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A Whole New World

Summer 2020

Reading information that has not even a remote link to my work is often how I discover aspects of writing that take me to places I’ve never been before, or had been to, but left too quickly. Most of this adventure involves trivia and a lot of laughter.

This morning, for example, I was reading online about the style of governmental press briefing that had been used by Ian McDonald, the UK Ministry of Defence who was the spokesman during the Falklands War. The writer of this opinion piece stated that the way to effectively perform at a press briefing in times of peril is NOT the example set by Mr. McDonald.

I then had to look up this rather brilliant civil servant (an oxymoron in today’s world). And I discovered the extraordinarily original use of Shakespeare as a way to really give it to the snooty reporters of the Sceptered Isle. In our present state of humanity, we NEED more learned, dry (very dry) verbal expressions of a mind, any mind, that has not taken leave of its senses. To tell any scribbler, with deadpan delivery;

“Hamlet, Act One, Scene Two, Line 215 which reads ‘But answer made it none’”

is to deliver a restrained knock-out punch to the ignoramus Know-It-Alls in the Media Blob.

I personally and professionally advocate the use of humor wherever and whenever necessary to deal with the banal grimness of purpose that has become the Mission Statement of so many people in any crisis.

As a technical writer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, I accomplished many tasks, but one that I reveled in, with fiendish delight at times, was the editing of Design Reports, compiled from engineering contractors bidding to build hydropower plants, retrofitted, at various Corps of Engineers dams in California.

The tomes were large and bulky and boring, long before word count became the means by which a person believed he was viewed as intelligent. Brevity, the soul of wit, had not entered the engineering mind set.

Isabella Dam on the Kern River was undergoing retrofit construction of a hydropower plant, and that river, the Kern, was cited in one report as the subject of a song by Merle Haggard. The supervisory engineer in charge of reviewing these dreary trade documents came rushing to my desk to point out this absurdity.

“Oh, let’s keep it in!” I said.

“Are you serious?”

I was very serious, even as I grinned. The reference, a mere sentence or two to introduce the more pertinent lyrics to “Kern River”, remained in the report. I do not know if that engineering firm won the contract, but given the more recent history of white-water rafting on the raging rivers of California, the citation served as a lesson about the potential perils of being drowned by Mother Nature.

We all need a laugh or two, or three, in the midst of dark days and nights. I, myself, after translating text about the betrayal of Jean Moulin during the summer of 1943, needed to see the brighter side of humanity this morning. I had paid too much attention to the perfidious pond scum of Occupied France, and not enough to the heroes.

The world has not changed much at all in that way, in many ways, since those dark days of World War II. There is always, however, a whole new world if you can find the courage to believe in the goodness of people who remain the silent, unknown heroes, every day and every night.

Such a man was Jean Moulin, and such men and women are still alive today, though they receive no headlines, no video feed, no online chatter.

It is believed that at some point during the three weeks after his arrest, Jean Moulin died somewhere near Metz. Either he succumbed to the torture of the sadistic Gestapo in Lyon, or he committed suicide. Moulin, a hero in life and during his last moments alive, revealed nothing to the Gestapo. He had lived through the darkness of the night. The memory and legacy of this man cast a greater shadow over all other martyrs of the French Resistance. He loomed very large in life, and he loomed even larger in death. His courage prevailed over all who wished to destroy him. One can imagine the man wearing his Borsalino, the scarf still hiding the scar, and smiling a secret smile from Heaven, content in the certainty that he had eclipsed the night, and transcended the dawn, as the sun rose over the liberation of France.


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