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What is most worrying is unawareness of exactly what is being lost and has been lost in small increments day by day, year by year, person by person.



This Glass is Full, Pour Another


by Jerry Murley

Unless one has recently lost a job through no fault of one's own, lost or are near losing a home in which one has invested years of work, suffered a major health setback, or suddenly lost a loved one, one might need to turn off the news and stop already with the sky-is-falling dirge. I know people who were lucky to get an orange for Christmas when they were children and who are now well-adjusted, relatively affluent adults. Since when is interminable fretting grown-up? One rattle toy more or less is not going to change anything about the fundamentals of life.

I have been a persistent advocate of storytelling by non-professional writers – just for kick's let's call them regular folks. Such stories are the stuff of history – a huge quilt stitched with random patches into infinite patterns with discernible themes. Folk stories are also the lifeblood of human existence – some seized and repeated with tiny embellishments over generations. No one seizes whining, except as a joke or diagnostic example. Philosophic, religious, financial, and cultural sanctimony can only carry one so far. If God is any kind of power at all, He is a laughing Being Who sees humor in the details. The wise philosopher or artist who can't hack the big laugh has a great big, gapping hole in his view of the cosmos. The humorless grousing grownup only becomes a folk wildfire in the electronic media where repetition and volume are seen as signs of substance.

All stories of worth are not altogether funny. In fact, humor is best when laced ever so lightly with the basic sadness of the human condition. Take the Decameron by Boccaccio; the stories purportedly are told during a year of the Black Death in Europe. When we have the Black Death and then some, our capacity for a good yarn better be good or someone is not going to be invited to the villa to share a repast of worms and beetles.

I have always loved reading about the Middle Ages. It just seems a time full of color and import for modernity. The Middle Ages have usually gotten a bad rap. What is amazing is the inventiveness of isolated communities and trading networks of cities once the administrative broadcast of the Roman Empire was shut down. It was a time of storytelling about which fabulous stories have been recorded. Its history reads more like a biography of a gruff and grizzled favorite uncle than stuffy scholarship. Many years ago I discovered a book of French fabliaux in the public library and added earthy timelessness to wooded walks with friends trying to retell the bawdy stories with only a fraction of the zest and detail of the originals.

Don't get me wrong, I am not for a return to trial by fire and submersion in water; that seems a little too akin to what we have suffered during the political and religious fanaticism of the past century. I would go for trial by humor, but the most frightening people I have ever encountered are those with endless wit – as if there were no bottom or the bottom had somehow shallowed the soul. (And I can't begin to describe the apprehension since childhood of clowns. As a life-long reader of faces, I don't like face paint and masks that are actually worn.) No, I am no fan of mania, either.

We have lost it if we can't get past losing sometime. (My mother tells me, that at four years of age I was distraught about losing my marbles. Maybe I never found them, but they have not been missed.) I often lose, but win often enough. (I was wisely advised long ago by a fraternity brother that I should not gamble at cards unless I was willing to lose; I was not and did not play cards that way again.) What is most worrying is unawareness of exactly what is being lost and has been lost in small increments day by day, year by year, person by person. That is a loss not altogether in a material sense but in stories about minor achievements that are no less important than much-touted landmark achievements. In aggregate, I would assert that the number and significance of minor achievements over history far, far, far outweigh the major ones in advancement for humankind and the planet.

History is not about war and giants of war, unless of course the historian is a warrior or a wanna-be warrior. History is about how humans behave in war and despite of war. It's about how they act to defend themselves from war and rapacious warriors, tribes and states. It's about what men and women do to build cultures with values and amenities worth taking or defending. This is why counterinsurgency is so interesting and elusive: it is about a state and its members acting as men and women, as civil society, rather than as destructive, controlling machines and barbaric individuals.

Churchill was as grave a man as one can find in history. But the man knew humor. He could tell a story, get a laugh, pull a tear, and stiffen the spine of a civilization. And I think with merit some would say that beyond his power as a strategist, his chief power was his facility with the language written and spoken. He could stop sniveling, though he foresaw and witnessed sky falling, and play the game to its fullest.

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