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I’ve loved this poem for a long time. Linda Pastan’s idea of an almanac of last things inspires me in a way that a “bucket list” does not!

The Almanac of Last Things
From the almanac of last things
I choose the spider lily
for the grace of its brief
blossom, though I myself
fear brevity,

but I choose The Song of Songs
because the flesh
of those pomegranates
has survived
all the frost of dogma.

I choose January with its chill
lessons of patience and despair–and
August, too sun-struck for lessons.
I choose a thimbleful of red wine
to make my heart race,

then another to help me
sleep. From the almanac
of last things I choose you,
as I have done before.
And I choose evening

because the light clinging
to the window
is at its most reflective
just as it is ready
to go out.

I know there are folks who don’t want to contemplate the end of life, or any sort of loss, before they get there. For them it drains joy from the present moment.

For me, it’s the opposite. Every reminder that there will be a last this and a last that — including a last moment — deepens my gratitude for this moment and helps me “be here now.”

So a “last thing” has several meanings for me. It’s among the last things I want to give up. It’s among the things I want to be holding with gratitude and grace when my last moment comes. And it’s among the things I will need to let go of at the end, so it’s important that I appreciate it fully right now.

P.S. The ocean and the full moon are in my personal Almanac of Last Things. Both of them say life in a big way to me. And both are on the long list of blessings for which I can only say a heartfelt “Thank you…”

 

His most recent FRONTLINE productions:

  1.  Secrets, Politics and Torture, the secret history of the CIA’s controversial “enhanced interrogation” methods
  2. Gunned Down: The Power of the NRA, an investigation into the NRA, its political evolution and influence, and how it has consistently succeeded in defeating new gun control legislation
  3. Losing Iraq, the 90 minute film traces the U.S. role in the Iraq war from the 2003 invasion to the violent rise of the radical Jihadist group Isis;
  4. United States of Secrets, a two-hour report that delves inside Washington, DC and the NSA, piecing together the secret history of the unprecedented surveillance program that began in the wake of September 11, 2001 and continues today- even after the revelations of its existence by Edward Snowden. The Baltimore Sun described the film as “simply the best and most important work of nonfiction television I’ve seen this year.” United States of Secrets won two Emmy Awards; a Peabody Award; a duPont-Columbia Award; and a Writers Guild of America Award.
  5. Money, Power and Wall Street the four-hour series that tells the inside story of the financial crisis, which won an Emmy Award and The George Polk Award
  6. Prior to Money, Power and Wall Street, he produced three other investigations of the recent financial crisis: the Emmy Award-winning The Warning, the unique story of a regulator’s warning about the dangers of derivatives in the 1990s; Breaking the Bank, an inside look into the complicated financial and political web threatening Bank of America; and Inside the Meltdown, a major investigation into the collapse of the American economy.
  7. Top Secret America, a yearlong examination into the huge, unwieldy, top-secret world the government has created since 9/11
  8. In the spring of 2008 he produced, directed and wrote the four-and-a-half-hour, two-part special Bush’s War, which won an Emmy.
  9. He has produced 10 films on the war on terror, including Cheney’s Law (Peabody Award); Endgame; The Lost Year in Iraq (Emmy Award); Rumsfeld’s War; The Torture Question (Emmy Award); The Dark Side; The War Behind Closed Doors, an analysis of the political infighting that led to the war with Iraq; and The Man Who Knew, the extraordinary saga of FBI Agent John O’Neill.
  10. League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis, a two-hour investigation revealing how, for years, the NFL worked to refute scientific evidence that the violent collisions at the heart of the game are linked to alarming incidence of early-onset dementia; League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis won The George Polk Award and a Peabody Award.
  11. The Choice 2012, the quadrennial FRONTLINE special that examines the political and personal biographies of presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney (he also produced the special in 2008, which featured Barack Obama and John McCain, and the 2000 version on George W. Bush and Al Gore).
  12. The Anthrax Files, a reinvestigation into the anthrax case a decade after the attacks; and Obama’s Deal, a look at the push to reform health care.

Mike Kirk and the crew of FRONTLINE-Cheney’s Law at the 67th Annual Peabody Awards

David Fanning, Executive Producer and Raney Aronson-Rath, Deputy Executive Producer, photographed in the Frontline editing room, at WGBH, in Boston.  Photograph by Jonas Fredwall Karlsson.
BY TRENT GILLISS  EXECUTIVE EDITOR

Alain de Botton’s short piece of writing on the dark truth about love speaks with care about the human condition — reminding me of Robert Sapolsky’s ideas about embracing paradox and continuing to move forward nevertheless. And, in the hands of Hannah Jacobs and Lara Lee, this sensitively done animation considers this idea with care and a deft lightness elevates each phrase:

“You will never find the right person.
Such a creature does not exist.
You are irredeemably alone.
You will not be understood.
The moments of love were an illusion.
There is something wrong with you
And with everyone else.
The idea of love distracts us from an existential loneliness.
Now let’s pretend we do not know any of this.”

“The less it is possible that something can be,
the more it must be.”

I’ve been sitting on this unbelievably gripping, humorous, and intellectually stimulating lecture by Robert Sapolsky for months now. I’m not sure why. My work life whisked me away, but, in watching this video again, it’s too good not to share.

Sapolsky is one of the world’s leading neuroscientists who explores “the biology of neurons” and how stress factors in to our social lives. He’s an incredible storyteller who makes sense of the human species by studying primates, particularly baboons. Using many examples from the wild, he debunks a series of commonly held assumptions that most people believe define human beings as being distinct, as being unique to our species: theory of mind, the Golden Rule, empathy, tit-for-tat, etc.

Despite all the universal behaviors we humans hold in common with other animals, Sapolsky says that humans have one trait that best defines and distinguishes us from other species: the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in our head, and yet continue on in the face of it.

Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky Speaks at StanfordDuring a staff meeting several months ago, I recommended that one of our associate producers do some research on Dr. Sapolsky as a potential interview with Krista. The feedback: Dr. Sapolsky was a good storyteller with great depth of experience, but there was concern that his atheism might be too strident and might not work for our program.

To me, it’s these types of voices that we want to include in our repertoire of shows. He’s a non-believer who embraces the paradox himself. He’s not just against religion or worshiping a deity. He lives an intellectual life that listens to these religious and philosophical voices and internalizes them. He takes them seriously and doesn’t dismiss them.

So, when I’m evaluating future guests, I’m looking for clues, for indicators that strike me as openness to ideas without personally accepting them as doctrine. So, even though Dr. Sapolsky declares himself strident in the lecture above, he makes a Niebuhrian statement like the one that heads the top of this page. And, shortly thereafter, posts a slide with a quotation from Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard:

“Christian faith requires that faith persists in the face of the impossible, and that humans have the capacity to simultaneously believe in two contradictory things.”

Sister Helen Prejean

And then he immediately cites the mercy-filled work of Sr. Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun, and quotes her:

“The less forgivable the act, the more it must be forgiven. The less loveble the person is, the more you must find the means to love them.”

What’s even more delightful is Sapolsky’s own ability and intellectual curiosity to live comfortably and reconcile his own positions and beliefs. He marvels:


“As a strident atheist, this strikes me as the most irrational, magnificent thing we are capable of as a species. … And this one does not come easily. On a certain level, the harder this is, this contradiction, to take the impossibility of something and to be the very proof that it must be possible and must become a moral imperative, the harder it is to do that, the more important it is.”

In the bottom photo, Sister Helen Prejean participates in a demonstration against the death penalty in Paris, France on July 2, 2007. (photo by Mehdi Fedouach/AFP/Getty Images).

love and scotus

It Is Accomplished

JUN 26 2015 @ 1:21PM, Andrew Sullivan

weddingaisle

As Gandhi never quite said,

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.

I remember one of the first TV debates I had on the then-strange question of civil marriage for gay couples. It was Crossfire, as I recall, and Gary Bauer’s response to my rather earnest argument after my TNR cover-story on the matter was laughter. “This is the loopiest idea ever to come down the pike,” he joked. “Why are we even discussing it?”

Those were isolating  days. A young fellow named Evan Wolfson who had written a dissertation on the subject in 1983 got in touch, and the world immediately felt less lonely. Then a breakthrough in Hawaii, where the state supreme court ruled for marriage equality on gender equality grounds. No gay group had agreed to support the case, which was regarded at best as hopeless and at worst, a recipe for a massive backlash. A local straight attorney from the ACLU, Dan Foley, took it up instead, one of many straight men and women who helped make this happen. And when we won, and got our first fact on the ground, we indeed faced exactly that backlash and all the major gay rights groups refused to spend a dime on protecting the breakthrough … and we lost.

In fact, we lost and lost and lost again. Much of the gay left was deeply suspicious of this conservative-sounding reform; two thirds of the country were opposed; the religious right saw in the issue a unique opportunity for political leverage – and over time, they put state constitutional amendments against marriage equality on the ballot in countless states, and won every time. Our allies deserted us. The Clintons embraced the Defense of Marriage Act, and their Justice Department declared that DOMA was in no way unconstitutional the morning some of us were testifying against it on Capitol Hill. For his part, president George W. Bush subsequently went even further and embraced the Federal Marriage Amendment to permanently ensure second-class citizenship for gay people in America. Those were dark, dark days.

I recall all this now simply to rebut the entire line of being “on the right side of history.” History does not have such straight lines. Movements do not move relentlessly forward; progress comes and, just as swiftly, goes. For many years, it felt like one step forward, two steps back. History is a miasma of contingency, and courage, and conviction, and chance.

But some things you know deep in your heart: that all human beings are made in the image of God; that their loves and lives are equally precious; that the pursuit of happiness promised in the Declaration of Independence has no meaning if it does not include the right to marry the person you love; and has no force if it denies that fundamental human freedom to a portion of its citizens. In the words of Hannah Arendt:

“The right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right compared to which ‘the right to attend an integrated school, the right to sit where one pleases on a bus, the right to go into any hotel or recreation area or place of amusement, regardless of one’s skin or color or race’ are minor indeed. Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs.”

This core truth is what Justice Kennedy affirmed today, for the majority: that gay people are human. I wrote the following in 1996:

Homosexuality, at its core, is about the emotional connection between two adult human beings. And what public institution is more central—more definitive—of that connection than marriage? The denial of marriage to gay people is therefore not a minor issue. It is the entire issue. It is the most profound statement our society can make that homosexual love is simply not as good as heterosexual love; that gay lives and commitments and hopes are simply worth less. It cuts gay people off not merely from civic respect, but from the rituals and history of their own families and friends. It erases them not merely as citizens, but as human beings.

We are not disordered or sick or defective or evil – at least no more than our fellow humans in this vale of tears. We are born into family; we love; we marry; we take care of our children; we die. No civil institution is related to these deep human experiences more than civil marriage and the exclusion of gay people from this institution was a statement of our core inferiority not just as citizens but as human beings. It took courage to embrace this fact the way the Supreme Court did today. In that 1996 essay, I analogized to the slow end to the state bans on inter-racial marriage:

The process of integration—like today’s process of “coming out”—introduced the minority to the majority, and humanized them. Slowly, white people came to look at interracial couples and see love rather than sex, stability rather than breakdown. And black people came to see interracial couples not as a threat to their identity, but as a symbol of their humanity behind the falsifying carapace of race.

It could happen again. But it is not inevitable; and it won’t happen by itself. And, maybe sooner rather than later, the people who insist upon the centrality of gay marriage to every American’s equality will come to seem less marginal, or troublemaking, or “cultural,” or bent on ghettoizing themselves. They will seem merely like people who have been allowed to see the possibility of a larger human dignity and who cannot wait to achieve it.

I think of the gay kids in the future who, when they figure out they are different, will never know the deep psychic wound my generation – and every one before mine – lived through: the pain of knowing they could never be fully part of their own family, never befully a citizen of their own country. I think, more acutely, of the decades and centuries of human shame and darkness and waste and terror that defined gay people’s lives for so long. And I think of all those who supported this movement who never lived to see this day., who died in the ashes from which this phoenix of a movement emerged. This momentous achievement is their victory too – for marriage, as Kennedy argued, endures past death.

I never believed this would happen in my lifetime when I wrote my first several TNR essays and then my book, Virtually Normal, and then the anthology and the hundreds and hundreds of talks and lectures and talk-shows and call-ins and blog-posts and articles in the 1990s and 2000s. I thought the book, at least, would be something I would have to leave behind me – secure in the knowledge that its arguments were, in fact, logically irrefutable, and would endure past my own death, at least somewhere. I never for a millisecond thought I would live to be married myself. Or that it would be possible for everyone, everyone in America.

But it has come to pass. All of it. In one fell, final swoop.

Know hope.

kennedy_2.png.CROP.promo-mediumlarge

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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory