Friday, May 01, 2009

Bits and pieces

David Souter's retirement. I don't know if this anecdote is true, but I sure hope it is. Reader comment #20 under the Times story about Souter retiring: "When someone saw him jogging in D.C., they stopped him, and mistakenly addressed him as Justice Kennedy. When they asked what the best part about being a Supreme Court Justice was, he said, 'The honor and privilege of serving with David Souter.' " I sure appreciate his wanting to ditch Washington D.C., as well as wanting to climb some more mountains.

Lily #1. Before Wondertime closed the staff asked us to ask our kids what they like about nature. This is what my Brooklyn-born and bred kid has to say: "That it's so quiet. Walking quietly. It's really quiet. And then, if you just sit down and look out at nature, there might be a lot of really interesting things that you spot. Like, once I spotted a blossom on a bush and it was the only blossom on there and it was really hard to see. It was a lonely little blossom . . . Sitting still and hearing the birds sing . . . I really like that the fact that so many animals can live in one tree . . . There isn't any one thing, there's too many things to like one thing. It would take a person five million years to count it."

It amazes me how much a person knows and thinks, even a 10-year-old person, even a 10-year-old person I think I know really, really well. I really love her line about how many animals can live in one tree. Not to mention, hey! My city kid loves nature! Yahoo! Something took, and we've only been here a couple of years.

Lily #2. Recently Lily had to write and deliver a "speech of praise" to her class. I think they called it their hero speech. She chose me!! (blush, blush). What an honor. So here's what she said:

I have a great mother. Her name is Sasha Nyary. She has made a great impact on my life. These are only some of the great qualities she has. My mom is very kind. She is very generous, and is a good cook. She loves to read and sing.

My mother is very kind and generous. She was kind once when I was about five. I was ice skating and I fell. I couldn’t get up nor could I crawl, because it hurt a lot. She came onto the slippery ice without ice skates on and carried me off the ice. Once when she was generous was when I wanted to get a toy online, but I couldn’t pay for all of it. She paid for the rest of it for me. She also got me an extra thing. I think that was very generous.

My mom is also a good cook and she loves to read. One time when she and I were making cookies, even the batter was good, but the cookies were out of this world. My mom loves to read. A lot of the books I’ve read were books she started reading aloud for me and I liked them so much that I finished them myself.

My mom loves to sing. She was in a choir when she was younger and she’s the reason I’m in a choir now. I didn’t want to do it but she wanted me to try it. I love doing it now! My mom also loves to sing along to CDs. Sometimes it bothers me, but I can’t stop her doing it. I don’t mind though.

I’m so lucky to have a mom like mine. I guess you can say my mom’s my hero. She really shows me what’s right and what’s wrong. My mom inspires me. I love my mom.

How cool is that!

Inspiration. Dave sent me this link right after Wondertime closed. Chin up!

Evolution. Why can't we just say that God created evolution? I believe in God and I believe in evolution, although that’s such a weird thing to say, kind of like saying I believe in gravity. So, okay, I believe in gravity too. (A few months ago a friend asked Dave and I if we believed in global warming. I'd never heard it phrased quite like that. Yup! Just like I believe in evolution and gravity. The evidence is incontrovertible. But I digress.)

But why do God and evolution have to be exclusive of each other? When I say I believe in God, I don’t mean a deity who created the world and controls our every action, but if I did, why couldn't I easily say, without being intellectually dishonest, that God created the world, and with it, evolution. What a great God! Cool for you, God, you clever thing! Why can’t we all just agree on that, the creationists and the atheists?

I was pontificating about this last weekend, as is my wont, at my 20th reunion of journalism graduate school, and my friend Laurie's husband, Peter, actually gave me a great answer. He said it's because of the monkey thing. We really want to distinguish ourselves from all other animals--remember the friezes and statues on European churches with humans crawling up and out of the lowly beasts, he asked me--and some people can't bear to think that humans evolved from early apes. That we really are primates. I really liked that explanation, it helped put a number of things in perspective. Thanks, Peter! Very helpful.

The myth of the Puritans. I often hear about how the roots of our country are so puritanical, how our founding fathers were so uptight, so today we are all about work, work, work, and the natural reaction to all that uptightness is for us to cut loose wildly every now and then.

Except it's hooey. I've long wondered why we go on and on about our so-called puritanical roots when Europeans were landing all along the Atlantic coast, beginning nearly 20 years before the Pilgrims in Massachusetts. The guys in Jamestown were businessmen. (Very interesting to look at early American education, and how it differed in New England and Virginia.) My former colleague Naomi from Wondertime did her graduate work in this area, and as she notes, not only were the Puritans "not puritanical in the sense that we imagine," she points out that New England was founded not only by Puritans but also by Quakers (see Rhode Island) and Methodists."

New York City, according to Russell Shorto's remarkable and well-researched book The Island at the Center of the World, was an amalgam of immigrants from all over, including Jews and free blacks, and was administered by the much hipper Dutch for decades before the humorless English took over. Naomi says that "the Puritan myth is a powerful one, largely because of the first Thanksgiving story, which only became part of the American legend around the time of the Civil War." That makes lots of sense.

Let's get over this uptight, Puritan-roots nonsense. And while I'm on my soap box, in this age of hatred against immigration and resistance to all things not whitebread and bland, let's look at who we really were, right from the beginning, and embrace our deep multi-cultural, multi-ethnic roots. Except for First Peoples, we are all immigrants, we all know that.

If we don't want illegal immigration we shouldn't go messing around in other countries. (Of course, there's lots of reasons not to go messing around in other countries . . . ) When I was in college in the mid-80s I got into a discussion with someone about Nicaragua, and finally she said to me in exasperation, "Don't you understand that my brother in Texas could care less about what happens to the Nicaraguans!" The proper response is, he will when they stream over the border to escape the poverty and destruction we've caused as we've tried to overthrow the Sandanistas. You don't see Canadians sneaking across the border in droves.

This is similar to another myth, "God helps those who help themselves," which is not in the Bible at all, it's by Benjamin Franklin, according to this Biblical website. (The site goes on to point out that it's the antithesis of what Jesus was trying to say, which was, help the helpless.)

Man, I am on a roll today.

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