Archive for July, 2012

Alexander Cockburn, Keats, and Clarabelle

July 29, 2012
My Grecian Urn

My Grecian Urn

My companion of 11 years is dying.  I don’t know how much longer we’ll have.  Sometimes I wish the end could take as long as possible since I draw so much pleasure from coming into a room where she is sleeping.  At other times, hearing her gasp to breathe or tallying the totals of expenditures, I feel I could accept a sooner good-bye.

I’ve been using this past month to appreciate her beauty and strength, guideposts in the time we’ve traveled together and what I’m most frightened of losing when she leaves.  When one of my few heroes died last week, another loss in the sum total of beauty and strength on this planet we call home seemed overwhelming.  “All the good people are dying,” I mourned to a friend.  “Actually, we’re all dying, good and bad,” he replied.  “But the good are dying faster,” I insisted.

Alexander Cockburn wrote and lived fearlessly, not out of any allegiance to ideology (to use deliberately a “tumbrils”-worthy word) but because to discern and describe truthfully is one the highest expressions of humanity.  All week I exercised a meditation-like patience, watching as my laptop loaded a 3 hour C-span interview over a span of 6 hours.  Each time the arrow-button circled over a stilled shot, I sat appreciating the laser beam of intelligence dancing in his eagle eyes.  He was brilliant, beautiful and funnier than hell.  For twenty years, knowing he was in this world made me proud to be part of the human species, a recognition that’s worth having as much as possible. 

This has been a summer of introspection as I struggled to make good on my promise to focus on the larger desires that carve the shapes of human life.  If I’m not completely clear on the how, I have an image of what I’d like to happen that inspires.  Undoubtedly, getting familiar with the terms of mortality has played a part. 

Change.  Exhilarating, arguably, but no matter our personal capacity for risk, to embrace it, we must fight against our instinct for security.  It makes for an awkward set of emotions.  I’ve been grieving for Clarabelle’s impending death at the same time I’m getting angry change is taking so long.  At root, I suspect, is a species-old fear — the knowledge that our time is limited. 

My heroes remind me that our actions really do matter, that we can choose to transmute that fear into something finer. To me describing someone as “fearless” invokes less an absence of fear than the admirable overcoming of it.  Cockburn was no fool; he knew the terms and still chose to take arms against the world’s funds of ignorance and injustice, none too small to recount, to fulminate over, if and when it was appropriate.  He was no curmudgeon, willing to blast anything and everyone.  One thing I learned from my C-Span experience and from other tributes was that Cockburn was an inveterate optimist.  “Are you ready to greet the day with unbridled optimism?” his niece Laura Flanders recalled his voice ringing out in greeting.  It’s a phrase I’ve used more than once since reading.  How our lives touch others in such ways is one of the miracles of human existence.

I won’t write about Clarabelle much here other than to say that the way her life has touched mine has upped my exposure to optimism and fearlessness, beauty and strength, intelligence and humor.  For her sake and for my few heroes, I will do my best to transmit those qualities back into the world no matter the challenges and fears that loom. 

Just to make this knotted blog entry knottier, I can’t resist ending with a small twist.  Since I was 10 years old or so, I’ve had a small box I believe one of my grandmothers sent.  It has a Rousseau-like tabby cat, replete with saucer-eyes, sitting Buddha-like amidst a pool of lotus flowers.  It’s one of my longest-standing possessions.  Not too long after Clarabelle entered my life, I realized it was her image I was seeing, had seen, in that picture for 25 years.  God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll carry that box with me into my future, letting it remind me of her beauty and strength.  The association makes me think of Keats and the truth he allows another beautiful object to voice: 

 “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all

      Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

I urge anyone reading this to learn more about the beauty of Alexander Cockburn’s truthfulness.  Start by going to the site and continue.  Our world is diminished by his loss, but we are lucky to have a part of him remain.