Kinder. Gentler. By Jamie Kirkpatrick

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They’ve been on the road for several days now, plodding along with everyone else, going back home to enroll. All these animals, all these people; the dust clogs the woman’s nose and her eyes are red and dry. She’s exhausted; she feels a constant pressure in her belly. The man is worried and not a little confused; his hands are calloused and chapped and he is chewing his nails. Their swayback donkey looks ready to drop, but there is still a long way to go before nightfall. It’s too noisy to talk. Heads down, the couple just keep moving forward. They are hoping for a kinder time. A gentler time.

At this time of year in the desert, the days are chilly; at night, the temperature drops sharply and there is nothing to block the wind. Finally the man and woman reach their destination and make their way through the deserted streets of the little town, looking for some shelter, a safe place to spend the night. They’re hungry; their money is almost gone. It’s getting late. Finally, they come to a humble little caravansary but all the rooms are taken. The innkeeper looks at the woman—he notes the slump of her shoulders and sees the dark circles under her eyes—so he takes pity on the travelers and sends them around back where there is a crowded little stable. It noisy and it smells of animals but at least the roof and walls will block the wind and the hay on the floor is still clean and fresh. The woman slides down from the donkey and sinks into the soft hay. The man does what he can to make her comfortable, then steps outside and leans back against the mud wall. It’s very cold; the stars blink and glisten like a thousand tiny lanterns. He is exhausted. He hopes tomorrow will be a kinder day. A gentler day.

Some time in the night, she feels a sharp pain. She knows it is her time. She tells him the baby is coming. He is terrified and doesn’t know what to do. He runs around to the front of the inn and bangs on the door but no one answers so he hurries back to the stable. There is blood on the straw, but she is holding a child, wrapping it in strips of fresh linen she has kept clean just for this moment. Before she finishes wrapping the baby, he lifts a fold of cloth and sees the child is a boy. The man kisses the woman’s forehead and arranges himself behind her so she can lean on him and rest. He rubs her shoulders and wonders. She has never felt so tired but she is filled with love for this helpless child. She holds the baby close to her breast and prays that he will live in a kinder world. A gentler world. They all drop into a deep and dreamless sleep.

We all know this is just an old story. But the hope for a kinder, gentler future endures. For us here now, we still long to be a nation without rancor or deceit, a nation without hatred or fear, a nation without racism or narcissism or corruption. A kinder nation. A gentler nation.

Rest in peace, George Herbert Walker Bush.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

 

Things Desired by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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This morning, before coffee, all manner of things went wrong. It took forever to open a new package of bacon. A box of tea fell out of the cabinet. When I went to empty the dust buster, I missed the bin and had to vacuum up the contents a second time. I had to empty the entire dishwasher to find a clean cup for my coffee. Having moved all the leftover Christmas decorations last night (we started early this year), I had to move everything back again so I could open my laptop and begin to write. Then I couldn’t find my laptop. (Remember: this is all before even a sip of coffee!) Then I thought I had better find the anniversary card I had lovingly written my wife four days ago so I could mail it today, thereby ensuring it would arrive precisely on our anniversary. (The actual day is tomorrow, the 28th; we’ve made it to 21 years because, having married later in life, we’ve decided to count to in dog years.) Finally, all the little things were aligned like the planets and I opened my once-lost-now-found laptop to begin to write. I took my first sip of coffee…

My morning newsfeed to began to bark like a mad dog: the weather was wrecking its usual post-Thanksgiving havoc: whiteouts on the Interstate, thousands of flights delayed or cancelled. Migrants were storming the Tijuana border only to be repelled by tear gas. The Russians and the Ukrainians were in a tense naval standoff near Crimea. The CIA has officially concluded that the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi was indeed ordered by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia; apparently Mr. Trump is the only person on the planet who thinks otherwise. A man in California died on Thanksgiving day after being shot eight times by teenage burglars when he went to check on an absent neighbor’s house. The list went on, but I won’t. Enough is enough. My coffee was cold and bitter.

The petty frustrations of my morning evaporated. The trees of my little life began to blur as the greater forest began to take dark and foreboding shape. We live in complicated, dangerous times. It would be so easy to become engulfed by this rising sea of existential angst, by all these things falling apart, but if we succumb to that, then we’re truly lost. Better to find another way out; better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

Desiderata: things wanted, things desired. Max Ehrmann, an Indiana poet and attorney—what an odd but wonderful combination!— wrote his famous prose poem in 1927, another time of dislocation and profound social change. In these difficult times and particularly on the threshold of this contemplative season, it might help to think again on these simple truths, the things we all desire:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

I began to breath again. I brewed another cup of coffee. Better.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

Snow! by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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It snowed last week—the first snowfall of the season!—but you know that. I’d like to report that I was filled with childlike wonder and glee, but I’d be lying. I sighed and said to myself, “And so it begins…”

There was a time when I would have been jumping up and down with excitement. Snowmen. Hot chocolate. Pelting cars with snowballs. (Not my greatest idea; the guy who slammed on his brakes and chased my friend and me for three blocks didn’t think so either). Days off from school. But (as I’ve said before in another context), that was then. This is now: treacherous driving conditions; shoveling and scraping; one extra layer of clothing for indoors, two for going out to the grocery store; Florida dreaming. I guess that means I’ve arrived at that stage of life when feet freeze, fingers ache, lips chap, and nose runs. Another sigh.

Anyway, with the first flakes falling, I couldn’t help but think about my brother-in-law’s favorite Christmas movie. You know, the one I mean: two war-time buddies (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) form a successful New York song-and-dance duo that teams up with a sisters act (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) to help out a crusty-but-kind general (the ubiquitous Dean Jagger) who, after mustering out of the Army, heads off to Vermont to run a cozy little ski lodge. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Cue Hollywood’s first recorded reference to global warming, throw in a kibitzing telephone operator (played by Mary Wickes), add some inevitable romantic mixups and a memorable score by Irving Berlin, all colorized for the first time by something called VistaVision, and you’ve got an instant, all-time classic on your screen. It’s all so schmaltzy and wonderful that, “Gee!” It almost does make me want to be back in the Army.

But back to winter over here in the Mid-Atlantic on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, hon. It’s a quiet time, that is unless you happen to live next to a bend in the river that attracts rafting geese or don’t mind the sound of gunfire at dawn. Moreover, it’s a sartorially simple season: a little camo can easily get you through to March especially if you have a couple cords of well-seasoned hardwood. (I know, dear; a fireplace to burn it in would be nice, too. Someday…) Admittedly, it helps if you just happen to live right across the street from a welcoming wine and cheese shop and an iconic bookstore, not to mention a cozy pub or two. And one more important winter ingredient: friends; lots of friends, maybe even one or two generous friends who might happen to have a condo in Florida they’re willing to let you use for a week in February. Right, Bob? Amy? Just kidding. Not!

A few years back, The Beatles sang us a lullaby about a long, cold, lonely winter. Well this winter, little darling, forecasters are already telling us there will be a lot more snow than usual. I’ve asked a couple of cute woolly bears I know if that’s true, but they wouldn’t say. Given all the rain we had this summer, I’d say our chances for a White Christmas are pretty good.

Just like the ones I used to know.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

Plus Ça Change…by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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One hundred years ago, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the heavy guns of the American Expeditionary Force in France fired one last salvo and finally fell silent. World War One, the Great War, the War to End All Wars, was finally over. Europe lay in ruins. Twenty million soldiers and civilians (actually more civilians than soldiers) had been killed; another twenty-one million souls were shattered in body or in spirit.

The Armistice that signaled the end of hostilities between the Allies and Germany was actually signed in the private railway car of Marshall Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Allied Commander, in Compiègne, France about five hours earlier on the morning of November 11, 1918. The war had raged across Europe for more than four bloody years—ghastly trench warfare that saw wave after wave of men impaled on barbed wire or cut down by bullets or suffocated by deadly poison gas. As horrific as the actual slaughter was, the final instrument of peace—the Treaty of Versailles—would set in motion another and even greater world war within twenty years.

The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919 and ratified by the League of Nations on October 21, nearly a year after the Armistice was signed. It was never intended to heal Europe, only to humiliate and punish Germany. Article 231 of the treaty—the ‘War Guilt’ clause—required Germany to not only accept responsibility for the war but also required Germany to disarm, to make large territorial concessions, and to pay substantial reparations to the Allied countries. At today’s values, those reparations would exceed $440 billion; John Maynard Keyes, a British economist who attended the Paris Peace Conference, predicted the terms of treaty were far too harsh—he called it a “Carthaginian Peace”—and that the reparations figure was excessive and counter-productive. Marshall Foch disagreed; he thought the treaty too lenient.

In September, 1919, a month before the Treaty of Versailles was ratified by the League of Nations, a young Austrian named Adolph Hitler, a veteran of the Great War, joined the National Socialist German Workers Party, commonly known as the Nazi party. Rooted in opposition to the Weimar Republic (Germany’s post-war government) and the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler and the Nazis advocated extreme German nationalism, as well as virulent anti-Semitism. By January, 1933, Hitler had risen through the party ranks to become Chancellor of Germany and began to exercise dictatorial power with little or no constitutional objection. He didn’t hesitate to use violence to advance his political agenda and used deceptiveness and cunning to convert the Nazi party’s rabid base and non-majority status into effective political power.

In the same month that Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, Thomas Wolff wrote in the Frankfurt Zeitung that “it is a hopeless misjudgment to think that one could force a dictatorial regime upon the German nation. The diversity of the German people calls for democracy.” Only a month later, Sir Horace Rumblod, Britain’s ambassador in Berlin, cabled Whitehall to say that “Hitler may be no statesman but he is an uncommonly clever and audacious demagogue and fully alive to every popular instinct.” Within a year, Hitler himself was quoted by a British journalist saying, “At the risk of appearing to talk nonsense, I tell you that the National Socialist movement will go on for 1,000 years! … Don’t forget how people laughed at me 15 years ago when I declared that one day I would govern Germany. They laugh now, just as foolishly, when I declare that I shall remain in power!”

On June 22, 1940, France surrendered to Germany, just six weeks after Germany’s blitzkrieg invasion of the low countries. The French army was disbanded and France agreed to bear the cost of the German invasion. The instrument of French surrender was signed in Compièigne, France at the exact location and in the same railway car used by Marshall Foch on November 11, 1918.

…Plus c’est la meme chose.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

Two Years From Now by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Election Day is finally here. Soon enough, we’ll know if a blue wave or even a blue ripple has begun to wash away the rising red tide in Congress and even though Mr. Trump’s name does not appear on any ballot today, it’s clear to me that this midterm election is a referendum on his dubious brand of populism. All the negative campaigning and the fear-mongering advertising can’t hide the fact that this is an important moment in our history. We can either become a people of compromise and compassion or a people of polarization and hate. It’s time for us to choose.

But first things first. If you’re reading this on Tuesday, and the polls where you live are still open, stop reading this and please go vote if you haven’t already done so. Ever since 1776, a lot of people have fought and died for our precious right of citizenship so just go do it. Your voice matters; there’s no such thing as lip-syncing in this choir. Democracy is like marriage: it requires equal parts of love and hard work and standing idly on the sidelines is neither.

All that said, I’m already looking ahead to two years from today. The first Tuesday of November, 2020 (November 3, by the way) will mark our 59th quadrennial Presidential election and right now, there’s no telling whose name will be on the ballot. All signs indicate that once this midterm election is concluded, Mr. Mueller may finally reveal the cards he’s been holding in his hand for lo these many months and who knows where that will lead? Not me. But I do know this: wherever We the People go next, I hope we move away from the fringes of our great collective and make our way back toward the center. It’s my belief that there’s more room there than we realize and if we are to grow and thrive, that’s where we have to start. I know that’s where I will look for leadership.

The great question, of course, is “Who can lead from there?” Not Mr. Trump, that’s for sure. He has proven to be a pernicious divider, not a compassionate healer. His style of governing—if you can call it that—is to stoke the fires of fear and hate which in the end will only lead us all over the cliff. Nor do I see any potential for leadership among the current crop of GOP enablers who by their ominous silence are complicit in this deteriorating state of affairs. I believe there are still moderate Republicans out there who are capable of taking back the Party of Lincoln, but it’s high time for them to come forward and claim that mantle. Colin Powell: where are you? John Kasich: is it you? Charlie Baker? Nikki Haley? Anyone? ANYONE? (No; not you, Mr. Romney; you already had your turn.)

Across the aisle, things aren’t any better. Mrs. Clinton: please stop running; your time has come and gone. Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Warren are not centrists; they would be as polarizing to the right as Mr. Trump is to the left. Even Mr. Biden—as popular as he is with many—had his chance and for understandable reasons, chose not to run. There are some younger Democrats now rehearsing their lines—Mr. Booker, Ms. Harris, Ms. Gillibrand—but they have yet to prove their political mettle or their centrist credentials. Looking farther afield, there are some interesting future prospects: Maryland’s own Chris Van Hollen, John Hickenlooper (Governor of Colorado), or Michael Bloomberg (former Mayor of New York) ought to start warming up in the bullpen. (Mr. Bloomberg, however, probably shouldn’t throw too many pitches—his arm might get tired).

When the polls close today and the midterm election is fully and finally over, it’s not too soon to start thinking ahead to the main act. The outcome of today’s election—whatever it is—will likely leave us with an ugly purple bruise that will make things worse in the short term. But I still have hope for us. We’ll do better next time.

In the aftermath of World War I, Irish poet W.B. Yeats reminded us that when the center cannot hold, things fall apart. How true! November 3, 2020 is only two years from now. Mark your calendar.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

In Praise of Halloween by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Let us remember the dead: the saints (‘hallows’ in liturgical language), martyrs, and all those others, now faithfully departed. The celebration of All Hallows Eve—better now known as Halloween—is likely rooted in the pagan harvest festivals of the Celtic people (or so believes this proud diaspora Scot). The harvest is in and it’s the onset of winter, the death of all the bounty of summer, a time of sober retreat and reflection. Or think of it like this: Halloween is the closing parenthesis to the cycle of life that opened around the time of the vernal equinox, the time we annually celebrate that other pagan spirit: Ëostre, goddess of spring

Well that’s all well and good, you say, but come on: what’s really important about Halloween are the black cats, the witches and goblins, and my favorite: the jack-o’ lanterns. Like so many other wonderful things, jack-o’lanterns originated in Scotland where folks carved scary faces into turnips, rutabagas, or potatoes, placing them in windows or on doorsteps to scare away Stingy Jack and all the other evil spirits that were sometimes seen in the strange light flickering over the peat bogs. It wasn’t until those same Scots arrived over here in the New World and found a far bigger, better tuber to carve up that Jack assumed its present form: cue the famous orange cultivar of the squash plant, our friend the beloved pumpkin!

So yesterday, my wife and I went over to Kingstown to stock up on gourds and pumpkins to decorate the porch. I pawed through the large and small pumpkins on display but she gravitated to the terra-cotta versions. “They won’t rot and stain the porch,” she explained.

“But where will we store them after Halloween?” I asked. (Our house is small; there’s not a lot of storage space. In fact, there’s not a lot of any kind of space. That’s why we call our house Standing Room Only.)

“On your side of the bed,” she said matter-of-factly. A lot of our discussions end like that.

There was clearly only one way out of this difference of Halloween opinion so naturally we returned home with a terra cotta pumpkin, a real pumpkin, and several small gourds to add a bit of color to the autumnal still-life that now decorates the porch. It seems a bit of a stretch from a somber celebration of all those dearly departed saints and martyrs, but that’s how we roll.

And then there’s the candy. All that candy. Lots and lots of candy. Reese’s and Snickers and Milky Ways and my friend Bea’s favorite: candy corn. But how do we account for all that candy? Where does candy fit in Halloween’s story? Simple: far back in the Celtic mist, there existed an old tradition of ‘mumming and guising,’ people going from house to house, often disguised as spirits, singing songs or reciting verses in exchange for food. Those good folk who gifted food could expect good fortune; those who didn’t were likely to experience misfortune. Maybe it was just a way of more evenly distributing the fruits of the harvest or possibly a creative method to help the offspring of those who had recently departed, but whatever the original motivation, it’s easy to see that mumming and guising is the likely ancestral DNA of modern trick or treating.

My wife doesn’t particularly like Halloween. It’s not the candy; she likes candy well enough. She says Halloween is just too competitive, that coming up with a new costume every year is exhausting. Personally, I think maybe it’s the spookiness, or, as my Scots would say, the ghoulies and ghosties, the long-legged beasties, and all the other things that go bump in the night that gives her a fright.

At least the ones on her side of the bed.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

 

 

Remembering Nanny by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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That’s my mother on the right in the 1929 edition of the Wellesley Legenda, her college yearbook. Today is her birthday; she would be turning 113 if she were still alive. She was born in 1905—“aught 5,” as she would say in her New England twang—and died in 2000, just a month shy of her 95th birthday.

Mother was born in Stafford Springs, a tiny town in northeastern Connecticut not far from the Massachusetts border. Her father, Fred Wildey, was the manager of the local woolen mill that produced shoddy, inexpensive wool for army blankets. He died in 1929, the year my mother graduated from college. Her mother, Sadie Jacobus Wildey, died five years earlier. Mother had two siblings: her brother Horace who died in infancy in 1889 and a sister Mary (born in 1891) who died at age 82 in Elmira, New York. The two sisters called each other “Dearest” all their lives.

The Legenda notes that mother was voted “Miss Personality” of the Wellesley Class of 1929. That doesn’t surprise me. Despite her New England reserve and her penchant for reading, she liked people and took on a ream of volunteer duties in a variety of civic and church-related organizations in Pittsburgh where she and father lived for more than fifty years. Mother was a woman ahead of her time: she was the first woman to be elected an elder of the East Liberty Presbyterian Church, the first woman to serve as Board Chair of Holmes House (a residence for indigent senior citizens), and an environmentalist who knew the name of every wildflower that grew along the trails of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the nature preserve surrounding Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece of modern American architecture, Fallingwater. When she herself moved into an assisted living facility following the death of my father in 1987, she took it upon herself to read daily to Alzheimer’s patients.

Mother raised four of us: my three older siblings and me, the caboose of the train. I was the “surprise” who came along ten years after the other three, an unexpected event that might have taken the wind out of lesser sails, but not my mother’s. She took up right where she had left off, coming to my basketball games and cooking elementary school spaghetti suppers. If she resented having to do those little mothering things all over again, she never let on.

To subsequent generations, my mother was no longer “Mother” or even her given nickname, “Hattie.” With the birth of the first grandchild, she became simply “Nanny” to eventually ten grandchildren and thirteen great-grandchildren, and to everyone else, too. She was a river that flowed from a source unseen to an end unknown and everyone loved her. Her maiden name is my middle name as it is my son’s and my grandson’s. She lives on through all of us.

For many years, I had a somewhat tenuous relationship with mother, at least until after my father died. Mother could be flinty—she was a New Englander after all—but with my gentler father gone, she and I began to close the gap. Maybe I could devote more of myself to her or maybe I was just able to better accept what she could and could not give. In those waning years, we grew quite close and I came to recognize more and more of myself in her: her love of books, her gift for writing, her pleasure in simple things.

Mother was remarkably healthy right up until about a month before she died. Doctors found a cancer in her back and it was mercifully quick. It would not have been like her to linger. In her last hours, she was in that twilight place, sedated so there was no pain. At one point, she opened her eyes and told those of us gathered around her bed that the room was filled with love; “I’ve never seen so much love in one place,” she said. My New England mother was not one given to the slightest exaggeration, but at that moment, she could see what the rest of us could not. To this day, that blissful vision gives me great hope.

With love and gratitude, I say, “Happy birthday, Nanny!”

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

This Glittering World by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Canyon de Chelly is a silent and mysterious place. It lies in northeastern Arizona, close to where the four corners of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico meet. More importantly, the canyon constitutes the heartland of the Navajo Nation, an area approximately the size of New England (more than 17 million acres) and home to the largest population of Native Americans—the Diné or “the People”—within the United States.

The Canyon has been inhabited for more than 5,000 years. In 1931, it was designated a National Monument and since then, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Canyon de SHAY) has become one of our most visited national monuments. The Canyon is owned by the Navajo Tribal Trust and it is the only privately owned and cooperatively managed unit in the National Park Service. Tourists may visit the Canyon by driving along its north and south rims, stopping at one of the many overlooks; visits to the Canyon floor may be arranged by contacting a park ranger or a local Navajo guide. (About forty Navajo families still live on the Canyon floor, farming and tending flocks of sheep.)

Despite its stunning physical beauty, the Canyon has a sad and haunted history. In 1863, Colonel Kit Carson led federal troops into the Canyon, rooting out and killing many inhabitants while destroying homes, orchards, and livestock. Soon after, the demoralized Diné surrendered to the federal government and were relocated by a forced march (known in tribal lore as “the long walk”) to the Bosque Redondo, a desolate government encampment in southern New Mexico. (More than 2,000 Navajo died of disease and starvation on their tragic long walk.) The surviving members of the Diné remained at the Bosque Redondo in inhospitable and squalid conditions for five years before being allowed to return to their sacred Canyon and the surrounding tribal homelands.

The legacy of that bitter time remains palpably close to the surface today. It is exacerbated by high unemployment, alcoholism, and serious health problems caused in part by the extensive uranium mining that has occurred on tribal lands over the last fifty years. And yet the Navajo endure. In their own sacred creation story called the Nihalgai, the Diné passed through a time of darkness into three separate worlds of color—a black, a blue, and then a yellow world—before emerging into this fifth world, the one they call “this glittering world.” It is a verdant place, glittering because of the play of light and water, a timeless world that still exists on the floor of Canyon de Chelly today.

So why am I telling you all this? Maybe because we are fortunate enough to live in a glittering world of our own here in Chestertown. Or maybe because I feel that for the last two years and particularly for the last two weeks, I’ve been on a “long walk” of my own. I don’t know about you but I feel as though my world has not been glittering much of late, that I’m living in a polarized and inhospitable country devoid of much, if any, good common ground. But I think it’s time to go home. I’ll take my first steps back in a couple of weeks when I walk over to the firehouse and cast my vote in the midterm election. I hope you will, too. Maybe then, our world will start to glitter again.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

Lens Fog by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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We long to see things clearly. We want focus, detail, clarity—anything that illuminates or validates authenticity. But all too often we employ—consciously or otherwise—all kinds of imperfect filters to sort out some semblance of cold, hard truth. Yet sometimes accidents happen and “truth” takes on a softer hue.

Like in the photograph above. I took it a few days ago in Eastport, across Spa Creek from Annapolis. It was a warm, humid evening so when I went outside from the comfort of my air-conditioned living room to capture the image, I didn’t realize that the lens of my camera would be a coated with a thin layer of condensation that filtered the available light, rendering the image with a gauzy glow more akin to a Dutch painting than an amateur photograph. When I realized what had occurred, I dried off the lens and snapped a few more photographs, but to me, none captured the feel of that serene evening in the way that first one did. Fortuitous truth.

And then I looked closer. In the viewfinder, my eye had fixed on the array of boats, the spire of St. Mary’s, and the diffused light in the evening sky. But what I failed to notice at first were the three small paddlers in the lower right foreground, aligned shadows moving out toward the light. They gave the natural composition of the scene an unforeseen human dimension, taking a static moment and giving it a dynamic undertone. Dumb luck.

All of which, in a curious way, leads me around to what transpired up on Capitol Hill last week. Two individuals, each presenting his or her own version of an event that took place more than thirty years ago. One was vulnerable, soft-spoken, and self-effacing. The other was vitriolic, defiant, and self-righteous. Both seemed equally certain that their version of the truth was just that—the truth. But this was no accidental photograph, no fortuitous rendering of a serene moment. This was—this is—an agonizing human tragedy with profound consequences for both of the individuals who testified, for their families, and for our nation.

Questions abound: questions about motive, or character, or appropriate judicial temperament, but whether you ultimately believe Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh probably depends more on the filter or filters you’re using. Perhaps it’s your political persuasion, your gender, or even your gut instinct that leads you to conclude that one witness was telling the truth and the other was lying. Absent authentication of what really occurred, whether by an FBI investigation or some new and compelling fact, we may never know what exactly happened on that night, at that party. Even with perfect focus, clarity, and detail, we may still see have to draw our own conclusions about the characters of the individuals involved and why the indelible imprint left on their souls that night cuts so deep. As much as we may want a clear, detailed, and sharply focused photograph, we’re much more likely to be left with a hazy image shot through our own fogged lens.

Whatever this tragedy’s ultimate outcome, we’ve been reminded yet again how deep the divide is in our country. Vindication of one party or the other will never be enough to heal this wound; it may, in fact, only compound our present dangerous infection. Sad.

Just keep paddling toward the light as best you can.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.