Sunday, December 29, 2013
The Same Inside
Walking to your place for a love feast
I saw at a street corner
an old beggar woman.
I took her hand,
kissed her delicate cheek,
we talked, she was
the same inside as I am,
from the same kind,
I sensed this instantly
as a dog knows by scent
I gave her money,
I could not part from her.
After all, one needs
someone who is close.
And then I no longer knew
why I was walking to your place.
~ Anna Swir (1909-1984)
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Photo by Laura Newberry
This past year has been challenging.
It’s been challenging for my family because we don’t have enough money to pay our bills. Our kids – who, like all children, deserve all that life has to offer – have had to do without and Anita has had to do too much. The unyielding stress we’ve all felt has been more than a little detrimental.
It’s been challenging for many of our friends – especially the man who, as I’ve shared, is spending his first Christmas without his beloved son.
It’s been challenging for the millions of families who depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) to put food on their tables – actually for anyone at the mercy of callous, short-sighted officials who care more about partisan game-playing than about serving the people who voted for them.
It’s still challenging for those who lost loved ones at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December. Regrettably, they’ve been joined by the families and friends of roughly 34,272 others who’ve died from guns since Newtown.
Life’s been challenging for many people for many reasons. If I dwell on this – if I see the glass as half-empty – then for all intents and purposes I’m useless. I’m depressed and unproductive and ineffective and, like all ultra-sensitive people, I’m part of the problem, sucking up energy without replacing it.
But if I look at the bright side – if I have hope and see the glass as half-full – the challenges become manageable. Life goes on. As I tell my kids, there’s beauty all around us all the time. Sometimes it seems like there isn’t, like it’s hidden or gone, but it’s there. (Look here or here or here or here.) Sometimes it feels like we have to look awfully hard to find it, I tell them, but it can always be found.
One of Laney’s last wishes was apparently to hear people sing Christmas songs outside her window. How many folks do you think showed up? Twenty? Fifty? Try 10,000. She’s also been recognized by Pennsylvania’s state legislature for increasing awareness of childhood cancer, and her other wish was granted last Friday when she chatted with pop star and Pennsylvania native Taylor Swift via videochat. (Her “Team Laney” Facebook page has more than 95,000 “likes.”)
One could be cynical and point out that 21,000 children die every day around the world (one child every four seconds), people of color seldom receive the kind of media attention that white folks enjoy, and just over half of those who are old enough to vote actually turned out in our last presidential election. But why? Let's just experience beauty without mitigation.
It’s in the eye of the beholder, of course, but I think it’s beautiful when children smile and old people laugh. When people fight to live or fight for what’s right. When a person is born and when two people become one. When we connect with animals. When the sun rises, the snow falls, the wind blows, the birds sing and the waves lap against the shore. It’s beautiful when people dance. When we come together to make things better for those we don’t even know. And it’s beautiful when 10,000 strangers gather on Chestnut Street in West Reading, Pennsylvania to grant a dying little girl’s last wish.
Photo by Lisa Wozniak
Sources: Slate.com, 6abc.com, Belfast Telegram, Statisticbrain.com, Globalissues.org, Philly.com.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Anita and I attended a memorial service yesterday for a 14-year-old boy I know who was murdered by his stepdad less than two weeks ago.
The man who shot my young friend also killed the boy’s mother – his estranged wife – before turning his gun on himself. In doing so, he orphaned three young kids and broke countless hearts.
I’m not naming names in this post because I want to respect the privacy of the boy’s father, who used to be a good friend of mine before he moved to Cincinnati. As so often happens when folks relocate, our relationship became limited to Facebook posts and the occasional e-mail message. Seeing him yesterday at his son’s memorial service, though, it was as if he still lived just across town. I felt so sad for him and expected him to be inconsolable but I was surprised by how strong he seemed. (I leaned over to Anita at one point and whispered, “I’d be a basket case if I were him” and she, the mother of a 14-year-old, nodded in agreement.)
I was moved to tears several times during the ceremony and didn’t try to squelch or hide it. It was touching when the 14-year-old’s godfather shared a sweet anecdote about how the youngster schooled him about dinosaurs at a wedding a few years ago. It was gut-wrenching when my friend read a poem that had been written by his late son describing himself. And at the end, when a man played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, I’d guess there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
The reason I feel like blogging about the experience is because I want to share something else I felt in that church yesterday: love. Real, strong, good love. My friend was feeling it, of course, but so was I. So was Anita. And I’m sure others were too. You can call it love or good energy or a higher power’s presence or whatever you want, but it was palpable yesterday. I realized that’s probably how my friend was able to greet and talk with people. That’s what buoyed so many other friends and family members who had come together as a result of tragedy but left strengthened by the goodwill of the group. That’s what we have – and need – when we lose someone close: the love and concern and support of other people whose paths we’ve been fortunate enough to cross.
Yesterday I realized that this is what matters. Love. Friendship. Support. The goodwill of others. I even referenced it in my Facebook status when I came home:
Patrick Diehl was reminded today how important the connections we make with other people are.
It got a lot of likes.
Let me close this post by sharing a little bit about the boy we lost: He was exceptionally intelligent. He loved music. He played the piano and was learning to play the violin. He loved his three dogs and one cat. He was a huge Cincinnati Reds fan and a voracious reader who especially liked the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series. He was also very compassionate – he looked out for those in trouble and stood behind kids who were bullied. At 14, he was just starting to find himself. And now he’s gone but will never be forgotten. Rest in peace, my young friend. Thank you for teaching me that nothing’s more important than family and friends.
Monday, December 16, 2013
“I will not be a common man. I will stir the smooth sands of monotony. I do not crave security. I wish to hazard my soul to opportunity.”
~ Peter O’Toole at age 18
I didn’t know that Peter O’Toole was born in County Galway, Ireland, in August of 1932 – making him almost eight years older than my mother – and raised in Leeds, England, by his nurse mother and bookie father.
I didn’t know that he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London – one of the most prestigious drama schools in the world – on a scholarship in the early 1950s and was in the same class as Albert Finney.
I didn’t know that it was his performance as T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 – a role he snagged only after Finney and Marlon Brando both passed – that put him on the map. (It was later ranked at the top of Premiere magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Performances of All Time.)
I didn’t know that he and fellow actor Omar Sharif gambled in Casablanca and in two nights he lost much of the money he was paid for Lawrence of Arabia.
I didn’t know that his movie career included memorable roles in Becket, The Lion in Winter, What’s New, Pussycat? (written by Woody Allen), Goodbye Mr. Chips, Man of La Mancha, Caligula, Pygmalion and The Ruling Class.
I didn’t know that he almost played Professor Henry Higgins in 1964’s My Fair Lady instead of Rex Harrison but he wanted too much money.
I didn’t know that he was drinking buddies with Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Robert Shaw, Francis Bacon, Trevor Howard, Laurence Harvey and Peter Finch.
I didn’t know that he had to have his pancreas and most of his stomach removed in 1976 because of stomach cancer and that he developed diabetes as a result.
I didn’t know that he was a licensed cricket coach, was left-handed, was nominated for an Oscar eight times but never won (he received an honorary Oscar in 2003) and opposed the Vietnam war.
I didn’t know that he authored not one but two memoirs – Loitering with Intent: The Child and Loitering with Intent: The Apprentice – or that he was good friends with Katharine Hepburn.
My Favorite Year and Maurice in Venus – two of my favorite movies – and that he was unlike most other actors. He was one of those über-talented thespians who command respect and attention from the moment they appear onstage or onscreen. With his mesmerizing blue eyes and almost unparalleled charisma, the 6’2” Shakespearean actor was amusing and absorbing, compelling and captivating, the kind of iconic character who defied simple description and transcended categories. You didn’t have to know how many Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations he earned in order to know that he was good. Really good. You could feel it. He had that “thing.”
I know this: although he died two days ago at age 81 after a lengthy illness, film buffs like me are fortunate that Peter O’Toole left behind such a prominent, noteworthy body of work.
I’ve got some movies to watch.
Rest in peace, Mr. O’Toole.
“I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!”
~ Alan Swann, My Favorite Year
Check out this clip from The Ruling Class:
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Girls Who Read
“So, what do you go for in a girl?” he crows,
lifting the lager to his lips.
He gestures where his mate sits,
then downs his glass.
“He prefers tits.
I prefer arse.
What do you go for in a girl?”
Well, um, I feel quite uncomfortable,
the air left the room a long time ago,
all eyes are on me.
If you must know, I like a girl who...reads.
I’m not trying to call you a chauvinist
because I know that you’re not alone in this,
but I’d like a girl who reads.
Who needs the written words
and who uses the added vocabulary
she gleans from novels and poetry
to hold lively conversation
in a range of social situations.
I like a girl who reads,
whose heart bleeds at the words of Graham Greene
...or even Heat magazine.
Who ties back her hair while she’s reading Jane Eyre
and who goes cover to cover with each Waterstones three for two offer.
But I want a girl who won’t even stop there.
I want a girl who reads,
who feeds her addiction for fiction
with unusual poems and plays
that she hunts out in crooked bookshops
for days and days and days.
She’ll sit addicted at breakfast,
soaking up the back of the cornflakes box
and the info she gets from what she reads
makes her a total fox.
Because she’s interesting and she’s unique
and her theories make me go weak
at the knees.
I want a girl who reads.
A girl whose eyes will analyze
the menu over dinner,
who’ll use what she learns
to kick my arse in arguments
so she always ends the winner, but she’d still be sweet
and she’d still be flirty ’cos she loves the classics
and they’re pretty dirty.
And that means late at night
she’ll always have me in a stupor,
as we re-enact the raunchy bits
from the works of Jilly Cooper.
See, some guys prefer arses,
some prefer tits,
and I am not saying that I don’t like those bits.
But what’s more important, what supercedes,
is a girl with passion, wit and dreams.
So I like a girl who reads.
~ Mark Grist
Friday, December 6, 2013
I’d Be Remiss…
“During my lifetime…I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
~ Nelson Mandela, April 20, 1964
Another hero left us yesterday.
I feel obligated to post about the great Nelson Mandela, who died in Johannesburg yesterday at the age of 95. The Nobel Prize-winning icon who led the fight to end apartheid in South Africa was jailed for almost three decades and then went on to serve as the country’s president from 1994 to 1999 – the first black man to assume this role – and ruffle some feathers along the way but as Churchill famously said, having enemies means you stood for something.
African National Congress, a terrorist group in the 1980s because Mr. Mandela and the ANC had waged armed resistance against apartheid, and in 1985 then-Congressman Dick Cheney voted against a congressional resolution urging that Mr. Mandela be released from jail. No surprise there.)
Mr. Mandela publicly declared that he was an opponent, not an ally, of American power. He criticized Dubya and the Iraq war in 2004. (When Bush was promising to liberate Iraq’s people, Mr. Mandela said, “All that he wants is Iraqi oil.”) He was pals with the Soviets, was adamantly pro-labor union and praised Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat. He famously called freedom from poverty a “fundamental human right” and expressed support for African-Americans who struggle against “the injustices of racist discrimination and economic equality.”
Gee, I wonder why right wingers aren’t crazy about the guy.
I’m proud that my former congressman, the late Howard Wolpe, sponsored the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, which demanded an end to apartheid and mandated sanctions against South Africa for its system of white-minority rule. (The law, which overcame not one but two vetoes by Reagan, helped to get Mr. Mandela released from prison.) I’m also proud that Michigan State University was the first public university to divest from South Africa, and my Great Lake State was the first state to do the same.
And I’m glad that I participated in the Nelson Mandela Freedom Tour, the 12-day, 8-city tour across the United States back in 1990 that advocated for continued sanctions against South Africa. I attended a rally at the old Tiger Stadium in Corktown on June 28 along with Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, United Auto Workers president Owen Bieber, members of the Detroit Pistons basketball team and 49,000 other supporters. I’ll never forget it.
Judging by the number of pro-Mandela memes on my Facebook news feed and the list of world leaders and celebrities who’ve paid tribute to the man in the last 24 hours, neither his death nor his significant contributions have gone unnoticed. It remains to be seen how long he’ll be remembered.
Click here to read the compelling and informative statement that Mr. Mandela read at the opening of his trial before the Supreme Court of South Africa on April 20, 1965. Click here to view Frontline’s “The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela: An Intimate Portrait of One of the 20th Century’s Greatest Leaders.” And click here to visit the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Sources: Thinkprogress.org, CNN.com, MLive.com, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
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Sunday, December 1, 2013
Invaders invariably call themselves:
Our enemies hate us because:
a) we’re sadists
b) we’re hypocrites
c) we shafted them
d) we value freedom
Our friends hate us because:
a) we’re bullies
b) we hate them
c) we’re hypocrites
d) we value freedom
Pushed to the ground and kicked by a gang of soldiers, about to be shot, you can save your life by brandishing:
a) an uzi
b) a crucifix
c) the Constitution
d) a poem
A poem can:
a) start a war
b) stanch a wound
c) titillate the masses
d) shame a nation
A nation’s standing in the world is determined by:
a) its buying power
b) its military might
c) its cultural heritage
A country is rich because of:
a) its enlightened population
b) its political system
c) its small stick
d) its geography
A country is poor because of:
a) its ignorant population
b) its political system
c) its small stick
d) its geography
A man’s dignity is determined by:
a) his appearance (skin color, height, etc)
b) his willingness to use violence
c) his command of English
d) his blue passport
Those willing to die for their beliefs are:
Those willing to die for nothing are:
a) abuse language
b) hit and run
c) shock and awe
d) rely on ingenuity
a) render hopeless and dormant kinetic objects
b) kill softly
c) save lives
d) slaughter by science
a) payback for evil-doers
b) a common misfortune
c) compelling drama
d) suck it up!
a) the ultimate thrill for bored perverts
b) inevitable in an unequal relationship
c) a fear factor
d) sexy and cathartic
The media’s job is:
a) to seduce
b) to spread
c) to sell
d) to drug
a) allows us to be pure minds
b) connects us to distant bodies
c) disconnects us from the nearest minds and bodies
d) improves illiteracy
a) a lie that exposes the truth
b) a needed breather from civilization
c) class warfare
d) nostalgia for the garden of Eden
Correct answers: c, d, d, b, b, a, b, a, a, c, b, b, b, c, b, d, b, d, c.
—If you scored 14-19, you’re a well adjusted person, a home-owner, with an income of at least $50,000 a year.
—If you scored 8-13, you either rent or live with your parents, never exercise, and consume at least a 6-pack a day.
—If you scored 7 or less, you’re in trouble with the FBI and/or the IRS, cut your own hair, and use public transit as your primary mode of transportation.
~ Linh Dinh