Wednesday, January 21, 2009

'Tis the gift to be simple

There is a robust optimism crackling in the air today. Yesterday's inauguration of the new President, the one that comes with a heaping side helping of Hope, has pierced through the zeitgeist and Americans are dancin' in the street or at the very least withholding criticism. As Warren Buffet put it, and I paraphrase, "Many of my friends didn't vote for Barack Obama, but every single one of them wants him to succeed."

One is reminded, as Garrison Keillor is fond of saying, to do good work. I contemplated this morning sticking a piece of paper on my dashboard as I drove: Do Good Work; and then wondered whether it would lose its impact over a few days. Don't you ever drive & become inspired and obsessed with an idea, and then, irritatingly, forget it? Elizabeth Alexander, the poet chosen for the inauguration, chooses to keep a notebook wherever she goes and writes down notes as they come to her, whether in the carpool line, on the freeway, or in bed in the middle of the night.

J is fond of pointing to the Obamas as poster children for middle class Americans who chose to make education their focus. (This is from a piece in the NY Times today about the Obama & Robinson families:

For all of the vast differences in the Obama and Robinson histories, a few common threads run through. Education is one of them. As a young man, Mr. Obama’s father herded goats, then won a scholarship to study in the Kenyan capital. When Mr. Obama lived in Indonesia as a child, his mother woke him up for at 4 a.m. for English lessons; meanwhile, in Chicago, Mrs. Obama’s mother was bringing home math and reading workbooks so her children would always be a few lessons ahead in school.

Only through education, generations of Robinsons taught their children, would they ever succeed in a racist society, relatives said. “My mother would say, ‘When you acquire knowledge, you acquire something no one could take away from you,’ ” Craig Robinson said.
He points this out to N yesterday, in a nail-biter of a session on the deck late last night, once we'd grown tired of making jokes about the Presidential balls. It is, in its kernel, a simple ethic: Get up in the morning, do you work, eat a simple meal, sleep.

John Williams' new arrangement of Copland for YoYo Ma, Istzak Perlman et al of Air & Simple Gifts from Appalachian Spring (music for a dance by Martha Graham) was beautiful. The words actually come from an old Shaker song by Elder Joseph Brackett in 1848:
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.
Sydney Carter also adapted this for "Lord of the Dance" in 1963, a hymn we sang in school, a joyful song.

I am pondering that first line -- 'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free -- for its plain beauty. It feels right just about now, doesn't it? We're all shrugging off the mantle of over-indulgence, of over-done-ness, of excessive excess, layer upon layer of fat, extra everything, convoluted bollocks. Simplicity is the cleansing diet for the soul. (Someone call Hallmark immediately).

No comments: