity of what she points out—that we all need our own space—transcends greatly the gender wars. Everybody may well know your name in your neighborhood Cheers, but solitude is not only a blessing, but a joy—and it’s a requirement for the work I do.

So, this morning, here, in this corner of my basement, early in the morning, I’m thankful for a room of my own. And yes, it’s a mess.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Dreams Deferred
According to this morning's Writer's Almanac, Lorrie Moore (Birds in America and other books), published her first story in Seventeen when she was just a kid. Then and only then did she tell her parents she was writing stories. Amazingly, at that moment, her parents told her that they both had also once aspired to be writers, her father producing a sheaf of stories from the attic, most of which he'd tried to publish in the New Yorker. Neither of them had ever really published, even though their ambitions had been similar. Her mother had become a nurse.

Got an e-mail this morning from a young lady who says she wants in to my short story class soon to commence. We've already passed the enrollment ceiling. She says she's always loved to write stories and would like to know how to do it better.

Aspiring artists we've got in spades. Every school does. For every newbie Hollywood starlet, how many others aren't working at Starbucks, praying for a break? Just imagine how many virtuoso violinists exist in New York alone, or dancers. How many people, just this morning, have put the finishing touches on a screenplay that's going to shatter box-office records?

Who knows how many newly-minted MFAs universities will graduate this year? I think I read somewhere that 80% of the American reading public thinks they'll write a book someday.

The vast majority of would-be writers, just like the vast majority of would-be actors or musicians or TV journalists will eventually have to settle for something else, as did Lorrie Moore's parents apparently. Aspirations in the arts is quite unforgiving for most of us, who then, like Lorrie Moore's parents simply live with dying dreams.

The death of Merle Meeter stays with me, a man who spent a goodly chunk of his life on earth working at Lowe's, or some such building enterprise, when he once was so immensely devoted, so passionately devoted to writing--not only his work either, but nurturing others, like me. He invested his heart and soul in his work, even his salary. He invested most everything.

And yet, just a few years later, all that passion and drive had to have faded somehow or disappeared altogether. It was gone. Unless there is a cache of poetry lying around somewhere in his papers, as far as I know the only reason he touched a pen to paper was to pen some story about arm-wrestling.


What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore-- And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over-- like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?


That's a Langston Hughes' poem, and it's context is racial prejudice, but its reach goes beyond race and culture and into the vagaries of self.

I wish I could talk to Merle Meeter. I'd ask him how he dealt with a dream deferred? Whether he ever considered all that passion he used to bring to the printed page as something, well, illusory? How do so many of us give up our dreams?

That I'm asking the question suggests I've had a good life. That I'm wondering--at sixty years old--about dreams deferred has to mean mine haven't been, even though there are times--lots of them--when it sure doesn't feel that way.

The psalmist says we need to number our days. Good, strong advice. Be happy with what you have. Count your blessings. Name them one by one.

But then there's this: "A man is not old until regret takes the place of dreams."

I'm still not sure how to deal with the death of man who was, in a very special way, so influential in my own life for passionate causes he seems simply to have abandoned. How did he do that?--that's what mystifies me. What did it cost for him to give up what he'd once wanted so badly?

The Northeast Board of the US Arm-Wrestling Association put up a message board to remember their friend, Merle Meeter, a register of tributes that are simply wonderful. Here's one: "Merle was a wonderful man and I am honored to have known him. . . .I remember when he ran around the table in Lake Tahoe with his fists in the air trying to psych out his opponent... what a wonderful moment!!! I am sad for the armwrestling community but very happy for him to be with our Lord in Heaven!!! I will miss him!"

That passion by which I remember him, that strength of character and immense devotion I'll never forget found an incredibly unlikely new outlet: the poet simply became an arm-wrestler. Maybe the lesson is this: even when dreams die, we don't.

I like the image: a huge poet circling a Tahoe table time and again, fists raised.
And I've got this student who wants in to a short story class, even though the thing is full. I better write her, tell her I'll find a way.
________________________


http://teammaine.proboards107.com/index.cgi?action=display&board=general&thread=1194990484&page=3#1199767635

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Morning Thanks--Innocence



On a winter day that could well have passed for May just a couple of years ago, my wife and four-year-old granddaughter went for a walk, along with half the rest of the town. The weather was perfect, and a blessing.

“So, Jocey,” my wife asked, “what do you think you’d like to be when you grow up.”

She was soon to be five and very sophisticated.

“I’d like to put on make up,” she said, “or else I’d like to be a doctor, or maybe work in a grocery store.”

Okay.

Such an answer makes perfectly clear why Jesus Christ put so much stock in little kids. And it’s no wonder, really, why innocence-to-experience stories are the soul of so much of the world’s great fiction. Innocence is such a treasure to leave behind.

It’s a blessing when you have it and even to remember when it’s long, long gone—and I’m thankful for it, for innocence, this morning.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Prof. Merle Meeter



He was a man of immense passions, as he was an immense man. A friend of mine remembers meeting him for the first time in the gym, where he was likely doing one-arm push-ups somewhere in the center of things. What my friend remembers is his being shirtless--t-shirtless too, his pecs, to die for. Merle Meeter was built like a steel nail, his upper body molded by the heavenly definition of its own musculature.

And he was a poet. Somewhat odd combination--a tenderness that fine in a body that massive. He was a writer, a thoughtful armchair philosopher, and a theologian whose pointed wanderings came, he believed, straight from the God he loved.

Once, after he missed a spike in a faculty volleyball game on a Friday afternoon, a match that meant nothing to anyone, he was so angry at himself that he hit the wall with his fist and broke fingers. But during the years that I knew him--both as his student and later as his colleague--I never saw him angry at anyone but himself. Often he was embarrassingly self-righteous about his theological opinions; he never doubted the spiritual reality he saw as perfectly clear. He was sure, as if his words were from God, that his positions were the sole version of the truly orthodox. But I never saw him spit and fume, except on paper.

When he left the college where we taught together, he left because he was sure the college itself had left something of the gospel's own truth behind. His was the voice crying in the wilderness, and the rest of us must have seemed no more or less than a decadent remnant.

Sometime in those years he must gotten angry at someone, but I never saw it. He could turn out theological treatises as easily as the rest of us in the English department wrote summary comments on lit essays, but his anger, like his humor, seemed to me to be far mostly self-depracatory.

I don't think I would have wanted to live with him back then. When I think about that time in his life, the parameters suggest the very strong possibility of depression. His highs were heavenly; there had to be dark and dank cellars.

He was impetuous and thoughtless about some things, the quintessential absent-minded professor, quite impossible to control. The word is, once upon a time the college President took him aside and told him to stanch his theological furies. He felt that advice to be demeaning and contrary to God's own word. He left.

But give him a piece of fiction--as I did in often those early years of my own writing life--and he'd have it back the next day, marked up like a plowed field. He was extraordinarily generous with praise, even when I knew what he was reading wasn't the of the evangelical substance of what he'd have written himself.

He was, back then, adamant about literature's service to the Lord. I thought of his own work as being somewhat too preachy, instead of shrewd or artful in its delivery of the hope of the Christian faith. He was as powerful in his witness as he was with barbells. He hammered home the truth that leant meaning to his life--that Jesus Christ was Lord of all; and he did as relentlessly as befits, I suppose, a man of his mega-passions.

But he was, to me, an inspiration. His life was a mission. He poured huge chunks of his personal bank account that into permission rights to poems he was simply sure had to be part of an anthology of vividly Christian poetry, an anthology he eventually published, titled The Country of the Risen King. For years, publication of that anthology--he wanted to show the world the devoutly Christian writers--was all he lived for. To me, that passion was impressive. Back then, I wanted like nothing else to be the kind of writer he was--not in the substance of what he wrote himself, but I wanted to bring that same immense passion he brought to his work.

When he left, it was for a teaching job in a California college whose theology he favored, a college that simply fell apart not long after. I heard, out there in California, that he ended up working for a lumber yard. I found that amazing, a man so passionately committed to literature.

Somewhere in the bowels of Dordt College library, there exists the manuscript of a novel I wrote in the summer of 1976, the summer before I came to teach at Dordt College. Back then, I told myself I was going to do it, write a whole novel, just to see if I could--and I did. When I think back on that now, that strategy almost sounds like Merle Meeter.

That manuscript is marked like a plowed field. He read it, probably in a night or two. I don't really think anyone will ever see that novel, but somehow I'm happy the manuscript is there, in someone's care, because, in a very, very literary way--and in a very personal way--the two of us, Merle Meeter and I, are both in the manuscript.

My old friend Merle Meeter died last week in California. One of my colleagues googled him and found a treasure of wonderful accolades from some of the nation's best--and I'm sure, most passionate--arm-wrestlers. In California, he'd taken up the sport with Meeter-like drive and become one of its finest coaches and champions. But just about everything he ever did was immense.

That his legacy may well be greatest among the arm-wrestlers is itself a story I could not have imagined, a story that whose truth leaves me staggering, quite frankly. Did he still write poetry in his late years? Did he still still begs fights about theology?

I'm sure, in his last years, he did more one-arm pushups than I could ever imagine. But what was he like when finally he went to meet the Maker he so passionately loved? I don't know, but I can't imagine his leave-taking was fraught with horror; there was, in him, just too much passion for the Lord.

Still, the idea of Merle Meeter having shed his mortal coil--those thick-rope biceps and perfect shoulders--the thought of him somehow spiritually bereft of his body just makes me smile. I can't imagine it. He'll still find some way to get in his push-ups, to take on some six-packed buff comers in sweaty match of arm-wrestling.

I'd like to think that he'll sing, make music with the poems he wrote and the ones I'm sure he's penning now, full of the praise and immense passion that was always there, this world and the next.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Morning Thanks--Owls in fresh snow



This morning, when I stepped outside, I was greeted by a new snowfall, something out of Currier and Ives, gentle as a song.

In a small town, new snow mutes everything, enclosing the neighborhood in alabaster fur, everything softly hidden like a child's hands in a muff, a comforting kind of silence.

It’s January, and the first snow is far behind us. By this time of year, new snow isn’t yet tedious, a bother, although in another month it will be. This morning everything is white and pure once again, a joy. Right now, very early in the morning, nothing moves.

The tracks of some stray cat led from our back door to the garage and out again—the only sense of life around me.

But through the darkness just now I listened to the gentle baritone of some local owl in a tree not far away, a soft drumming sound, as meditational as anything I know of, the only sound in a day that hasn’t yet awakened.

Like Thoreau, this morning, out there in the muted world of fresh new snow, I rejoice that there are owls.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Surprise

























Nothing is more deadly, to life or fiction, than boredom. The moment a reader can see her way to the end of the story, the game is lost and the writer loses. It's just that simple.

But life is that way too--nothing is less fun than convention, than rote, than continuously filled expectation. Never saw Fight Club, but I know from my students who did, that that show hit something in them, something that was simply exhausted by nothing less than affluence. At least bleeding was real.

Yeah, well. The "fight club" that went on for the last few days resulted in a shocking win for Queen Clinton last night, contrary to everybody--absolutely everybody's--expectations. There was more than enough egg-on-the face to go around; CNN, MSNBC, Fox News all shared one characteristic for the first time in years: they were all omelet city.

Ironies abound, of course, because the only way to explain the unimaginable is to imagine. Could Clinton, who may well have voted for the Iraq War simply to show her toughness--could that woman have won because she teared up? Wow. She shows her vulnerability, the woman who seemingly had none, and she wins votes?

It was the old women who came through last night--the revenge of the crones. They were the ones who didn't fall for the rock star. Got to love it.

Meanwhile, who's helping Republicans more than anyone else?--Bill Clinton, who suddenly became the right wing's fair-haired boy by feeding the Republican machine more than it needs should Obama win, calling him the big fairy-tale and pointing that crooked left finger of his.

Amazing. An amazing night, too. Some of the phenom is gone from the Obama camp now, and that can only be good for him, for us, for the election itself. He rides in on a dream, and the rest of us have to wake up in the morning wondering who on earth we slept with.

But this has to be the most incredible Presidential sweepstakes of my lifetime. 1968 was great, even though I wasn't of voting age. But once Bobby was gone and Eugene McCarthy was out, Hubert sort of flat lined national spirit. Nixon won in a walk. Disaster followed.

Right now there are five viable candidates--the comeback kids of yesterday (Hillary and McCain), the Obama phenomena, Dudley Dooright Romney, and the Huckster. I'd vote for four of them--you can have the flip-flopper.

It's almost impossible to think the air is going to go out of this one. It's going to be a beauty right to the finish, methinks.

And that too is good for all of us. Nobody knows where this plot is headed, which means there ain't no Wall Street author, no big politics honcho running the show.

Nobody has a clue who's going to move into the White House, a year from now. Not a clue. Nobody even has an outside shot at guessing the candidates. What's more, there's likely more surprise down the road, and that's good for all of us--just as good as sight of a praying cowboy heading out to the Texas back-40 for good.