Author Archive for jdbernard743

America: Listen to Your Poets…

I have not so much emulated the birds that musically sing,

I have abandoned myself to flights, broad circles.

The hawk, the seagull, have far more possess’d me than the canary or mockingbird.

I have not felt to warble and trill however sweetly,

I have felt to soar in freedom and in the fullness of power, joy, volition.

Walt Whitman, Old Age Echoes from Leaves of Grass

At end of each year the winter solstice and family birthdays remind me we’re at the end of something and the beginning of something else – a convergence of old and new – things to celebrate and things to ponder. Time to review the passing year and reset for the what’s coming. read more

Anti-Semitic Fever Dream

The two 4-inch square brass plaques in the photo below are stolpersteine (“stumbling stones” in German). They are embedded in the sidewalk in front of my former apartment at 14 Ruhlaerstrasse in Berlin. Edith and Willy Lindenberg lived there until November 11, 1941 when they were deported to a concentration camp in Minsk (Belarus) and murdered simply because they were Juden (Jewish). The plaques are part of the stolpersteine project created in 1992 by German artist Gunter Deming.

The plaques are to commemorate the victims and remind all who “stumble” across them of the Nazi’s “final solution”– to obliterate all “racially inferior” non-Aryans. They are placed in front of the last known residences of those deported and murdered during the Holocaust. As of 2019 there were more than 75,000 stolpersteine in 1200 locations in Western Europe. read more

Mounting Losses…

I often think, even in difficult times, that optimism is baked into our DNA–but confronted with end-of-life issues I waver. There are so many possible tragic endings…in fiction and in life. From Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina’s throwing herself in front of the oncoming train, to the brilliant actor Chadwick Boseman’s secretive death from colon cancer at age 43, life shows us the unpredictability of our endings. Sherwin Nuland, the physician/writer, reminds us in his book, How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter that most of us mythologize that chapter, hoping and imagining a quiet slumber from which we never wake. “There is a vast literature on death and dying,” but rarely does it dwell on the ugly details. read more

Are You Afraid of Books?

I recently read an article that began with “A library implies an act of faith.” I had never thought of libraries in that way, but it resonated. The quote is from A Qui La Faute?, a Victor Hugo poem written in 1872.  It suggests that by collecting books people are investing in the future—having faith that future generations will find inspiration and continue to grow intellectually, that they will learn from history and the experience of others.

But there are those who see a darker side. These people see danger lurking in the stacks. They think that by restricting access they can protect themselves and their children from dangerous and upsetting history and ideas. This is at the root of the great books debate. In 1497 Savonarola, the Italian friar, led a movement that destroyed art and burned books in the name of Christian renewal. In 1922, James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses, was banned in the United States and Great Britain and a serialized version was burned in the streets of Ireland, England and Canada. read more

Safe and Secure in Idaho…

You might recognize her as a type: a neatly dressed, polite, older woman but tentative and out of place in her role as a restaurant server. It may not be fair, but I often slot these women–mostly widows and/or single women–into a category that supplements its limited Social Security by working entry level service jobs. Last night, one served us at the restaurant next door to our Best Western hotel in rural Idaho.

Bonnie, not her real name, might fit this description generally, but our encounter revealed a more disturbing story. This awkward but friendly woman in white jeans and starched pinstripe shirt with glasses hanging from a lanyard started the conversation while busing our outside table overlooking the Snake River. With only a few post-Labor Day stragglers in the restaurant she felt comfortable pausing to talk. read more