fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
A Romanian immigrant named Ion Purice, married to an Italian woman and with a young child, works as a long-distance trucker for a company in Rovigo, Italy. A day or two ago, as he was taking a load of foodstuffs (I think) to Holland, he saw a terrible road accident: just ahead of him, a Moroccan father and little daughter were in a car that smashed against the guard-rail. The little child, clearly brutally injured, was thrown in the middle of the motorway. Ion Purice placed the truck across the roadway to shelter the child (and the Red Cross volunteers who luckily just happened to be passing and stopped to help) from oncoming traffic, and kept signalling to the coming cars till help came. Once the little girl was placed on an ambulance, he moved off - he still had work to do, you know? At his destination he apologized for the hour's delay - I ran into an accident on the motorway. But meanwhile all of Italy had seen him on the news, and when he returned to his base, he found - his son, his wife, all his colleagues, some Trade Union representatives, several journalists, and the mayor of the town, to give him a hero's welcome. His reaction? "I just did what anyone would have done, the Red Cross boys were more heroes than me." No wonder that his boss hired him, years before, in spite of the bad reputation that Romanians have in Italy, because he was "una persona seria", an untranslatable Italian compliment that roughly says "a man who does his job, does it well, and thinks nothing of it".
fpb: (Default)
Today was one of those days where most of my time was spent on buses, travelling from place to place and from errand to errand. At one stop, a couple came on. The man was a burly, shaven-headed archetypical working class Londoner, aging, but clearly still vigorous, the kind you imagine working in some house that was being renewed, or drinking beers with his mates afterward. The woman was not so easy to categorize; there was a slightly dusty and bewildered look about her. Then I realized that, though she was perfectly decent in dress and hairdo, I could smell urine, and it became clear that she was in the last stages of senility. And at the same time I realized that the man was completely concerned with her, gently telling her exactly where to go and where to sit down, with a patient affection that did not suggest the least possibility of exasperation or tiredness, and which she followed without question. When the time came for them to get off, he asked the driver whether they could get out by the front where they had come in, and I guessed that it would have bewildered her not to go through exactly the same way she had done coming in. And he was taking care that she should not be bewildered even to that extent.

This man had seen his woman vanish in front of his eyes, till she was barely able to understand and incapable of changing a routine or of staying clean. And all the while, I thought, he had treated her with that affectionate, undemanding patience that I was seeing in that London bus. And what was there for him at the end? No earthly reward, that is for sure; nothing but continuous care for someone who could barely respond, and who demanded attention every second of the day; work without end and without the possibility of any positive result - work at preserving a dignity already lost, a personality already gone, a mind already dead. And from all I could see, he was doing it without the shadow of a complaint, let alone any suggestion that there was anything better for him to do.

When I see something wonderful, and it would take too much or be out of place to say how wonderful it is, I make a military salute. I saluted this couple (making sure nobody noticed) when they got off. Such things are the light of God in this world. It's not only that the human mind cannot accept that such heroism should have no reward, should be futile and ignored; that it practically demands to see a supernatural reward for people who live and die like that. It is that he act itself is a thundering denial of any materialist or cynical view of man. A man who lives like that, without the prospect of reward and with the constant reminder of what he will never in this world have again, is a man who testifies to the whole universe that his nature is something else and something more than to eat and drink and sleep.
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
Today was one of those days where most of my time was spent on buses, travelling from place to place and from errand to errand. At one stop, a couple came on. The man was a burly, shaven-headed archetypical working class Londoner, aging, but clearly still vigorous, the kind you imagine working in some house that was being renewed, or drinking beers with his mates afterward. The woman was not so easy to categorize; there was a slightly dusty and bewildered look about her. Then I realized that, though she was perfectly decent in dress and hairdo, I could smell urine, and it became clear that she was in the last stages of senility. And at the same time I realized that the man was completely concerned with her, gently telling her exactly where to go and where to sit down, with a patient affection that did not suggest the least possibility of exasperation or tiredness, and which she followed without question. When the time came for them to get off, he asked the driver whether they could get out by the front where they had come in, and I guessed that it would have bewildered her not to go through exactly the same way she had done coming in. And he was taking care that she should not be bewildered even to that extent.

This man had seen his woman vanish in front of his eyes, till she was barely able to understand and incapable of changing a routine or of staying clean. And all the while, I thought, he had treated her with that affectionate, undemanding patience that I was seeing in that London bus. And what was there for him at the end? No earthly reward, that is for sure; nothing but continuous care for someone who could barely respond, and who demanded attention every second of the day; work without end and without the possibility of any positive result - work at preserving a dignity already lost, a personality already gone, a mind already dead. And from all I could see, he was doing it without the shadow of a complaint, let alone any suggestion that there was anything better for him to do.

When I see something wonderful, and it would take too long to describe or praise, I make a military salute. I saluted this couple (making sure nobody noticed) when they got off. Such things are the light of God in this world. It's not only that the human mind cannot accept that such heroism should have no reward, should be futile and ignored; that it practically demands to see a supernatural reward for people who live and die like that. It is that he act itself is a thundering denial of any materialist or cynical view of man. A man who lives like that, without the prospect of reward and with the constant reminder of what he will never in this world have again, is a man who testifies to the whole universe that his nature is something else and something more than to eat and drink and sleep.
fpb: (Default)
Probably the most important learning experience in my life took place when I was about eighteen. One part of it was a comics masterpiece, published just as I was falling back in love with comics. Chris Claremont, a man who has never since written anything remotely as good, indeed who has rarely written anything good at all, wrote one of the greatest comic-book stories ever published, the “Dark Phoenix epic” (Uncanny X-Men #125-138), in which the protagonist Jean Grey eventually committed suicide rather than become a monster. I read it chapter by chapter as it came out, and it pretty much dominated my eighteenth year.

This might in itself not have been so significant, but for the echo it raised in some very real and ugly events. This was also the time of rampant terrorism and mafia power in Italy, and only a short time earlier a particularly horrible crime had taken place. The Red Brigades – part of whose strategy was to become a sort of violent parallel trades union, taking the part of supposedly abused and endangered workers – abducted an industrial engineer called Giuseppe Taliercio, who managed a factory in which some industrial accidents had taken place. The terrorists tried to get him to support their ignorant, conspiracy-theory account of these accidents; Taliercio, knowing full well what expected him if he refused, still refused, and insisted on telling the story as he knew he had happened. So, after 46 days of hideous detention and torture, they murdered him. I read a stunning account of his last days in the left-wing weekly L’Espresso, which was followed by an infinitely moving letter of thanks from Taliercio’s sister, who thanked the journalists for their account of his courage, and concluded: “So long as one of us is left who is willing to die rather than lose his humanity, we are not finished yet.”

I don’t remember which I read first, the story of Jean Grey’s suicide or the letter from Taliercio’s sister. What I am clear about is that the letter, and in particular the unforgettable last line, made clear to me that, for all the mythological and science-fictional trappings, the story of Jean Grey’s choice to die rather than lose her humanity was about something very, very real - a choice that anyone might be called to make, that did not belong to fantasy characters and that had nothing to do with escapism, but which to the contrary dealt with the most serious and central issues of real human life.

And this is my quotation for the heroes of Flight 91: “As long as there is one of us left willing to die rather than lose his humanity, we are not finished yet.”
fpb: (Default)
What was the most glorious moment in the history of England? Most of us, of course, would single out the awe-inspiring defiance of the summer of 1940, when, left with no allies and uncomfortably few weapons, the United Kingdom had to face an apparently invincible enemy coalition across three continents - and peace feelers from Germany were met with the response that of course Germany had the choice to surrender unconditionally! But Read more... )
fpb: (Default)
...AS FAMOUS AS THOSE OF WASHINGTON AND LINCOLN? WHY ARE THERE NO MONUMENTS TO HER IN THE CENTRE OF AMERICAN CITIES? WHY DOES SHE NOT HAVE A DAY DEDICATED TO HER??
I am an opponent of "positive discrimination"; and while I love the study of history in all its forms, I detest the motives why black history or women's history is pushed on us. But in this age of all ages, when these things are popular and approved, can anyone think of a reason why a woman whose whole life is one long record of endurance, heroism, fighting for the right with no limit and no reward, never taking a penny for herself when her people owed her so much, is not mentioned in one breath with Garibaldi and Lincoln and Gandhi the men of Marathon and Salamis and every hero and heroine of freedom? And why do Americans, who are certainly not shy of praising and promoting the heroes of their nation, barely seem to know the name of Harriet Tubman?

This is an extract from the introduction to her first biography: the first edition of this story, under the title of "Harriet Tubman," was written in the greatest possible haste, while the writer was preparing for a voyage to Europe. There was pressing need for this book, to save the poor woman's little home from being sold under a mortgage, and letters and facts were penned down rapidly, as they came in. The book has now been in part re-written and the letters and testimonials placed in an appendix.

For the satisfaction of the incredulous (and there will naturally be many such, when so strange a tale is repeated to them), I will here state that so far as it has been possible, I have received corroboration of every incident related to me by my heroic friend. I did this for the satisfaction of others, not for my own. No one can hear Harriet talk, and not believe every word she says. As Mr. Sanborn says of her, "she is too real a person, not to be true."

Many incidents quite as wonderful as those related in the story, I have rejected, because I had no way in finding the persons who could speak to their truth.

This woman was the friend of William H. Seward, of Gerritt Smith, of Wendell Phillips, of William Lloyd Garrison, and of many other distinguished philanthropists before the War, as of very many officers of the Union Army during the conflict.

After her almost superhuman efforts in making her own escape from slavery, and then returning to the South nineteen times, and bringing away with her over three hundred fugitives, she was sent by Governor Andrew of Massachusetts to the South at the beginning of the War, to act as spy and scout for our armies, and to be employed as hospital nurse when needed.

Here for four years she labored without any remuneration, and during the time she was acting as nurse, never drew but twenty days' rations from our Government. She managed to support herself, as well as to take care of the suffering soldiers.

Secretary Seward exerted himself in every possible way to procure her a pension from Congress, but red-tape proved too strong even for him, and her case was rejected, because it did not come under any recognized law.

The first edition of this little story was published through the liberality of Gerritt Smith, Wendell Phillips, and prominent men in Auburn, and the object for which it was written was accomplished. But that book has long been out of print, and the facts stated there are all unknown to the present generation. There have, I am told, often been calls for the book, which could not be answered, and I have been urged by many friends as well as by Harriet herself, to prepare another edition. For another necessity has arisen and she needs help again not for herself, but for certain helpless ones of her people.

Her own sands are nearly run, but she hopes, 'ere she goes home, to see this work, a hospital, well under way. Her last breath and her last efforts will be spent in the cause of those for whom she has already risked so much.
Her last effort was, in fact, to set up and put on a sound founding a rest-house for elderly blacks in New York City; and for once, she had a little reward for her efforts, since that was the place where she died. But I say that her memory should be celebrated with drums and trumpets, and that her name should be one of those that sound to every decent human being like a moral call, like a reminder of what human beings can be.
fpb: (Default)
What follows is a special column written for The Paris News in Paris, Texas (theparisnews.com) that was widely forwarded by e-mail. It's written by former Paris News sports writer Greg Thompson, now director of corporate communications for Chick-fil-A.

Thompson reflects on the extraordinary life of retired football coach Gene Stallings' son, John Mark "Johnny" Stallings, who died Aug. 2 at Paris Regional Medical Center of a congenital heart condition related to Down syndrome. Gene Stallings and Sally Cook wrote a book in 1997 on the subject: "Another Season: A Coach's Story of Raising an Exceptional Son."


ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED FROM JOHN

By Greg Thompson

All I ever really needed to know, I learned from Johnny Stallings.


You can go to the finest schools and get any advanced degree they offer. Or you can read all of the business and self-improvement books you want. But for a Ph.D. in true wisdom, take a look at the life of Johnny Stallings.

You may have never heard of Johnny. He had Down syndrome. When he was born, 46 years ago in Alabama, the doctors said he wouldn't live even a year or two because of a severe heart defect. Other well-meaning doctors advised his parents to put him in an institution. "In a year," they said, "you'll forget you ever had him."

But fortunately for all of us, Gene and Ruth Ann Stallings didn't take their advice. They chose to treat Johnny as a vital part of their family.

And we are all the better for it.

As his father advanced his football coaching career -- first at Alabama, then to Texas A&M, the Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals and finally to a national championship in 1992 at Alabama -- Johnny was an integral part of the team. To Johnny, the most important person was the trainer.

"Trainers take care of the players," he once said. "You can't win without trainers."

To the day he died, Johnny Stallings wore a massive, diamond-encrusted National Championship ring on his frail fingers, which were tinged a grayish blue from the lack of oxygen caused by his heart condition.

Johnny was front and center in that National Championship team photo. In fact, he was a part of every team his father coached, including the storied Dallas Cowboys. The players drew inspiration from him. When Johnny turned 40 years old, for example, his birthday party was attended by a Who's Who of former NFL stars.

Johnny had some accomplishments of his own. He was featured with his father on a popular national United Way TV commercial, has a playground named for him at the RISE center in Tuscaloosa, Ala., had the athletic training facility at Alabama named for him, and won a "Change the World" award from Abilene Christian University.

But perhaps the most important thing that Johnny Stallings accomplished is this: He taught us that it doesn't matter what awards you win, or what worldly accomplishments you achieve, it is how you live your life that matters most.

So what can we learn from Johnny Stallings?

• Every life matters.

The life of Johnny Stallings teaches us that God can use anyone, no matter how insignificant in society's eyes, to make an impact on others. Johnny had none of the things that you and I take for granted, but Johnny touched countless lives in ways none of us can even begin to imagine. Our materialistic, success-driven culture doesn't really know what to do with people like Johnny. Society certainly didn't know what to do with Johnny when he was born 46 years ago. But God did.

• See the good in everyone. "Be my friend."

When Johnny got to know you, you became his "friend." And he never forgot you. Despite being mentally disabled, Johnny never forgot a name or a face. Johnny literally saw no evil in people. Johnny had more friends in his short lifetime than any of us will ever enjoy.

• Walk openly, simply and humbly with God.

The Bible tells us, "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." That describes the way Johnny lived. He could barely read or write, but Johnny Stallings prayed the sweetest prayers you ever heard. He didn't necessarily know the fine points of theology, but you could tell that he knew God. He walked with God, openly, simply and humbly. And everybody knew it, whether they acknowledged that God or not.

• Love unconditionally.

In Johnny's world, you didn't keep score or attach strings to love. He loved unconditionally, all of the time.

• Smile. Laugh. Hug.

The last time I saw Johnny, we brought him a T-shirt from Dreamland Barbecue in Tuscaloosa, one of his favorite places to eat. Johnny hugged us. He patted us. He smiled all of the time. Johnny was one of these people who always made everyone feel better just for having been around him. Who among us can say that about ourselves?

• Treasure every moment.

Johnny, of course, was supposed to be put away in an institution. Doctors told them Johnny wouldn't make it to age 4, and when he did, they then said he wouldn't live past 11 because of heart and lung issues common to people with Down syndrome. Then we always heard that Johnny wouldn't live past 16. And on and on. So with Johnny, you treasured every moment.

• Little victories are the ones that matter the most.

Everyone focuses on the championships, but with Johnny, you celebrated all of the little victories. Then, after a while, you realized that those are the ones that really matter the most.

• Trust God because He really does know best.

Despite being frail and disabled, Johnny Stallings wore a National Championship ring. Every member of that 1992 Alabama team will tell you of Johnny's impact on that team. Johnny Stallings literally changed the world and made everybody he met a better person -- if only for that moment.

Gene Stallings, a star football player, championship coach and tough enough to be one of Bear Bryant's legendary Junction Boys, probably used to dream of a son who would be an impact player, who would change the world, make a difference and someday maybe -- just maybe -- wear a National Championship ring.

"I prayed to God that he would change Johnny, but he changed me," Coach Stallings once said in a speech.

He added that if God offered him the choice of going back and having a "perfect" son without a disability or having Johnny, "I'd take Johnny every time."
fpb: (Default)
Two quite different but wholly admirable people left us yesterday. Yelena Bonner, the loyal and heroic wife of the hero of freedom Andrei Sakharov, has died; and Clarence Clemons, the unforgettable sax player of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, did not survive the after-effects of a stroke.
Heaven knows where the E Street Band goes from here. In fact, even though the two were different in every way, there is one thing that may be said of both: that they achieved glory - and I do mean glory - as part of a lifelong partnership that in some ways achieved the impossible. Before the steadfast and luminous heroism of the Sakharovs, impassibly defiant and loud in the face of the most monstrous repressive machinery the world has ever known, one can do nothing but reverently bow; and Clarence was virtually the other face of the E Street Band, the Boss' lifelong deputy, and their music will endure for as long as music is heard. The worst I know about him is that he collaborated with Lady Gaga, but what does that matter? For forty years, he was part of one of the greatest music machines the world has ever known, and the pleasure and inspiration he helped give to hundreds of millions of music lovers is beyond reckoning. May they both rest in peace in the light of the Lord of freedom and of beauty.
fpb: (Default)


Sometimes I forget just how life-giving music is - music in general, all good music, but Beethoven in particular. I was having a dreary, tiring time, and this wonderful piece just shot through me like new blood. I think that if giving people joy, energy, endurance, is good, then for that good alone Beethoven must be counted among the saints.
fpb: (Default)
While newspapers and TV waste our time with poseurs and trash, a Titan as great as any old master has passed away unnoticed (except by his grateful followers, who had been gathering in the last few years in the Facebook page). Jeff Jones - later in his/her life Jeffrey Catherine Jones - was simply the greatest artist in my lifetime. Newspapers across the world ought to have cleared their front page and made this an above-the-fold lead news item, instead of wasting time nattering about Tracy Emin's political affiliation and the absurd pyramid of salt in Piazza del Duomo; but there has never been an age yet when merit was so distinct from success. I say firmly and with no fear of being ridiculed by time that Jones will be remembered, when time does justice of all the self-advertising rubbish, as one of the masters of all time.

http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000364187639

I would like to write an obituary, but to find the right words for this genius has stumped me since I first came across his/her comic and paintings. One can talk about composition, about brushwork, about spotting blacks (in ink sketches) and holding lines, of anatomy and perspective and colour, but in the end these are only features. I think the best I can say is that s/he was the best, incomparably the best, in understanding what painting was and what it could do. And if this seems cryptic, it is because I can get no closer. Study his work, look at it for yourself; and sad and angry though I feel at this untimely death (his/her last years were stormy, with a bankruptcy, a sex change and apparently not much creativity, and I had hoped that s/he was about to recover), deserted as I feel myself (his/her work had been a fundamental part of my artistic life since my teens), I feel even sorrier for those of you who will only make the acquaintance of this giant after s/he died.

God Who have made us in Your image
That we might perceive the beauty of Your creation and so of You,
That we might be able to make images in Your likeness, and by making images to live,
That we might show in what we make a ray of the beauty of Your Creation and of You,
Forgive the sins of this Your servant,
Hear the voice of gratitude and prayer of all whose lives he enriched,
And taking him past all the abyss of doubt and terror
Take Jeffrey C.Jones to the depth of Your light
Where You live and reign for ever and ever.
Amen.
fpb: (Default)
...these are the only pictures of Debbie I have. I drew them from memory a couple of years after she dropped out from my sight, when I had decided to write a superhero story featuring her.
Debbie Wallace
Photobucket

Integrity

Feb. 17th, 2011 10:09 pm
fpb: (Default)
The practice of music, in my experience, has a curious effect on character. It may be that, being the most spiritual of all the arts, to be exposed to it is close to being exposed to Spirit itself; but I have often been struck to what extent many musicians, people who live day in and day out with the most noble and beautiful and enlivening and even just plain fun of all the arts, indeed of any way to make a living, turn out to be miserable, odious, selfish, and especially expert at all the sins that make for immediate and lasting unhappiness. Not all of them, mind: some are great and noble people. But of the worst people I have ever known, many have been musicians. It is as though contact with this greatest of art must either raise or depress a man, as though moderate decency became impossible. After all, the greatest of them all, Beethoven, was enormous both in his virtues and his vices.

But I would rather speak of heroes than of cads. So let us speak of three musicians I know who can all be said to be integrity incarnate, who proved it by by resisting the greatest evil of their time, and who nevertheless were as different - in anything except greatness - as three men could very well be.

Read more... )
fpb: (Default)
The thing that struck me the most about the story of the trapped Chilean miners is the self-discipline and group cohesion that 33 men have shown, managing to survive for eighteen days in a rather small space and on minimal rations. There used to be a cliche' in Britain that miners were heroes; this lot certainly seem to be.
fpb: (Default)
Once upon a time there was an old sage who lived in Paris in a house so full of books that he had barely space to move; and he had read them all. He had written more than sixty books and altogether invented his own discipline, and when he was admitted to the highest academic institution in France, he was described as a "more than encyclopedic master" who wrote in a style worthy of Voltaire; and all of that was true.
Dumezil 1Dumezil 2
Dumezil 3

Read more... )
fpb: (Default)
I have long known that Jack Kirby designed the costumes for a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar by a Californian student troupe. I did not know one detail, though. The producer had been pointed at Kirby by Stan Lee, and when he approached Kirby, he tried to say something about payment. "You couldn't afford me," said the King. "So I'll do it for free."
fpb: (Default)
In my brief entry about the candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize who were passed over for President Obama, I made a mistake. I said that the Nobel Prize for Physics had been awarded to "the man who invented fibre optics". I now looked it up, and it is not quite right. Professor Charles Kuen Kao (pinyin Gao Kun) only got half the prize (the other half went to two Americans, "for the invention of an imaging semiconductor circuit – the CCD sensor"), and he did not literally invent fibre optics. His main contribution, in a life full of achievement (and started from the improbable point of an Electrical Engineering degree from what was then a Polytechnic - the lowest form of academic life in Britain), was to show how fibre optics could be made to work practically, by proving that the unreliability that had plagued it arose from impurities in the glass used and not from any weakness in the basic principle. This, alone, would make him a major figure, but he also has an impressive record both as a scientific entrepreneur and as a promoter of learning and research in Hong Kong and elsewhere, moving easily and repeatedly from the corporate to the academic field: and in spite of his entrepreneurial bent, he seems to have had a great deal of impact simply by his personal intellectual generosity, visiting several competing fibre optics laboratories and freely discussing principles, procedures and improvements. He has recently started to show the symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease - apparently a family curse - so this was probably the last opportunity that a prize to his distinguished and valuable career could actually be awarded so as to make him enjoy the honour.

This is the kind of person who ordinarily gets a Nobel Prize.
fpb: (Default)
In Tenby, Wales, three lifeboat people noticed a large group of people - 36 children and 4 adults - in increasing trouble on a sandbank. They went into action as the children and adults fell into the sea, took them all to safety from choppy and treacherous waters, and performed first aid on a couple of children. There was not a single victim, but it is estimated that without their quick intervention and competent action, at least six people would have died.
Lifeboat heroes, Tenby, 26-07-2009
Adam Pitman, Coral Lewis and Jon Johnson, the rescuers
fpb: (Default)
Yes, quite right, she is a member of my family. And I am delighted to discover that she is the patron saint of "people ridiculed for their piety". So not only do a lot of my friends have a patron in Heaven - but she is a Barbieri, too! Now there's something to be proud of.

The only photograph of her in existence is genuinely embarrassing. What can I say? The Italian countryside in the nineteenth century was not a focus of good taste. But at least it gives the message very clearly.

Santa Clelia Barbieri (1847-1870)

When this photo was taken, she was 22, had not yet taken her final vows (as can be seen by the long uncovered hair) and yet had barely one year to live. In her few years, she almost literally moved mountains, setting up a monastic community against the desires of the Italian government (which had dissolved several monastic orders at the same time) and in the face of contempt from her "betters" and hideous humiliations. In 23 years, she managed to do more than most of us will achieve in seventy or eighty. The monastic order she started in a little schoolhouse in a remote village, Budrie, is now spread around the world.
fpb: (Default)
More even than his exceptional coolness in a desperately difficult situation, it is the fact that Captain Chesley B.Sullenberger III, as the plane was slowly sinking into the Hudson, went through the aisle twice to make sure all the passengers and crew were gone, that tells us the kind of man he is.

Profile

fpb: (Default)
fpb

June 2017

S M T W T F S
    1 23
45678910
1112131415 1617
18192021222324
252627282930 

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jul. 22nd, 2017 12:42 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios