Saturday, March 20, 2010

Old Wine

Seventh anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. A sabbath year. Appropriate gifts are wool or copper. How time flies. Was it worth it, our War of Western Aggression? Of course not. Nation building, imperialism, the waste of national treasure and international good will. Thousands of American lives lost. Thousands more, that is, heaped atop those of the Towers. Pun not intended. Unintended consequences. Risks? Don't take risks. Courage? There is only wisdom or foolishness. Honor? It doesn't even enter into the equation. Of course not. No more than cavalries use unicorns. There is no cavalry. How foolish, how very foolish -- what fools we have been, those of us who lacked wisdom and prudence and common sense enough to have known that Saddam was in his box, and we were safe, or safe enough, behind the buttresses of our coastlines.

Now, fortunately, at last, calmer heads have prevailed, and the brave new direction our world has turned tail toward ... no, against ... well, the winds have changed, is what I'm trying to say, and you can fool me once, and shame on you, but fool me twice ... don't fool with me is all. I've been fooled enough. I'm such a fool. Look at what I used to believe:


I believe in myths. I know they're not necessarily true, yet I deliberately choose to believe them. I think it's essential for mental health. An imposed order. Like America. Like freedom, or heroism. These things are conceits, terms as vague as vapor, and as insubstantial. The only reality of their meaning is emotional, and emotions change with the wind. No matter. I choose to see them as objective, as indispensable and urgent.

Belief is transmitted through stories. We're told the narrative, over and over until it takes root. Belief blossoms. Sometimes it is beautiful. Sometimes not. We are a sort of universe, and we must say, each of us, Let there be light.

Peggy Noonan tells of a balloon trip she took, heady with atmosphere and wine, over France. Some problem forced a fast descent into a field where an old man worked with a hoe. The ancient farmer was astounded, but when he learned that these precipitous aeronauts were American, he rushed into his home and returned with a bottle of brandy, caked with the dust of decades. He had not seen an American for many years. How long? The Normandy Invasion. He will have harbored that bottle until such time he could uncork it in memory of the liberation of his beloved country, in the presence of some countrymen of those who made it possible.

"To old times," said the old man. "And we raised our glasses," says Noonan, "knowing we were having a moment of unearned tenderness."

I didn't even finish reading her story -- I stopped when the old man returned with a bottle -- and this post sprang full-grown into my mind. In my universe the heavens ring with music, set humming by such tales.

"I always notice the pictures from the wire services, pictures that have nothing to do with government propaganda. The Marine on patrol laughing with the local street kids; the nurse treating the sick mother." So says Noonan. "A funny thing. We're so used to thinking of American troops as good guys that we forget: They're good guys! They have American class."

Myth, of course. Essential myth.

American class isn't refined. It's not elegant. It doesn't know about the shape of wine glasses or which fork to use. It has callouses on its hands. It's actually sort of stupid, sort of clueless. Do not mistake it for vulgar. It is simple kindness. The public bronze statues of Russian soldiers in Eastern European cities have a common nickname: The Unknown Rapist. On the humble graves of American GIs might be found flowers, throughout the year.

Some good wind has blown us here, to undeserved blessings. If you do not weep for the tenderness of it, you do not understand where you are. You are in a stranger's field, who views you with kindness and rushes to find you a blessing. Someone else has hoed the field. Someone else has watered it, or made it wet at least with something red as wine, that beautiful things might grow there. That's the myth I choose to believe. It's true not because I believe it, but because those who have gone before have tended vines that we now reap.

I have never tasted wine. But if I were to fall from the sky into a French farmer's field, who raced to thank me with old wine, I would drink it.


It must have been some other J who wrote that. For my part, I'm done with writing. It's video all the way from now on. Starting with love letter vids to Iran, and ending too. And apologies, for all our sins and crimes. Self-effacement clarifies the soul like wine to the palette or swill to the swine. Yet another life-lesson being made manifest within our increasingly organized community. It used to be like the freakin Special Olympics! You know, stupid -- inarticulate. Now we're smart.


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