“Shakespeare, Life of an Icon” at the Folger Shakespeare Library until March 27. See it if you can!

I have been to a number of exhibits at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill over the years, and while I have found each of them interesting, I have also found their details easy to forget.  Usually, you see some old manuscripts, often early Shakespearean folios, or you see manuscripts by his contemporaries, or later books or documents related to his work.  The current exhibit, “Shakespeare, Life of an Icon” is different.  It is absolutely fascinating and I highly recommend it.

William Shakespeare died in 1616, 400 years ago.  Many special events are scheduled worldwide this year to mark this date – this exhibit is one of them.

It’s not that it’s a big exhibit.  It runs the one long hallway between the east and west entrances to the building.  The thrust of the exhibit is to display Shakespeare as he was a living man in the  late 16th and early 17th centuries, both as he saw himself and as others saw him.

There is not much around to show how Shakespeare viewed his own life, but much of what remains is here on display.  Deeds to properties, for example, both his homes and the Blackfriar Theater, in which he invested.  Baptism records, a letter from the man who was to become his son-in-law, his will.

More interesting are items related to his work.  There are contemporary diaries whose entries include thoughts on plays seen by the writers, there is an eye witness account of the fire that destroyed the original Globe Theater.  There are not only early version s of his plays, but there are both contemporary manuscripts and books in which Shakespeare is mentioned, or in which he is quoted.  There are satires making fun of his relationship with Ben Jonson, his rival and close friend.  There is Ben Jonson’s handwritten appreciation of Shakespeare written after Shakespeare’s death.  There items discussing the legitimacy of the coat of arms granted the Shakespeare family.

So much, and like in many small but perfect exhibits, each single item is as interesting as the last one.

Yoram Kaniuk One More Time – this time his tale of Aunt Shlomzion the Great. Who knew?

I think the first time I ever hear of Yoram Kaniuk, the Israeli writer, is when Theater J, a couple of years ago, did a staged reading of an adaptation of his book 1948, dealing with the memories of soldiers who had fought the Israeli War of Independence, suffered greatly doing so (some not coming back alive), and to some extent wondering if it was worthwhile.  Kaniuk himself was in the war as a 17 year old, and was injured.  It was a very powerful production.

Then later, I came across and read “Life on Sandpapaer”, Kaniuk’s memoir of the ten years he spent in the United States in the 1950s (see my post titled “The Pleasure of Reading Interesting Memoirs”, December 30, 2015), a fascinating and wonderfully written (if undoubtedly somewhat exaggerated) tale of a would-be artist turned would-be writer, flailing among the musicians and artists of Greenwich Village and Harlem 60 years ago.  Kaniuk after he recovered from his war wound, went to Paris to study art, but left fairly quickly to come to New York, where he lived for a decade, finally marrying an American blue-blood.  An unlikely pairing, to say the least, that only lasted until his death in 2013.

And then just last week, I stumbled across another of Kaniuk’s books, with the unfortunate title of “The Story of Aunt Shlomzion the Great”.  It’s a short novel, it got off to what I thought was a disappointing and slow start, I was ready to abandon it, and then it really took off.  It’s only because I had read “Life on Sandpaper” that I realized that this book two, like “Sandpaper” and like “1948” must have been based, however loosely, on his own experience.

For one thing, the strange name Shlomzion (a contraction of what would be in English “Peace of Zion”) was the actual name of an Israelite queen from the first century b.c.e.  She was apparently successful and peace loving.  Not named in the biblical text, I guess, but referred to in numerous places in the Talmud and in the writings of Josephus.  Her name adorns several streets in Israeli cities “Shlomzion Malka” – Queen Shlomzion.

She has nothing to do with the title character of the book, who is simply the aunt of the first person teller of the tale.  And she’s not a normal aunt.  Seventy sex years old when the tale is being told, very wealthy with her wealth hidden so that no one knows where it is or how much it is, and the most beautiful woman in the world, who has lost none of her beauty or allure as she has aged.  She is also controlling, unpleasant, unable to keep up decent relations with anyone, and demanding.  She is living out her dying days, although she is still healthy, in a hospital suite, for which she pays a handsome sum every month.

You learn about her, and her intellectual but emasculated husband Nehemiah, who has recently died, and even more so about her imperious father Adonsky, the unremembered builder of most of Tel Aviv, and her meek mother, Miriam, the descendant of a very important Hebron family.  Adonsky has made a fortune building, but his financial climb started when he began to acquire and sell grave site, especially on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem in the late 19th century.  But Adonsky is not a Zionist in the normal sense of the world, although he is quite a seer and realized that a Jewish state would be created at this place and bring with it great demand for houses and grave sites.  And to him, the grave sites were the most important – God did not bring the Jews to the promised land to live there in peace; He brought them to die there where they would be closer to His home at the time of the resurrection.  And the Hebron family got involved in the mysterious Ben-Amram, the man who became the emissary of Hebron to the world, who traveled the world continually, and who perhaps ran away with the treasure of the Hebron Jewish community with which he had been entrusted.

And you learn of the one son of Shlomzon and Nehemiah – the boy whose name was fought over for 18 months between father and mother, 18 months during which they neither lived together nor spoke with each other, and during which poor Nehemiah never saw his son.  But his son showed them!  No one could live with a mother like Shlomzion – so he packed himself off to America, changed his name to (of all things) Arty, married (of all things) a Japanese woman (you can imagine how that went over) and who came with his family to Israel to visit his ailing mother.  They came, he, his wife and their young twins, for a three week stay.  They went back to Chicago after two days.

The lives of Shlomzion and members of her family, past and present, tell quite a tale, and once I got through those first “what the hell is going on?” chapters, kept me captivated until the end.

How much of this is true?  Did Kaniuk have an aunt on whom he based Shlomzion the Great?  I would bet he did.  Who else would have visited this tale teller, the young man who has left Israel to be a starving art student in Paris?  And who else would that art student have been but Yoram Kaniuk himself?

“Between Riverside and Crazy”

There must be something wrong with me.  We saw Stephan Adly Guirgis’ “Between Riverside and Crazy” at the Studio Theatre this afternoon.  Its run ends tonight.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2015.  It’s a good play – but to me it was far from perfect.  (But the lead actor, Frankie Faison, is close to perfect.)

Faison’s character (Walter Washington – not the former DC mayor) is a 30-year veteran of the New York City police department, who was disabled when shot 6 times by another policeman.  He lives in his Riverside Drive apartment, protected by rent stabilization, his wife deceased, his one son troubled, his apartment lived in by a young ex-con for whom he is a father figure and a young woman, the girlfriend of his son.  He is bitter, angry, and alcoholic.  He has a suit pending for 8 years for damages, and has refused to accept any of the settlements offered by the city.  He either wants more or he wants the fight to continue.

None of his relationships work out, and Washington vacillates between charm and anger.  His ex-police partner, a white woman, with her white policeman fiance, try to convince him to settle with the city.  A rather over-the-top representative of his church tries to awaken his spiritual inside.

Guirgis is a very good wordsmith.  The play moves quickly, goes between tragedy and comedy, light and dark.  Holds your interest.  None of the characters are perfect – far from it.  Perhaps, this is realistic; I am not sure.  But I must say that there is something about this play that I didn’t like.  I didn’t find it realistic.  I did feel a bit manipulated, as is easy to feel in plays where the basis is racism, or the position of racial minorities in American society.  And, if I were black, I think I would feel the same.  I can’t be specific; I just felt to an extent uncomfortable.  And not in a comfortable way.

There must be something wrong with me.

By the way, I do think that Stephen Adly Guirgis is very talented and has written one of the most extraordinary plays I have seen, “The Last Days of Judas Iscariat”; in fact, I have seen a number of his plays, all of which I enjoyed.  And I enjoyed this one – except, as I have said, it left me a bit uncomfortable.  And, to repeat, there must be something wrong with me.

Even More Book Quickies

  1.  Two more Philip Roth books, relatively recent ones.  The first that I read, “Nemesis” (2010), is the story of a Jewish teenager in Newark caught up in terrible times.  It’s the mid-1940s, and a war is raging in Europe.  One of his closest friends has already been killed in battle.  He is not there because of poor eyesight, and is left at home where, just out of school, he has a job running a summer playground.  But in 1944 in Newark, there was another problem – polio.  Polio strikes several children at the playground – one dies.  He quits his job and takes over the water instructor role at a summer camp in the Poconos.  Polio strikes there as well; even he comes down with it, a bad case that affects his limbs and even more so the arc of his life.  The second book deals with a somewhat later period.  “Indignation” (2008) takes place in the 1950s, during the Korean War.  Again,, the central character is a young man from Newark who leaves his local college after the first year to escape his overbearing butcher father and see more of the world.  He winds up as one of the few Jews in a small Ohio school, where he finds the academics easy, getting along with his classmates sometimes difficult, and where he picks the wrong girl to get involved with.  The school has a mandatory chapel attendance requirement.  He learns he can pay someone to attend in his place and sign him in, which he does.  But he is caught, and expelled, and winds up in Korea, where he is killed…….after which he writes his book.  I found both of these books engaging and recommend them.
  2. I read Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal” (2014), about the end of life, written by the well published physician/author.  It’s a beautifully written book, and talks about the dangers and tragedies of over treatment when patients would often prefer much less.  Death can be eased in many cases, by letting natural events take their course (except for palliative, pain management care) and, in fact, in many instances, the overly aggressive treatment not only fails and causes unnecessary agony, but actually shortens the life it was meant to extend.  No easy answers, as sometimes the treatment works, and sometimes it doesn’t.  But hospice care, and other environments where the patient is able to assert some control and where suffering is mitigated – this is what seems to work best.
  3. Fernande Leboucher’s “Incredible Mission” (1969) is the amazing story of a French Capuchin priest, Father Marie-Benoit, who – first in Marseilles and then in Rome – becomes the coordinator of a series of largely successful attempts to hide Jews from the Nazis, giving them false passport documents, identification papers, food rationing cards and more.  He helps some escape from prison camps in France (including the author’s husband, who is eventually caught again and sent to Auschwitz), and helps hundreds, perhaps thousands, hide in Rome during the Nazi roundup there.  His willingness to do this, and the large networks he creates to help prepare the paperwork, and hide the hunted, is indeed extraordinary.  He died in 1990 at 94.  A book hard to find, but much worth while reading.

“The Great American Novel” and the Great American Sport.

Trapped in the house.  Six inches of snow have fallen.  Freezing rain is expected over night.  So naturally, I am thinking about baseball.  And thinking about continuing on my 2016 project to read through Philip Roth’s works.

There has been a lot of fiction written about baseball, and it is not uncommon to find lists of the “best baseball books”.  One book that seems never to be on the list is Philip Roth’s “Great American Novel”, his sixth novel, published in 1973.  Why is this?

To quote Roth himself, one reason might be as set forth in the book’s epilogue, as a letter provided to the author by a prospective publisher after reading the yet unpublished book:

“I find what I have read of your novel thoroughly objectionable.  It is a vicious and sadistic book of the most detestable sort, and your treatment of blacks, Jews, and women, not to mention the physically and mentally handicapped, is offensive in the extreme; in a word, sick.”

That may all be true, but it is also a very clever and enjoyable book, and an extremely unique one.  And it’s a baseball book.  And “The Great American Novel”.

It’s the story of the demise of the Port Ruppert Mundys, and the entire Patriot League, the third professional baseball league (not including the Negro League, which also plays a role in the book), which dissolved in the mid-1940s and has been wiped out of the history books, the public records of all sorts, and even the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  Dissolved as a result of Communist infiltration designed to destroy baseball, and therefore capitalism, in America.  (OK, I gave no spoiler alert.) That’s why you have never heard of the PL.

While there were eight teams in the league, the book, after giving the history of the league when it was at least the equal of the others and perhaps the first among equals, when the likes of Luke Gofannon and Gil Gamesh (before his lifetime suspension) were still playing, “The Great American Novel” focuses on one team – the Ruppert Mundys, the team that arranged to lease its stadium to the United States government for military training purposes, thus being transposed into a road-only team, playing all its games in the stadiums of others.  And, until being shown the secrets of winning, lost virtually every game.

Why did they lose?  Well, not having a home was obviously not good for morale, but it was also true that, with the majority of the team’s players now fighting for their country in World War II, the roster left a lot to be desired.  Roth carefully describes the regular starting line up.  One of my favorites was Mike Rama, the left fielder (reminding me, unfortunately of a young Bryce Harper, perhaps):

“Batting fifth and playing left field, No. 13, MIKE RAMA. RAMA.

“Even before the Mundys had to play day in and day out on the other fellow’s terrain, Mike “the Ghost” Rama (TL, BL, 6’1″, 183 lbs.) had his troubees with the outside wall.  Just so long as there was one of them behind him, whether it was in Mundy Park on the the road, sooner or later, the Ghost went crashing up against it in do-or-die pursuit of a well-tagged ball.  In ’41, his rookie year, he had on five different occasions to be removed on a stretcher from the field in Port Ruppert.  The fans, of course, were deeply moved by the brilliant youngster so dedicate to victory as to be utterly heedless of his own welfare.  It rent their hearts to hear the konk resound throughout the ball park when Mike’s head made contact with the stadium wall — was he dead this time?  and, damn it, had he dropped the ball?  But miraculously neither was the case.  The umpire who rushed to the outfield to call the play (before calling the hospital) invariably found the baseball lodged snugly in the pocket of the unconscious left fielder’s glove.  “Out”, he would shout, and without irony, for he was describing only the status of the batter….”

What turns the Mundys from losers to winners.  For one thing, it’s sprinkling some Jewish Wheaties on their breakfast cereal (don’t ask).  For another, it seems to be wresting control of the team from the black janitor, who makes all decisions in the absence of the owners, who seem to spend all their time in Mexico. Then, it is instruction on hatred – how to hate your opponents so deeply that winning is the only choice. This is the heart of Communist tactics.  But reading it, and thinking about today’s real politics, it sometimes strikes much too close to home.

This book is a farce, written by an old sportswriter (now living in a nursing home), the only man to remember the Patriots League and the Mundys (if in fact he does). Nothing in it is real; nothing in it is conceivable.  But, putting aside the lack of political correctness (speaking of things that strike home about today’s political scene), the book is very clever and very funny.  It was, of course, written by a young(ish) Philip Roth.

And it is a baseball book.  And deserves to be on the list of best baseball books.  And – unless you are turned off by being continually offended by one thing or another – it is highly recommended.





Quick Review: “The Critic” and “The Real Inspector Hound” at Shakespeare Theatre.

The Shakespeare Theatre perfectly paired Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s “The Critic” (1779) with Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound” (1968).  Not only are they both focused on the rarefied world of theater critics, but it seems to me that Stoppard was not unfamiliar with Sheridan when he wrote “Inspector Hound”.

I watched the two one-acts at the Shakespeare Theatre today and, although my view was limited by the oversized giant seated in front of me, I enjoyed both.  They are equally clever and are being performed equally well.  Unfortunately, the show closes after tomorrow’s performances.

So what is the role of a theater critic? Two possible roles were depicted two hundred years ago by Sheridan.  There are those critics who go to the theater not for entertainment but to find fault and build there own reputations.  And there are critics who go to praise everything and everyone in order to be accepted by the broader theater community, whether or not they are being paid to make their points.

Presumably neither of these form the majority of the critic community, who look to educate the audience and, at the same time, to promote theater going and theater acceptance.  And this balance is not always easy.  You can find fault with a play, yet want people to see it, to become familiar with the playwright, the cast members, the theater. It’s not an easy task.

Putting this aside – what about “Critic” and “Inspector Hound”?  Both are clever, and Sheridan’s humor works fine today.  Two critics who like to find fault meet with a critic who praises everything and gets well paid for the task.  They learn that the mercenary critic has written his own play, and it is being rehearsed at the Drury Lane Theater, owned of course by one Richard Brindsley Sheridan.  It is not to be performed there, it is just being rehearsed there, and Sheridan has never seen the play.  The author is convinced that Sheridan is going to be at his theater the next day and they invite themselves to see the rehearsal. They go to the theater, and keep advising the playwright as they look at the play to make change after change in a manner that they say will please Mr. Sheridan.  It is very funny, especially when performed by a talented cast, and set in a theater with the resources to create just the right background and scenery.

The “Inspector Hound” is different.  Two critics come to see a play.  The play presumably is akin to the famous “The Mousetrap”.  A murder in a secluded house.  Who was killed and which of the guests did it?  We watch the play (within a play) and listen to the banter of the critics in the audience.  We learn that one of the critics has been seen with the play’s youngest female character.  They begin to communicate directly, and the critic wanders out of his seat down to the stage.  The play within the play does a rewind.  Virtually, the same script is repeated, with the critics playing two of the main characters and the two actors winding up as critics in the audience.  It is very clever.

So, we have two playwrights making fun of critics.  That’s fair.  The rest of the time, it’s the critics making fun of the playwrights.  I enjoyed myself



Down, Down, Down – a Danish Film to Bring Out the Depression in You: “After the Wedding”

I really enjoyed “Mama Mia”, the Broadway musical, the story (as I recall) of an enterprising mother who ran an inn on a Greek island, and whose daughter was about to be married.  She wanted to make sure her daughter’s father came to the wedding, but she really never knew who the father was.  There were three possibilities, living on other sides of the world, who were possibilities.  They were all invited.  They all came.  And everyone had fun.  (How could they not, since everything they did was accompanied by ABBA songs?)

Last night we watched a 2006 Danish film, “After the Wedding”, on the recommendation of a friend.  The fact is that the film was very well reviewed, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2007.  While the premise was not quite the same as that of “Mama Mia”, there were similarities.  A wealthy Danish businessman has a fatal illness, which he keeps to himself.  He is married, has two children of his own, and his wife has an older daughter from a previous relationship.  This girl, Anna, does not know who her father was.  But Jorgen, her step father, does.  Jacob, the father, his wife’s ex-flame and also a Dane, runs an orphanage for poor children in a poor community in India.  Jorgen finds out where Jacob is, and invites him to Denmark until the pretense that he is looking for worthwhile causes to donate considerable amounts of money to, and this orphanage has been recommended to him.  Jacob travels to Denmark, meets Jorgen, learns that Jorgen’s daughter is about to be married, is invited to the wedding, discovers that Jorgen’s wife is his old girl friend, and puts two and two together, realizing he is the father of the bride.

So far, OK, not a bad plot line.  But where “Mama Mia” takes uncertain parenthood and turns it into an uplifting farce, “After the Wedding” has its dour and volatile characters embroiled in one or another awful situation, bringing the viewer down, down, down.  At least that was our reaction.

So if a friend ever suggests you see “After the Wedding”, take my advice.  Watch “Mama Mia”.

Random Facts No. 1

Here is my first collection of random facts that just one day might come in handy (all from reading the Feb 4 issue of Washington Jewish Week)

  1.  The Virginia House of Delegates passed a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel 91-0.  Sounds good, right?  But apparently there were 9 Democratic members of the House who left the chamber to avoid voting.  What’s that all about?
  2. How many individuals have been proclaimed as Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem?  Apparently, it is 25,600.  Not a small number.
  3. Some of you may have seen the remarkable film made about Sir Nicholas Winton, the British businessman who organized kindertransports from Prague to bring Jewish children to England just before the start of World War II.  How many people alive today are descendants of those young Jewish survivors?  Over 6,000.
  4. Many military families living in the United States suffer from “food insecurity” and rely on food banks to obtain enough food to feed their families.
  5. There’s an active Jewish community of about 8,000 in the majority Muslim Russian city of Kazan.  Its size and its development as a community is due the success and popularity of a Klezmer band founded there in 1987.
  6. When the Washington Post published a chart entitled “A Visual Guide to 75 Years of Major Refugee Crises Around the World” (in December), it omitted any mention of the approximately 800,000 Jewish refugees from Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa, of whom the majority settled in Israel.
  7. A group of 71 British physician members of the World Medical Association suggested that the Association kick the Israel Medical Association out of the organization, making collaboration between Israeli medical institutions and other medical institutions impossible.  After stirring up some controversy, the proposal is apparently going nowhere.  All part of the BDS movement.
  8. In 1942, the Struma, a ship carrying about 800 to Palestine and flailing in the Black Sea was sunk by a Russian torpedo.  Of the 800, there was apparently only one survivor, a Romanian Jew named David Stoliar.  He recently passed away at 91.  He lived in Bend, Oregon, of all places (an area best known today for the Bundy occupation).

“Occupied” [“Okkupert”] – Russia Invades Norway/Norway Responds and Falls Apart

What happens when your wife has knee replacement surgery?  You spend a lot of time at home, especially in the evenings, and you get to watch more television than you normally would.

One of the things we watched was the 10-part Norwegian series, “Occupied”, streamed on Netflix, and recommend it highly to you.  (We have for years watched “Homeland”, and thought this series in many ways as good, and in some ways more sophisticated.)

I am not going to give away the plot lines, but from the premise,  you can see the complexities that can arise.

The time is sort of an alternative now, or maybe not too far in the future.  The world is somewhat different from the one we know, but the setting is contemporary.  And the locale is, of course, Norway.

Norway.  Progressive, prosperous, independent Norway.  The prime minister is a member of a green party, determined to end the world’s dominance on fossil fuels, and to turn the primary source of energy to a fuel based on the element thorium (A real possibility, see http://www.energyfromthorium.com).  To prod the world along, Norway shuts down its oil and natural gas production facilities, much to the dismay of the European Union (In “Occupied”, Norway is not a member of the EU – in the real world, that is also the case.) The EU and Russia try to pressure Norway to reverse its position, but the Norwegian government is on a long term mission to save the world, so it refuses.  The Russians come in on an emergency basis and take over the Norwegian fossil fuel facilities under threat of war.  If there is one thing the Norwegian government wants to avoid (other than fossil fuel production and climate change), it is war and wartime casualties.  The Norwegians sign an agreement with the EU and Russia to permit Russia to operate the facilities until their output is equal to what it was before the takeover, at which time the Russians are to leave.  The United States has become an isolationist country (even pulling out of NATO), so plays no role in the dispute.  Oil and gas production increases…….but the Russians never leave.

I find this a unique and compelling premise, but what is most interesting is what happens to happy Norwegian society when faced with this “occupation”.  There are those who feel the most important thing is to get along with the Russians, presumably so they will leave.  There are those who form the “Free Norway” (“Fritt Norge”) movement to sabotage the Russians and show that Norway, small as it is in population, cannot be pushed around.  There are Russians equally stubborn. There are people playing both sides.  There are those getting rich off the occupation.  There are vicious intra-family disputes.  There is incidence after incidence of unexpected consequences.  Ambiguity is everywhere. The country, prosperous and beautiful as it is, gets torn apart.

This is a story of how quickly society, the best of societies, can unravel, and how difficult it can be to put it back together.  Many lessons to be learned – including the very important lesson that you just never know what is going to happen next.

The first episode was shown in Norway in October 2015, so I assume it ended around Christmas. The show, the product of a joint Swedish-Norwegian production team, has apparently been a big hit in Norway and elsewhere in Europe.  Its reviews are strong.  Only one country seems to find fault with the series – and that of course is Russia.  Russia’s embassy in Oslo called the show “destructive and dangerous”, saying in was creating the specter of a threat where no threat existed, that it was aimed at recreating the Cold War, and that it showed Russia as an aggressive power.

Presumably the show will return for a second season next fall (no details of a second season have been given, although the show’s spokesmen have said it is coming back).  We will see how Russia is treated next year – whether the objections from their neighbor on the northern frontier have any effect in changing the direction of the plot lines.  My vision is that the Russian objections will lead to counter-statements from elements in Norway, which will lead to more words from Russian sources, etc., etc., and that we will find a parallel dispute between the two countries and the two populations – one in “Occupied”, the other in the “real world”.

Ask What You Can Do For Your Country…..or Not

As a run-up to the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of John F. Kennedy on May 29, 2017, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has sent out an RFP (here, a Request for Plays) to the general population.  The plays are to be at the most 500 words (about 4 minutes from curtain up to curtain down) and are to reflect the legacy of a particular sentence of JFK, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

Of course, I went right into action and scribbled off a first draft of a “tiny play” (my draft was actually a bit under 400 words).   Submissions are due February 19, but I don’t think I am going to actually submit because my play is not celebratory, it is dark.  Dark, dark…..and that’s probably not what they have in mind.

My thought is that Kennedy’s familiar quote must be looked at in context.  Certainly, there are things we want our country to provide for us – one thing we all agree on, for example, is the national defense.  And what about “what you can do for your country”? First, we don’t all want the same things to be done for the country.  If someone wants to work to regulate reproductive rights, to build a wall on the Mexican border, or to round up illegal residents, it is clear that others would strongly object.  So all of this depends on what your vision of your country is – there are some people I would love to see doing something for their country.  But that sure doesn’t go for everyone.

So, I began to think about people whose vision of a country differ from mine.  And how John Kennedy’s words can inspire them, as well as me, to participate in the political world.  With this in mind (and I wonder what you think), here is what I put together yesterday morning:

“Ask What You Can Do For Your Country……”

[A young man (say he’s 24) and a young woman (say she’s 22) sit on a bench, talking.  They are obviously attracted to each other.]

He: Boy, this is really inspiring. I’ve never really looked at this speech before. “Ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country can do for you”. That about says it all. I’ve been here now for five years. Never concentrated much on American history. But I am beginning to understand it here more and more.

She: Yeah, I guess that’s why JFK is remembered so well. That, and his head of hair. And I guess he tried. But that guy shot him. And killed him. So maybe he didn’t get much of a chance to do anything for his country.

He: Of course he did. He died for his country. Like you tell me that Jesus died for your sins.

She: That’s not quite the same, is it? It was God who decided that Jesus would die for us. But it was just some Communist moron who shot Kennedy. You don’t think that God ordered Kennedy to be killed, do you?

He: Well, sure I do. That’s how history works. We aren’t free agents, are we? Of course, we are being directed from above. Directed, and ordered, to do certain things to bring about the salvation of the world. Don’t you know that?
She: Not really. But you are right that Kennedy’s speech is inspiring. And today’s politicians. God, I wish that they more like him. “Make America great again” doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it? I don’t think “Break up Wall Street” does either. But maybe someone will come along. We should give them a chance, I guess. That’s why I’m excited about going to the rally this afternoon.

He: And I’m glad you decided to come with me. It’s always a big help, you know, to go with a pretty girl. We can get much closer to the front and can see better. Everyone will let you through. They’d just ignore me if I was alone. I wouldn’t be able to see anything.
And I am looking forward to hearing them. In just a few years, I realize that this is quite a country. Freedom that I wouldn’t have elsewhere. Open elections, free speech, the right to join crowds, the Second Amendment.

She: What does the Second Amendment have to do with this?

He: You’ll see.