I just woke up and the part of the movie that’s on is where Blythe Danner is explaining how Thomas Jefferson was able to court her. And She sings this amazing melody about how he played the violin for her. And I thought first about my Leen. And her cello. Then, I thought more.
I’ve been, as I said, a pacifist ever since I was just about 13. But that I came out formally as a pacifist when I got out of the hospital in 1969. But just because I’ve been a pacifist doesn’t mean that I don’t love our country. In addition to the “sacred 9” who died during the 8 months, where I was recovering from my spinal surgery. I lost three very dear and close friends, as did so many others, who died in the Vietnam War. And during the next two years, I tried twice to enlist in the military. I was a pacifist. But I was trying to enlist as a medic. I was of course denied. Though, while I was in the hospital in that 75 pound plaster cast I was actually drafted. which of course turned out to be a mistake.
But when I got out. Having lost those three close friends, I deeply wanted to enlist and at least stand by the sides of my fellow countrymen. But as I said, my spinal fusion made it impossible for me to be allowed to serve. I was irresolute in my pacifism. But I wanted to serve. I wanted to stand up for our country. Then, in 1972, the very year that I started college, this fantastic movie came out.
The moment I first saw it, I was transfixed. Suddenly everything I had read and learned all through school about this one single event, or moment in world history became so remarkably clear to me. And the single most element of the film that moved my patriotism the most was the illustration in the movie of the day-long debate between John Adams and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina. I’m not afraid to say that I wept while watching that debate, as I did in several other parts of the film. To think that, in 1776, these men. These few, what they called, “considerate men” , stood there, together, and fought, and argued, and then, in one single gesture, changed the entire history of the world.
Some people see America as a nation of money. And in our modern day world, I suppose that America has become quite money oriented. But back then. Then it was different. From watching that movie, I wanted to learn all I could about The Declaration of Independence. I wanted to learn all I could about the men who stood there, together, and made history happen. Declaring that, no matter what, this land would be free.
Why not cry. The soldiers of the Continental Army were mostly made up of young boys, and old men. Led by a visionary, in the guise of General George Washington. They faced shortages of food, ammunition, and supplies. They braved, at times, freezing temperatures. So many died. Died believing in a dream that the world had never seen before. A dream that this land would be free.
When I read the word that Patrick Henry spoke declaring that he would rather die than to not have liberty. I thought I was watching the hand of God in action. He stood there, under threat of arrest. And yelled and declared that he didn’t care what anyone else might do. But for him, it was Liberty or Death. To this very day, just remembering how he spoke. And what took place, tears still come to my eyes. Then, Edward Rutledge was placed by history itself, in the pivotal position that would decide the very core of this new nation being born. That the people from Africa would “not” be considered humans. But as property.
Watching that debate in the film, like other parts of the movie, made me weep. When I was growing up, and my mother was beating me pretty much weekly with that back scratcher of hers. It was our black maid, Georgia Myers who would more than once, put her body between me and the blows of that back scratcher. And the significance was, and still is for me, that Georgia was the granddaughter of slaves from Georgia. She was my guardian angel when I was growing up. She is the one who taught me, when I was just five years old to sing Sweet Low Sweet Chariot. She always told me that her family once sung that as they fought to find their own freedom. And that she was teaching it to me, so that one day, she hoped I would find my own.
So when that day-long debate between Adams and Rutledge took place. It was so graphic and so profound. And it moved me so deeply. That I tried twice to enlist. I wanted to be one who stood up for our country. I wanted to, in my mind, do the right thing. As I said, I could not because of my spine. And during 1972, I lost one of the three friends I had lost, who was perhaps the closest to me. He was my one of the orderlies where I was recovering in the hospital in 1968.
And in that day-long debate, between Adams and Rutledge what our country would become was defined in such a way, that now, in 2013, we, as a nation, are still feeling it’s effects. In America’s history, so many have died. So many have given their lives. So many wonderful and amazing people. Americans, to my way of thinking. Every one of them, were abused and beaten and murdered. On the account of that one day-long debate. That debate that, some years later, would launch one of the most catastrophic conflicts in the history of our country. The American Civil War. Where families were torn apart. Huge sections of our country were laid bare. Where so many people were dying in certain parts of the country that, to this day, the clay still has a pinkish hue from the blood of those who died.
And as I watched that debate in the film as I am right this very second, my guardian angle, Georgia leaps to my mind. The stories she used to tell me of how heroic her family, and others were, risking everything that they had, with many dying and being killed, as they tried to escape to the northern United States where they could finally drink from the waters that had sprung forth in the hearts and minds of those “considerate men” in 1776. Freedom.
And then, when Rutledge and the south walked out of the debate on independence, the very night before the document was to be signed, Adams became so desperate that he went up into the bell tower and argued with himself over the matter of independence. I’m watching that right now. My favorite part of the entire film. As I have said, when I researched this I found that John Adams in fact did go to the bell tower on the night before the signing of The Declaration of Independence. And he argued out loud so loudly, that there were reports that he could be heard blocks away.
That one line in the document, giving the rights of freedom to the people from Africa had to be removed or the document would not be signed. And how that burned inside of Adams. How it became such a terrible struggle. To give up on that one line, in order to get the document signed. Or to declare that he would not bend or yield. And in the midst his wife in Boston had sent saltpeter, to make gun powder in order to supply the struggling army under Washington. And that last dispatch that, in part, read, “… is anybody there… does anybody care…”.
As I said, people see The United States of America in so many different ways. I’ve always seen it as a pacifist. But also as a patriot. A person who was always and shall always be prepared at any given second, to lay down my life, in defense of that one single document, and the freedom and the liberty it represents. If so many in our country made that same choice and gave up their lives for it. With Adams losing almost everything he owned just to get the document signed. Then, I became and was and still am, prepared to do the same.
Then, as I grew through college and moved out into the world, my energies and beliefs expanded as I felt in my heart that the amazing freedom that was created here in this country, was such a remarkable gift, that it should not be held privately by our nation. That this remarkable gift of freedom and liberty was such an amazing and remarkable thing. That it should be shared and extended to every single person in the world, whenever possible. So this expansion became the very core of my human rights advocacy.
And so it began. My life was forever changed by my understanding of this film, and it’s significance to all I had learned, and all I was doing with my life in the world. And as that year in the hospital had changed me forever, watching the sacred 9 die one after another only inches from me. With my not being able to do a single thing to help them, or ease their suffering. This film propelled my understanding of that one single event in the history of the modern world, whereby as a result, another aspect of what I had been and would be, became irrevocably changed.
I became determined and dedicated to the principle that this amazing element of our country, this unbelievable concept that had never been sounded in the world in such way, should not be held private to this country. That it should, as John Adams And Thomas Jefferson said, be the basis of the very human rights throughout the world that they were seeking for this new nation, The United States of America.
And thus, I became different. Different from most who had known me. Different from most who would ever know me. I lost friends. My parents and I moved further apart in so many ways. The peace movement in the 1970s, with many of the personalities and I didn’t really agreed. Where so many were listening to Abby Hoffman. I was reading Eldridge Cleaver, and Malcolm X. Where the the peace movement was castigating and attacking our soldiers in Vietnam, and when they came home. I wrote letters to some serving overseas, telling them that they should ignore the peace movement and not be taken in by their passionate anger. I called them misguided. That I wanted them to know that, no matter what, while I could not be by their side in body. I was standing right next to them in spirit.
So I moved forward with my human rights advocacy and wrote thousands and thousands of words, on anything I could find. In my journal. In letters. And even went so far as to allow myself to be published three times, though under a pen name. And not allowing myself to take any money for what I had written. To push forward my human rights advocacy. To keep going, while so many were calling me stupid and a racist for denying my white race. When, in point of a fact, I never saw myself that way. Because I knew, from this one movie that I was not a racist. That I was a human being. That I was, what I had always thought when I was growing up, with my mother being so abusive. I was a child of God. Just one. Nothing special. Just one child of God. Who instead of seeing color in people. Saw only light instead.
Back then, so few understood me. There were beatings. I was shot a couple of times. Stabbed a few times. And pretty much all manner of things that people do when they either misunderstand someone or they don’t like what they have to say. I lost jobs. I was blackballed for a while. But I couldn’t stop. I just couldn’t. I promised the sacred 9 that I would always be a voice for them. I promised the ones who I wrote in Vietnam that I would always stand by them no matter what. I promised Georgia that I would find my freedom, just as her grand parents had found theirs.
Marriages failed. Friends were lost. Some hated me. Others thought I was worthless. Some called me a dirty Jew. But, for example, when I once attended a lecture by Malcolm X, there was a single moment when he took off those characteristic sun glasses. The moment I looked into his eyes, I knew. I knew that no matter what, the sounds I was hearing were false echoes. The moment I saw his eyes, I just knew. I could see this light in his eyes. I could feel the light in his soul. Just as I could when I studied Eldridge Cleaver. And as I did when I read Ibsen, who was actually almost run out of town for writing The Master Builder. Just as I did when I was 8 years old and saw the operetta Don Quixote. When, near the end of the show, my sister Mary and I were in the 3rd row of the theater. Mom and Dad had left us off while they went to a party for us to watch the show.
And there he was. On Stage. This magnificent knight. Proclaiming the greater good. People thinking he was crazy. Like I said, I was 8 years old. And then near the end of the show, he lay dying. And Aldonza approaches his bed …
Don’t you remember? You said it was a dream. But it’s not a dream. It’s not a dream. You spoke those words. To try when your arms are to weary…
And then Don Quixote begins to remember…
Perhaps it was not a dream.
Then suddenly he remembers everything. He leaps to his feat, taking Aldonza in his hands…
“on thy knees my lady! tis unseemly! for what matter wounds to the body of a knight errant! For each time he falls, he shall rise and rise again! And Woe to the wicked!…”
Then he burst into song.
And then, he falls into Aldonza’ s arms and dies.
The audience went silent. But my aunt Helen had always told me that when people go to the theater if they really like something they yell out “bravo”. so there I was at 8 years old, in the Hana Theater in Cleveland, so transfixed, that I leapt to my feet and began yelling really loud, “Bravo”, over and over again. Mary was trying to pull me down into my seat. Then she began to crawl under hers. She was embarrassed. But I couldn’t stop. I just couldn’t. It was like I had seen something that no one else saw.
Then remarkably, this lady I guess she was about the age of my mom and dad. She looked at me and smiled. And she stood up, and began yelling bravo and clapping. Then, more, and then it was the row I was sitting in. Then, it was that side of the theater. then it was the entire theater.
And the show just stopped while all of us stood there, together celebrating what I think, well what I knew I had seen. That remarkable light. A light that has guided me my entire life.
Finally we all sat back down, and the show finished. And that’s when the light became clearest of all. Because during the first curtain call, the actor playing Don Quixote was all the way down on the other side of the stage from me. Like 20 feet or more away. Then, as they were all lining up to take their bow, he nodded to the lady playing Aldonza, and stepped out in front of the line. He walked all the way down to where I was sitting. He was wearing this fantastic armor with a shiny helmet with this amazing long feather. And he was carrying this huge sword.
He stepped to the edge of the stage. He was only perhaps 2 feet from me. He took off that amazing helmet. Put it under his left arm. And then drew out that long huge sword. He lifted it high above him. And then pulled the handle to his heart, and bowed down directly to me. Looking me right in the eye, he smiled, and winked.
Well, at eight years old that was all I needed. so years later when I saw Malcolm X take of his glasses in that one lecture. I just knew. Because I saw the same light. The very same light. so I knew I was right. Regardless of the hatred of others. Regardless of how much they laughed at me or called me stupid. Regardless of whether they understood me or not. I knew I was right.
Like I said marriages failed and I fell down more than I sometimes thought I could walk forward. But I kept going because back when I was eight years old and that brave knight did that for me. I have always considered that single moment to be when that light was given to me. somehow, some way. It was given to me. When he saluted me with his sword, I felt like he was passing it to me. Telling me that it was my turn. My turn to chase those windmills and believe in those things that others would pretty much call either stupid or foolish.
So for years there were more dark days than days with any sun shine. But even in the darkest of days, I always could see that light. sometimes I’d see it watching a mother lift up her baby to give her a hug. sometimes I’d see it when someone would open a door for someone else. I saw it in the face of the Chinese student who stood in front of the thank in China daring it to hit him. As he stood there declaring his freedom. I saw it in just about everything. But hardly ever in the people who I ended up being close to . For some reason, I guess cultural pressure, I always felt pushed to make the wrong choices in the women I associated with. That, and they were more interested in my parents money than they were I me.
Days got so dark that at one point from the constant pain I live with, I had a huge massive nervous breakdown in 1989. Where I became so tortured, that I was having over 40 nightmares a night. But most nights when I was laying shivering in bed, trying to deal with a nightmare I had just come out of, I’d close my eyes and I could see, in the midst of my torment, that small spark of light. And then I’d suddenly see those eyes of Malcolm X, and of others I had encountered. And in the midst of those terrible nightmares where I was constantly falling to my death. Falling off of anything and out of everything. No matter what did, the falling never stopped.
But in the midst of it, I’d see that light. And then the light in the eyes of all those who I had seen the light in before. And I’d grit my teeth, and just hang on. Knowing that if I did that, the light would somehow guide my way.
The nightmares were so bad that I was, in my sleep, throwing myself against the wall and out of bed. The sheets were dripping wet. And I’d wake in a fetal position, like 40 times a night, shaking and shivering. Scared to death. Then, I’d close my eyes, and see that light. That small tiny spark of light. The one I had seen when I was eight. The one I saw when I read the book by Camus, called The Plague. The one I saw when I studied Eldridge Cleaver and Vance Packard. Or when I once drank sterno, the pink liquid that they use to cook fondue. Where I did that, when I told this Hopi Indian friend of mine, that if I could drink one drink of that stuff that he called “rail”, he would promise to stop drinking it forever.
And I did. And he stopped drinking. Forever. He made me a turquoise ring that I have worn every single minute from when he made it for me, as a way of saying thank-you, back in 1971. And it’s on the 3rd finger of my right hand now, where it’s been for the last 45 years. He had the light in his eyes, despite his state at the time.
So focusing on that light somehow got me through. And it even became my salvation in a manner of speaking. Because it led me to my darling Aileen in 1993.
In the midst of those nightmares and with all the laughter and abuse I had been though. She was the one. The only one, or at least one of the very few. But truly the only one where I could see the light the clearest. The moment I looked into her eyes. The very second I saw her eyes. I knew. She had the light. The light that I had seen in others that was guiding me right to that moment. To her. the light that while others thought I was stupid or just nuts or perhaps a jerk or an asshole. She looked at me and saw something more. She saw me.
And then I finally understood. I finally understood all those beatings. All the hatred. All the ugliness that had come my way. I understood why my own mother and father hated me so much. why my sister hates me to this very day. why so many think I’m just stupid or a fool. For in her eyes, she saw what the others did not see. She saw me.
And I knew the meaning of that light. For the first time instead of it just guiding me. Now I knew why. Because when I looked into her eyes. I knew, finally, after all the years of following that light, chasing one windmill after another. I knew I was finally, home.
So, when I watch this movie 1776. It’s more than just a movie to me. Much more. It’s that light. that light in the world where so many see one thing. And I see something else. I see that light. Call it freedom or liberty, or justice. Call it friendship or hope or love. It doesn’t matter. Because it’s beyond words. It’s that light. In all of us. That light of hope. That light of understanding. That what really matters in this world is not all the physical stuff that we see and do every day. It’s that small spark of light. That tiny spark of light. That thing we hardly notice. Like when the courageous women of Kenya who are dying themselves, and weighing just about 80 pounds total. And haven’t eaten in days. they look across the road, or to the side of them. And they see their child eating a handful of dirt.
And then, with all their strength, they pull their emaciated bodies across the ground, and with their bare hands they dig a hole. They dig a grave for their child. It happens hundreds of times every single day. And then, with their hands bleeding, they pull themselves over to their child who is now dead from eating that handful of dirt. They pick up their baby. Their child. And with one hand they pull themselves over to that hole. And they bury their child. Then, with their hands still bleeding, they begin to dig a second hole. One for themselves.
When I looked into Aileen’s eyes. When I saw that light in her eyes. I could see the same light I see when I see those wonderfully brilliant and fantastic women. Those amazing souls. To me, the height of what it means to be a woman. Those wonderful women in Kenya, and elsewhere. digging those holes. Those graves for their children. And I knew. I just knew immediately. Aileen was, to me. Home.
So when I watch some movie. like 1776. It’s not just a nice story. Or something to take our minds off things. to me. movies like that are that light. That small spark of humanity. That small spark of light. That in my life, has always guided me. to that other place. The place where the fools and the dreamers go. That hill, as they say. Where we dreamers and fools see something else. That light.
So, while now, my life is sort of undone in so many ways, losing my darling Leen. she’s not lost. Not at all.
while she was dying she would ask me every so often what she was going to do. How we would communicate. And I always told her. “My love trust me. Okay. You’re not going far at all. You’re just going home. And I’ve always been able to find my way home. Okay. so I’ll always be able to find you. No matter what. No matter what.”
So, in 1776, things were done in this amazing land. this amazing place that a lot of us take for granted a lot of the time. I never have. And never will. Because I remember that light. That light that I could see when I read the story of what actually happened on July 3, 1776. When Adams confronted his own soul and yelled and screamed about how he thought no one heard him.
I’m here to say, he was wrong. Because I heard him. Loud and clear.
Human rights has become a virtual industry. And so often that light becomes hidden. So I tend to shy away from people. Especially since Leen died. I have become like the single parent who goes out dating and lives by the rule. “love me, love my kids”. for me, it’s love me. Okay fine. Love my wife. In any way you choose. do that. then we’ll talk. Love me. Love Aileen. Love her. Love her courage. Love her strength. Love her for being one of the only people in my entire life who when they looked at me did not see a fool, or someone who was stupid or crazy. she saw me. Love me? Love Aileen as well. In whatever way you want. But love her. For she to me, was and always shall be, home.
Thus, while others volunteer and give money. And make calls. I just sign petitions and write. I write because the very first promise on that list or promises that are in my desk drawer to this day, was simply, the word, “write”.
She fell in love with me through my writing. As Thomas Jefferson’s wife fell in love with him because he played the violin. Leen fell in love with me through my writing. And that same light in my life that guided me all those years to her. she found and saw in my writing. so I sign petitions. And I write. with everything I have I write. Not be the light. or the voice. but just to be that small spark of light. No better than the worst man at his best moment. No worse than the best man at his worst moment. to be that little boy, standing with his finger in the dike trying to prevent a flood. With people walking by that little boy and laughing. and yet he stands there. Because he knows that if he takes his finger out of that dike, the water will come in.
so do I.
Because human rights to me is not about money or making phone calls or volunteering. If I could do what I really wanted, to celebrate my darling Leen. I’d first go to Kenya. I’d kneel down by those brave women. I’d dig the hole for them. And then, after they had buried their child. I’d pick up those wonderful ladies in my arms. And hold them to my heart. So they could hear my heartbeat. No words. Just hold them. Just hold them next to my heart. so they could know, from my heart to theirs, always, to me. they are the absolute perfect example of femininity in the world. They are to me some of the most beautiful and amazing women I have ever seen.
People think that those children and women can be saved. But they can’t. Once a child eats a handful of dirt, they are pretty done to this world. What those children need, in some cases is to be rescued. But in most, what they really need is that light. That one spark of light. to hold them close to your heart. Let them feel your heartbeat. Let then smell your skin. Let them feel your arms around them, with no thought or agenda. No fear. Just to hold them. so they know that there is reason for all of this suffering. So that they know, that their sound and their light will not go away from this world. I never will. It can’t. Because we don’t make that kind of light. It just is. It’s just there.
To hold them, as they step over. so that they know that someone was there to at least say farewell. so that they, in the brief moment of their lives, will see that light, that in their minds, they think is there, will know that it is really there.
Then, I would travel the world and do the same thing, no matter where I went. Whether it would be sharing a meal with someone. Working and giving all that I would earn to them so that they would not have to sell their children. Or perhaps, just sitting with them and letting them talk. or helping them build or repair their home. Or teaching them to read, Or going to the market with them. Or just sometimes simply saying hello.
Aileen and her family travelled the world. I’ve never been out of this great nation. I’ve always wanted to. I’ve always wanted to go everywhere. To just see that light. And do all I can to make it easier for others to see. to simply say hello. No thought or agenda. Just say hello. And show them this amazing light I Found when I was 8 years old. That when I looked into Malcolm X ‘s eyes, I saw that light. And I knew. I knew he had seen it. I knew he was a man, a soul, who loved life. He loved children. He loved others. so much more than most of the world will ever see. I know this, because once you see that light, even once, you suddenly can see it everywhere. That light.
The miracle of 1776 is not only found in the amazing bravery of the millions of wonderful men and women and children who gave their lives so that this nation could become what those men wanted. a free nation. The miracle of 1776 is that it set in motion a chain of events that taught the world that the light is there. And those men called it freedom. I call it the light of life. the light of humanity.
Now, if you have been paying attention. And I tend to think that those of you who have read this far, are certainly paying attention. Now you can see that light also. Because the miracle of Aileen and I is that when we met that light grew and it grew and it grew. It grew so large that this entire house is filled with that light. So one of the things I work on every single day is building that light. Maintaining that light. And spreading that light. by always keeping my first promise to my darling Leen. “to write”.
If anyone in the world, regardless of how I castigate or bombastic I might become, to ever think I do not love humanity, That I do not love every single soul on earth, regardless of what they have done. Would be a mistake. For the only thing I have ever hated in my life are the choices we make whereby we diminish that light. And thereby lives cease. Or are injured so badly that they fade away.
so I write. And as I would always say to my darling Leen. she’d say, “but you don’t always tell me you love me, Mickey. Do you really love me. In spite of all. Do you really love me?”
and I would always say, “my darling. work is love made visible. so watch me my love. Watch me. There be my love for thee.”.
And so I say to all who read these words which I have been manually writing since 2am this morning. ….
Watch me… there be my love for thee….