Reminded to love

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

The Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists gave this column, from Dec. 21, one of its first place awards last night.

Thank you, SPJ, and thanks to Peter Pach and Carolyn Lumsden at the Courant.

One night in August, 1994, a man sitting alone in a New Haven coffee bar stood up, pulled a knife and stabbed seven people.

One of them was a journalist, Bruce Shapiro. He was badly wounded, but he lived. By some miracle, everybody did. A few months later, Shapiro was watching television news and saw himself, as he would later write, “writhing on an ambulance gurney, bright green shirt open and drenched with blood, skin pale, knee raised, trying desperately and with utter futility to find relief from pain.”

It was a news report about a legislative initiative he didn’t even agree with. They needed, as he told me this week, “B-roll.” They used him.

“B-roll” is supplementary footage. It’s the old, inert, archival clip you drop into the fresher, more vivid report.

The idea stays with me, because that’s what we all do. We’re little TV stations constantly converting raw experience into B-roll. You have to. You’d go crazy if your wedding day, your father’s funeral, the birth of your daughter, the death of your dog, your best kiss and worst Little League strikeout were all as crisp and new in your mind as they were the day they happened. You’d feel the way you did last week, as if the wrong song spilling out of a speaker could tip you into an hour of crying.

From that perspective, healing almost seems like an act of betrayal. Columbine. 9/11. These dropped down on us with poisonous sorrow and bright stinging pain in their day, but now they’re leaden and pickled. We bring them out to make a point about something else. B-roll.

I’m asking. How do you water a moment like this one? How do you keep it green and rich. How do you keep it alive, calling to you like a bird in the nearest tree?

We’ll try to fix a few things, right now, while our skin and souls still burn. What choice do we have? That’s what the president said last Sunday night. What choice do we have? There aren’t many moments like this, when we really understand how thin the ice is, when we understand that life is not on the verge of breaking but is badly snapped and cracked in very important places.

Most of the time, we have a choice. We could read a book about the child soldiers in Africa or we could watch something cool on cable.

For just a little while, we have no choice. Children and teachers were massacred just a few miles from where you’re sitting. We have to do something.

So what comes next? Some gun control laws? Maybe some new attention to mental illness. Something in the schools. I’m all in favor. I really am. I’m all in favor of doing something before we go back to sleep.

One of Ezra Pound’s poems ends “So that:”

Those are the final words. It’s a long meditation on love and death, and it ends “So that:”

So that what?

So that we’ll start it up all over again. We’ll love. We’ll get lost. We’ll wander off course. We’ll see death. We’ll grieve. One day, we’ll be the ones dying.

We pray that there’s something more than that. Who would want to live inside such a crazy clock with such merciless works?

If there’s an elixir, some potion we can drink, it’s almost certainly love. Right? Love is the only possible bright sparkling rope bridge we can clutch as we stutter-step through the dark universe.

What a joke. Our only good piece of equipment is love, the thing we fail at so often. We’ve been talking all week about weapons, but our only sure-fire weapon against chaos and nothingness is love.

Do you keep it oiled and cleaned? Is it right close at hand, so you can grab it and brandish it? Are you packing it right now?

This is all going to turn into B-roll. With each passing day, the filing clerks of our hearts and minds will cart it a little further back, to a dimmer and dustier shelf. But it happened, so that:

I don’t know. I don’t know what comes next.

But I am reminded to love.

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20 thoughts on “Reminded to love

  1. BobD

    Reading the column again, with some distance from the event, it is even better. Thank you for reprinting it. Your conclusion has stood the test of time and, as we grow older, becomes more evident. Why is it so hard to live it every day? Maybe it isn’t. Maybe we just choose to make it hard. Maybe for many of us living life as a cynic and critic is easier because it gives us a shield. Lately, I find myself reading 1 Corinthians 13 often. It is so familiar, but everytime I read it, I find something new. It is not just for weddings.

  2. Reader

    Brilliant. I was out of town that following week and missed my paper, so I am just reading this now (which, I suppose, means that your blog post is now B-roll?).

    Brilliant. Congratulations.

  3. Richarf

    But what is love? Is it the …..

    I’m finding the following lines kinda creepy: “Do you keep it oiled and cleaned? Is it right close at hand, so you can grab it and brandish it? Are you packing it right now?”

    Calls up some horrible imagery

  4. Lynne


    And so appropriate on Memorial Day weekend, when most people here in CT are lamenting the weather and grumbling about it infringing on their backyard barbeque plans, when this weekend should really be a tribute to those we have loved – and too often lost – in senseless wars devoid of “love.”

    And “Richarf”… that metaphor used is a play on words, reverting back to the horrific shootings in Newtown and comparing it to how much love one has in his/her heart. You may find it “creepy”…I find it poignant and timely.

    “So that.”

    1. peter brush

      senseless wars devoid of “love.”
      If not love, something very much like it and/or related to it. God Bless all those who died in our wars. (Just noticed that the Mayflower Compact signed on Veterans Day.)
      In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.
      Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
      In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.[12]

    2. Cynical Susan

      “…I find it poignant and timely.”

      Indeed. We should be as ready to brandish love as others are ready to brandish firearms.

    3. Billy Yo

      But Lynne, don’t you think Memorial Day is designed for all who lament family loss too? When I was just a child, papa prepared the tools and flowers and the watering can. Then we all loaded into the 1953 Chevy and off we went to Mount St Benedict Cemetery to pay our respects to my mother’s family. I never did question why papa’s side was not honored. I knew papa had separated from most of his Jewish side.

      Bet we never much talked about the loss veterans. Because they had another day to show remembrance.

      I now assume the tradition of purchasing flowers and doing the arrangement in the family urn. And each year, I keep the vow that mother once asked me to make to her. Then on may 29, I have another New ritual to convene. Special moment in remembrance of my long time pet cat, Elizabeth, who I lost so brutally to a car in front of my house. I have made my amends by saving cats. Now, any homeless cat that shows up at my door will find a room available.

      Somebody wished me a Happy Memorial Day today. But I wondered how. I was supposed to achieve that.

      1. Cynical Susan

        But Veterans’ Day is for those who have survived (however tentative that survival is), and Memorial Day at least started as a tribute to those lost in battle. It has indeed become a day when many go to cemeteries to honor any of their family or friends who have died.

        1. Billy Yo

          Isn’t that funny. I always thought that..

          But times change and well, I was never being one for convention. My family celebrated (not exactly the right word) Memorial Day by going to clean the family urn. Most people celebrate Christmas whether Christain or not by exchanging gifts and such. Most have nothing to do with the religious aspect. With that in mind, and knowing that I have always been politically incorrect, I will celebrate the way I want to and everyone else can celebrate it the way they want to.

          Okie Dokie, Smokie?

          1. Cynical Susan

            Of course. I certainly remember cutting blossoms from the fifty-year-old lilacs next to the house and placing them at the family plot in the cemetery in the center of town. We took lily-of-the-valley too. I only knew the names of those we so commemorated, I was too young to have known any of them in life, but we youngsters were regaled with family history so that we Knew Who They (and We) Were.

          2. Richarf

            There’s no getting around the over lap given the parades and call on old soldiers to recall comrades and the wars

          3. Billy Yo

            Cynical: I didn’t have any parent directly in WWII. The Coast Guard was as far as pops got. But I always remember my Uncle Omar Bartlett and yes, he was from New Hammpire with a down east accent and the humor to boot. He would talk about his days being a part of the invasion on the beaches of France. I enjoyed listening to his stories and his folksy humor. They had two cats, named Buster aNd Tiger. Both cats were longer then Me but they allowed me to pick them up and drag them along the floor. I never intended to have cats but, as the say, things happen.

            I tried looking for Omar Bartlett’s squad through some Veterans organization but no such luck.

            I sometimes do an impromptu performance of Omar Bartlett when I’m driving around.

      2. peter brush

        my long time pet cat, Elizabeth, who I lost so brutally to a car in front of my house
        Thanks for her service.

        1. Billy Yo

          She too, is buried under her favorite Maple tree in the back yard and a flower that I planted next to her blooms right about date of her murder, May 29.

  5. richard

    Good column today on Paulie Walnuts.

    Welcome to the new cynicism. Emilys List and Citizens United merely acknowledge the graft in the system and hope to make some of it more transparent. Along with the crumbling values of the Obama administration we can add gay marriage and birth control pills for 14 year olds as the face of American values we export to Africa and the Mid East and to Asia.. I expect legalized prostitution and legal marijuana are next.

    Define decadence in the era of Pax Americana

  6. David Dean

    It is, unfortunately, that love is much less of a feeling then it is an action. If it were a feeling, and a previlent feeling at that, than love would rule our lives, actions and hearts. As it is a choice then to love, to act in love, it is a constant choice that needs to be made. Love is not a natural and abundant force within us driving us to act in love without the constant regard for the necessity to choose to love by acting in love. In a world so attuned to the survival of the fittest in every thing from nature to the greed and gain of man, it is that there is at least love in us and in this world. We may not always act in love or feel love, but by the grace of God, there is at least the abilty in us to love and to act in the world and with each other with love.

  7. Neurotic

    Breathtaking. And the writer’s vision of love is so pure and refreshing.

    Love can be loaded and locked; it can be the perfect foil to hate. But otherwise I agree, in most cases it is murky, muddy, fickle and capable of random stops and starts. Love can be so dangerous and hurtful.

  8. Lynne

    Richard (or is it “Richarf?”)

    “When you look for the bad or incompetent in mankind hoping to find it, you surely will.”
    – Abraham Lincoln

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