Monday, November 29, 2010

That Sad and Dark Day in 1963

“From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time.” (Walter Cronkite 1963)

On Friday morning, November 22, 1963, just one week after my sixth birthday, I was at home with my grandmother when Momma came through the door. I had not started to school yet and Momma often came home from work to have lunch with me and to watch her favorite soap opera with my grandmother. I knew that something was terribly wrong when I saw that Momma was crying and sobbing as she rushed through the door. I was concerned as any child would be and I ran to her. She picked me up and held me tight as she turned on the television and called for my grandmother to come quick. Momma, my grandmother and I watched and listened as Walter Cronkite fought back his own tears, tried to maintain his composure and continued with the newscast. Even at the tender age of six, I knew that somehow the world was now drastically different than it was only an hour earlier.

During the next three days, this historical event played out on the television in our living room as my family huddled together, watched, and mourned with the rest of America. For the rest of my life those three days have had a lingering affect on me. The overwhelming grief that I saw in my Mommas eyes and on the faces of the American people was seared in my memory. The image of the horse-drawn caisson that carried the President’s casket from the White House and down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U. S. Capital; the sound of the steady beat of the drums and the clopping of the horses’ hooves; the sight of the horse without a rider and the salute from the tiny hand of ‘John Jr.’ as he said goodbye to his father were heartbreaking.

Although I was too young to understand the significance of this historical event, Momma made sure that I understood what had happened. When I asked why it happened, of course, she could not provide an answer. However, she did explain to me that there are people in this world who only understand violence as a way of affecting change but that we live in a country where violence is not necessary. We, the American people, can change things that we do not like by being involved and making our voices heard. During the remainder of the 1960s, as the violence against African Americans during the civil rights movement escalated and the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. unfolded, I understood how wise Momma was.

The events of November 22, 1963 and the days that followed were very profound in the way that I view the world today. My Momma explaining those events to me almost fifty years ago had a direct influence on the way I view the world today. The entire decade of the sixties had a profound formative effect on me, as I was growing up and I thank God that I had the best mother that anyone could ever hope to have. She instilled in me at a very young age an interest for what was going on in the world around me and encouraged me to have a voice in it.

As my children were growing up, I tried to instill these beliefs in them. After the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, when my children asked me, “Momma, why,” I had a similar conversation with them. In the next year, I realized that my son had taken that message to heart when as a junior in high school he joined the U.S. Navy. Then, on November 4, 2008 when my daughter and I shared tears of joy as we sat together and watched the newly elected President Barak Obama give his acceptance speech, I felt Momma’s presence and I knew that she was alive in us.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

In honor of John Lennon on his birthday......Rest in PEACE, John Lennon

The Search for World Peace in Music

“Imagine” by John Lennon and “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan are two very influential songs that may be compared and contrasted in terms of statistical facts, lyrical meaning and relevance to their times in history. Both Lennon and Dylan use their words and music in these two songs to compel the listener to strive for world peace.

Lennon wrote the song “Imagine” in less than two hours and recorded it in only two attempts. Yet this song is one of the best known and most loved songs of Lennon’s career. It first appeared in 1971 on the album Imagine and became available as a single recording later that same year. The single climbed to number three on the U.S. Billboard charts and rose to number six in the United Kingdom. According to the November 2004 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, “Imagine” ranks third in “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” Furthermore, Amnesty International, the worldwide advocate for human rights, adopted “Imagine” as its theme song.

The lyrics and form are simple and reflect Lennon’s very public thoughts and feelings about world peace. Lennon uses gentle persuasion in his lyrics, suggesting that world peace is achievable once it is conceivable. In the refrain, which includes the most memorable and profound lines in the song, Lennon states his position and puts the responsibility of achieving peace on each listener: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”

“Imagine” is relevant to America’s past as well as the present. This song became a hit at a time when world peace was an ideal far from reality. America was embroiled in the unpopular Vietnam War halfway around the world although it invaded our homes with graphic images of violence every day by way of the evening news. “Imagine” was a vessel in which the listener could escape the harsh reality of the war and imagine a world of peace and tranquility.

On the other hand, Dylan wrote the song “Blowin’ in the Wind” in about ten minutes. Dylan performed “Blowin’ in the Wind” publicly for the first time and made his first recording of the song in 1962. One month after the first recording, Dylan added what is now the middle verse and recorded the second version. The second version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” is highly regarded as a classic contribution to the music of the 60’s era. Peter, Paul and Mary also recorded and released “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 1963, selling over three hundred thousand copies in the first week. In 1999, “Blowin’ in the Wind” received the honor of induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Additionally in 1999, National Public Radio included “Blowin’ in the Wind” in its list of the one hundred most important American musical works of the twentieth century. In 2004, “Blowin’ in the Wind” ranked fourteenth in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” “Blowin’ in the Wind” remains one of the most popular and influential songs of the 1960’s.

The lyrics are very ambiguous and metaphorical. Dylan is essentially asking the listener two questions: How long will it take and what will it take to end violence and wars? Instead of answering the questions that he poses, he ends each verse and the song with the haunting lines, “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind; the answer is blowin’ in the wind.”

The relevance of “Blowin’ in the Wind” during the Civil Rights Movement and the cold war era is unmistakable. “Blowin’ in the Wind” came at a time when racial violence was taking America like a wild fire out of control; furthermore, the threat of nuclear annihilation was on everyone’s mind. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy played repeatedly in our living rooms on the 6 o’clock news. This was a time of uncertainty and fear, and it was a time when everyone had questions without answers. Dylan asked the questions as a poet, and he left the answers “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

In conclusion, Lennon and Dylan each have their own unique style and voice. Lennon and Dylan each have won numerous awards and honors as singers and songwriters beyond the songs “Imagine” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”. Both “Imagine” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” are highly acclaimed as masterful works of music, and each still receives playtime on the radio, television and internet. Each song has won various awards and honors. Each song has maintained its well-deserved acclaim for over thirty years.

Ironically, the sad note is that Lennon, who dedicated most of his life to promoting peace and compelling people to find the answer to the question of how to attain world peace, died of multiple gunshot wounds to the back just outside his home in New York City on December 8, 1980.

The answer, my friend, is still blowin’ in the wind; the answer is still blowin’ in the wind.

Give Peace a Chance Pictures, Images and Photos

October 9, 1940 - December 8, 1980

Monday, September 6, 2010

Memories: the Tapestry of My Life

The backdrop of my adolescent summers in the early 1970’s was the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. In those days, the Refuge was for the most part wide open and accessible to anyone who cared to venture there. The beauty of the Refuge with its vivid and varied colors of nature remains timeless and offers me solace when the burden of the adult pressures in my daily life becomes overbearing. I have many treasured memories of lazy summer days spent there with my friends that fill my heart and soul with peace and tranquility. I had the best friends that a teenager could ever hope to have and we shared our innermost hopes and dreams for the future with each other while we lingered in the warmth of the sun. Not one of us had a clue about or could possibly have imagined the obstacles and pressures that lie ahead in the adult world that would belong to us soon enough. We were living life by the drop and savoring the taste of each one. To this very day, these memories have sustained me and kept my spirit free.

These days, I return to the Refuge when I am in need of relief that I can only find there. The total serenity that awaits me fills my soul with warmth that can only come from the carefree summer days that I shared with my friends at our favorite place. We knew this place only by the name, Forty-Foot Hole. We never knew why or how this beautiful place got that name, and we never knew how deep the hole actually was, because we never knew anyone who actually touched the bottom. When I hike back to that beautiful place, indulge myself, and let my mind escape to that time, I can visualize the memories in my mind’s eye like snapshots of days gone by. I see my friends and me sliding down the smooth rocks of the waterfall in our worn and frayed Levi cutoffs. I can almost hear the music coming from the radio that we carried up the long hike as it echoes off the boulders that surround the waterfall. Sometimes, when the memories flood my spirit, I can actually hear the sounds of my friends’ laughter and their voices calling to me as we splash and play in the icy cold water. I always feel compelled by some unknown impulse to sit on that same old rock where my first love gave me my first kiss. I often wonder if other people make this same sojourn searching to find that same inner peace in their soul.

By far, the most serene memory of my time spent at Forty-Foot Hole is one that I can physically relive, and sometimes do. When the weight of life shackles my spirit with chains of anxiety and disappointment and I feel a sense of urgency with just taking a deep breath, I know that it is time to seek out the solitude that my spirit desperately craves and that only Forty-Foot Hole can satisfy. Not too long ago, I made that long hike and climbed those huge boulders back to that time and place hoping to experience the same solitude that I had felt when I was a teenager. I wanted to dive into that old swimming hole again and I wanted to see that beautiful image of coming back to the surface once more; I wanted to set my spirit free again.

When I reached the boulder that overlooks Forty-Foot Hole, I stood in nature’s silence at the top of that boulder and I felt something that I had never felt as a kid; the feeling was bittersweet. I could see myself as I was 35 years ago when I had not a care in the world.

I made my way to the top of the cliff and across the loose rocks and cactus to the boulder where my first love and I spent many idle afternoons learning about love, dreaming about our life together and even naming our future children. The notion that these things might not happen never occurred to us. As I sat there, I realized the purity and innocence of that love and it brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.

I anxiously moved to the ledge that I had jumped from so many times before and I felt exhilarated as I dove from the top of that huge rock and sliced into the cold water below, hoping to achieve as much depth as possible. The plunge into the Hole is exciting but plummeting into an icy cold and chillingly silent void of darkness is not what draws me to this mystical place. The overwhelming enchantment and fascination of this ritual is not for the thrill of the descent, but rather, for the breathtaking beauty of the deliberate and slow float back to the surface. Amazingly, the water is as crystal-clear as it is icy cold and looking up toward the surface is nothing short of magical and awe inspiring. This wondrous show of nature invokes the desire to linger as long as humanly possible. The pitch-black darkness is interrupted and split by one solitary shaft of light that is created by the sun shining into the Hole between the boulders at the surface. This vivid sight is so beautiful and tranquil that mere words are incapable of describing its hypnotic and breathtaking majesty. Indeed, my spirit is rejuvenated.

The Refuge holds many memories of my teenage summers that are full of reckless abandon and as much fun as I could have possibly endured. In retrospect, I am quite fortunate that I lived through those years without any permanent scars on my physical body or on my moral character. I was not a bad kid, but I did push the limits with every chance that came my way. Although the repercussions of living those years the way I did, made my adult life slightly more difficult than it might have been otherwise, I do not regret even one of the risks or chances that I took. I was full of life and life was full of my free spirit.

The friends with whom I shared my carefree summers were just as animated and free spirited as I was back then. The most weighing concern in each of our minds was how to dive deeper into the Hole on the next attempt. Two of my friends from those days have been a large part of my life and proven to be as sturdy, strong and true as the rocks that we climbed while exploring life as well as the refuge. These two people are now, as they were then, like family to me. The rest of my closest friends from those days have followed their own path and most have reached the top of their own mountain, although a few have been lost to the world or death. Regardless which path each of us chose, those precious memories that we made during our summers together along those hiking trails will remain in our spirits and as free as the breeze that blows over the plains of the Refuge forever.