The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

 I got a call from an old friend over the Christmas weekend. We hadn’t talked in a long time so I was a little surprised to hear from him. 

What I think prompted it (other than his wanting to wish me greetings and felicitations) was the fact that I had sent him an email inviting him to follow this blog.

 During the course of our conversation my friend John said that he would look in on it from time to time – but didn’t want to “subscribe.” (John always had commitment issues). During the time that we were both in Chicago, he had heard some of the stories I have related here – but some were new to him.

 He asked me a question. “How is that so many interesting things have happened to you and why is it that you have met such unusual people?” 

Because I like to think about questions that go beyond, “What’s the score?” I gave this some serious thought. My conclusion to this introspection was not that I had been particularly fortunate – but that I always have taken the time to look at what is going on around me. I think there are people who do not bother and as a result miss much that life has to show them.

 For whatever reason, I have always been very observant. I don’t know why my brain works this way but it does. Perhaps it’s that my parents always pointed out how wonderful the world is – and how we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves and our little planet.  

I used to spend hours at the Hayden Planetarium, fascinated with the incredible vastness of the universe. Of course, that was when our solar system had nine planets rather than its current eight. It was also a time when the name of the seventh planet, Uranus was pronounced with the emphasis placed on the second syllable rather than the first – lending itself to insipid little school boy jokes.

Then, of course, there was National Geographic Magazine. A gentleman who lived in one of the apartments on our floor had a subscription. He was an executive with BOAC and was throwing some old issues out one day when I asked if I might have them. He gladly gave them to me and made a point that as he accumulated more he always left them at the door to our apartment for me.

 What wondrous things were in them. Pictures of animals and people the likes of which I had never seen. Beautiful scenery of islands and continents to which I had never been. What an amazing world filled with so many incredible things.

But our eyes are only an introductory organ to what lies around us. They may draw our attention to something or someone – but they are merely the first stage in the process of understanding. Our ears are the real heroes.

 Grandma used to say, “The reason God gave you two ears and only one mouth is that you are meant to listen twice as much as you speak.” I learned from experience that it was difficult to hear someone else’s story when you were busy filling up the conversation by relating your own.

 Mrs. Shinohara owned the store at the northwest corner of Madison Ave. and 62nd Street. She sold all sorts of gifts and pottery that came from Japan.

 In the window of Mrs. Shinohara’s store and inside as well, there were over twenty bonsai trees to which she tended in a loving and nurturing manner. The one which I liked the most was displayed in the window. It was not for sale.

 It sat in its clay pot, the soil covered with sphagnum moss. It was a sargent juniper and at it’s base a split had occurred many years before which had now healed. The tree had begun it’s life as a cutting that her great-great-grandfather had started. It was over 150 years old and was a piece of living art.

 It held its place of honor in front of an old Japanese scroll which portrayed a wind-swept mountain, the trees at its crest being blown by a strong gale. Lapping up against the base of the mountain the artist had drawn a rough sea – tossed by wind and tide.

 Mrs. Shinohara said that as the trunk of the tree had grown larger and more sturdy, her grandfather had named it “Standing Tall Against the Wind.” The tree and the scroll had been companions for all this time. 

I made a point to go by her shop almost every school day just to look at this incredible work of beauty – so carefully tended to by so many over so long a period of time. As I viewed it through the window I was silent – and in both ears I could hear the sound of the wind.



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