Saturday, May 15, 2010

brothers and sisters

It's been raining again, nervous people are probably rushing the depleted stores once more for bottled water and other provisions. But it looks like it'll be a calm, pleasantly cooler day. A good day for reflection. (Like most of the others.)

If you asked me to name the film or stage show that had the greatest impact on me as a young person, I'd have to say South Pacific. I first saw the adaptation of James Michener's tale performed on the large outdoor stage at St. Louis's Municipal ("Muny") a kid, in the intense humid midwestern summertime, in the middle of the civil rights struggles of the '60s, at a moment when I was having my consciousness raised about racial bigotry. I'd just seen Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, [clip] whose impact on me was also profound,  and would soon read my baseball hero Bob Gibson's ghosted memoir From Ghetto to Glory. Dr. King had been shot the previous summer. (I may in fact have seen this show at the Muny as early as 1963, but it was the '69 performance that I'm pretty sure I'm recalling.)

Michener caught a lot of snark from lit critics who thought his approach ham-handed or unsubtle or something, but he was a very good man. His "This I Believe" essay aired yesterday.

Around the world I have lived with my brothers and nothing has kept me from knowing men like myself wherever I went. Language has been no barrier, for once in India, I lived for several days with villagers who didn’t know a word of English. I can’t remember exactly how we got along, but the fact that I couldn’t speak their language was no hindrance. Differences in social custom never kept me from getting to know and like savage Melanesians in the New Hebrides. They ate roast dog, and I ate Army spam, and if we had wanted to emphasize differences, I am sure each of us could have concluded the other was nuts. But we stressed similarities and, so long as I could snatch a Navy blanket for them now and then, we had a fine old time with no words spoken.
It was in these islands that I met a beat-up, shameless old Tonkinese woman. She would buy or sell anything, and in time we became fast friends and I used to sit with her, knowing not a word of her curious language, and we talked for hours. She knew only half a dozen of the vilest English obscenities, but she had the most extraordinary love of human beings and the most infectious sense of this world’s crazy comedy. She was of my blood, and I wish I could see her now.

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