Feb. 4, 2007


by Thomas R. Smith

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Poem: "Trust" by Thomas R. Smith, from Waking before Dawn. © Red Dragonfly Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


It's like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the new mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.

The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—
all show up at their intended destinations.

The theft that could have happened doesn't.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.

And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can't read the address.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the experimental novelist and short-story writer Robert Coover, (books by this author) born in Charles City, Iowa (1932). He's the author of The Origin of the Brunists (1966), The Universal Baseball Association (1968), The Public Burning (1977), and his most recent book, Child Again, which came out in 2005.

Robert Coover said, "The narrative impulse is always with us; we couldn't imagine ourselves through a day without it. ... We need myths to get by. We need story; otherwise the tremendous randomness of experience overwhelms us. Story is what penetrates."

It's the birthday of novelist MacKinlay Kantor, (books by this author) born in Webster City, Iowa (1904). He was a prolific writer who produced more than 40 books, including historical novels, westerns, crime novels, nonfiction, and collections of poetry. Kantor wrote about the Civil War in novels such as The Jaybird (1932), Long Remember (1934), and Arouse and Beware (1936). He spent more than 25 years researching his novel Andersonville (1955), about the Confederate prison camp where 50,000 Union soldiers were held. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1956.

Kantor's novel Glory for Me (1945), about the lives of three World War II veterans in a small Midwestern town, was the basis for the movie The Best Years of Our Lives, which won nine Academy Awards in 1946.

It was on this day in 1945 that the Yalta Conference began, during which President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States, Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain, and Premier Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union met to plan the final defeat and occupation of Nazi Germany. It was the last time the three men would ever meet, and one of the last times that any Western leader negotiated with Stalin as an ally.

Yalta was a resort in the Crimea that was once the site of Czar Nicholas's summer cottage. It was there that Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin spent eight days and nights hashing out the future of the world. The meeting was totally secret, with no news reporters allowed, and there were no leaks to the press of anything that went on there.

At the time, Roosevelt and Churchill believed that they had to persuade Stalin to help fight against the Japanese, and they also wanted him to help establish the United Nations. So they were willing to make the concession that he could continue to occupy Eastern Europe, as long as he allowed free elections there.

Roosevelt's health was failing at the time. He'd given a speech on a battleship the previous summer, during which his words were slurred, and he seemed to lose the grasp of his message. Roosevelt died of a stroke a little more than two months after the Yalta Conference. Some historians have suggested that Roosevelt's health ruined his ability to negotiate effectively, but others have argued that Stalin just had the better hand. He had effectively won the war on the Eastern Front with Germany, and Roosevelt and Churchill desperately needed his help. They weren't in a position to challenge him.

After the conference, Stalin completely ignored his commitment to democracy and installed Communist Party dictatorships in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania, and the Cold War began.

It's the birthday of the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, (books by this author) born in Breslau, Prussia (1906). He came from a family of Lutheran theologians and pastors and decided when he was 16 that he wanted to study for the ministry. He chose to study at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He had a maverick professor there who taught theology by way of the Harlem Renaissance, assigning books by Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, and James Weldon Johnson. Bonhoeffer was inspired to start attending a black church in Harlem, where he began to teach Sunday school, and he also witnessed his church's struggle against racism.

In 1931, when Bonhoeffer returned to Berlin, he suddenly saw the anti-Semitism that had been brewing in his county with a new clarity. When Hitler took power in 1933, other pastors and theologians in Germany chose to ignore it, but Bonhoeffer joined a plot to assassinate Hitler. The assassination plot was a failure, and Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943.

He spent his last months in prison writing letters to his fiancée, a young woman named Maria von Wedemeyer. The correspondence between the two was collected in the book Love Letters From Cell 92 (1994).

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




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