Tuesday, November 02, 2004


Tangential thoughts

A few quick thoughts, with only tangential connections to each other, before bed.

On Friday night, we went to see Friday Night Lights. An excellent sports movie -- one of the best I've seen -- and an excellent movie in general. Texas high school football is virtually a state religion. And the movie captures well the almost mystical way in which a sports team can be like a proxy for a community, especially a community that feels it has little else--no other relics to lure the few pilgrims that pass through. Even better, it captures the way a sports team, at certain moments of crisis on the gridiron, can temporarily become something more than the sum of its parts. In that sense, sports bear a revealing likeness to those exceptional moments in life when near strangers are thrown together and faced with extraordinary trial. In such times, no apology has to be made for sentiment. Love seems easier then.

Why does the "then" have to be fleeting? I've been reading Paul Elie's book on the "pilgrimage" of four American Catholic writers. It opens with Dorothy Day's experience of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. "While the crisis lasted, people loved each other," Day writes in her autobiography, as reported by Elie. "It makes one think of how people could, if they would, care for each other in times of stress, unjudgingly in pity and love." The same thing might be said of the immediate aftermath of September 11. Yet here we are, that crisis over, others come and gone, others ongoing, and others in waiting. The crisis never seems to last long enough for love to last with it. Tomorrow will be, for many, a "time of stress." Yet we will all, in a collective moment of surreal togetherness, each be strangely alone, sitting on our couches, staring at the TV, tense and fearful. Here's hoping the loneliness will not last long. Is it too much to ask that we "care for each other," even tomorrow?

A scenario struck me on the way home today, and I had it later spelled out for me. Suppose another election fiasco ensues, and begins winding its way to the Supreme Court. And suppose, before it gets there, William Rehnquist dies, leaving the President to make a recess appointment and cast a deciding vote for himself. Is this Karl Rove's October surprise? I shuddered to think of it, but I shuddered even more at what the "I" who could think such things had become. This must be the climax of how a long election season has become a time of loneliness. An aging body is wracked with cancer, and we see only a vacancy, a scenario instead of a man. When we cannot pause even to pity such a person, his life suddenly reduced to an accumulation of opinions, his body already a space to be filled, no wonder we feel cynical and scared and alienated from ourselves and each other.

Tonight I've been listening to John Coltrane's "Dear Lord," first released posthumously on Transition. I recommend it to your hearing. The liner notes to my Coltrane box set describe the tune this way: "One of Coltrane's most beautiful melodies, it is pervaded with optimism, wonder and a profound humility in both the tenor and piano choruses. Coltrane could be spiritual without obfuscation or poses of profundity, and this plain-spoken performance is one of his most universally appealing." I can think of no better kind of "appealing" to have in my head for tomorrow's transition.

Collective Improvisation:
On your scenario in III. This is what 'Succession' has always been about: it's a story played out in the Old World in countless monarchies, papacies, Byzantine empires. One take (perhaps the most credible) on the English Reformation is a version of this story. If it's what things have come to in Tom Payne's Common Sense New World - well, it does kind of give the game away, doesn't it? Has democracy actually given place to some new kind of Byzantinism?

Posted by Blogger Tony on 11/02/2004 04:45:00 AM : Permalink  

Friday Night Lights was quite good; and, having been born in Odessa, Texas myself, I enjoyed it all the more. The book, though, is very critical of Texas high school football; one of the reasons, I think, that it took so many attempts to make it into a sports movie (this was at least the fourth green-lighted script, if I remember correctly; it was almost carried forward to completion several times, and then each time given up).

Posted by Blogger Brandon on 11/03/2004 09:23:00 PM : Permalink  

Tony -- A bit of ye olde "common sense" certainly would be nice on this side of the water.

Brandon -- I haven't read the book, but I had heard that it was more critical. But given my own anecdotal knowledge of Texas high school football (I was born in Sinton, near Corpus Christi, where the entire town turned out every Friday to watch the Pirates play, and I was raised in San Antonio, where 5-A football is very strong), some criticisms are well-deserved. I thought the movie did a good job, though, of showing the good without pulling too many punches.

Posted by Blogger Caleb McDaniel on 11/03/2004 11:22:00 PM : Permalink  

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