September 12, the day after. . .

The word that I cannot get out of my mind today.

No matter what detractors may think or say, we are a resilient people. We may be a nation of defiant individualists; we may complain about conditions – sometimes too much; we may disagree adamantly about the way to solve problems, about best solutions, about the future of the world and what is good for society. We often hold tight to those differing opinions and are quick to voice them.

Resilience!

Deep at the heart of it all, though, we are a nation of optimists, of thumb-your-nose at the worst that befalls us believers in the reality of good; of roll-up-your-sleeves and get-back-to-work do-ers who are prepared to meet challenges head on and triumph over setbacks.

We saw that spirit over the past few days in Florida. We witnessed it last week in Houston and along the Gulf Coast. We have watched the horror of wild fires in the West and been told of the ongoing battles against them. We have seen it on the world stage. We have witnessed ordinary people helping other ordinary people in an outpouring of concern and the desire to make things better.

Perhaps we should remember that, think less about our differences and more about our resilience and our shared, collective purpose. We have been, and still are, a beacon of hope – as much to ourselves as to others.

Watching television coverage of natural events, I have been struck anew – brought almost to tears, but with smiles that I could not suppress – by the goodness exhibited during the worst of times. Volunteers join professionals; Coast Guard cutters and helicopters work together as do airplanes and cruise ships. Doctors and electricians, school children and businessmen, volunteer housewives and government officials, entertainers and sports figures – all come together in times of crisis.

A flotilla of private boats arrived to help out in Houston. And power company trucks formed a convoy from Minnesota to Florida. Hot shot firefighters traveled from Texas to Montana and the Pacific Northwest.

We all participate in the clean up and the rebuilding, we help the less fortunate and care for the hurt and grieving among us. We reach out to assist other nations and cultures, and we send not only our money, but we give of our time and resources. Much of the time, we do it with no thought of compensation, no expectation of thanks.

And that gives me hope. How can you view it otherwise? Come to think of it, there is another word that comes to mind.

Goodness!

As a country, we have proved our mettle in wars foreign and domestic, through flu outbreaks and dust bowls and stock market collapses, through bank failures and housing bubbles, through shipwrecks and space shuttle explosions, through natural disasters and terrorist attacks, and through many years during which issues have been hotly contested. As a nation, we have never faltered nor been defeated, never lost hope, never put aside our ability to laugh at ourselves, never given up.

And that gives me hope as well. It gives me hope that we will weather the current storms – both literally and metaphorically – that plague our nation.

During a moment of silence yesterday morning, repeated at four separate locations in the East and led by our president and first lady, we remembered what it took to get through one horrendous moment in our history. September 11, 2001. We survived then. We will now.

Today is September 12, 2017. Isn’t it time to get back to work? All of us; together.

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Six Flags? No More!

 

4507640277_3ce21d11a0_bI hear in my mind a child’s question: “But, Daddy, why do they call it Six Flags? There’s only one.”

Although it originally had a pseudo-historical theme with distinct theme areas focusing on the architecture and successive eras and “flavors” of Texas history, today Six Flags Over Texas is all about the thrills.

I can’t shake the feeling that we are all players in a theater of the absurd.

Early Friday morning, reversing a commitment issued just one day earlier to “make no changes,” Six Flags Over Texas removed the Confederate flag from its marquee and from its flag poles. No, actually, the amusement parks removed all but one flag from the display at its two Texas locations and at Six Flags Over Georgia.

Henceforth six identical flags will fly – all the Stars and Stripes. Gone are the flags of Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas and the Confederate States of America, all of which flew over the land of Texas during its history, becoming the inspiration for the name.

The reason given? “We always choose to focus on celebrating the things that unite us versus those that divide us,” according to Six Flags spokeswoman Sharon Parker.

But What About the History?

Six Flags had long flown the lesser known “Stars and Bars,” the first official flag of the Confederacy, rather than the more incendiary and more familiar battle flag that features star-studded crossed blue ribbons on a red ground.

Also, to be fair, Six Flags operates 20 parks in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and only three actually flew the various flags, the original park in Arlington, Texas, one in San Antonio, and the park near Atlanta. Six Flags Over Georgia followed Texas’s lead several years ago, and renamed “The Confederacy” section of the park “Peachtree Square,” while in the Lone Star State it became “The Old South.” No matter that they forgot the history behind the flag.

Apparently, the events in Charlottesville a week ago were just too worrisome for park management to continue the old ways. There is no kind way to express current actions.

From Amusements to Reality

It is with dismay and an ever-growing sense of disbelief that I watch the news continue to unfold. Recommendations have been made in many communities to remove, warehouse or destroy Confederate monuments. There are calls to rename schools and public buildings, streets and parks. In Dallas, a “peaceful demonstration” held Saturday evening turned “heated,” according to news reports, but thanks heavens it did not turn violent; a prolonged study period has begun to decide the fate of the city’s statues and buildings that bear the names of Southern leaders.

Last week’s middle-of-the-night removal of statues from their pedestals in Baltimore, while the city’s mayor stood and watched, was a bit bizarre, don’t you think? The directive so quickly passed to “remove and destroy” the monuments is reminiscent of another time, when the Vichy government sacrificed French monuments to appease Nazi occupiers. That decision ultimately did not work out so well for France. And other cities, apparently, are considering “off hours” alterations to the public landscape.

Yes, These Are Unusual Times

At this point, few, if any, Americans have a good sense of where it will all lead.

Actually, there are times when I think that no one – on either side – has much good sense! But, it’s hard to believe that removing some statues is going to end the discord.

It’s sad to think that the best course of action is simply to take a seat and watch to see how the drama unfolds. This time it’s Confederate monuments and flags. What monuments next? What other flags and symbols will disappear? How long before there is no history to remember, no longer any history to teach, and certainly no way to learn the lessons that history can teach us all – about how to talk to one another, and about what’s really important as we interact with one another.

Just how should we answer that imaginary child’s question? I’ll leave that to wiser minds than mine. I don’t find it amusing, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun!

Maybe we can just call it “Flags Over Texas.” Or, The Great Texas Fun Park!

Photo by Ann W./Flickr/ April 2010

 

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July 4, 2017

101_3073I can’t help but wonder sometimes just who has highjacked my country. And, more importantly, why?

On this Independence Day, I would like to celebrate the freedoms that we have, enjoy my friends and bask in small-town pleasures like back-yard-barbecues, relaxing times, loud music, and the spectacle of fireworks exploding in the sky. It’s a national tradition.

Or, it was such a tradition until recently, when invective, rancor and malice ran wild, and name calling became a national sport, right up there with spreading discontent and circulating half-truths and full-blown untruths. This is nothing to celebrate, to be sure.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all embrace the sentiments expressed in this beautifully inclusive video that a relative of mine shared this morning? Unfortunately, it seems that some viewers see it as a reason to criticize these United States rather than to celebrate US. More’s the pity.

Rather than uniting for the common good, many seem bent on further division — against enemies ill-defined and largely non-existent. We no longer speak a common language of tolerance and understanding, and some remember only how to label and criticize.

I shared this video because it expresses my heartfelt belief that diversity does indeed make us great, and I choose to celebrate that diversity. But I suspect that others view this video very differently, as a way to point out that some of us are less equal, less deserving, less acknowledged, less free, and somehow less important than others. That discussion is for another time and another place.

It saddens me, because on this day, at least, we ought to be able to come together to celebrate the great experiment known as the United States of America. There is enough time on all other days to dispute that, if dispute you must.

On this day, it is enough to wave the flag, watch the fireworks and celebrate our heritage.

 

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Hope: No, it has not disappeared!

Note: This post was begun about six months ago — just after the national elections, although I have no record of the exact date. Just as obviously, I never finished it. Words at the time were difficult, because there were so many divisive and disheartening words being spoken and written all around me.

I simply chose not to add to the noise.

But, now, it seems appropriate to write again. So here I go. Read — or not.

But, hopefully, we can all once again find the will to speak respectfully to one another, to work for a better future here at home and around the world. It’s time; if not for our time, then for our children’s time and for their children’s time. I choose hope.

The need is great, perhaps never greater.

My words, from December 2016:

I have been reading for the past several days of Michelle Obama’s comments to Oprah Winfrey about hope, and how she believes that it has somehow left the American scene because Donald Trump won the election and her husband is soon to leave office.

I beg to differ.

Hope, it seems to me, does not hang around the neck of any one person; and hopes are not dashed because another person arrives on the scene. I have no doubt that Barack Obama used the word “hope” before he was elected president as a beacon for what he believed was best.  “Hope and change” became campaign rhetoric, to be sure, but the hope was real.

During this last campaign, new players on the scene spoke about their visions, and their plans, their hopes and their dreams, their programs and platforms. Each of us made a choice, based on our own experiences and our own hopes. Millions of different hopes.

And to say that there is now no hope in the country? Balderdash, Michelle; and shame on you for spouting such nonsense!

Hope is alive and well in this country — and around the world. Look around you! Yesterday, I sat for at least 30 minutes in front of my computer, in awe at a live broadcast from the city square in old Yafo, Israel. The occasion? A tree lighting celebration, complete with a countdown in Hebrew, Christmas carols in English, and several different languages as “background music.” The wonder of it all. 

If that can happen in Israel . . . need I say more?

My thoughts, at the beginning of June 2017:

Times change, but time changes little.

These past weeks the news has been hopeful at times, and then dreadful — from Manchester, from London, from Mali and Nigeria, from Syria and Iraq, from Egypt  and Afghanistan; and, yes, from our own country. The news is unsettling. There is no question that we live in troubled times. We Americans are still divided on too many topics. The rhetoric continues.

We are still, in many ways, acting like children. And it’s time to grow up.

Senseless acts are perpetrated around the globe. They are random, and far too frequent. This year to date there have been 538 terrorist attacks, with 3,640 fatalities. I am outraged, in large part by the lack of outrage; and I am horrified at the suggestion that this has become the new normal.

Lack of agreement on too many topics continues here at home. We have problems to solve, and it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get back to work to find solutions.

I don’t have the answers. But I am certain of one thing, perhaps only one thing. The more we continue to fight one another, the less chance we have of returning to the “old normal” where we were able to live in our land or to travel abroad without fear, to work together to solve problems, and to look forward to a future full of promise.

I refuse to believe that that hope was false, that it is an impossible dream.

I am not so naive as to believe I will ever see an entire world at peace. I once hoped for that. But I still hold out hope that Americans and all citizens of the world will commit to seeking more peaceful solutions most of the time.

Isn’t that the way adults are supposed to act? Is it so much to ask?

 

 

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Still in awe . . .

Reportedly, John Glenn said he was “still in awe” of his space flight on its 50th anniversary February 20, 2012.

John Glenn, who rode Freedom 7 into the history books on a not-quite-five-hour flight in 1962, was not only the first American to orbit the earth, but also the oldest. He was one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts in 1962, but he left  earth’s atmosphere once again in 1998 with the crew of the U.S. space shuttle Discovery. He was 77 at that time. Instead of three turns around the earth as on his first trip, Glenn circumnavigated the globe 134 times with Discovery.

Yesterday, he died at age 95, the last of the original seven astronauts.

John Glenn was an authentic American hero. Somehow, it seems he should have lived forever, but that is not the case with real heroes.

I was sorry to hear the news. I remember that 1962 flight: it paved the way to fulfillment of President Kennedy’s promise of going to the moon “before the end of the decade.” And that, at the time, was really something!

It still is.

When John Glenn flew his first mission as an astronaut, he was 40 years old. He had previously been a fighter pilot in both World War II and Korea. Then he became a test pilot, a prerequisite for the astronaut corps at the time. He left NASA soon after President Kennedy’s assassination, with the goal of running for political office in Ohio. However, it would be another 10 years before he won election to the U.S. Senate to serve four terms.

His second mission to space came 37 years after his first. That was 18 years ago!

John Glenn lived quite a life and was thought of — for much of it — as a kind of superman.

When he was strapped in to the tiny Mercury capsule in 1962, his backup astronaut, Scott Carpenter, is said to have sent him on his way with the words, “Godspeed, John Glenn.

Once again, the words are appropriate.

Godspeed, John Glenn. And, thank you.

 

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Train dreams live on . . .

My husband and I recently took the grandkids to the circus. Somewhere between the elephants and the camels, the tigers, the clowns and the flying trapeze, my husband asked our wide-eyed eight-year-old if he’d ever thought about running away to join the circus.

“No,” he said, but he patiently listened to the story of how running away to join the circus “was what all little boys dreamed about when Papa was young.” He listened as his Papa explained how the children watched as the tents were erected, and how the animals and circus gear were unloaded from the train.

He thought that today the circus animals and performers probably arrived in trucks and buses. We agreed that was most likely the case.

No more circus trains . . .

As a little girl in a much different place, I don’t think I ever contemplated running away to the circus. But I did want to ride the rails away to faraway places and larger-than-life adventure. My lasting fascination with trains began then. It helped that during summers in a small town, both passenger and freight trains rumbled slowly by, their mournful whistles signaling each passage.

My love for those trains and that whistle continues to this day. Returning by car from a Thanksgiving trip to Santa Fe, I found myself wistfully waving at multiple engines as the miles ticked by in New Mexico and West Texas. Highways follow the tracks in those long, lonely stretches; and the long freight trains speed by.

I was the child who waved to trains at every railroad crossing, and as often as not I received return waves, either from the engineer on the lead engine or from a trainman on the caboose platform.

It may be silly, but I still wave at train engines as I drive across the country. I seldom get a return wave, and I no longer expect one.

But, Sunday . . .

For one short moment, somewhere in the middle of New Mexico, the little girl inside was thrilled! I didn’t see a return wave; instead, I heard a blast of the train whistle. There wasn’t a crossing within miles, so I know the blast was for me!

It brought back a lot of memories.

And I smiled to myself for the next 200 miles or so, thinking of all the trains I’ve watched, and waved to, and ridden. Today, few people notice.

But there once was a time when those trains carried dreams. For me, they still do.

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A grateful nation . . .

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­flyover-addisonThe armistice was signed at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in a rail car in France. 1918.

Nearly 100 years since the end of the war to end all wars and we’re still fighting.

Today, however, three days after the presidential election in the United States, we’re fighting among ourselves, against one another. Even family members have drawn lines that may be difficult to erase.

Today the infighting and the ill will in our land make it harder to honor those who served to defend our freedoms, protect American interests, secure peace in the world, and establish justice and liberty for all.

This morning my hope is that the memory as well as the reality of those long ago battles in lands far away will temper our actions in the coming days; that somehow we can find ways to talk to one another, to understand each other, and to establish effective means to join hands and move forward.

For my part, I condemn the violence, the perceived fear and the evident hatred that are pervasive today. Demonstrations have turned violent in scattered cities from coast to coast and throughout the heartland. Distrust is evident. It is not one-sided. It is ugly. It is reprehensible and destructive. It is pointless. And it is tearing this nation apart.

Will you join me in speaking out against it?

For today, though, I choose to remember and honor the service of millions in the armed forces of the United States, many of them my blood relatives. It is with a deep sense of respect that I acknowledge that service. I am not so hopeful as to imagine a future when such sacrifice might not be necessary.

But that would be cause for jubilation, wouldn’t it?

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What to tell the children . . .

What to tell the children?

I may be old-fashioned, and my answer may be simplistic.

But why is there any question about what to tell the children?

I would tell them that yesterday, our country elected a new president. Some people were for one candidate and others were for another but, in the end, the winner becomes everyone’s president.

It is not necessary to agree with everything he says, does or stands for. But, because he won fair and square by following the election procedures that have been established and by which we have elected our leaders for more than 200 years, Donald Trump IS the president-elect.

His opponent called him late last night to tell him that she understands and accepts that fact. He was gracious last night and she was the same this morning.

The current president has invited the president-elect to the White House tomorrow to talk about the orderly transition of power in the most democratic and diverse country on the face of the earth.

America’s strength is, and will continue to be that every four years we go to the polls to elect, in a more or less peaceful and civilized manner, the person who will lead us. We are blessed to not have to endure periodic coups or military takeovers. We still possess the right to disagree, to criticize, to poke fun; we are allowed to be disrespectful and overreactive – even to be nasty to one another – but why would we want to prolong that atmosphere? Innuendo and loathsome behavior ran rampant this year during an overly long campaign. I think it is time to tell the children that the time for that is over.

Be disappointed in the results, if you are, but leave aside the drama and the invective. Be sad, but be ready to move on. This is not the end of the world, nor is it the end of this country. The morning dawned and the only thing that has changed is that the campaign has ended. The potential still exists that, with a can-do attitude, a positive spirit, and the willingness to put aside the name calling, we can relearn a way to talk to one another with respect and thereby to forge understanding.

Pouting, ranting and bitterness have no place in the post-election landscape. Not if we want to demonstrate to our children the underlying strength of this nation. Telling someone that their opinion is not wanted, needed or valued only exacerbates the hurt and elevates the rancor. Telling our children anything other than the facts perpetuates our own prejudices and contributes little to our children’s understanding.

Unfortunately, as I roamed through Facebook posts this morning, I saw too many attempts — still — to silence opposing views and to inflict hurt rather than seek understanding.

We do not have to agree; we simply have to listen.

And then we have to grit our teeth and get down to business. That is what we should tell our children.

This is a great time for all of us to learn how to talk about politics, about our experiences, our hopes and dreams and visions for a better world. It’s important!

I see today as a great opportunity. And I look forward to the future of our country. Hopefully, our children will grow up with a sense of how great it is to be an American.

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One for the history books . . .

I voted.

I believe in the symbolism – and the power — of casting my ballot on a specific day in a specific place – the day of voting defined by law as the “first Tuesday next after the first Monday in November.” So I resisted the temptation to vote early or vote absentee, even though it would have been more convenient. Somehow, I like the idea of braving the drizzle to cast my ballot. I embrace the notion that our form of government requires a bit of effort.

Tonight I will take my place in front of the television and settle in to watch election returns. Maybe before I turn in (in the Central Time Zone) we will have a good indication of who the next President will be. I hope though, the the networks won’t call the election before all the polls are closed!

Tradition means something to me. It always has.

A Long Campaign

Because the campaigning began so long ago, the prevailing attitude this morning may be simple relief that it’s over. The identity of the next president is, in reality, less important that the need to get on with the business of the nation. Who takes the reins of government will inherit a nation that has serious issues to address, problems to solve and citizens to reassure.

I am not so naïve as to believe that either candidate can or should “bring us all together.” What we ought to expect is that the new president – and the Congress — will diligently examine our nation’s policies, recognize the challenges we face and be willing to hear from all sides to work on solutions.

The fatal flaw of this campaign, in my opinion, has been the persistent notion that one side is right and the other wrong. That has drowned out all reasonable discourse.

I continue to believe that it is my right to dissent, to criticize, to dispute, to rail against injustice, to seek change, to work for good, to change my mind, to accept some government actions as good and proper and to denounce others as shortsighted, ineffective, restrictive or just plain wrong.

Actually, I believe it is my duty.

And I still believe in the possibility of a more perfect union.

Hopelessly Patriotic

If nothing else, this election cycle should have confirmed the fact that we are a nation of individuals. That is our strength, as well as the American challenge. It has always been so.

If there are any doubts in your mind, read history.

If you think this campaign has been agonizing, think again. Many elections in our relatively short history have been hard-fought, disruptive and divisive. Passions run strong when it comes to selecting leaders. I see that as hopeful, rather than the mark of a faulty system. For the 227 years that the United States has had a president in power, relatively few elections have been smooth and without controversy.

Many have been closely won; a few have been disputed. We have witnessed any number of elections with viable third-party candidates and some with four names on the ballot, all of whom had hopes of being sworn in as president, all of whom boasted loyal followers.

Nasty campaigns are nothing new. Early presidents, save only George Washington, were not unanimous choices. More than once it has happened that the winner in the electoral college did not win the popular vote. But what our system has always had going for it is that it is a peaceful transfer of power.

Back to the Future

So, today, as I left my local polling station, I was once again upbeat about my country’s future. We have weathered a long campaign season, but now it is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Although I am sure we still face much “analysis” from news networks and historians about the election, we have important work to do. I look forward to watching the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017, of the 45th president of the United States, whoever that may be.

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Bob Dylan: A tonic for tough times

Once you’ve heard Bob Dylan’s words, it’s hard to get them out of your head.

If you came of age in the Sixties or the Seventies, you grew up not only with the words, but with the melodies, and they became the refrain of the times, with a meaning that still has meaning today. He is still touring, no doubt still attracting new fans.

They were tough and uncertain times 50 years ago, at least as difficult as today’s politically-charged and divisive scene. The issues may have been different, but no less disturbing. The political climate was in flux, the populace no more united.

Bob Dylan, through his haunting music, was a force that brought a kind of hope to a generation  with reason to believe that they were living through “the worst of times.” They wanted change, and they wanted it then.

“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a’ changin’!”
[1]

This year is shaping up to be a year to remember. The questions may be: Will we? Should we? Can we learn something? Current events may rival some of the best and worst dramas of all time. There is certainly some comedy and a full measure of pathos.

Storms and crises of all varieties plague us. It is hyperbole to claim that the events of our times have never before been experienced. History sends a different message. But these are difficult days, the kind that try our souls and test our patience

Wisdom and optimism seem in short supply. There is too much talk, ample anger, a dearth of compassion and understanding, too little action and, seemingly, not much hope. We also seem to be moving in at least 100 different directions, just as it was in the 1960s when Dylan’s music, reflecting the times, ranged from folk to protest to blues, from love songs to social commentary to rock and roll.

Today it feels like there is little to sing about, and less to celebrate.

Fires and hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, airline crashes, speeding trains and exploding smart phones, polluted water, tainted food and “bad air,” pestilence and disease, sports scandals and terrorist attacks, bizarre crimes and notable criminals, senseless violence on our streets and in our schools, a contentious political primary and an even more unpredictable campaign leading up to the presidential election.

This is our world. Not such a pleasant scene. Who isn’t looking forward to a better, more balanced 2017?

Let me forget about today until tomorrow.” [2]

It’s hard to face our troubles with equanimity and a clear mind. The necessary balance is hard to find.

But the news on Thursday made me smile. I wanted to sing!

It came as a surprise that a young man from Hibbing, Minnesota, who grew up writing the protest songs that inspired an angry generation, has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. For literature, of all things. The music came flooding back to me, and I’ve been humming familiar tunes and repeating favorite lines all day.

Maybe there really is reason for hope?

In the end, that may be the message. Thank you, Bobby Dylan, for teaching us that we have all been here before, as a nation and as a world – not exactly in the same place, but in the same “neighborhood.” There are many similarities: The 1960s, the 1940s, and the teen years of the 20th Century. Looking back further, it’s impossible to study the past and not realize that every generation faces hard times.

It’s just that these are our hard times, and we take it personally!

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.
[3]

Dylan’s words and his music express the uncertainty of his age, and of ours.

After a career than spans five decades, he has been recognized in a way that, I am certain, even he never dreamed. His words and his music were not always hopeful; sometimes they were disturbing. They express doubt, anger, regret, irony.

He speaks of love and loss and the human condition. He rails against injustice, against the status quo and against God. He was not universally acclaimed then, nor is he now. But he has, like fine wine, aged well. His poetry – and that’s exactly what his words are, whether set to music or not — is at least as pertinent now as it was during the turbulence of the early 1960s. The permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy compared Dylan to Homer, saying that both wrote poetry that was “meant to be listened to,” as well as read. That’s fine company to be in. That’s an even better reason to play the music.

Come senators, congressmen please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a’ changin’! [4]

With a little help from the likes of Bob Dylan, we made it through those previous uncertain years. We can again.

”Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me.” [5]

 

[1] “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” 1964

[2] “Mr. Tambourine Man,” 1965

[3] “Forever Young,” 1974

[4] “The Times They Are a-Changin’”

[5] “Mr. Tambourine Man”

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