Dec. 25, 2004

When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone (excerpt)

by Galway Kinnell

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Poem: "When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone" by Galway Kinnell, from When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone © Houghton Mifflin. Reprinted with permission.

When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone

When one has lived a long time alone,
one wants to live again among men and women,
to return to that place where one's ties with the human
broke, where the disquiet of death and now also
of history glimmers its firelight on faces,
where the gaze of the new baby looks past the gaze
of the great granny, and where lovers speak,
on lips blowsy from kissing, that language
the same in each mouth, and like birds at daybreak
blether the song that is both earth's and heaven's,
until the sun has risen, and they stand
in the daylight of being made one: kingdom come,
when one has lived a long time alone.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is Christmas Day, when much of what is considered the western world celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. The actual birth of Christ probably took place in the springtime during the year 4 B.C., but the early Christians decided to adopt the time of the winter solstice to celebrate the birth of Christ.

In Finland people go to the sauna and listen to a national radio broadcast called "The Peace of Christmas." It is also the time of year when they visit the graves of departed loved ones.

In Yugoslavia, the second Sunday before Christmas is considered "Mother's Day" when children tie their mother to a chair and demand presents for ransom, taunting, "It's Mother's Day, its Mother's Day, what will you pay to get away?" The following week they do the same thing to their father. However, Yugoslavians celebrate Christmas itself January 7th according to the old Julian calendar, developed during the reign of Julius Caesar.

In Australia, Christmas falls during the middle of the summer, when the temperature can reach 100 degrees. People often celebrate at the beach and have barbecues.

In China most people are Buddhists but there are some Christians and they celebrate Christmas by lighting decorated paper lanterns and decorating their "Trees of Light" with paper decorations. Children wait for a visit from the "Christmas Old Man."

In Seville, Spain, the Christmas season begins with the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. 10 boys dressed in elaborate costumes perform a beautiful dance called "The Dance of Six" in front of Seville's gothic cathedral. The Magi, or the three wise men, are particularly worshiped in Spain and it is believed that they roam the countryside during this season. Children leave shoes on the windowsill filled with straw, carrots and barley for Balthazar's donkey, a Wise Man believed to leave them gifts.

In Greece, St. Nicholas is considered the patron saint of sailors, and as a rule ships won't leave port without an icon on board. The Greek version of St. Nick has clothes and a beard drenched with seawater from trying to rescue drowning sailors and sinking ships.

Greeks don't have Christmas trees; instead they keep a small bowl with water and hang a cross wrapped in basil from a wire from the rim of the bowl. Once a day the cross is dipped in the bowl of water and used to sprinkle the water in rooms of the house to protect the home from bad luck.

In capitol city of Caracas, Venezuela, children tie a long string to their big toe before going to bed and hang it out the window. The next morning people roller-skate to mass and tug on the stings tied to the children's feet.

In Mexico children use stick to break open a piñata filled with candy and money.

In Brazil, on Christmas Eve people attend Midnight mass, called the Mass of the Rooster, because mass ends the next day, which is announced by the rooster, and Father Christmas wears a silk suit because of the heat.

It's the birthday of scientist and physicist Sir Isaac Newton, born in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. Newton is considered the grandfather of modern science and physics. He attended Cambridge University from 1661 to 1665. While he was home over break from school he discovered the law of universal gravitation, explaining how things fall and also why planets have orbits. He also began to develop calculus and he discovered white light is composed of all of the colors in the spectrum. After graduating, he built the first reflecting telescope and then returned to Cambridge four years after he graduated to become a mathematics professor. He went on to publish his theories about gravity, the laws of motion, and also gravity's effect on the tides.

Newton said, "If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

It's the birthday of American Red Cross founder Clara Barton (Clarissa Harlowe), born in Oxford Massachusetts (1821). Clara Barton came from Unitarian family of wealthy European immigrants who owned a sawmill. As a child she was very shy and had panic attacks, even though she came from a supportive family. When she was 15, her mother advised her to start teaching local children to help build her confidence since there weren't any schools in the area. She was so popular with her students that within 2 years time she was running the state's first free public school with over 600 students.

Barton eventually quit teaching and went work at the capitol in Washington D.C as a clerk in the patents office, becoming the first woman civil servant. She was working there when the Civil War broke out and she began tending to wounded soldiers who were brought to the capitol.

Barton was afraid that the soldiers would lose too much blood if brought to the hospital, so she and a small group of followers had the revolutionary idea taking first aid supplies to the battle field by mule drawn wagons. There they set up camp and attended to the wounded.

Despite resistance from male army officers over women being so close to fire and on the battlefield she continued to take care of thousands of soldiers during the first and second battles of Bull Run, earning her the title "Angel of the Battlefield." In a letter home she wrote of having to wring out her skirts because they had become so heavy with blood that she couldn't walk.

In 1869 Clara Barton had a nervous breakdown and went to Switzerland to recover. There she witnessed the newly established International Red Cross and began serving for the Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian war. After she returned to the United States and began campaigning for the U.S. to join the International Red Cross, which it did in 1881, and Clara Barton declared herself lifetime president. Clara Barton continued running the Red Cross and personally attending to victims at the scene of disasters, in both times of war and peace until her late 70's, when she was basically forced into retirement.

Today the Red Cross is still active in disaster and war relief, and runs the world's largest blood donor service.

Clara Barton said, "Everybody's business is nobody's business, and nobody's business is my business."

It's the birthday of Rod Serling born in Syracuse, New York (1925), best known as the creator, writer and producer of the eerie television series called "The Twilight Zone" which first aired in 1959. Serling believed it was the writer's job to "menace the public consciousness" and considered television and radio as a means for social criticism.

While in college, Serling had an internship at a radio station and wrote a radio script he wrote about a prizefighter who was slowly dying from leukemia. Serling's national award for that script launched him into the world of radio and eventually television.

In the mid 1950's, Serling won three Emmy™ awards for three television plays he wrote. He grew increasingly frustrated over not being allowed to write controversial scripts about humanity because corporate sponsors would not subsidize messages that might be offensive to the public, so he switched to science fiction. He found it was easier to slip social criticism by the censors if it took place in a fictional world. Creating "The Twilight Zone" allowed him total artistic freedom and the show was enormously popular during the five years it aired on television.

Serling said, "It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper."

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




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