Jan. 3, 2002

The Happiest Day

by Linda Pastan

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Poem: "The Happiest Day," by Linda Pastan from Heroes in Disguise (W.W. Norton).

The Happiest Day

It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn't believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn't even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day—
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere—
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera thenů
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.

It's the birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien, born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, in 1892. He's the creator of a world called Middle Earth and its inhabitants, characters like hobbits Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, as well as dragons, trolls, elves, goblins, and other creatures. Educated at Oxford during the outbreak of WWI, he spent his free time writing poetry and inventing languages, until he was called to the Western Front and fought at the Battle of Somme—he fought in and out of the trenches for four months until he was hospitalized with trench fever. During his long recovery he wrote tales about elves and gnomes that later became The Silmarillion. But it wasn't until about 1930 that he started his most famous works—as an English professor, he was grading papers one day and was bored, and in a fit of daydreaming he wrote on one of the papers' pages, "In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit...." The novel The Hobbit followed, published in 1937—and then came a sequel trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. From his introduction to the original edition of The Hobbit:

"If you care for journeys there and back, out of the comfortable Western world, over the edge of the Wild, and home again, and can take an interest in a humble hero (blessed with a little wisdom and a little courage and considerable good luck), here is a record of such a journey and such a traveler."

It's the birthday today of Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman, author, and orator, born in 106 B.C. in Arpinum, in modern-day Italy. He was a member of the Roman Senate, and a friend and follower of General Pompey the Great, who was the archenemy of the emperor Julius Caesar.

It was on this day in 1946 that Evelyn Waugh's most popular novel, Brideshead Revisited, was published.

And it was on this day in 1521 that German reformer Martin Luther, 38, was excommunicated from the Catholic Church by Pope Leo X for challenging the church doctrine. Luther was a professor of biblical interpretation at the time, at a university in Germany, and he'd just drawn up his 95 theses condemning the church for the selling of indulgences—or the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V called him to defend himself later that year, but Luther was defiant, and for it he was declared an outlaw and a heretic.

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




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