I’ve done quite a bit of reading over the past 16 months (thanks pandemic!), but no book has moved me more than this one:
I’m late to the game. The book came out in 2019. Brian Doyle died of brain cancer in 2017, at the age of 60. But better late than never, right?
One Long River of Song is a collection of essays – some happy, some heartbreaking… and all with a spiritual sense of wonder about the world we inhabit.
“Brian Doyle lived the pleasure of bearing daily witness to the glories hidden in people, places and creatures of little or no size or renown, and brought inimitably playful or soaring or aching or heartfelt language to his tellings.”
David James Duncan in the introduction to One Long River of Song
Some books are enjoyable on a surface level but soon forgotten. This one soaks into your skin and burrows into your heart and soul. Simple gorgeous prose.
There are many reasons why folks from Central America are trying to migrate to the U.S. Some are fleeing violence and/or persecution in their home country. But an overarching reason that thousands make the arduous and perilous trek from their homes is poverty.
“I want a better future for my kids. Like our parents wanted a better future for us. That’s why we’re forced to take steps and leave our own country and risk our lives here, because necessity forces us.”
To give an example: owing in part to climate change, there was a record hurricane season last year, with the last two storms, Eta and Iota, striking Central America. As Nicole Narea explained in a recent article in Vox, the Northern Triangle countries—Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador—have been afflicted by climate-induced drought for a decade, leaving 3.5 million people facing food insecurity, but the floods from those two storms produced even more savage damage. Twelve hundred schools were damaged or destroyed; forty per cent of corn crops and sixty-five per cent of the bean harvest were lost. As a percentage of G.D.P., the damage is greater than that done by the worst storms ever to hit the United States, yet the people of these countries did comparatively little to cause the climate crisis—whereas the four per cent of us who live in this country have produced more greenhouse gases than the population of almost any other nation. So there’s really no way to pretend that migrants arriving at our southern border have no claim on America. Honduras could have built the biggest, most beautiful wall on its northern border, and our CO2 would still have sailed right across it.
Interesting, ain’t it? So if we want to help alleviate the border crisis, we should worry less about building walls, and focus more on reducing our oversized carbon footprint. The rising tide of border crossers is caused by the rising tide of the oceans. Illegal immigration is a symptom, not the disease. And the disease is spreading rapidly.
And it’s not as if this is an isolated case. As early as 2017, according to the organizers at climate-refugees.org, sixty per cent of displaced people around the world were on the move because of “natural” disasters, not civil conflict. In the past six months, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, about eighty per cent of displacements have been the result of disasters, “most of which are triggered by climate and weather extremes.” As Axios reported last week, using a projection model created by the Times, ProPublica, and the Pulitzer Center, “migration from Central America will rise every year regardless of climate change,” but, “in the most extreme warming scenarios, more than 30 million migrants would head toward the U.S. border over the next 30 years.”
VP Kamala Harris can say “do not come, do not come” all she wants. But let’s pretend the shoe is on the other foot for a second (ignoring the fact that shoes might be considered a luxury in the tiny villages of Central America). If your schools were destroyed, your food sources were wiped out and your livelihood was lost, you’d still come. No matter the cost, no matter the odds.
Don’t worry, I’m not gonna get all new-agey on you. I just happened to see this horoscope while I was working on the sudoku next to it in the newspaper. I’m not into astrology. I’m more into Astro from The Jetsons.
But that horoscope is all wrong. I don’t want new friends. I just want to see my old friends more often. To share a laugh or three… and perhaps a beer or three. To swap stories of happiness… mixed the occasional tale of woe.
I don’t really think there’s such a thing as “new friends.” When they’re new to you, they’re just acquaintances. They haven’t earned their friendship stripes yet.
The bonds of true friendship can only be forged over time. Through thick and thin. Old friends know where you got your scars, and they know how to keep a secret. They’ve learned to accept your foibles and flaws… or at least overlook them. They reach out. They show up when you need them most.
With old friends, you can go months, even years, without seeing them, and still not miss a beat when you finally do catch up. Now that the pandemic is finally – blessedly – subsiding (masks off, but fingers crossed), I’m looking forward to reconnecting with some old friends.
“The 2021 Presidential Scholars represent extraordinary achievements for our extraordinary times,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a news release. “I am delighted to join President Biden in saluting these outstanding young people for their achievements, service, character and continued pursuit of excellence. Their examples make me proud and hopeful about the future. Honoring them can remind us all of the great potential in each new generation and renew our commitment to helping them achieve their dreams.”
Like the Secretary of Education, I’m proud and hopeful about the future too. I’m also proud that half of the Presidential Scholars semifinalists in the entire state of Ohio — 11 kids — hail from the Cincinnati area. Two of these scholars (Aidan Finn and Anna Rahner) started their scholarly journey in the same Montessori classrooms as my kids. Three of the semifinalists attended Walnut Hills High School, where all four of our kids attended junior high, and three attended (or are still attending) high school. Another semifinalist went to McNicholas High School, also the alma mater of our oldest child and my lovely bride.
I’m not claiming any sort of transitive property that makes my kids super-scholars by association. But I do think grade schools like Sands Montessori lay a strong foundation for all the kids going to school there, and high schools like Walnut Hills and McNicholas help them blossom. The kids get the awards, but the teachers deserve a ton of credit for bringing out the best in their students.
“Our chief want in life is someone who shall make us do what we can.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
You can read more about the semifinalists in this story from Cincinnati.com. And you can read about the two area Presidential Scholars in this article. Aidan Finn, who started at Sands Montessori, is one of them. We know his family well, and couldn’t be happier for them. The qualities cited by the Secretary of Education include “service” and “character” and Aidan and his younger sister have that in spades.
Aidan founded Tutor Teens with his sister, Erin, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The volunteer tutoring program matches Cincinnati area high school tutors to students across the region. There are tutors from more than a dozen local high schools in the program tutoring students from more than 70 local schools. The program is virtual and free.
That’s our neighbors, Aron and Ben Levin, up on stage last night, doing their thing. Playing the blues.
Ben Levin is a piano prodigy. He’s only 21, but he’s been playing gigs since he was 13. (You can check out his chops here.) Pre-pandemic (“The Before Times”), Ben and Aron had quite a few gigs around town every week. When coronavirus hit, it shut down most of the venues they played. Then it hit a lot closer to home – Aron got COVID-19 last November. Playing live took a back seat to staying alive. Aron was in the hospital for a month… he came way too close to being yet another coronavirus fatality. Then he endured a long stint of in-patient rehab. He’s not 100%, but he’s working his way back.
I’ve always loved seeing live music. I’ve always admired the special bond that Aron and his son have. But I’ve never appreciated their gigs as much as I did when I saw them last night.
Blues a healer, all over the world
Blues a healer, healer, all over the world, all over the world