Friday, November 27, 2009

A lovely noise

I went to celebrate Thanksgiving with my sister, and returned that afternoon: 125 miles on Scarlett each way, temps in the 50's Fahrenheit.

What a lovely noise the 750 Breva makes! A kind of barking growl, not a scream, not a cough, not a vibration. No thumps, no bumps, no shrieks, no whines. Just a constant reminder that the motor is waiting under you, ready to go faster than you want or need, yawning at 55, mildly pleased at 65, pleased at 75, happy at 85. Going, and going, and going, like the road has no end and you have no destination, and you are on this magical thing, riding forever, like Sleipnir, the tireless, eight-legged horse of Odin, who ran on 4 legs until those tired, then ran on the other 4. And you are borne up, like a knight or a demigod, untiring through the chill and the fog and the dark.

So you leave it, to go indoors, while it sleeps, waiting--dreaming perhaps, of places you have never gone, to which it wishes to bear you away.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What I am thankful for

In the back of drawers, or stacked in closets or old footlockers, there are some old boxes. Inside these boxes lie corroding shapes of metal, and moldy strips of varicolored ribbons--the emblems of heroism forgotten or overlooked.

These boxes lie hidden, mostly forgotten, in the homes of people we meet every day: postmen, teachers, doctors, salespeople, workers and, too often, the unemployed or homeless. Men and women who seem no different from those around them. They work, and play, and laugh, and go to ball games like everyone else. And they seldom or never mention the boxes hidden among their belongings.

But all of them, and many others, have this one great and glorious secret: somewhere, in a time of desperation and danger, they faced a momentous choice. The world said to them, "Will you go into a place of danger and do a desperate or dangerous thing for the sake of your nation?" And they said, "Yes."

We overuse the word "hero" in these days. A pitcher on a baseball team who strikes out that last batter is a hero. A football player who makes a winning score is a hero. A singer who sings a new and interesting song is a hero. A politician who says something in a new and interesting way is a hero.

The ancients had a sterner definition. The hero was the one who faced death, and did not falter. Hector, fighting for his doomed city and knowing his death was certain, was a hero. Aeneas, who halted in his flight to save his aged father, was a hero. The 500 from Sparta under Leonidas who died rather than retreat from a doomed struggle were heroes. Paris, who abandoned all to save his own life and died outside the cave of the nymph he had betrayed, was not.

And we should not forget either. A hero is not a Superman. A hero is an ordinary policeman, who knows the bullets will not bounce off his chest, but confronts the gunman anyway. Or an ordinary firefighter who goes into a burning house to rescue a bedbound old person. Or a nurse who does not shrink from treating the infectious. Or a warrior who goes to Iraq or Afghanistan to help a people with who he or she shares neither religion, nor culture, nor ideals, but goes anyway, because he or she does share a common humanity--and it is his or her duty.

Our choice is to honor them, with their modesty and their hidden medals, or to surrender the idea of hero to the media, who judge only by what is popular and salable.

But be warned: when we have emptied the idea of hero of all that requires courage and commitment, we also empty our civilization. The Roman Empire did not die out from the world because there were no Romans of ability. They died out because the idea of Roman virtue had become, even among the Romans, a joke. The able Romans pursued their own personal advancement, even at the expense of their own city and civilization. The ideals that had led Junius Brutus to slay even his own son because that son had betrayed his city had become a comic cliche. To do well for yourself, even if it meant making a profitable deal with the Lombard invaders, was the obvious, honorable course--even though your city died as a result.

So, this day, while enjoying my friends and relatives, and stuffing myself with good things, I have taken a moment aside. I have said, in silence, a word of thanks to the men and women who have the boxes with medals in their boxes and closets. I do not know all their names. I do not know all their deeds. And I do not even agree always with their causes.

But this I do know: when the time came to stand for the freedom they believed in, they stood. And when danger threatened that freedom, they endured. And some of them paid for that endurance with life, or health, or sanity, or wholeness.

Thank you. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you have my deepest and profoundest gratitude. Always, and everywhere, I thank you.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The best TV program

I think the best program on TV is Top Gear, a car program on the BBC. It has three hosts: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May. The chemistry between them is excellent. They occasionally pretend that they are about ordinary cars, but it takes little time to discover that they are really interested in fast, exotic cars.

One of their greatest features is their races. They have had a race between an airplane and an Bugatti Veyron, the world's fastest car. Then they raced a Mercedes against a boat, a race between a bike, a car, a motorboat, and public transport across London. Two of their epic races that I best enjoy were the race between a car and a marathon runner around London during rush hour, and a race between a car, a bike, and a steam train set in 1949.

I just wish there was such a program about motorcycles.


About Me

Jacksonville, N.C., United States
Retired teacher, motorcyclist, member of the Patriot Guard Riders, the Christian Motorcyclists Association, and the Moto Guzzi National Owners Club.