Easy to Make Fun

Sure, it’s easy to make fun of Carl Sagan, who I mentioned here yesterday. I bet even a six-year-old in Madagascar could do a take-off of the way he said “Billions!” in his effort to make us look up now and then from our antlike preoccupations.

But look at this video below, which somebody made, setting and compressing his utterances into a kind of song. There’s even brief footage of Stephen Hawking in it. How many have viewed it? You’ll see when you pass the ad and click through: over 8 million of us, one of whom has written in the comments section that watching this video is what turned him/her away from a degree in Computer Science and toward a degree in Astrophysics .

In case this doesn’t appear for you, Click here to see the original video and then here to see the “Symphony” this person created. “Who knew Carl could beat-box?” might be your first thought; but your’e made of stone if you don’t feel a catch in your throat when he speaks of not a sunrise but a galaxyrise.

Dig It

When you say you like one thing and then say you like another, you’re just doing what great minds have often felt free to do. Didn’t Emerson call a foolish consistency the hobgoblin of little minds?

I love Emerson’s writing and was thrilled to receive a pewter bust of him for Christmas. Still, at the same time I’m often sore at him, for all kinds of reasons, like changing his wife’s name to something he found more “classical-sounding” , and withdrawing into his books when their little boy Waldo died, leaving the poor wife doubly bereaved. I also feel like “Oh easy for him to look down his long nose at the littler minds, he who never made a bed or picked up after tea!”

But that’s how it was to by a gentleman of the comfortable class in the 19th century. They never carried their full chamber pots down the stairs mornings. They never hauled a hundred pounds of boiling water up the stairs for anyone’s bath. Invisible and nameless others did that for them.

So see? You can admire someone on one level and be mad at him at the same time. (Think marriage, any marriage.)

And remember that other famous quote from Emerson’s same century? Give ya five bucks if you recognize who said this one:

“Do I contradict myself? Then I contradict myself. I am vast. I contain multitudes.”

Yup. That was Walt Whitman, whose genial free spirit made stuffier 19th century types almost burst their corset buttons. Word of him even reached quiet Emily Dickinson in her seclusion who said never read his book, but was told it was “disgraceful.”

But that’s what you have to love about the guy. That maxim “Nothing human is alien to me”? That was Whitman all over. He could sing the praises of a pile of Plague corpses if you caught him in the grip of one of is ecstasies. (Could and did just about. Remember the “beautiful uncut hair of graves”? Remember him happily enriching fthe soil with his own lifeless body?)

I admire Whitman very much. I guess I’m more like him than I am like Emerson. One day I would love to visit his house in Camden NJ, but until I get to do that it might be enough to just go outside and dig things the way he did.

Hmmm looking outside here. Cloudy right now with a sky that looks like cake batter ladled into the pan. Like dirty snow. Like soiled bed linens. And yet an amazing radiance just at the horizon.

Dig it. It’s all God asks of us.

Dessert First

‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ (see yesterday’s post) makes me think about my mother-in-law Ruth Payne Marotta who worked at the forward-thinking Tufts University lab school I mentioned yesterday. During her time there she would try to get me to  bring my first baby in. I’d do it sometimes, bring her dressed in a little baby bonnet  – she was balder than the Buddha – and sometimes even leave her for a while at Ruth’s request. I was never sure just what happened while I was gone but I knew it had to be good.

She was the most open-minded adult I have ever known, this Ruth Paybe Marotta. “There’s no reason not to have dessert first,” I heard her say to my kids more than once as she spooned ice cream into small Bert-and-Ernie bowls. You also couldn’t shock her so you didn’t try. She regarded children, and all young people,  as spiritual equals to adults and she spoke to them in grave matter-of-fact tones.

That baby of mine graduated from the great high school she attended some 17 year after her visits to that Child Development Center, and her cousin Katy and her old pal Alden came all the way into the city to attend the ceremonies. At the special lunch we went to afterward Alden sat beside Grandma Ruth. He asked her what it was like to be old. He always had this childlike curiosity Alden did and he asked this in the most respectful way.

She didn’t flinch or rise up in all haughty in her chair or rap his knuckles; far from it. She welcomed the question and answered it carefully and thoroughly. I remembering wishing I could sit just a little closer to better hear what she was saying.

Ruth had a gay roommate back when they were both members of the Class of ’39 at Tufts and was  a loyal friend to her for their whole long lives. And she didn’t bat an eye when one of her own family members and then another revealed that they were gay themselves.

I feel so lucky to have met her at age 19; to have had her as an ‘extra mother’ – even before I married her son at 21. For years I watched her calm way of dealing with life and learned at her feet, because my family’s way was so different. (We yelled, we laughed, we sobbed – sometimes while laughing. (We were Irish what can I say?))  But now all these years later I am actually more like ‘Grandma Ruth’ than I am like my own mother.

Anyway I’m quieter than I was and calmer too, slow to take offense, and impossible to shock and all of this I lay at her doorstep. Or maybe on what promises to be this sunny warm Thursday I will go find her gravestone and lay it there, with some spring tulips for my thanks.

She was the beloved younger child of a couple of New Hampshire Unitarians. This is Ruthie now, peeking shly at the camera. I have to say her son is just like her.