Nov. 9, 2001


by Walt Whitman

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Poem: "Reconciliation," by Walt Whitman.


Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time
    be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly
    softly wash again, and ever again, this soil'd world;
For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
I look where he lies white-faced and still in the coffin—I
    draw near,
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in
    the coffin.

It's the birthday of astronomer and author Carl Sagan, born in Brooklyn, New York (1934), who became hooked on astronomy at an early age, after learning that each star in the evening sky represented a distant sun. He said, "This just blew my mind .... I tried to imagine how far away I'd have to move the sun to make it as faint as a star. I got my first sense of the immensity of the universe." Sagan studied at the University of Chicago, where he got his Ph.D., and then began research at Harvard University. He showed that the universe abounds with carbon-based chemicals that could be the precursors of other living things. He pioneered the use of radio telescopes for listening for signs of life in space. Sagan published hundreds of scientific papers, contributed often to Scientific American magazine, and wrote eight books, including The Dragons of Eden (1977), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. But Sagan is probably most famous for his 1980 13-part public television series Cosmos which used elaborate special effects to explain the wonders of the universe. The series eventually reached an audience of more than 400,000,000 viewers.

It's the birthday of poet Anne Sexton, born in Newton, Massachusetts (1928). She married at 19; six years later she gave birth to a daughter. The following year she was diagnosed with postpartum depression, suffered a mental breakdown, and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. In 1955, she gave birth to another daughter, suffered another breakdown, and was once again hospitalized. While there, Sexton related, "My analyst told me to write between our sessions about what I was feeling and thinking and dreaming." Eventually, these writings were gathered in a collection of poems called To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960), which garnered much attention and critical controversy. Sexton's best-known work is Live or Die, which earned her the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. In 1974, at the age of 46, she committed suicide.

It's the birthday of novelist and poet Ivan Turgenev, born in Orel Province, Russia (1818), who was known for his detailed descriptions about everyday life in Russia in the 19th century. He was also the first Russian author to establish a European reputation. In 1843, Turgenev published his first poem, Parasha, which was well received by critics. In the 1850s, Turgenev wrote a series of stories called A Sportsman's Sketches, written from the point of view of a young nobleman who comes to appreciate the wisdom of the peasants who live on his family's estate. He also wrote several plays, the most famous of which is A Month in the Country (1850), a study of Russian aristocratic life. His masterpiece was Fathers and Sons, published in 1862. It's hero, Bazarov, an idealistic young radical, became the archetype for a generation of Russians. Turgenev invented and named the philosophy of nihilism, the rejection of established laws and institutions. Ivan Turgenev, who said, "Whatever man prays for, he prays for a miracle. Every prayer reduces itself to this—Great God, grant that twice two be not four."

In 1989 on this day, the demolition of the Berlin Wall began.

In 1965 on this day, the northeastern United States experienced a massive power failure and blackout. At 5:17 p.m., electric lights all along the Niagara area of New York State began flickering. That tripped power plant switches all along the East Coast. Within four minutes the state of Massachusetts was in darkness, followed by Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and two provinces in Canada. At 5:27, the blackout hit the five boroughs of New York City, trapping more than 800,000 people in crowded rush-hour subway cars.

In 1938 on this day, Kristallnacht, or the "Night of Broken Glass," occurred throughout Germany and Austria. On that night, Adolph Hitler ordered the Nazi into the streets to destroy Jewish businesses.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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