Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I Think I'm Going to Marry Someone Your Age


...I told Malissa, my 17-year-old sister, back when I was a minute or two younger than I have grown now, which is 28 + half a year of minutes.  I figure I’ve got some good reasons for this.  (A) It seems like everyone I see on campus is 17, so it just can’t be helped; (B) I’ve got a huge green light from 19th century Britain, my favorite era (I can’t remember if they specify the age discrepancy between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, but [SPOILER ALERT: Jane Eyre] I’m pretty sure that Jane Eyre is about 20 when she winds up with Mr Rochester); and (C) I think it would be wicked hilarious.

I mean, we should’ve seen your face just now when I told you, right?  At least I hope you were appalled—you were, if you had a drop of moral sense!  So lets assume you were appalled, and that you showed it.  I love that!  Maybe I should go off on how one of life’s great pleasures is appalling people (it’s one of my love languages, I guess, but I’m not sure for what).  Few things are more rewarding than an involuntary painful raising of the eyebrows in some fair maiden’s face.  Indulge me just one story (“Forgive me a cruel chuckle”—Prince John, Robin Hood).  My man John Carr and I were running through die Schwarzwald (the Black Forest) in southern Germany, at midnight, with longswords bought from a shop beneath Heidelberg Castle.  For lack of better things to vanquish, we were slashing tree branches of just the right thickness so as to snap cleanly through.  We were feeling pretty medieval.  We liked the Dark Ages, we decided.  That’s when I noticed the sparks of green fire hovering around us, and remembered something my old friend Sheri had once told me: back when she lived in Missouri, the neighborhood kids would play with the fireflies at night—except the terrible ones next door, who would smush them on their shirts to make their shirts glow.

I knelt by a green glowing bush: “Hand me your sword.”  John did, and then I turned it into a light saber.  Of course his blade soon flickered out, and we killed some more fireflies for him and then a bunch for me.  I actually regret that.  It’s not that killing bugs goes against my conscience, but killing beauty does—and that is what I did.  A few seconds of novelty on a sword wasn’t worth lessening the number of beautiful things.  I want to make that clear.  You won’t be happier if you do that—so don’t.  I guess I have two other regrets about die Schwarzwald too.  We didn’t hunt Dave down (where was he?) to make sure he came too, and we didn’t follow through on a glorious vision I had: my sword buried blade-down in the stump of a tree in the heart of the forest, there to be entwined with ivy and there to wait the coming of some doughty and bedestined lad.  I couldn’t bear to leave half my souvenir money (40 Deutsche Marks) buried in the Black Forest.   (The other 40 DM had been well-spent on gelato.)  As if I could have devoted my blade to a more epic cause than the one I had right there.  Shortsightedly, I took it home, where it was later broken by my brother (bless him).  Well, we are slipping towards an abyss of morality, when that was far from my object at the outset.  What I meant to say was that it was fun to appall Sheri with my creative application of her story of childhood trauma.  Of course, this was a bad example because I was hiding how I felt a little sick about it too while I told her.  So lets go back to something I don’t feel sick about—marrying underage women!

Hahaha

I just think it would be endlessly funny to make people squirm (as subtly and politely as they could) by announcing the vast age discrepancy between myself and my espoused wife at every opportunity.  I’m grinning just picturing their faces.  Of course, that was the moral problem I ran into when I imagined dating one of my students, back when I was teaching freshman writing at the Y.  No, lets focus on the immoral part first.  Something (heh heh) gave me the idea to scandalize the grad carrels (instructor offices) by declaring how hot one of my students was, so I did.  Did I get the most wonderful reactions.  Jaws dropped left and jaws dropped right.  The lie went so well I yearned to make it true.  I thought it might be nice to passionately kiss some girl in the Composition Department until asked what I was doing.  With a furrowed brow: “I’m trying to decide if I’ll give her an A.”  A moment’s pause, then, “I think so.”  As I told Malissa when I was a week or so younger, “Probably the funnest thing about teaching is thinking of ways to get fired.”  That actually came out as honest truth, as I realized it myself.  But hang it all I can’t remember what my other idea was.  There were two: scandal by romancing a student, and something equally amusing.

By now I should point out the reason (singular) that romancing a student isn’t funny: her feelings.  The department’s feelings are professional; a person’s feelings are, well, personal, and thus they mean a lot more.  That was probably the biggest reason I didn’t want to date a student (not to avoid getting fired—it is rich that I’m unemployed as I write this though).  While it would be simply funny to professionally appall co-workers, it would be something very different to hurt someone’s feelings: perhaps this would be akin to squashing bugs vs. killing some of the world’s beauty.  Not that I didn’t take the opportunity in class, a time or two, to proclaim: “Only two more months until I can start dating one of you!”  I keep wanting to filter this, but then I think, no: I need to filter out what I am uninclined to filter.

My friend Brett once dated a girl who was several years younger than him—maybe 5 or so.  Boy did I admire the way he would refer to that over meals.   “I always knew I was going to date someone younger than me, even clear back in high school, when I saw how cute those mia maids were.”  I think it made his girlfriend feel a little uncomfortable, but not me.  He made me feel free.  Actually really.  Somehow things are safe once you’ve made them a joke.  Maybe it takes courage to laugh at things, and so once you’ve laughed, you have overcome your fear.  On this principle growing a mustache is a good idea.  My brother said it enhanced his self-image by deteriorating his image (according to some).  Every time it bristled he was forced to remember that he had faced society’s opinions at large, and defied them with a transcendant nonchalance.  With every itch and prickle, he remembered how he was heroic.  It was like a title of liberty, in effect.  For freedom.  For Frodo.

My main objection though—when my heart is right and strong and leans not to its own understanding, nor society’s—to marrying someone much younger than I, is that while there are some lovely “first round draft picks,” as my friend Dan Jones pleases to call them, there is only one thing we can't live without, and not everyone knows what it is.  Some of them are still figuring out what life’s all about, in my grandpa’s phrase (he was serving in a student ward and had a weather eye out for my interests).  Of course, that’s just a tendency or probability—the same way it seems that pretty girls are more often vain, or intelligent people condescending, or athletes arrogant.  Some defy their circumstances; some are greater than their gifts.  When my friend Alli was sort of figuring life out still, she was about to marry a guy, and caught some flack (sp?) for being so young: people kept questioning her judgment.  We talked about it once and I offered her my thoughts, which, coincidentally, align with those of some Romantics: “We do not age by time, but by feeling.”  In other words, time is no guarantee that someone is ready or not.  Time brings experience, and experience (we hope) a better grasp of truth, but it is only truth that matters.  John Keats, for example, died at 25, but oh the poetry he had in his soul.   His writing makes me wonder how much he had felt, and if the sum of those emotions was a life that was eternal yet.  I suppose that that’s the only age that matters, both for me and who I hope to find.



“Faint hearts never won fair ladies!” – Robin Hood

*I should mention I've had plenty of crushes on older girls (beggars can't be choosers)

TRIPTYCH


“Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”

—Isaiah 6.3


Kadosh

I traced the ancient fingerprints in the slickness of the massive stones.  Here a man had borne longing.  Here a son had borne the same.  Here a son’s son also.  I bowed my head against the stones, adding a miniscule amount of yearning’s tangible trace to the stones long slick with prayer.  There was something poignant about praying into a wall, about acting on hope while facing futility, especially considering that this was where a peculiar people had literally done so for almost two thousands of years—it was here that they had come to pulse prayers through their fingertips, and here to store their wails and why within the stone; and here that they had told a history of exile in the silent glaze of once rough lime, the color of old Torah scrolls; it was here to this very spot that they had come, because there was no closer place to holy nor a closer thing than holiness to Home.  Ache entered through my fingers.  I wished that I could wholly grasp that slickness, but I knew I couldn’t, so with fingertips and forehead, I pressed into the Western Wall again. 
*          *          *
The Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, is the closest thing to where the Temple was, which is why nothing is more holy, more kadosh, to the Jews who worship there.  That house of the Most High stood until 70 CE, when Rome realized the Jews would never accept their rule, especially not here in their homeland and absolutely not here near their temple, which charged them with a crackling zeal, a zeal which lashed in blinding arcs from revolt to revolt against Rome.  One of these revolts finally provoked Rome to storm the Holy City with so many legionnaires that though they could be defied and were they could not be deterred and weren’t.  The Jewish resistance was decimated and the Temple demolished and the first of half a hundred generations sent off to their wanderings, which began in Yavneh, a place, as Rome would learn, still too close to Jerusalem and its humming wreck of sacred stones.  After the Bar-Kokhba Revolt, which ended in 135 CE, Rome had learned, and so the Jews were scattered, not merely from Jerusalem but from Israel altogether.  Scattered, the last of Israel’s tribes.  For the next two millennia the people of Judah were persecuted for coming to places they weren’t welcome, which they could not help but do because they were not welcome anywhere.
Until Spain: there they found a refuge and perhaps, they thought, a home, until Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  That year the climate of the court changed too, such that after centuries of safety, the Jews found themselves adrift again, and aimless—there were no other harbors in existence.  Our professor of Judaism in the Jerusalem Center tried to convey the effect of the expulsion from Spain: “It is considered one of the three great calamities of our people,” he said—the second, actually.  The first was the destruction of the Temple.  The Shoah was the third.
*          *          *
            After I had prayed, I crossed the broad clearing before the Wall and joined some friends.  A somber haze hung in the evening air: I recognized it from a week ago: I’d woke up to the oriental, exotic Call to Prayer, ventured groggily onto a balcony, and seen the Holy City, all dust-blown and amber and shrouded with sunrise.  O for more sober stirring amber.  My friends had been writing prayers to put between the seams of the Wall and asked if I had written mine already.  My prayer—no, I hadn’t written it.  I wasn’t sure what it was.  I had to figure out what it meant to write it too.  When they asked me about it I remembered hearing, as a kid, of a place where people scrolled up their holiest hopes and placed them in a wall, though I’d had no idea why they would put them there, which is probably why it stuck with me.  Having felt the Wall though, I felt I knew something of why.
            I looked up, prompted by an elbow in my side, to see my friend looking pointedly towards an austere looking man.  Apparently he was policing the promenade, which overlooked the clearing before the Wall, to ensure no one violated the Sabbath, by writing, say, which was a form of work.  I looked around at the sky, which was still that stirring amber.  True, a maze of beige buildings hid the sun in the west, but that didn’t mean that it had set.  A different Jewish man apparently shared my opinion—he was writing nearby—so once the stern man passed I also wrote my prayer.
            Returning to the Wall was more difficult, now that the sun had almost set, which is when Shabbat begins.  A throng was slowly forming in the clearing.  As I worked my way east, I was temporarily stunned by a passerby’s cylindrical hat, which was as broad as his shoulders, upright, and spooled with something like fur.  His forelocks dangled like coiling springs beside his ears: Haredi—ultra-orthodox—the most inflexibly obedient of the Jews.  Everyone at the Wall covered their heads out of respect, but most Jews, as well as visitors like my friends and I, wore the much less conspicuous kipas—small, circular caps.  Perhaps the man wanted to do more than the minimum for God.
            By the time I got to the Wall, black-robed figures had formed dozens of lines before it, each five or six deep.  I only wanted to place my tiny, crinkled prayer in the Wall, so I quickly slipped between two lines to do so, then stopped, abruptly, stunned: the Wall was full.  I looked up and down a four-foot vertical seam, hoping for the space to wedge a single, sacred spitwad.  Not a prayer.  I don’t know how I hadn’t noticed the paper prayers earlier, while I had read in Braille of all those times the words had failed.  They were everywhere, tats of white and pink and yellow pleas compressed as much as possible.  I walked twenty feet in both directions, weaving in and out of worshippers—some muttering scripture in haunting, Hebraic tones—ran my eyes along the only horizontal crease in reach.  Prayers burst the entire way like popcorn, littering the ground like the floor of an emptied theater.  No space, no hope.
            The Wall had stirred me like an ocean floor; as sediment swirled, I glimpsed beneath.  I had tried to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, spent some ink and space for her sake, but a deeper void or prayer had poured out through my pen.  I wrote what I wanted more than anything on that paper, and now my hopes felt threatened by the way the Wall was full.  I read through my prayer, needing to sacrifice everything that I possibly could.  Then I tore it down to the two words that I couldn’t: “Reach me.”
C. S. Lewis once said that God, who dwells outside of time, answers every prayer as if it were the only one in existence.  He is like an author who can stop writing, to consider a prayer and a pray-er for an eternity, before answering the moment He is asked.  I wonder about those other prayers, those other words they hold: like the sands of the sea or clouds of desert stars, they are not known nor numbered, nor could they be by me.  I wonder at the One who reads them all, who is therefore worth worshipping, as the Mezuzah says, with all thy heart and soul and might—which explains why frizzy-bearded elders bob so oddly before the Wall, whipping from their knees, to their waist, to their neck, then head, towards what they hold most holy.  They repeat and repeat and repeat it, with heart and soul and might, with all, because that is how you love the one whose name is Endless; the One whose love was like that first—that’s why he is to whom you pray, even if his inbox looks full.
*          *          *
Jerusalem was ruled by Rome until the 7th century CE, when Islam swept west from Arabia across northern Africa.  Muslims venerate Jerusalem as the place where Abraham offered Ishmael, his oldest son, and where Muhammad ascended to the Seven Heavens, spoke to God, and returned with instructions for the faithful.  The Dome of the Rock now enshrines the stone where his feet left the earth.  The Jews believe that same stone to be where the heart of their temple, the Holy of Holies, had stood.  Some Christians believe Abraham offered Isaac in the same spot.  The only thing anyone seems to agree on is that this place is holy.
And alas for the fertility of holy ground, for mingled seeds of strife and sacredness: how can it be that here of all places such conflicts have come to fruition?  The crusaders took Jerusalem around 1100 CE, then mercilessly slaughtered the Holy City’s civilians, even the Arabs who were Christian.  For some reason they spared the Dome of the Rock, topping its great, golden semi-sphere with a cross rather than eradicating it, two hundred years before Muslim forces would return to reclaim Jerusalem.  Suleiyman the Magnificent, builder of the mighty crenellations and walls and gates about Jerusalem, also allowed free worship, such that one might find a mosque and cathedral and synagogue all on the same street.   Eight centuries of Muslim rule ended with World War I, when the Ottoman Empire, which had coerced the Palestinians to fight for them, fell beside Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Britain took Palestine, the Holy Land, from the Ottomans, and governed it as a protectorate.  So the unfortunate Palestinians lost a war that wasn’t theirs, and thus lost a land that was.
Not long after all civilized peoples had been staggered into silence, as the world learned of the Shoah, Britain pulled out of Palestine to let the Jews who had taken refuge there fight with the Palestinians for their homeland.  Yes, “their” homeland.  Both sides fought for their homeland, both watered holy ground with blood, but only the Jews won.
*          *          *
In a crack within a seam, I wedged my prayer, then sidled through the crowd back toward my friends.  Things were beginning to feel chaotic.  Groups of black-clad worshippers clumped around rabbis who read from Torah scrolls while a variety of hymns from different groups collided in the air, mixed further with loud calls in Hebrew between friends and even the mirthful shouts of dancers.  Everyone seemed to be saying “Shabbat Shalom!”  “Peace upon the Sabbath,” literally, and “Welcome,” commonly.  Several times it was meant for me: I heard it first from a guy that I’d bumped into, who said it merrily while he waved away my apology; second, from a man with a long, grey beard and kindly crinkles near his eyes—I’d stepped aside to let him and his grandson (I’m guessing) go by.  The four- or five-year-old surveyed the atmosphere around him with brown, orblike eyes, tentatively clapping his free hand to the one his grandfather held in imitation of the crowd, now enjoying an energetic tune.  And I received a few “Shabbat Shaloms” after I tried greeting people in Hebrew too, which often uncorked too much for me to handle.  “No! I don’t speak Hebrew,” I’d have to laugh as I explained myself, “I’m just visiting,” which, I noted, never changed the tone of welcome.  One of my friends must have looked particularly Jewish.  Once, after greeting an old man, the man deeply said, “Welcome home.”  
Eventually, I ended up in one of the circles of dancing Jews.  It was a lot like playing ring-around-the-rosies in elementary school, except here we played in Hebrew.  Also, some people had assault rifles.  The military guys unnerved me a little, until one guy, who didn’t have green fatigues and black boots and a rifle on his back, was so friendly and enthusiastic as he encouraged me to join, that I did.  I noticed my friend Dan Jones jumping around, arm in arm with them already and hollering his best imitation of Hebrew—which was passable, or at least inaudible—to tunes he didn’t know, and remembered, “I know some Hebrew too...”  
Besides the assault rifle issue, I had been worried about respecting this place.  We were probably fifty feet away from the Wailing Wall now—I could still see people illuminated in yellow cones of light, bobbing with their hearts and minds and strengths.  Clearly, this clearing was for worship, though what that meant was not so clear.  I thought I could understand all these groups, to some degree.  I had sought salvation in obedience with exactness, in the letter of the law; and I had failed and felt forlorn; then I had tried forgetting the law, the impossible burden, and just do the feeble good that I could manage.  Lately I had immersed myself in scripture, hoping its spirit would change me.  I wasn’t sure what really worked though—though how I looked and labored, heavy laden—so I wasn’t sure what to do with conflicts between modes of worship.  It was then, while I stood wondering whether dancing were appropriate, that the grandfather and grandson, clapping, had stepped by.  After greeting me, the elder looked to the circle of bounding and laughing Jews, who were about my age.  I watched him carefully.  Light buoyed within his eyes.  That was good enough for me.
And I am grateful that it was, because I can still remember one of the tunes, I hear it as I write this, a year and a half later; I can still remember circulating arm-in-arm, laughing and singing and dancing to the point of exhaustion, shouting as we’d suddenly reverse our direction, or strike up a new tune.  I remember the clap on my back as I was brought into the circle—a holy clap, to me—and wondering if my idea of worship was not a bit too somber.  I remember many things, but mostly, the face of a boy.
I saw him before the bobbing began in earnest, or the grandfather passed with his grandson, or the dancing swept me up.  I had just stepped back from the Wall with ache still in me from my fingertips.  I wondered at the slickness. How long they had hoped for Home?  How much hope was there for it?  Can we hope without hope? I was so absorbed that for a while I couldn’t even see the Wall, or the crowd, which milled and murmured about me, as it was beginning to be.  Then I returned to my sight, and part of the blur before my eyes became a boy.  About sixteen and just barely unhandsome—his nose just too upturned, his cheeks just over-round.  I’m not sure that he saw the crowd, nor do I think that they saw him.  They bustled and surged—rushing off to hear their rabbi, or write their prayers, or sing their scriptures, or bob before the Wall, worship in whatever way that they thought best—but he just stood and faced the stones.  He looked so unremarkable that at first I looked right past him.  Then something tugged my gaze back to his face, where I found the whole history of his people and a feeling beyond words.  He was crying.

Holy

Quds

Lion Heart (Of the Great and Good in Story, and the Valour of Olde England)


     “What, Wamba, art thou there?” said Richard; “I have been so long of hearing thy voice  thought thou hadst taken flight.”
     “I take flight!” said Wamba.  “When do you ever find Folly separated from Valour?”
—Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe

When I hear the word “plume,” which I don’t very often, I think of gallant knights and/or Millie, and I suppose Millie has that attitude that we call chivalry: the first to charge, the last to leave the battle.  She protects the weak—such as myself—from invaders like the mailman, and the merry voices of the Green kids next door, when their giggles menace us through the fence (ages 4, 2, and .5).  14 pounds of oreo-furred ferocity, a panda face of black eyes and that white plume sprouting up from between them (plus that lopsided underbite) amply account for the perfect unconquered record our home and castle has hitherto enjoyed.  Once a mailman knocked on the door then left, just wanting to let us know a package was on our doorstep.  Millie howled like we were being assailed by Hitler himself, and when I opened the door to pick up the package, she shot past me to tear the deuce a new one.  I had to run a good forty feet down our long sloping driveway to catch her in the process of throwing out her chest to get that devil off our property.  He laughed and heiled it off as he hopped into his truck.  As Millie trotted back up the driveway, she looked at me still full of wrath at the evil of we’d just seen.  Nevermind she was a Shih-Tzu, the set of her jaw was downright pugnacious, I could almost see “the challenging tilt of a cigar”…and suddenly I realized I’d never seen such a striking resemblance to Winston Churchill: the “never give in” ideal personified.  It made me a little jealous to realize that Hitler himself could not have bombed our dog into submission, to think she would have faced the whole Nazi Luftwaffe.  She would have led the charge, like The Last Lion (the Churchill biography I’ve been reading, two years after that mailman moment), and in her howls we might have heard, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”  Shih-Tzu means “lion” in Chinese.

There’s a moment in Braveheart where Robert the Bruce’s father dismisses William Wallace’s fearlessness by saying, “He has courage—so does a dog—but it’s precisely the ability to compromise that makes men noble.”  I’m afraid I fit far too well under his definition of “noble.”  Isn’t faith, the soul of heroism, as Talmage said, more like the soul of Reepicheep, the mouse-knight of Narnia who only wanted worse odds, that he might have greater glory, or perhaps that he might better glorify?  Do I have to write the whole St. Crispin’s Day speech right here, to show what heroes think of impossible odds?  Why yes—I do:

WESTMORELAND: O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING: What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are marked to die, we are enough
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

There was apparently a film version of Henry V, made during WWII in Britain, where the silhouette of a soldier in a tent could be seen donning military fatigues during the St. Crispin’s Day speech.  There was nothing rational at all about defying Germany.  France’s army had outnumbered even the Germans (and far, far outnumbered the Brits), and yet it had fallen within 30 days.  All the Brits had going for them was their moat—the English channel—and their death before dishonor mentality, which they all as one band of brothers shared.  “Like the great and good in story if we fail we fail with glory—God speed the right!  God speed the right!”  English blood itself is an heroic heritage.

Millie’s blood also carries in it the fearless and savage defiance of one who cannot know him or herself beaten.  The mere possibility is inconceivable.  Thus such people—heroes—actually crave worse odds.  It was said of Churchill that after June of 1940, his “world of imagination ‘coincided with the facts of exernal reality in a way that rarely happens to any man.”  These odds were terrible enough that they were finally worth fighting for.  And it wasn’t just Churchill.  Even for the common Englander, morale actually rose when France fell, and when they faced a Europe submerged by the Swastika, utterly alone.  As The New Yorker reported on June 22: “The individual Englishman seems to be singularly unimpressed by the fact that there is now nothing between him and the undivided attention of a war machine such as the world has never seen before.”  “News vendors chalked: ‘we’re in the final—to be played on home ground.’”  Wrote Dorothy L. Sayers:

This is the war that England knows,
When no allies are left, no help
To count upon from alien hands,
No waverers remain to woo,
No more advice to listen to,
And only England stands.

I saved my textbook from my “History of Europe: 1914-present” class, almost exclusively for a single British poster from WWII which it showed: a flight of Nazi planes were sailing in from darkness over the sea; beneath them, a lone British infantrymen raised his fist in defiance of them all.  I’ve wanted that poster ever since then.  I haven’t stopped hoping I’ll find one.

While Hitler was staging a victory parade through the Brandenburg gate—so sure England would see the futility of resistance, and thus fold—a Gallup poll in may found that only 3% of Britons thought that they might lose the war—and “by the end of July, the percentage was so small it was immeasurable.”  This was due to the modern Lion-Heart and true.  (I’ve heard the old Lion-heart, King Richard, wasn’t quite what we know him as in Disney’s Robin Hood or Ivanhoe, historically, but I do not much know.)  After the war, “Englishmen as skeptical of politicians as Bernard Shaw [and others] agreed that had anyone but Churchill been prime minister in the summer of 1940, Britain would have negotiated an armistice with Hitler.”  When Churchill pleaded with the French leaders not to lose spirit and surrender (even the hopelessly outmatched Poles had held out for 3 weeks), one of the French lamented, not that it would change what happened: “If we capitulate, all the great might of Germany will be concentrated upon invading England.  And then what will you do?’ Thrusting his jaw forward, the P.M. replied that he hadn’t thought about it carefully, but that broadly speaking he would propose to drown as many of them as possible and then to hit on the head any of them who managed to crawl ashore.”  So Churchill deserved a lot of the credit for the high spirits of his countrymen, yet they deserve the credit for adopting his.  As Churchill said of his people: “It fell to me in those coming days and months to express their sentiments on suitable occasions.  This I was able to do, because they were mine also.”  And hence people like Hugh Dalton, “long his opponent in the House, wrote [after a speech declaring that “if this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground,” which caused many MPs to rush up shouting to his chair and clap him on the back): ‘He was quite magnificent. [He is] the man, the and the only man we have, for this hour.”  This, their finest hour.  They had literally joined the great and good in story.

Back to Millie, who was the prompt for this Churchillian tribute, and “ruminE/mediation/reflection/expose word” on courage.  She too has something fearless in a feral way, a legacy to her blood.  Our little Horton (“…Hears a Who”--a fluffy elephant, half Millie’s size) enrages Millie; the sight of him awakens an ancient, feral thirst in her to seize by the throat and rampage around the room thrashing back and forth so as to snap the neck and let the blood and take the life of the thing.  I’ve probably seen her do this a dozen times (and I’m not always home from school).  I tried training her to do it by saying “Millie—savage!” once she was already doing it, hoping she’d begin to associate the thrill of slaking her bloodthirst with the sound of that word, but it never worked.  Instead, the word would bring her back from the original instincts of her kind and leave her wondering what the word meant.  The way she thrashes really is savage—violent to the point of blindness.  It makes me wonder about that instinct, how many lives have been lost to its origins her ancestors, those with a more expressive scope.

I’m back on that idea of blindness—Robert the Bruce’s father’s statement that the ability to compromise makes us noble.  I wonder if it’s even noble to reason.  Was it wise to defy Hitler?  I trow not.  Was it right?  “Never in the history of human combat has so much been owed by so many to so few,” said Churchill, of the RAF after their triumph in the Battle of Britain.  I’ve got an RAF pin (a duplicate, I think), given to me by the kind man sitting next to me during Evensong in Christchurch College, Oxford.  He’d learned the only souvenir I wanted was a Royal Air Force bomber jacket, and only regretted he hadn’t brought one of his three to give to me.  A rather unreasonable thing, that, too—he only knew one thing about me.

I wonder more and more about this lofty blindness.  Some people are blinded by odds, and fear; others are blinded by honor, and believe.  Our eyes were made to be single, perhaps, to be blind to all but that thing which we love most; and where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.  Once our hearts are pure, then only we shall see (Him).  So if it were a sin to covet honor, how vicious would my own heart be?  Millie barks before she calculates the odds.  She howls and charges the moment a knock’s at the door (kind of annoying, actually--she's doing it right now and I lie not).  Do the details (defeat or victory) matter?  Or is she so committed to honor that she already knows what she’s going to do: she is beyond the reach of odds.  Goliaths are the ones who win through the odds.  And what is winning worth besides a few more years?  (To flip the cultural contexts, such that the English are the bad guys:)

Young soldier: “Home! The English are too many!”

Wallace: “Aye, you can run, and you’ll live—at least awhile.  But one day, dying in your beds, would you be willing to give every day from that day til this, for one chance, for just one chance, to tell them that they may take away our lives, but they’ll never take OUR FREEDOM!”

“Every man dies, not every man really lives.”  I believe that if we die for principle, we die for all our principles—all the ones we would have lived had God granted us more days.  I don’t think we have anything to lose by losing our lives now.  Don’t get me wrong—I haven’t sworn for death before dishonor yet—but I am working on it, as I believe God is working on me.  Hence I have some hope for this.  Faith is the soul of heroism, true true--and thus heroes are embodiments of courage.

Reepicheep longed for death-or-glory charges, forlorn hopes, and last stands.  Why? Because his time and talents (his life and his blade) were but things with which he hoped to secure the only thing that mattered.  I'm praying for such a shift in my paradigm.  "God help me.  Here I stand." - Martin Luther

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Millie’s funny too, like Churchill, “the most amusing warlord in history.”  A lot of this comes from the fact that neither he nor she ever went in for any of that nonsense that (s)he wasn’t the most important being in the room.  For instance, my dad likes to nap, typically on the couch.  Millie likes to catch him napping, hop up on the couch, then settle herself on his face.  He pushes her off.  She hops on again.  She just does that.  I don’t know where her self-confidence comes from: perhaps she’s a little inflated with herself, not wholly devoted to the humble sort of honour: "Perhaps you think too much of your honor, friend," said Aslan to Reepicheep.  She didn't used to be.  The Christmas Millie first appeared—puffy, small, and tentative—“taking her out” (to do her business) was complicated.  She was so small we couldn’t tell if she was squatting in the snow or just shivering in it, wondering why we were doing this to her.

The other thing she does—simply freaking out—also happens when she feels something commensurate to her capacity for wonder—like when you come home, after a long time off at school.  Then she may be relied upon to rocket to the sound of your voice, and bunch up at your feet, and shake visibly with excitement, literally to the tip of her nose—she sneezes when she’s thrilled.  Then she sprints back into the living room as you greet and hug your sisters, leaps onto the back of a couch and begs you for attention by basically having an affectionate seizure.  Maybe I love her because she loved me first.  Her heart in many ways is godly, so I guess it’s no shame to want to be more like her, a little more gallant and doughty.  Once, when I came home, I was so happy to see her that I realized I couldn't tell her any better than she could tell me (how can you elocute affection to a dog?).  I scratched behind her ears and along her back aggressively (my love language, apparently, along with persecution of siblings etc) such that it rolled her over a time or two.  Apparently she got the gist of what I meant, because it shot her off again, around our basement stairwell at a reckless sprint.  Then she rounded it again.  And then she did again.  And then she did again.  Her strides were the fullest, fiercest things she could express, suspending her in air at full length for an instant before her toes touched the deep beige carpet and she tore herself onward again.  She lapped the stairwell seven or eight times at a breathless pace, then inexplicably reversed directions (I was laughing to myself) then lapped it six more.  Then she lay down, panting desperately, totally spent in her cause.