Camaraderie And Courage

Did you take note of the Summer Solstice a week ago?  There are both mystical and light-hearted traditions around Midsummer Night’s Eve and Mid-summer’s Day, dating back to pagan Europe. One is that pixies, dryads, fauns and a variety of other-worldly creatures are out and about —- dancing in the moonlight and casting spells.  It is also said that if a young girl, of marriageable age, washes her face in dew early on Midsummer’s Day, she will have a vision of the one she loves.  Of course, that was when girls had fewer options for their lives!  

With Christianity, many pagan holidays became holy days, and Midsummer’s Day is no exception.  It is designated St. John’s Day, in honor of John the Baptist.  Scientifically, it is a day when light lingers for about 15 hours before darkness comes.  Thereafter, the sun moves at an angle, giving us shorter days and longer nights. Our gardens are in at last, and we are ready to relax into celebrating our country’s birthday. Perhaps you remember this song from high school chorus days…………

“This is my country, land of my birth; this is my country, grandest on earth. I pledge thee my allegiance, America the bold.  For this is my country to have and to hold.” We need to remember the second verse of that song as equally valid:

“This is my country, land of my choice. This is my country, hear my proud voice.  I pledge thee my allegiance, America the bold, for this is my country to have and to hold.”*

We had an excellent music program at VCS, and some admirable voices. A couple of sopranos, Sonja Cotton being one, could soar lightly, two octaves above middle C, and I remember this song ringing out with feeling.

Love of country may come from where one is born ——- or may be earned and learned by living there.  Almost every good thing will be misused, and patriotism can be manipulative or it can be inspiring.  Sincere patriotism is an emotion that urges building for the good of all.  Thoughtful patriotism thrills when we learn stories of courage, hopefulness, and striving to make life better.  Patriotism is not, however, a blind acceptance of what one’s country does.  True patriotism allows for honest criticism and change. Misused, patriotism can be a weapon that creates the greatest of tyranny and the worst of crimes against humanity.  

When we were out of patience with what was happening in our land, Kerm and I threatened to homestead in British Columbia.  But —— it was an empty threat; those who love their country will not easily disown it when it errs; they will try to repair what has been damaged.  Patriots will look to the welfare of all, not just their personal preference and comfort.  And an honest patriot will remember that every one of us came from somewhere else at one time; none of us has the right to forbid or to look down on newcomers who are only trying to better their lives —or even save their lives —-as our ancestors did before us.  We are a wonderful collection of heredity, talent, and cultural customs.  We all, and certainly our duly elected representatives, should be devising a system that makes safety, new life and hope more easily possible while still protecting our nation and avoiding the current chaos.  

I was re-reading a Sister Fidelma** mystery (set in Ireland in the fifth century AD) and this caught my eye.  “Becc dislikes them because they are strangers.  They look so different and don’t even speak our language.”  We civilized, sophisticated and technologically-skilled people of the 21st century have much in common with Becc; we continue to have more than a tinge of tribal distrust for those unlike us, forgetting that we are all created with the same blood, bones, eye lashes and big toes.  

Ours is a nation that has sometimes blundered, but also has shown amazing strength, compassion and an expectation of freedom that allows more choices than most other places in the world.  We can stop denying/covering up the mistakes and start supporting the “justice for all” that we speak every time we salute the flag. It is encouraging to note that when there is a crisis, we usually come together to help, forgetting, briefly, our biases. As we approach Independence Day, I hope the fireworks of celebration and the fiery words of those who made history will inspire us to choose the high road of thought and behavior. 

Change is always difficult whether it is our beliefs or our daily habits. I have often said — for all to read —- that without change, no one (nor any nation) can grow and progress.  And I am usually able to contemplate societal changes with objectivity if not enthusiasm, thinking “This too shall pass.”  But apparently, I, also, have my “Don’t put a toe over that line!” moments.  A few weeks ago, Kerm and I wanted lunch before cruising the grocery store.  We’ve eaten at Wegman’s before; it has a variety of adequate food and an acceptable cafeteria ambiance.  So, we got what food we wanted and headed for the check-out —- but where was the checkout clerk?????  In the four or five months since we had last eaten there, the Ithaca Wegmans had converted their lunch line to self-service!  We determinedly avoid self-service lines in the actual store but here, with food in hand, we had little choice.  Fortunately, there was a young man — a store employee — probably stationed there to limit shop-lifting (or would it be lunch-lifting?) —- who immediately saw our discomfort, and came over to help.  In addition to no clerk and no cash register, hey had also changed the utensil dispenser and moved from trays to hinged takeout packaging.   We — especially I — grumbled considerably!  While we were there, however, we were able to help another dismayed customer find napkins and utensils.  If, as Einstein says, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change,” my IQ is in deep trouble when it comes to self-service!

We are close to July, and a roll-out of good summer days, including swimming weather.  In my era, at VCS, there was no pool, so school buses too us to Canandaigua Lake for swimming lessons.  This Finger Lake, besides the beautiful lake itself, and good picnic areas,had (at that time) Roseland Park —- an amusement area of rides, indigestible foods and fun for all.  The summer I was a camp counselor in the Bristol Hills, we all had one night off between campers leaving, and a new batch of campers coming in.  In that free time, we regularly visited Roseland Park, where we rode the rollercoaster, the bumper cars and the Scrambler — hoping we’d not lose our hot dogs and ice cream cones in the process.   The camaraderie was warm, and by the end of the summer, we counselors were so united that we felt we could take on the world.  Corporations today could learn from this; who knew that carnival rides and ice cream could be a valid part of team-building?  😊 

We now have other teams in our lives; family, medical teams, spiritual guides, and — most important —friendships composed of people who keep the world’s discouragements at bay.  Friends of our own generation allow honesty about aging issues, and we recall similar life experiences. We can share laughter over our various disabilities and dilemmas.   In our mutual school experiences we remember hot, humid days of Regents exams, basketball games where we sat behind the players and listened to them devise strategy, pajama parties and hay rides.  We remember mentors — Carl Palumbo — a bit terrifying on the outside but kindly within, Alton Corbit – rock solid and imperturbable, Helen Schantz — a far finer teacher than we probably realized.  One college friend will remember listening to Johnny Cash and ice-skating on Lake Champlain and another, walking up and down the endless hills of Ithaca.  We look back on dances in Warren Hall and a St. Bernard that wandered casually into class rooms.   We remain connected by past experiences and forever regard.  We are grateful, too, for our daily friends down the road and just over the hill with whom we currently eat ice cream, sing rounds and kibitz about the world.  

Older friends, who kept us in touch with the past, are dwindling; we are now the elders.  Younger fiends alert us to the new and help translate rapid cultural changes.  They are wide-eyed at the thought of no cell phones or tweeting.   They may be dubious about the relevance of my experiences in today’s world, but I would caution them about being overly arrogant regarding the world as they know it.  People experience similar emotions and dilemmas in every generation.  There is much wisdom to be had, simply from living well— wisdom that has no relationship to Twitter, electronics or the latest bit-coin fad.

Kerm and I have, even after  moving hither and yon, made friends that we cherish.  And those friendships continue to give us courage, a sense of camaraderie, and a lifting of spirits when times are difficult.  “Isn’t it strange some people make you so tired inside, your thoughts begin to shrivel up like leaves all brown and dried.  But when you’re with some other ones, it’s stranger still to find your thought as thick as fireflies, all shiny in your mind.”***   

And speaking of fireflies, we have July ahead with “…..tiny lights of fireflies moving through the scented dusk —– softly —— ever so softly….”**** Look aheadwith gratitude, and absorb summer.

Carol Bossard writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at:  

*”This Is My Country”; words by Dan Kaye, Music composed by Al Jacobs.  1940.  It was first recorded by Fred Waring and his Orchestra*

**”Sister Fidelma” series by Peter Tremayne, pen name for            Quotation taken from “Badger’s Moon”.

***Some People” — poem by Rachel Field —American novelist, poet and children’s fiction writer

.*****from a poem – “Come Climb My Hill” by Winston O. Abbott 

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