random (?) thoughts on shootings, artists, students, and more | THE POLITICUS

random (?) thoughts on shootings, artists, students, and more

I sit in my living room, with the sound from MS-NBC coming from 2 rooms away, with basically non-stop coverage of the shooting in the Texas church:  between that and checking my Twitter feed there are apparently 27 dead, including the 14 year old daughter of the pastor.  Apparently the shooter was white, but no other information.  The type of weapon not yet identified (but if he did not reload more likely a long-gun than a hand gun, given the number killed and wounded — and why is that information that I readily mentally access when I last fired a weapon of any kind in 1966?).

I had been reflecting on artists whose work I can admire even if they might in other ways be loathsome.  Certainly that can apply to several Oscar winning actors, with Kevin Spacey and Casey Affleck immediately coming to mind.  But what started that train of though was a man I first saw more than 60 years ago, when on a Friday Night in 1959 I first watched Rawhide, the ongoing tale of a cattle drive starring Eric Fleming as the trail boss Gil Favor, with the 2nd star being a young Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates, the ramrod, or #2.  It was Eastwood who caused this reflection.

Much of his corpus as an actor was not necessarily all that distinguished, but he was constantly learning his craft, and also learning that of directing, of which he became a master. I thought of the many masterful movies he has directed because I again caught the end of Sully (which btw was executive produced by Steve Mnuchin) on cable earlier today.  I remembered how many actors/actresses love to work with Eastwood as a director, and all those who have won Oscars under his direction.  I also thought of some of his less awarded films that are still very moving, for example Gran Torino in 2008, which I still enjoy when it comes on cable from time to time.

I certainly do not like the politics of Clint Eastwood, and what I know of his personal life is not something I would hold up as a model. And yet I cannot deny the brilliance of the corpus of his work.

That led me to reflect on others, primarily musicians given my own background and training.  Johannes Brahms was not a particularly nice person, although he was clearly very wounded by a childhood shaped to a large degree by playing piano in a Hamburg whorehouse. Yet I adore most of his music.  And then there is Richard Wagner, someone whose anti-semitism is horrifying, and yet whose music is often incredibly sublime and moving.

That got me to another point in my reflection.  I thought of the biblical notion of holding fast that which is good, of the idea of condemning the sin but not the sinner, of the Quaker notion of ANSWERING that of God in each person. I write these words on blog primarily devoted to politics.  Of its nature politics should involve some degree of compromise.  Here I think of James Madison’s ideas about factions in Federalist 10, that there are no permanent majorities.  That, and the very design of our political system, was to require compromise, to work together on issues where we can agree even if we are in great conflict on others.

Hold fast that which is good —  as a teacher I cannot be constantly critical or I will not reach the vast majority of my students.  I have to find ways of affirming something positive to form the human connections which may enable me to help my students get out of their comfort zones, overcome their fears, and grow both as students and as human beings.

If I understand that kind of relationship in that context, should not it apply for me in others? That is, I can praise what is praiseworthy even as I call to account on other grounds, be those sexism, selfishness, racism, obtuseness, … whatever.

And to carry the thought further, I can and must be simultaneously willing to accept and affirm what I do that is good yet be willing to accept and address my own failures, small and large.

that reminds me of my favorite line from the tales of the Desert Fathers, the earliest monks, where a young novice asks his teacher what they do in those desert settings and is told “we fall, we pick ourselves up; we fall, we pick ourselves up...”  The Greek word used for sin means literally missing the mark.  And perhaps it is in viewing things in that light that true repentance and rehabilitation becomes possible, whereas punitive punishment and rejection does not heal, does not truly resolve the situations that cause pain.

I have known anger.  I have known madness.  My own and others.  One of my worst moments was in 1968 when a young lady tripping on LSD attached herself to me because she found my eyes and voice fascinating.  For some reason, perhaps because of wallowing in perceived hurt and injury, I started fantasizing about being like Charles Whitman who went up on the Tower at UT Austin and began shooting people in the first mass shooting I can clearly remember.  The young lady ran out of my apartment screaming, and I realized I needed help addressing my woundedness.

I think America needs help addressing its woundedness.  There is still good in America, although the notion of American Exceptionalism sometimes elevates that beyond where it belongs and blinds us to our own sin, our own missing of the mark.  Much of our history is not pleasant, and too many of our young people do not learn it.  Learning that history can actually motivate them to hold fast that which is good, to insist upon the ideals that should be the guiding light of the American ideal.

My title says these thoughts are random(?).  I try to connect them.  In that I may not be successful, but I hope this posting may help serve to prod others to reflect and share, because as we react to things we each do so from a different context, a different life experience, and when we share that with one another we all benefit.  Light shines upon dark spaces from which we may individually shy away, but the “demons” of those darknesses cannot stand up to the bright light of our sharing together.

Artists are among those whose work especially enlightens us, moves us sometimes more than we can move ourselves.  The Walt Kowalski of Gran Torino is a man who grows beyond his prejudice, who chooses to sacrifice himself to address a festering sore in an ethnic community whose presence has intruded into his own otherwise limited world. The shooting scene in Unforgiven where former gunslinger William Munny cauterizes some emotional wounds  (his and others) as he kills Little Bill Daggett and others, avenging his friend who was murdered, but then returns to the quiet (almost desperately so) life he was living after the death of his wife.   The performances in that movie by Eastwood and Morgan Freeman are powerful, but it is Gene Hackman who wins an Oscar.  Others who have won Oscars under Eastwood include Hillary Swank, Freeman, Tim Robbins, and Sean Penn.  Part of the brilliance of Eastwood is his ability to get others to be the shining lights that illuminate aspects of the human condition for the rest of us.

Great art challenges us  Wagner's operas and the music of Brahms are great art.  So is a great chunk of the work of Clint Eastwood, especially as a director.

Tragedy also illuminates our human condition, and shines light into places that at times we may not want to go.

For me the thoughts may seem random, but I found them connected.  And as a teacher I cannot help but wonder what it means to my students.  I guess I will find out tomorrow, when I next see them.

Peace.

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