The Reading Room

**By Alan W. Goodson

Heart of Darkness (A Very Short Story)  To Index


 And the rain keeps falling...Pouring from a sky as black as the heart of evil. Beyond black. For black is a color and this darkness is the absence of all color. Of all light. Darkness deeper than the ocean of time itself. Impenetrable, uncompromising, unyielding. Like a cosmic vacuum. Sucking the essence of life into its hungry mouth. Devouring all it touches and leaving only remnants of wasted lives to float helplessly, hopelessly towards the seas of eternity.

Like a winter's leaf. I have fallen from the branch. Spinning, spiraling, sailing, through the darkness of the night. Abandoned by the sun and summer's warm embrace. Tossed about by the driving wind. Landing unceremoniously in the gutter of my own subconscious mind. The edges of my soul, curled inwards. Trying to conserve and protect the inner life force against the ravages of nature's onslaught. Pelted by the rain and wind. Twisted and turned in directions unintended. Adrift on the unnatural streams created by storms of the heart. Urged along towards uncertain destiny by forces not fully understood. And tempted to dig deeper and deeper into the caverns of my inner self. In search of clues to the bitter feelings of soft regret which rise up within my heart. Much like the swollen streams and rivers. Sometimes, forced by nature to overflow their banks to flood the fertile land which contains them.

And as I float along the river of my emotions I encounter broken pieces of the past. Like limbs torn from the trees by the strength of the storm. Driftwood of the mind. With splintered edges. Sharp, naked, raw. Exposed to the elements of my conscious thoughts and subconscious desires. Tiny spears which puncture my weary mind. Re-opening old wounds. Deepening the scars which never seem to heal. I see faces from the past. Reflected in the falling rain. And the eyes reach out to me. Sending messages I can neither hear nor comprehend. But I feel the strength of the emotions in those eyes. A yearning of desire to reunite the friendships of long ago. Friendships ended prematurely. Like huge waves of uncommon power smashed against the unyielding rocks of fate. And I think of roads not taken. Dreams not shared. Journeys which can never be embarked upon. I take only cold comfort from the time I was allowed to spend with those departed souls. It was not enough and I wonder if it will ever be enough. I close my eyes against the uncommon visions of my wandering thoughts. But the images linger. Why can't I let them go? Why do they always return in my darkness? Is their rest not peaceful in whatever corner of eternity where they reside? Or do I conjure them forth to fulfill some unnatural need to re-experience the pain of their loss? Is it I who disturb their eternal rest? So many unanswered and unanswerable questions.

And the rain keeps falling...

I am drawn to walk through the storm. Children sleeping peacefully in their beds. The sleep of the innocent. Warm islands of light shine out from the windows around me but cannot penetrate the darkness of my vision. Holiday lights shine cheerily from rooftops and eaves. Artificial symbols of joy and hope. But the colors are blurred by the driving rain and the tears in my eyes. I feel the coldness soaking into my clothes and skin. But it cannot match the coldness inside my mind. Windblown trees bowing in awe of nature's anger and strength cast flickering shadows across the edges of my sight. I stand braced against the wind and rain. A solitary figure. Nothing more than a brief flash of humanity in the endless stream of time. A grain of sand on the shores of human existence. A drifting spark, set free from the fire that is life.

I walk with no direction or destination in mind. My soul chilled by my visions as my body is chilled by the rain. Other faces gather within my thoughts. Faces of the present. Friends and loved ones. Others who care. Strangers I've met who have shown unsolicited kindness. The warmth of their love and compassion are the anchor to which I attach my dreams for the future. The chosen few who are allowed to walk unhindered behind the walls of my heart. And none were chosen by me. For we cannot choose those who love us any more than we can choose those whom we love. It is fate, or karma, or destiny, or chance. But it is not controlled by the recipient nor the provider of such love. It comes unbidden and unexpected. Like a wild flower bursting forth in the garden of our heart. With beauty that often surpasses the beauty of long tended and pampered relationships. New growths which flourish in the fertile soil left behind by the roots of flowers taken too soon. And therein lies the hope. The promise of new paths and journeys. New horizons and mountains to climb. New discoveries. New life.

And the rain keeps falling...

I find myself walking along the shoreline. The fury of the storm has lessened but the rain still sweeps across the land and sea. I sit in silence by the edge of the water. Completely surrounded by the darkness of the night. The only sounds are the persistent wind and rain, softer now, in concert with the whisper of the sea as it tugs gently at the shore. It is late now and almost all of the homes are dark. Across the water I can see the few remaining house lights casting their weak glow to the water's edge. I am hypnotized by the motion of the water and the patterns of the windswept sheets of rain traveling quickly across my shortened field of vision. Despite the elements of nature around me there is a peacefulness here. A quiet solitude. A joining of earth, sea, sky and man. And somehow I feel that perhaps I am intruding upon the natural communion of the forces I am suddenly a part of. Time seems to stop as I am overwhelmed by the emotions demanding release from their shackles. I am frozen in the grasp of a tidal wave of tears. As if my heart wishes to compete with Mother Nature herself. The salt in my tears mingles with the salt in the air. My tears join the downpour and trail silently but swiftly down my face. I am suddenly one with my surroundings. Born of woman, child of the universe, miracle of nature. As I consider these thoughts I get a sudden flash of inspiration which briefly lights up the darkness in my soul. And I realize the purpose of the storm and my sudden venture into its path. I feel that I must tell the story of this short walk into the heart of my darkness. And this I have done.

And the rain keeps falling...

By: Alan W. Goodson 12/19/94


Love To Index


"...this idea that love overtakes you is nonsense. This is but a polite manifestation of sex. To love another you have to undertake some fragment of their destiny."

Quentin Crisp (b. 1908), British author.


"We love in another's soul whatever of ourselves we can deposit in it; the greater the deposit, the greater the love."

Irving Layton (b. 1912), Canadian poet.


Love is that fragile flower of most uncommon beauty. One which can never be found by purpose alone while wandering through life's gardens. But one whose color and fragrance is most pure and meaningful when discovered by accident while tending to the more mundane duties of the common man. A diamond found lying quietly amongst the broken glass of childhood's shattered windows.

To love another is the supreme sacrifice of self. For we must give freely and completely of ourselves to another, without reservation or condition. To give less serves only to hinder the growth of our evolution from self sustaining isolation to a greater joining of universal awareness. As children we love by instinct but it is a selfish love. One which results out of necessity, born of helpless reliance on others for survival. It is an innocent love, free of complicated psychosocial encumbrances or expectations. But it is a hungry love which takes much more than it gives in the beginning.

Initially a baby will smile out of some inner pleasure that is imperceptible to others. But very soon, it learns from our reactions to that smile that it possesses a power to influence its surroundings. By repetition and association the child discovers he can gain pleasurable sensations from external sources by the simple act of a smile. The first seed of love is planted when we acknowledge the child's smile with our own outward expression of pleasure.

"Even a minor event in the life of a child is an event of that child's world and thus a world event."

Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962), French philosopher


From that first moment of conscious realization the child understands that to be a recipient of these enticing pleasures he must give of himself. However, growing in close proximity to this freshly planted seed lies another, less tender sprout. A subtle, yet powerful comprehension of the inherent capacity for manipulation. Without being fully aware of it, the child can sense that his own selfish needs can be fulfilled wholly with only a tiny investment on his part. It is almost too easy. And the easiest lessons of life, though not without merit, demand so little of us that we are sometimes blind to the simple fact that we remain responsible for our actions towards other human beings.

"Deity would not tolerate the presumption that all can be manipulated; an object lesson of the limits of human presumption is necessary."

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923), U.S. politician


So the child grows. As his needs and desires gain in both intensity and sophistication, he is dependent on his sparse inventory of experience to propel him safely through the deep and hazardous waters of interpersonal relationships. The lessons get harder and the price gets much higher to pay. A smile is no longer enough. A cute gesture is only that and nothing more. Love and acceptance by others is no less a necessity now than ever, but it is not so easily obtained. The obligatory and anticipated rewards for adorable behavior given us by our parents are not so readily found in those who have no genetic predisposition to love us. Familial love is but a pale precursor of the romantic love we seek in later years. But still we hunger for that warm contentment of shared compassion and longing for physical contact which can only be encountered when we are held tightly in the heart and soul of an object of our desires.

We set forth on our journey to love's gratification with only those sadly ineffectual tools we developed as children. Their purpose, long served, has outlived its usefulness. We search for nirvana unclothed and without protection from the harshness of the world in which it may or may not exist at all. By trial and many errors, we ruefully discern that the truest and most satisfying of emotional forces, that which we call love, often appears to be no more than a taunting mirage. An apparition of beauty which lies just beyond our seemingly limited reach. We strive and toil endlessly, enchanted by love's simple promise of a more complete and meaningful existence. A communal reality of two souls enjoined by identical and mutually fulfilling sentiment. Ahhh, such is the essence of wakeful dreams and conscious imaginings.

"But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

W. B. Yeats (1865-1939), Irish poet

"And love, in silent splendor, holds forth no clues. It is not bound by mortal conscience, therefore it does not offer apologies for its failures."

Alan W. Goodson (b. 1958), American realist


Love defies generalizations. Poets, philosophers, theologians, and countless others have ascribed their own theories and interpretations but often they still fall short of the goal of capturing the true nature of this unfathomable entity. The strength of love lies in its diversity. It possesses the unique ability to evolve, change, and permutate over the course of our lives. Just as we grow outwardly we must also grow inwardly. Our thoughts, realizations, and perceptions are given credence by our individual experiences on the separate paths we follow in our quest for love. And as love is an integral part of our inner selves, so it must grow and mature as well. It possesses the ability to adapt to its internal as well as its external environment. It not only changes as we change but it also ebbs and flows outwardly dependent on the receptivity of those to whom it is directed.

During certain periods of our lives love may seem to fade or even disappear entirely from our emotional palette. But once conceived it never truly ceases to exist. Love is the ultimate survivor. It has a will to live as strong as the will of its human container. If necessary, it may hibernate, withdraw like a turtle into its shell. When it is rebuffed or rejected by the harshness and cold complacency which can be so common in others, it folds in on itself until which time it again feels safe to venture out into a more nurturing environment. But it does not die.

We say we fall in love but it is a misnomer. We do not fall anywhere. We simply open our hearts and allow the love inside to project its energy towards the heart of another. If it is well received and properly tended, it creates a spiritual bond between the two hearts. However, love is an individualized emotion. It is a part of who we are and just as no two people share the exact same emotional make-up, neither can they share totally identical expressions of their love for one another. The beauty of a strong and viable relationship is seen when two souls meet and the colors of their love complement each other.

We are in love when we can find that fragile state of being where our individual love demands no more than the other person can give and when we can provide the necessary energies to allow them to be fulfilled as well. Love cares nothing for equality but it insists on balance. That balance is possible only when both people are satisfied that their own expectations and needs in a relationship are being adequately provided for.

"Love is often nothing but a favorable exchange between two people who get the most of what they can expect."

Erich Fromm (1900-80), U.S. psychologist

"Unhappiness is best defined as the difference between our talents and our expectations."

Edward De Bono (b. 1933), British writer


The first step towards a failed love affair is taken when we begin to feel we are giving more of ourselves than is being rejuvenated by the influx of love from our partner. That however, is not the fault of love but a sign that, in our own perception, we are not being compensated for our efforts. The next, and often fatal, step is when we decide to fall back on that old learned behavior of using the expression of our love as a manipulative tool to gain that which we most strongly desire. Love seeks only love, but egotistical aspects of our self image may interfere with our ability to recognize the quality and quantity of love being given to us.

It is our duty to our mate and our responsibility to ourselves to make clear the window to our souls. Love thrives on communication and tolerance. That which we desire and that which we can accept as a reasonable equivalent must be verbalized or otherwise made unmistakably apparent to our lover. Understanding and compromise are the banquets on which love feasts. And conversely, assumption and an unyielding insistence on prerequisites for our love are the sabers which will inevitably sever the emotional bond that love provides.

We are merely passengers on our ship of destiny and love is the compass that guides our journey through life. Whether it is love for another human being, a cherished goal, or a desire to find completeness and meaning to our lives bears little consequence on the necessity for following the course that love charts. Love cannot live comfortably in a vacuum. It must be allowed free reign and be given the opportunity to explore beyond the confining walls of self-protection which we construct as barriers to the ravages of life. It is the flagship of our soul and the purveyor of our most cherished dreams of a purposeful existence. Love we hide or hold back from others out of fear is love wasted. It is of no value to us when held inside but can increase in value a hundredfold when shared with another like minded individual or when directed towards a greater aspiration beyond our own selfish needs.

"Love, the strongest and deepest element in all life, the harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful molder of human destiny..."

Emma Goldman (1869-1940), U.S. anarchist


It has been often said, when attempting to offer explanation towards an otherwise unlikely pairing, that love is blind. In this context it is insinuated that love is lacking in one of the physical senses and is unable to discern the otherwise obvious imperfections which may be evident to those who proclaim to have a clearer view of reality. While this may bear some truth as to the tendency for love to ignore certain unseemly attributes which may be present in another, it does little to give credit to the truer vision of love itself. Love possesses no physical senses whatsoever. More so, it is an extension of the physical senses we are burdened with as human beings. Our distinct but individual views of reality are based on the input we receive from those physical senses. And those senses are often influenced by factors which lie beyond the reach of the senses themselves. A motion picture fools us into believing that we are seeing a seamless replay of events when in actuality we are seeing nothing more than a rapid series of frozen moments in time captured by the eye of the camera.

When we gaze at a beautiful red rose we see only the narrow spectrum of color which is reflected back at us but the entire spectrum of all the other colors are absorbed by and contained within that same rose. Invisible but still present. Ask a man, blind from birth, to describe a rainbow or a deaf person to sing along to a song on the radio. It is of course impossible for them to do so. However, ask those same people to speak to you of their perceptions of love and you may be amazed at how closely they coincide with your own. We, as human beings, can never fully comprehend the reality perceived by another individual. Therefore we must be careful in our judgments and in the conclusions we draw based on our own perceptions of reality.

Love's reality, like beauty, is held solely in the eyes of the beholder. And love's vision, if we must transpose a physical sense upon a non-physical entity, is crystal clear. It seeks that which coincides appropriately with its own desires. It is not foolproof, nor is it always accurate in striking close to the heart of its target. Nevertheless, it is an essential component of our soul's repertoire and must be given the autonomy it requires to seek out that which holds promise to provide the needed sustenance for its own growth.

"What is the most rigorous law of our being? Growth. No smallest atom of our moral, mental, or physical structure can stand still a year. It grows-it must grow; nothing can prevent it."

Mark Twain (1835-1910), U.S. author

"The self ... might be regarded as a sort of citadel of the mind, fortified without and containing selected treasures within, while love is an undivided share in the rest of the universe. In a healthy mind each contributes to the growth of the other: what we love intensely or for a long time we are likely to bring within the citadel, and to assert as part of ourself. On the other hand, it is only on the basis of a substantial self that a person is capable of progressive sympathy or love."

Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929), U.S. sociologist


Love never grows up, it only grows outward. It is the Peter Pan of emotional energies. While this may sound contradictory to the earlier statements, it is in fact, completely harmonious. Our own emotional needs and requirements may change and grow but love simply adapts to the new environment. Love learns from our experiences but its essential characteristics remain unchanged. Love retains its childlike innocence and hopeful faith throughout our lives. It is the driving force of our dreams and our soul's unending search for contentment and serenity within the framework of our singular reality.

"Life has always taken place in a tumult without apparent cohesion, but it only finds its grandeur and its reality in ecstasy and in ecstatic love."

Georges Bataille (1897-1962), French novelist


There is no force or presence on earth so sublime as that which is derived from the uninhibited expression of love for another human being. When that love is returned in kind, when two souls join hands in the complete and undeniable bond of mutual compassion and reverence, then and only then can we humans ever expect to sample the fruits of nirvana. No truer ideals can exist for mankind beyond this seemingly unattainable connection of love unbound. But it is within our nature to achieve the impossible and it is not beyond the limits of love's desire to seek the solace of total immersion within the heart of those we believe to be capable of such ecstatic heights of emotion.

We are more often left wanting, unfulfilled and incomplete, in our usual interactions with the vast majority of those we meet in our lives. But that takes nothing away from love's dream of compassionate surrender to the possibilities for the future. And therein lies the instinct for love's survival, and perhaps our own. It presents itself as a determination to force us through the frailties and foibles of mortal existence. Obligating us to maintain an uncompromising optimism towards the realization of spiritual completeness that may lie dormant but aware in the souls of others we encounter along the way.

And if perchance, like emotional radar, our love detects that long sought coherence in the countenance of another heart's desire, our will becomes nothing more than a candle in the wind of destiny's storm. Love, enraptured by the covenant of its own reality, bursts forth with renewed direction and purpose. Senses overwhelmed, our mortal lives become nothing more than a superficial shell of awareness as love has its way with our heart. To deny the event is folly. To question the source is pointless. To attempt to contain the emotion is senseless. It is we who are blind, love sees clearly and must follow its course to the end. For there can be no greater achievement in our lives than to allow the essence of our heart to find meaning and purpose in the heart of another.

"...And only in the end we'll see,
just what our lives were meant to be,
When all our childhood fantasies
Are lost within the mysteries
Of Time."

Alan W. Goodson (b. 1958), American realist


By: Alan W. Goodson 01/21/96


Plastic To Index

Time goes by. People don't do anything.

Sitting around staring at a screen as if it were life as if it were God. They have stupid conversation just to hear themselves talk. They play the game of life because they've nothing better to do. They drive through traffic to get to tall buildings where they argue with men and women to attain small pieces of paper. Pieces of paper that shape the world. Shape the countries. Shape our minds. Our minds are bombarded with, do this, buy that, talk like this, be like me, love me. But love is lost in this chaotic world. Love a car, love a house. It's time to love something real. But real is lost in this chaotic world.

Plastic people live their plastic lives and real is lost in all the plastic lies. Screams in the darkness are drowned out by the hum of machines, the clicking on and off of computers. The perpetual metronome swinging back and forth, back and forth. Never ceasing for a second. Never stopping to ask just why. Why they are doing this. Why dive deep into the ocean when it is so dry on the shore? No one wants to get wet. But wet is what we need. Wet is real. To be wet is to know, to understand, oneself. Yourself. To understand yourself it to better understand others. Connection. Connection is what it is all about. But connection is difficult in this society that is like a broken chain. So broken the fragments don't even look like they ever belonged together. So broken that people on a train never dare to meet the eye of another.

A train speeding so fast down an unknown track, in an unknown time, in an unknown world. The passengers sit quietly never thinking about their destination never thinking about being real. The train speeds on but makes no stops. To stop would be to step out. Out into the unknown. Out into the fear. Fear of a world that's not controlled by little pieces of paper and plastic lies. Fear of losing the security of their little plastic society. The security of a society that traps them, confines them. That tells them how they should live, what they should do. They create society but it is not controlled by them, they are controlled by society. A never ending paradox. So they go on.

People don't do anything and time goes by.

by: Bridget Hauserman
04/24/97



A Fate Worse Than Death  To Index

There are many ways to die, some worse than others, but for millions of people there is a fate worse than death. It is an incurable disease known as Alzheimer's and its effect can be equally devastating on the individual, the victim's family, and the victim's friends. Perhaps the best way to understand the disease is to visualize it through the eyes of those victims.

The old woman sat quietly in her rocking chair, staring vacantly out the window into the bright, crisp world that was slowly becoming foreign to her. Her gnarled hands, twisted by arthritis and discolored by age spots, grasped the family bible tightly. She was not interested in reading the verses or passages within. She could quote most of them from memory. She held the bible for another reason. It contained the names of her children, grandchildren, and deceased husband along with many other handwritten entries on birth dates, marriages, and other significant family events. Each entry cast a vague light of recollection in the growing darkness of her life. She would use the entries to jog her failing memory, much like a seamstress uses bits and pieces of colorful fabrics. She would weave a patchwork quilt of memories that defined who she used to be, who she was, and to cover the terrifying fact of who she was becoming. She felt very much alone although she knew she was not alone. Her family would never trust her to be by herself again. They feared that she would forget to turn off the stove, setting their lives ablaze as well as her own, or injure herself and not remember who to call, or where she lived so that help could come.

Her daughter and son-in-law were in the next room tearfully discussing her future. The family could not afford the devastating costs of placing her in a nursing home, nor could either of them afford to quit their jobs to care of her full time, which was what the doctor had strongly recommended. They spoke in whispers, each statement in the form of a question without an answer. Then, in silence, they both looked out the window at the falling leaves. The beautiful fall colors of the leaves remaining on the trees were in sharp contrast to the dull, brown, lifeless colors of the ones lying dead on the ground. The scene reminded them of the life of the woman in the next room who was becoming a stranger to them. Her life had once been vibrant and colorful too, but was now fading before their helpless eyes. She had always been active and involved in a half dozen family and community projects. She had been busy constantly, working with her hands, gardening, or cooking from scratch. Her gentle, infectious laughter could often be heard coming from the kitchen, carrying with it the delicious aroma of fresh baked pies or breads. Those days were gone now. She could no longer remember the ingredients, or even where she kept the recipes she was constantly sharing with her large circle of friends.

Her friends rarely visited anymore, or would make quick, transparent excuses for leaving shortly after arriving. They could not bear to see her or speak with her about the shared experiences she could no longer clearly remember. Long, uncomfortable silences would transpire when they visited. She would confuse their names or forget them completely, along with the subject of the conversation. Sometimes they would whisper amongst themselves conspiratorially, shocked and dismayed over the rapid deterioration of someone whom they had previously considered to be a trusted and reliable friend. They were afraid to take her with them on their usual outings, not wanting to take the responsibility, and unwilling or unable to fully comprehend the extent of her illness. Her friends drifted away one by one. Their visits became progressively shorter, being replaced by brief phone calls, then disappearing entirely. As her memories, family, and friends gradually faded into obscurity, the walls of her life slowly closed in around her, leaving her cloaked in a near impenetrable shell of isolation from which there was no escape.

The tragedy of Alzheimer's Disease deeply touches everyone who suffers from it as well as the people who care for them and know them. Its effects are as devastating and real as death itself, and in some ways can be even worse. While death has a certain ring of finality from which a person can mourn and begin the recovery process, Alzheimer's creeps insidiously and relentlessly into the very fabric of life.



Faces of Friendship   To Index

Robert Blair said that friendship was the, "… mysterious cement of the soul". Much like love, friendship is a difficult word to define. To engender the deepest emotional spirit of friendship one almost has to resort to describing it in poetic terms. When used casually, friendship is a word that fails to invoke the deeper connotations that I attribute to the word. Of course, friendship can mean different things to different people. To understand the different aspects of friendship, it is helpful to take a peek at each of what I consider to be the three faces of friendship. I'll call them associates, partners, and true friends.

First I'll look at associates. Associates are the people I meet and interact with under the most casual circumstances. It could be a co-worker, a classmate, or a person I see in my every day life. We might pass the time in an offhand conversation discussing the weather, the latest movie, or the plans we've made for the weekend. I may have known them for years but still don't know much about them as a person. Our meetings and verbal exchanges just skim the surface of our lives. If they tell me a funny story or anecdote, I might pass it on to someone else by saying, "A friend at work told me that…". Calling them a friend is just a convenient way of labeling them as someone I know in an informal way. Associates are not much more than strangers with a name. I may know some of the trivial details of their lives, but otherwise I have no deeper interest in their lives than they do in mine.

Now I'll look at the partners. Almost everyone has a partner. The movies and television shows I watch are full of them. Batman and Robin, Laurel and Hardy, and Beavis and Butthead are but a few of the fictionalized versions I think of when I think of partners. Another term often used to describe this level of friendship is sidekick. A partner is someone I know well, someone who shares mutual interests, or someone with whom I spend a lot of time. I might call up my partner on the weekend and ask him or her to go with me to a movie, concert, or sporting event. I know most of my partner's likes and dislikes. I know their family and a lot about their life in general on a much deeper level than I would with an associate. I may have known them for a long time, grew up with them, or possibly met them only recently, but we share enough interests to have a warm, mutually fulfilling relationship. I enjoy their company and find them interesting and worthwhile. I might not share my deepest, darkest secrets with them, but we can certainly share a laugh and a good time together. Partners often reflect certain aspects of my personality. We have more similarities than differences and can relate to each other on common ground. Our degree of interaction goes deeper than the surface of our lives, into the more meaningful depths of friendship, but it stops before it reaches the intimate level. Batman and Robin join together to fight crime and save lives, but somehow I find it hard to picture them having a heart to heart conversation about their love lives. Beavis and Butthead… well, that relationship sort of speaks for itself. The level of emotional closeness reserved for the deepest form of friendship is what I think of when I say true friends.

True friends are usually few and far between. They are the ones I can depend on and trust without any questions or reservations. A true friend is like a flower in the garden of my soul. They know the most basic elements of my nature and like me anyway. Regardless of where I find a true friend, I know where they will be when I call for them. They are there when I need them, even during those times when I don't think I need them. They will be beside me in spirit if they can't be there in physical form. They might even know me better than I know myself. I can confidently share the deepest, most intimate thoughts with a true friend, and I know they will hold those thoughts with a sacred trust. A true friend could be a relative, a spouse, or someone I met through a chance encounter. A true friend will give me a shoulder to lean on, a rope to pull me out of an emotional hole, and a sympathetic ear when I need one. A true friend sees me clearly, beneath all the masks I may wear in front of my associates and partners. Lord Byron may have said it best when he said, "Friendship is love without his wings".

To me, it isn't as important to categorize friendship as it is to have a few of every type. Each one, whether it be an associate, a partner, or a true friend, adds a bit of color to the rainbow of my life. Although some of those colors may be deeper or more beautiful than others, it takes all of them to make a rainbow.


Learning to Live  To Index

"When I was your age…" "If I had it to do over again…" "What are you going to do with your life?" How many times do kids hear those phrases from parents, teachers, or school counselors? They probably couldn't even begin to count how many times. The phrases are usually followed by some quick piece of advice or a story the kids can't relate to about the importance of getting an education, being careful, or getting a job. Most kids these days are concerned about their future and have a basic understanding of the importance of education. But do they understand how important education really is? Do they know how to avoid the problems that can prevent them from reaching their goals or how to deal with the problems when they occur? Are they supposed to learn those things at home, in school, or in the streets? Well, those are areas that should concern everyone as their children approach the age where they will be out on their own. High schools should be required to teach a mandatory "life skills" course as part of the curriculum. Specifically, the course should focus on obtaining financial security, learning self-protection, and dealing with the emotional traumas and pressures associated with adolescence.

First, let's look at financial security. Of course, all kids want to live the good life. According to a survey of teenagers by the University of Wisconsin Center for Action, over 80% of America's youth are worried about getting a good job and over 60% are worried about money or family finances (Small online).

In a speech before the Senate Budget Committee, Richard Riley, the U.S. Secretary of Education, said:

Education is the fault line between those who will prosper in the new economy and those who will be left behind. Most of today's good jobs require more skills and training that a high school diploma affords… By the end of the century, 89% of the new jobs created will require post-high school levels of education and only half of the people entering the work force are even nominally prepared for those jobs (Riley online).

How many kids, or adults for that matter, know that over a 40 year career, the difference in income for a high school graduate and a 4 year college graduate will be over $500,000? Even the recipient of a 2 year degree will bring in nearly $250,000 more than a high school graduate during the same period. Those amounts are after deducting the cost of tuition (American Demographics). Of course, a lot of college students may already know that, and that's great, but what about everybody else still in high school, and those to follow? Wouldn't it be nice if they knew these things in the 10th, 11th, or 12th grades to give them time to prepare?

What do they know about investing the money they earn? Sure, kids are taught the basic math skills in high school, but what about balancing a check book, having credit cards, or understanding compound interest? If, starting at age 25, they invest just $100.00 a month in a program that returns 8% on the investment, they will have over $250,000 saved by the time they reach retirement age. If they wait until they're 35 to start investing, they will have less than half as much (Vanguard). Those are just a few of the critical bits of financial information that should be provided to all high school students, not just the ones who choose to take elective courses such as accounting.

Also, the course should provide information in the area of personal safety. By far, the leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds is motor vehicle accidents. In 1993, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, motor vehicle accidents accounted for approximately 30% of all deaths in that age range. The second leading cause was homicide, which accounted for over 20% of the deaths. In 1992, more than 2,500 children were murdered. That's seven children every day. Juveniles are murdering themselves and others at alarming rates. They were responsible for over 1600 homicides in 1995 alone. Juveniles, ages 12 to 17, are more likely to be victims of violent crime than adults over the age of 25 (U.S. Census). In an NBC News commentary, Jess Marlow reported that over 80% of young inmates in juvenile halls said they owned a gun, and 35% of them said it's okay to shoot a person, "If that's what it takes to get something you want." (NBC)

It is indeed dangerous to be a child in America. Not only that, but more and more of these children are being born to unwed mothers. In 1970 only 10% of the births were from unwed mothers, but by 1993 that percentage had tripled (U.S. Census). Is this the next generation of criminals…or victims?

If all that isn't enough, there is another very disturbing area of concern. The third leading cause of death for young people is suicide. In 1993, it accounted for well over 10% of all deaths among 15 to 24 year olds (U.S. Census). The number of young people who choose suicide as a way out of this scary world has been rising consistently for decades. Many people assume that a person has to be crazy to kill themselves, but how many know that the most common cause of suicide in young people is actually transient depression? This is a well recognized condition which is easily treated. Who do these kids turn to? Most people would say they should turn to their parents. That is assuming, of course, that they even have two parents. If they do, it's likely that both parents work. Their parents may only spend 3 or 4 of their waking hours with their children. Those same children spend twice that amount of time in school. They are surrounded by their friends, teachers, counselors, and others who might be willing to help if there was a better forum for bringing problems out into the open. Why do they kill themselves? Well, when they're gone it's a little too late to ask them, but I suspect it may be because no one took the time to teach them how to cope with life's stresses.

What should be done? It's actually pretty simple. Every high school should require all students to complete courses in financial management and planning, self-protection and crime prevention, and coping with the life stresses that affect everyone. The courses would be separate and distinct from the basic English, math, history, and science classes that are currently required. They would be taught by experts and volunteers in each subject area. Perhaps it would be possible to bring in people from the real world like police officers, bankers and financial experts, ex-gang members, victims of violent crimes, and survivors of suicide attempts. Those people might be better able to tell their stories so the kids could more easily relate to the experiences. It could even extend to prisoners or ex-convicts who want to return something to the community they victimized. Wouldn't it be better to have them fulfill their "community service" obligations by teaching others instead of picking up garbage on the side of the road?

How it's done isn't as important as deciding that something must be done to prepare the leaders of tomorrow for real life today. They must be given the information, tools, and resources they will need to survive in the changing world they will one day inherit.

In conclusion, parents will always say, "When I was your age…", but the simple fact is, they never had to grow up in the world their children face every day or will have to face in the future. It's up to parents, educators, and government officials to make their children's world an easier place to understand. Then, hopefully, they will know what they want to do with their life and how to go about making it happen.

Works Cited

The Choice Is Yours. Vanguard Marketing Corporation. The Vanguard Group. Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: 1997

Marlow, Jess. Armed Teenagers. Narr. NBC News. KNBC, Los Angeles. 7 Sept. 1995.

Rewards of Higher Education. Online. American Demographics. Internet. 22 Jun. 1997. Available: http://www.collegeplan.org/rewards.htm. June 22, 1997.

Riley, Richard. Keynote speech. Senate Budget Committee. Online. Washington, D.C. Internet. 24 Jun. 1997. Available: http://www.ed.gov/Speeches/03-1997/goodling.html.

Small, Steven. Issues Facing Teenagers in Today's Society. Online. University of Wisconsin Centers For Action. Internet. 22 Jun. 1997. Available: http://www.cyfernet.mes.umn.edu:2400/Documents/E/C/EC1005

United States. Dept. of Census. Vital Statistics of the United States. National Center for Health Statistics. Washington, D.C.: 1997



Paint Me A Picture  To Index

     Since prehistoric times, humankind has attempted to find ways to translate thoughts and ideas into a more tangible form. Even before language existed, early cave dwellers would carve pictures and symbols on a wall in an attempt to describe or explain their world and their ideas to others. These early pictures and drawings eventually led to the more modern form of communication known as the written word. Even now, authors, poets, and writers of all kinds use much more than words alone to deliver their message to the reader. Most readers understand that the often used phrase, "say what you mean and mean what you say", does not always apply in literary works, regardless of the type of writing. Writers use various means to convey their ideas in written form, and the readers should read "between the lines" if they wish to fully understand what the writer is trying to express. Three of the more common methods used by writers are the setting of the piece, symbolism in the words, and stereotypical assumptions conferred on the reader. All of these literary conventions work together to "paint a picture" of the plot and moral to the story.

     The "canvas" the writer uses to set up the background to the story is the setting. The setting of a story or poem is often the first thing the reader encounters as he or she begins to read. The setting can be extremely important. The author uses it in an attempt to place the reader into the character's environment. In order to fully grasp the implications of the character's actions and thoughts, it is usually necessary to view the world through the speaker's eyes. In "Young Goodman Brown", the setting is in Salem, Massachusetts. The story begins at sunset as Brown leaves his young wife behind for an undisclosed journey. These two facts are related in the very first line of the story: "Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset into the street at Salem Village; but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to exchange a parting kiss with his young wife" (Hawthorne 7). Of course, Salem is historically famous for its witch trials in the late 1600's. This commonly known fact, along with the approaching nightfall, lends the story an air of darkness and foreboding. The reader instantly wonders why Brown would be leaving his young wife to venture out after dark. The remainder of the story takes place in a forest, giving the reader even more signs of implied danger and mystery. Another example of the importance of setting is seen in "London", a poem by William Blake. The title itself describes the location of the speaker as he begins to tell his story. The first verse of the poem places the reader alongside the speaker: "I wander through each chartered street / Near where the chartered Thames does flow" (1-2). The reader becomes the speaker's companion as he travels along the city's streets, near the river, allowing the reader to see and feel what the speaker experiences during his walk. Another poem, "Incident", by Countee Cullen, puts the reader in Baltimore in the first verse: "Once riding in old Baltimore, / Heart-filled, head-filled with glee," (1-2). The reader is again prepared for an excursion through city streets, but this time with a sense of joy and anticipation. In all of these works, the physical location , as well as the era in which the story takes place, are important factors for readers to consider as they step out of their own world and into the world of the character and writer. Just as the environment affects an individual's actions and thoughts in real life, so it also affects the characters in a story or poem. It is important for a reader to understand this concept to obtain the full value of the writer's intentions while writing the story.

     Along with the setting, symbolism is commonly used to present an author's ideas in subtle ways. The writer uses symbolism to "color" the story or poem in bright or dark hues. This serves to reflect ideas and concepts back to the reader. Through symbolism, a writer may use colors, signs, names, or other literary devices to represent truths, virtues, ideas, or thoughts the reader is meant to grasp. Symbolism is commonly used in poetry, where the ideas expressed are usually more concise and condensed than in other types of writing. However, symbolism is an important aspect of all forms of writing and is used throughout literature to reveal subtle aspects of the plot. In "Young Goodman Brown", Hawthorne makes use of the character's names to represent deeper ideas than the name alone would describe. Faith, the name of the main character's wife, is intended not only to give her a name but also to represent faith in the spiritual context. In the story, his wife is the final object holding him back from surrendering to the Devil's persuasions: "With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!" (12). Brown feels that Faith, in the physical form as his wife and in the spiritual context of his belief system, will be enough to protect him from the Devil's influence. Later, when Brown thinks that Faith has been converted to a devil worshipper, he decides that there is no longer any reason to resist the Devil's temptations: "My Faith is gone!" cried he, after one stupefied moment. "There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil; for to thee is this world given" (13). Although he never truly loses his wife in the story, he does lose his faith in the inherent goodness of humanity and feels that the Devil's power is overwhelming and omnipotent. "The Red Convertible", by Louise Erdrich, makes effective use of color to represent the spirit of the Indian characters. The color, red, is often associated with native Americans. Additionally, the fact that the car is a convertible can be seen to represent the freedom it provided to the characters: "We went places in that car, me and Henry. We took off driving all one whole summer" (73). They traveled away from their sequestered Indian reservation to visit other locations and the car allowed them to see Indian life from a more natural perspective. William Blake also used color to represent ideas in his poem, "The Chimney Sweeper". He writes:

Then naked and white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind;
And the Angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father, and never want joy. (17-20)

In that verse, he uses white to convey the idea of cleanliness and holiness. A good example of unusual objects used symbolically is found in Peter Meinke's, "Advice to My Son":

To be specific, between the peony and the rose
plant squash and spinach, turnips and tomatoes;
beauty is nectar
and nectar, in a desert, saves---
but the stomach craves stronger sustenance
than the honied vine. (11-16)

In that poem, the speaker uses flowers to represent beauty and joy and vegetables to stand for hard work, planning ahead, and seriousness of purpose.

     Finally, to add the final "shading" to the picture, many writers make use of the reader's natural tendency to stereotype individuals or circumstances. This can also serve as a "frame" for the portrait and drive home the moral to the story or poem. Stereotyping, used in conjunction with setting and symbolism, can strongly influence the reader's emotions and ideas. Stephen Crane uses this method superbly in his short story, "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky". In this story, Crane plays strongly on the stereotypes the reader applies to life during the days of the "Old West". He takes common stereotypical views, turns them inside out, and plays them back to create a wonderful parody of how life would be in a very atypical western town near the turn of this century. The "hero" of this story, Sheriff Potter, who would normally be dressed in white, wears black instead. Conversely, the "villian", Scratchy Wilson, whom one would expect to wear black, dresses comically in colorful clothing and very unvillianous boots:

A man in a maroon-coloured flannel shirt, which had been purchased for purposes of decoration…And his boots had red tops with gilded imprints of the kind beloved in winter by little sledding boys on the hillsides of New England. (23)

This description certainly doesn't paint a picture of a dastardly criminal, but by taking a common stereotypical view and turning it around, Crane effectively adds humor to his story. Also, Sheriff Potter never even wears his gun, sneaks about town with his new wife, and lets Scratchy go in the end, even though Scratchy has threatened his life. Another, less humorous example of stereotyping can be found in the poem, "Incident". The speaker relates a story of a trip to Baltimore as a young child. While there, the speaker meets another child of similar size and age. The speaker is stereotyped by the other child who calls him a "nigger" reminding the reader of his or her own stereotypical views. This results in a profound effect on the child's recollection of the incident:

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December:
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember. (9-12)

This experience forever colors the speaker's recollection of the trip in an adverse way to the extent that the incident is the only thing he remembers out of the entire visit. Stereotyping allows writers to make use of preconceived notions and sentiments the reader is likely to hold. Without being specific, the author can then produce the desired effect on the reader's emotional involvement with the story.

     Certainly, these are but a few of the many ways a writer can grab the attention and imagination of the reader. However, the use of setting, symbolism, and stereotyping are powerful literary tools. They are the writer's canvas, palette, brushes, and colors. Just like a more traditional artist, in both subtle and obvious ways, the author can then tell the story much more efficiently. In effect, the author uses those methods to "paint a picture" for the reader to view with his or her imagination. By doing so, another common saying: "What you see is what you get", can also be laid to rest. While it may be the responsibility of the writer to tell the story, it is the responsibility of the reader to understand and appreciate not just what the author or poet is saying, but also what he or she intends for them to take with them when the story is done.

Works Cited

Abcarian, Richard and Marvin Klotz, eds. Literature: The Human Experience. Sixth edition.

New York: St. Martin's, 1994.

Blake, William. "The Chimney Sweeper." Abcarian and Klotz 81.

----. "London." Abcarian and Klotz 83-84.

Crane, Stephen. "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky." Abcarian and Klotz 18-26.

Cullen, Countee. "Incident." Abcarian and Klotz 109.

Erdrich, Louise. "The Red Convertible." Abcarian and Klotz 72-79.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "Young Goodman Brown." Abcarian and Klotz 7-17.

Meinke, Peter. "Advice to My Son." Abcarian and Klotz 122.


 

What Price, Death?  To Index

     One of the basic aspects of human nature is the desire to be accepted and loved by others. To achieve this objective, it is often necessary to conform to a certain way of thinking or acting. This conformity may take shape in the form of religion, political beliefs, or even lifestyle. However, other aspects of human nature often clash with this desire. The longing for justice, freedom, security, and happiness often lead people to rebel against authority or societal conventions. Unfortunately, the result of this rebellion may carry a high price tag. Death is often the result of rebellion against the established social order. But, just as there are different ways to live, there are different ways to die. Death may be physical, emotional, or spiritual. Many notable literary works focus on these different types of death.

     Of course, physical death may be the ultimate price of rebellion. Even so, if death occurs as a result of rebellion against an unjust circumstance, it may often bestow upon the victim a certain form of immortality. William Butler Yeats writes about just such a situation in his poem, "Easter 1916":


Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name, (57-61)


In this poem, Yeats is writing about the death of the leaders of the Irish Revolution. Even though their rebellion against England's rule results in death, he lends to them a kind of forgiveness for their efforts. He feels that God will decide whether they were right or wrong while man's part is to remember them for their desire to fight for what they believed in. He goes on to name the conspirators and further drives home his thoughts on their rebellion:

MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connoly and Perse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born. (75-80)

He feels that they will always be remembered for their rebellion and that the final result of their death is to make them martyrs of the Irish people. Sophocles shows another result of physical death of a rebel in his play, Antigonê. Antigonê, rebels again King Creon's proclamation that her brother, Polyneicês, must not be buried since he is thought of as a traitor to the people of Thebes. When brought before the king after attempting the burial, Antigonê states her intention to ignore Creon's proclamation because she feels it is unjust and against the greater laws of God:

          I dared.
It was not God's proclamation. That final Justice
That rules the world below makes no such laws.
Your edict, King, was strong,
But all your strength is weakness itself against
The immortal unrecorded laws of God. (56-61)


While Antigonê rebels against a mortal law, she feels that the greater wrong lies within Creon's rebellion against the laws of God. In the end her belief holds true. Although Antigonê eventually commits suicide, her death also results in the suicide of Creon's son, who loved her, and the suicide of Creon's wife, who was broken hearted over their son's death.

     Physical death may have long reaching effects on those the rebels leave behind, but other forms of death can be just as devastating to an individual. A type of emotional death often comes to those who are oppressed by society's laws. Paul Laurence Dunbar examines this type of death in "We Wear the Mask":

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
          We wear the mask! (10-15)

Dunbar is speaking of the tendency for slaves to "wear a mask" to cover the pain they feel in their souls. They wear a mask by smiling and singing despite their pain and weariness. In its own way, the mask is a form of rebellion and can be compared to a tomb which hides their true emotions from their oppressors. Emotional death, as a form of rebellion, can also have physical effects on the victim. In his poem, "Same in Blues," Langston Hughes writes about this effect:

Daddy, daddy, daddy,
All I want is you.
You can have me, baby---
but my lovin' days is through.
A certain
amount of impotence
in a dream deferred. (15-21)

Hughes is also writing about black Americans, but in this case, he speaks of their oppression in more modern times when their dreams of freedom are still being held back by society. In this respect, the deferment of their dream results in the inability of the speaker to perform sexually or to display adequate emotion.

     Although physical and emotional death can be the end result of rebellion, the most devastating result is spiritual death. Spiritual death can cause the victim to suffer through a living hell while awaiting physical death. In the poem, "Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane," Etheridge Knight explores the spiritual death of a convict. The main character, Hard Rock, has his spirit crushed by the authorities who perform a lobotomy and electro-shock therapy on him. Hard Rock becomes a shadow of his former self as a result of his rebellion against authority:


And even after we discovered that it took Hard Rock
Exactly 3 minutes to tell you his first name,
We told ourselves that he had just wised up,
Was being cool; but we could not fool ourselves for long,
And we turned away, our eyes on the ground. Crushed. (29-33)

Hard Rock was a hero to his fellow convicts for his acts of violence against his captors. After the procedures to correct his behavior were performed, his spirit was destroyed along with the spirits of those who looked up to him. John Lennon and Paul McCartney look at yet another aspect of spiritual death in the lyrics to their song, "Eleanor Rigby." In this work, the "captor" is not a person or societal structure, but one of a more esoteric nature: loneliness. Eleanor rebels against loneliness by wearing another type of mask:

Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice
in the church
Where a wedding has been.
Lives in a dream.
Waits at the window, wearing the face
that she keeps in a jar by the door. (3-9)

She lives out her lonely life through others by collecting rice from weddings. To Eleanor, the rice represents the bits of happiness that she has been denied. The window symbolizes her hope for future happiness. She wears her make-up like a mask to hide her loneliness as she waits for happiness that never materializes.

     Throughout all of these works, death is a common theme that results from the character's rebellion. While the death may present itself in different forms, one thing stands clear in every work. Death causes irrevocable changes in everyone it touches. Whether the final result is worth the ultimate cost is often left up to the reader to decide, just as it is in real life.

Works Cited

Abcarian, Richard and Marvin Klotz, eds. Literature: The Human Experience. Sixth edition. New York: St. Martin's, 1994.

Dunbar, Paul Laurence. "We Wear the Mask." Abcarian and Klotz 470.

Hughes, Langston. "Same in Blues." Abcarian and Klotz 481-482.

Knight, Etheridge. "Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane." Abcarian and Klotz 490-491.

Lennon, John and Paul McCartney. "Eleanor Rigby." Abcarian and Klotz 498-499.

Sophocles. Antigonê. Abcarian and Klotz 503-534.

Yeats, William Butler. "Easter 1916." Abcarian and Klotz 466-468.


Victims of Love  To Index

     Love is one of the most difficult emotions to define. Love can wear masks just as people can. In effect, love can encompass more than one emotion. Authors, poets, and playwrights often explore the topic of love, as they have for centuries. Each of them offers their own interpretation of this most powerful of all emotions. However, few writers have captured the various faces of love as well as William Shakespeare in his play, Othello. The play offers perspectives of several facets of love including deep devotion, intense jealousy, and extreme emotional pain. Othello experiences all of these emotions as a result of love for his wife, Desdemona.

     Othello is initially devoted and secure in his love for his wife. Little does he know that Iago, a trusted friend, is already hard at work conspiring to bring about his destruction. Iago feels slighted when Othello chooses another soldier, Cassio, to be his lieutenant. Iago, a master of deceit and manipulation, is consumed by his anger and begins to carefully construct a plot which will destroy both Othello and Cassio. Iago informs Desdemona's father, Brabantio, that Othello has eloped with his daughter. When Iago tells Othello that Desdemona's father is coming after him, Othello proudly speaks of his love for Desdemona:

…for know, Iago,
But that I love the gentle Desdemona,
I would not my unhoused free condition
Put into circumscription and confine
For the seas worth… (I.ii.24-28)

Othello is confident that his feelings for Desdemona are true, and he has no fear of reprisal from her father. He refuses to hide from Brabantio and wants to face him to declare his love openly. When accused by her father of stealing her away with magic and potions, Othello stands before the Venice council to further proclaim his love:

I do beseech you;
Send for the lady to the Sagittary,
And let her speak of me before her father;
If you do find me foul in her report,
The trust, the office I do hold of you,
Not only take away, but let your sentence
Even fall upon my life. (I.iii.113-119)

Othello asks the council to let Desdemona speak for herself. He declares his willingness to resign his command and his readiness to face a death sentence should she speak ill of him. Iago continues to weave his web of deception by casually dropping hints that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair. When Othello first hears these lies, he refuses to believe Iago: "I'll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove; / And, on the proof, there is no more but this, / Away at once with love or jealousy!" (III.iii.190-192). Othello is so sure of his love for Desdemona, and of her love for him, that he insists on solid proof of her unfaithfulness. He will accept nothing less than tangible evidence of her betrayal. Devious Iago, predicting Othello's response, plants the evidence in the form of a treasured handkerchief Othello gives as a gift to Desdemona. He places the handkerchief in Cassio's room. Determined to bring about Othello's downfall, Iago continues to chip away at Othello's faith. Slowly but surely, Iago's plan begins to reach fruition. Othello's confidence and devotion begin to wane as the fabricated evidence mounts. His formerly abundant love now displays a darker face called jealousy.

     As jealous rears its ugly head, Othello's previous disposition to die to prove his love for Desdemona mutates into a desire to kill when he says, "I'll tear her all to pieces"(III.iii.432). His anger at her suspected illicit affair explodes into a hunger to destroy the very person he once worshipped: "O!that the slave had forty thousand lives; / One is too poor, too weak for my revenge"(III.iii.442-443). Othello wishes for Desdemona to have more than one life in which to exact his punishment for her betrayal of his love. He continues to rant and rave with regard to Desdemona's presumed treachery:

Arise, black vengeance, from the hollow hell!
Yield up, O love! Thy crown and hearted throne
To tyrannous hate. Swell, bosom, with thy fraught,
For 'tis of aspics tongues! (III.iii.446-449)

Othello totally divests himself of his amorous feelings. He draws upon the dark power of revenge to give him the strength to consummate the murder of Desdemona and her alleged lover, Cassio. Once convinced of Desdemona's crimes of the heart, nothing can persuade Othello to believe otherwise. Although she denies any wrongdoing when faced with his accusations, Othello refuses to give credence to her claims of innocence. She is shocked and dismayed over the change in the man who once would have given his life for her. However, Othello is not swayed and hurls threats at her:

Therefore confess thee freely of thy sin;
For to deny each article with oath
Cannot remove nor choke the strong conception
That I do groan withal. Thou art to die. (V.ii.54-57)

Othello wants Desdemona to admit her wrongs and tells her that swearing by her lies will do nothing to change his decision that she must die for her sins. Othello poisons Desdemona, then learns of Iago's plot from Iago's wife, Emilia. He realizes her cries of innocence were indeed genuine. Unfortunately, it is too late to save her. His jealous rage disappears but is quickly replaced by heartbreak and self-loathing over his fatal error in judgment. The third face of love is now revealed in Othello's pain.

     The loss of a loved one, under any circumstance, is difficult to endure. However, Othello's pain is greatly magnified since her death is by his own hand:

O! cursed, cursed slave. Whip me, ye devils,
From the possession of this heavenly sight!
Blow me about in winds! Roast me in sulphur!
Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire!
Desdemona! Desdemona! dead! (V.ii.277-282)

He begs to be punished in the most horrible ways for his decision to kill the woman he loves. His grief is fed by his anger over Iago's treachery. Although he wounds Iago, his greatest anger is directed towards himself as he says, "O fool! fool! fool!" (V.ii.324). In his soliloquy, Othello makes a request of those who will later write of his folly:

…I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice: then, must you speak
Of one that lov'd not wisely but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplex'd in the extreme;
of one whose hand
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away. (V.ii.340-347)

Othello does not want to be remembered as a valiant warrior, nor does he want his deeds to be exaggerated. Rather, he wishes to be thought of as one who loved too much and, blinded by that love, threw it away as a simpler man might unknowingly discard a treasure. As his pain and remorse reach their climax, Othello stabs himself, then speaks his final words to Desdemona, "I kiss'd thee ere I killed thee; no way but this. / Killing myself to die upon a kiss" (V.ii.357-358). Othello knows he can never forgive himself for his tragic mistake. Since he loved Desdemona before his jealous rage, he feels his only redemption can be to punish himself for her death and to die knowing that she loved him until the end.

     Although it is often said that love is blind, it is no more blind than the jealousy that can spring forth from its darker side. Through his pain, Othello learns of the danger of closing his eyes to reason and restraint in all things. Love may be blind, but the reflective glare from its many facets can often blind its victims as well resulting in tragedy and sorrow.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Othello. Literature: The Human Experience. Sixth edition.
     Eds. Richard Abcarian and Marvin Kotz.New York: St. Martin's, 1994. 779-870.

To Index


A Place Of Honor To Index

By:
Charles L. East


The tramcar slipped through the wooded countryside in Belgium on an early and cold December morning, the windows frosted in the struggle to keep out the frigid air.
The lights of houses nestled in the distance flashed intermittently through the trees, and the thought came to mind….

"In Flanders Field…
how proud were they
whose forms beneath
the poppies lay…"

Arriving at Gare Central in Brussels, I purchased my ticket to Luxembourg. The air was filled with the sweet delightful fragrance of freshly baked waffles.
The train station was majestic in itself, almost regal in its ornate design. Sprinkled with shops that were still closed, coffee shops hissed with espresso machines serving people hot steaming coffee and waffles.

Boarding the train, the warmth of the car was pleasant and as the six and one half hour trip began, I accepted the brandy into my coffee offered by the passenger that shared the car with me. The distinguished gentleman poured it from a sterling silver flask that boasted his initials and with a polite smile asked, "American?" The brandy had added a wonderful flavor to the coffee and returning his smile, I replied simply,
"Oui…American."

Arriving at Luxembourg after five or six brandy's, I bid farewell to my companion and hailed a taxi that took me to The President Hotel. The room was large, warm and comfortable. The staff was courteous and expedient.
After a hot shower in the evening, I went to a French restaurant for an excellent and very elegant dinner. After an exquisite dessert, the garcon inquired if I would like coffee.
I answered, "Yes…with brandy."


He asked me why I was visiting Luxembourg, and I answered saying that I wanted to visit the grave of an American Soldier. His eyes grew wide when he said, "A grave? Of a soldier? Who is this soldier?"

He looked at me quizzedly and shrugged his shoulders when I said, "George Patton." I could not help smiling at his youth as he had no idea who this greatly loved and admired American hero was. Sipping the last of the heavily laced coffee, I gathered my gloves, scarf and umbrella and quietly thought to myself, scarcely fifty years had passed since this part of the world was embroiled in such a desperate struggle for freedom…returned and given by this great General and his illustrious Third Army.

Returned and given …at a great price.

I returned to the hotel and while going to sleep, reflected upon the allusion to reincarnation that Patton so adamantly believed…

"Through the travail of ages…
midst the pomp and toils of war,
have I fought and strove and
perished
countless times…"


Morning came early and my taxi was on time to whisk me away through the cold rain to the American Military Cemetery. I insisted that we stop that I might purchase flowers.

Having arrived at the cemetery, I buttoned up my trench coat and pulled the scarf tightly around my neck to fend off the bitter cold. Donning my gloves, I dismissed the driver and with flowers in hand, walked up to the massive iron gates that guarded this hallowed… Place of Honor.

The silent gray sky permitted a light mist to fall and the playful wind tugged at the chains of the towering twin flagpoles adorned with Old Glory. A tightness formed in my throat and a surge of pride swelled within me.

The only sound that could be heard was the flags slapping at the wind and the chains brushing against the metal poles. The silence itself was an aura of deep respect…the wind being the only intruder.

Walking between two highly polished inscribed granite pylons that proudly proclaimed the magnificent feats of the American Army in the Battle of the Bulge and the advance to the Rhine, there were flowerbeds, fountains and trees that beautified this sanctified ground as I viewed row after row of glistening white headstones that gracefully curved out of sight.

I had no idea where the General was resting but after recalling some reading about the General, that his wife Beatrice said that she would not transport his body home because George had told her that he wished to be buried beside his men that had fallen in combat, I knew where I could find him…. at the head of his troops…where he should be.

Standing in awe at the feet of this noble warrior, I solemnly placed the flowers on the marble squares that graced the front of the alabaster white cross that bore his name.

The drums of war silent, the trumpets call faded into oblivion and a glorious history, I recalled the last of his allusion to reincarnation…


"…As if through a glass
and darkly
the age old strife I see
where I fought in many guises
many names
but always
me."


I saluted the grave, the man, the courage and tenacity of which led his army victorious in its frenzied quest for freedom and peace.


Here in this Place of Honor, I had found the hero of my boyhood and as a man had sought his resting place to pay homage and respect.

Now my duty and dreams were fulfilled.

I respectfully snipped a cutting from the evergreen hedge and placed it in my pocket. It was the closest I could ever be to this great soldier.


The cold morning mist concealed the tears that welled up in my eyes…tears of gratitude, pride…and love. Freedom was our reward for his labor of war.

I felt as though I had touched the soul of George Patton, and I feel as though he had touched mine.

Walking back to the mammoth gates to leave, I recalled another thing the General had said…


"…. All glory is fleeting."

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A Sleeping Hero To Index

By:
Charles L. East


It was early morning in Unterfahlheim, Germany, when I drove to Ulm, a beautiful metropolitan city in the County of Wuertenberg, located in the romantic and tradition rich area of southern Germany.
Here the castles of Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Hohenschwangau are found nestled in the craggy and breathtaking heights of the German Alps.

The city of Ulm is the birthplace of Albert Einstein. The Muensterplatz, a church of towering spires that reach into a fog shrouded morning, is in the center of the city. It's massive bells peal the time with uncanny accuracy and somehow survived the ravages of war.

Passing through the city, which is divided by the rush of the Danube River, my destination was the tiny hamlet of Herrlingen, where lying in repose was one of the greatest German Heroes of the twentieth century.
The grave of General Erwin Rommel, an aggressive, indefatigable and audacious soldier whose exploits in North Africa earned him the nickname, "The Desert Fox", and made him a legend among his enemies.

As Commander of the Afrika Corps, General Rommel applied Blitzkrieg tactics to warfare in the desert with a mastery that awed the British. Among the troops opposing him, his name became synonymous with success-so much that any British Soldier who performed well might be described as, "doing a Rommel."

The esteemed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once addressed the House of Commons and paid a singular tribute to one of Britain's most determined foes by saying,
"We have a very daring and skillful opponent against us, and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great General!"

Born the son of a schoolmaster in the German village of Heidenheim, Rommel joined the army at the age of eighteen and won high honors for his courage and skill in combat against the French and Italians in World War One.

Almost three decades later, at the age of forty-five, Rommel was a Major General in the German Wehrmacht and was thoroughly ensconced as a national hero, not only to Germany…but also…to the rest of the world.

Many people do not know that although Rommel did not possess a pilot's license, he was an eager and confident amateur aviator who often took to the air for desert reconnaissance missions.
He held the German Knights Cross with Swords and Diamonds and the most coveted, "Blue Max," the highest decoration Germany could give, its equivalent being the American Congressional Medal Of Honor.

It must be said that Rommel was never a Nazi but a dedicated soldier of the regular German Army.
He was a soldier in every sense of the word, a man of honor and great dignity.
A German Officer and Hero.

His death was the resultant suicide imposed upon him due to his involvement in the plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler.

It was also largely due to the fact that as a National Hero of the German People and the rest of the world, jealousy reared its ugly head resenting this obvious fact of adoration, thereby insistent for his death.
Rommel was greatly admired by Lieutenant General George Smith Patton, an American Hero and Warrior, who was, in like kind….greatly admired by the Germans.

Rommel was a doting father and dedicated husband, never failing to write his wife, Lucy, every day.
His son, Manfred, is Mayor of the City of Stuttgart, Germany today.

On this foggy morning surrounded by pointed kieferbaum, I quietly approached the resting place of this great soldier. There were flowers freshly placed on his grave by former German soldiers who were now wrinkled and aged.

Comrades of an era long past… whose loyalty had never diminished or faded.
In their hearts and minds, Rommel still lives.

This American saluted his grave, a gesture of honor and respect…

to a Sleeping Hero.

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“The Master” To Index

By: Charles L. East

It was the autumn of the year and having flown over the English Channel you could barely make out the Belgian coastline. It was raining gently and as I nosed the massive aircraft into descent for the approach into Brussels, I made comment that I wanted another weather report for our continued flight into Germany and finally Austria. The Alps were heavy on my mind and my concern grew as I could see lightning on the eastern horizon.

Departing Brussels, I asked flight control for a direct Nurnberg, which was granted and calculated arrival time to ensure we were able to maintain schedule. Everything looked fine. The weather was rapidly deteriorating and the rain became heavier and the light chop became more of a moderate turbulence. We were turned onto a heading to intercept the localizer, and when captured, began descent on the glideslope.

As we touched down in Nurnberg, I felt tired and having one more trip before being able to relax, I wanted to expedite the departure to avoid the weather that was forming over the Alps. I had done battle with the Gods of Weather before in this part of the world and didn’t relish another encounter. They seemed to enjoy using their weapons of wind, rain and barbed lightning. When it appeared that they were about to lose the battle, they would then employ the one weapon that is the greatest enemy of the pilot…fog.

Back into the air again, the aircraft nosed toward the East and climbed to engage in aerial combat one last time the awaiting spiteful Gods that had assembled all their might in greeting. Penetration of the front was violent and the aircraft pitched wildly as tremendous updrafts would grasp the plane and cause it to shudder under the strain. The radar painted thunder cells that were numerous and as the sweeping of the screen revealed their hiding places, I picked my way around them as the rain pelted the aircraft with a deafening roar.

Finally, the radio crackled the instruction to proceed direct to Freistadt for the arrival into Vienna and to arrive at this fix at fourteen thousand feet. We began the descent and the air seemed to smooth out somewhat as we approached the fix at the requested altitude. Center then had me contact Vienna approach control that directed me to Wagram for the ILS to runway 16. Turned again for an intercept heading to capture the localizer, when it became alive I banked the aircraft to 163 degrees and waited for the glide slope to activate. One dot above, gear down, landing checklist. We crossed the outer marker which is four and one half miles from the approach end of the runway and maintaining the ILS, could see the fog shrouded lights that challenged our arrival.The plane touched down and as I cleared the runway for the long taxi to the terminal, I was glad the flight was completed. Now for a hot breakfast, a hot shower and some rest.

The cockpit crew loaded into the waiting Mercedes Taxi that was to whisk us away to the hotel. Pulling up to the entrance of a magnificent hotel, the doorman assisted in unloading our flight cases and suitcases and politely carried them inside out of the misting rain that reminded me that the Gods had indeed been merciful and had withheld their terrible wrath.

Here we were in Vienna Austria…Once the center of the universe for the arts and music, mutually shared with Budapest. A land that breathed music and art surrounded by the majestic Alps topped with snow. A land of dignity and history steeped in science and glory. Strauss, Freud, the jealous battle of Salieri over the genius of Mozart who had won the favor of the king. A land that was the birthplace of Adolph Hitler.

The concierge greeted me with great respect and intense courtesy and began to apologize that one room was not available, and that if one of the flight crewmembers could wait an hour it would be forthcoming. He appeared surprised when I said to take care of my crew and that I would wait for the room’s availability. The bellman took the bags and as the crew disappeared into the elevator, I sat down at a table to await the time with patience. It was 5:30 in the morning and the lobby was empty.

The concierge came over and invited me to a cup of coffee and commented that it was very unusual that a Captain would wait and not take the room himself. He said it was refreshing to see that the ranking officer would put himself last. We began to discuss the weather and where we had originated the flight and for some reason began to speak of Cologne Germany. I told him that when I was in Cologne, I had intended to visit Bonn, as I knew it was the birthplace of Beethoven, and visit his grave. He commented further that he was surprised to see an American speak German so well and to appreciate classical music and the composers to the point of seeking their resting place. He was aghast when I answered his question of who my favorite composer was with the name Gustav Mahler, and stunned him more when I asked him where Mahler was buried. He told me that he would find out.

When I finally was able to go to my room, I had but just placed my flight case on the floor when the telephone rang. The concierge told me that Mahler was buried in the Grinzinger Friedhof and upon learning this, I instructed him to make a taxi available for an immediate departure. Taking the camera from my suitcase and not bothering to change clothes, I dashed down to the lobby and waving goodbye to the concierge, climbed into the back seat. The driver asked me where we were going and was surprised to hear the words Grinzinger Friedhof. He asked why were we going to a cemetery at 6:15 in the morning and I said to see an old friend. Let us stop to get some flowers, I added.

The massive iron gates were closed and the metal felt cold in my hands as I opened them to step inside. The sun had barely risen and the mist continued to fall as I walked on the moist pea gravel searching for his resting place. It was still and very quiet. The wind was hardly discernible and the stones reflected the dampness of the morning’s early light.Then a deeper silence pervaded the air…as though the Master himself had stepped up to the podium with baton in hand to call the orchestra to order. I saw his monument in the distance and walking to it marveled at the simplicity of it. No ornamentation like the flamboyant Strauss, no gilded statue standing in a frozen pose, just a massive stone of granite that rose to the height of eight feet…simply engraved…with the name…Gustav Mahler.

The stone reminded me of the strength of Mahler’s work and I could almost hear the opening strains of Mahler’s first symphony. The grass was wet as I placed the flowers at the base of his stone and standing there quietly, said a prayer. I thanked Mahler for his beautiful contributions to the world and felt diminished in his presence. The greatness of the man, here in soft repose, to be this close. A shiver ran up my spine and I felt as though he knew I was there in my gesture of tribute and honor to his glory. I took a piece of the boxwood there and put it in my pocket to be later dried and placed with reverence in the photograph that I would come to treasure. I had stood at the feet of The Master and in doing so came to
know him even more.

I turned to leave and after a few steps turned for one last look.

I softly said, “Goodbye my friend. The world will never forget you. Rest well.”

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“Dancing With Ghosts” To Index

 

I sometimes wander through veiled passages, adrift amongst dusty relics of a distant time. Moments to minutes, months to years...held captive by time's embrace, but still able to see the vague reflections of a younger man.

I walk through cold shadows and dance with solemn ghosts that have long since lost what feeble warmth they may have once had. The people I once thought would be lifelong companions…friends…lovers…are now just faded icons of a life that no longer exists. But old ghosts don't just go away even when exposed to the blinding light of a new and happier life. Sometimes they get angry.

They stand in those cold shadows with a crooked grin, displaying jagged teeth…reaching out with wispy fingers, hoping to find a gap in the armor I wear to protect me from just such an encounter. Rarely are they successful. I may feel a chill breeze as their frigid hands swipe past my face…a not so gentle reminder that so many things in life are temporary, all that glitters is not gold, and history repeats itself because it has nothing better to do.

But every now and then, usually when least expected and even less desired, they find a weak spot in the armor…perhaps an old scar that never healed properly lies just beneath…still tender, still painful…still…exposed. Then they gouge and pick and prod, sending sharply etched memories along pathways leading to fear.

What kind of fear?

…fear of loss, fear of waking up from a beautiful dream and finding myself still residing in some cold stark reality with no escape…fear of the one holding me wishing they were holding someone else…

…and the pain associated with those fears…the pain of feeling there are inadequacies within me that could lead my partner to seek what they need in someone else or to yearn for something that I cannot or have not provided.

Yes, the ghosts know just where it hurts; they know just what it takes to spin a web around my thoughts, trapping me in a vicious cycle of mistrust, loss of faith, and confusion. Suspicions arise from nowhere…words and statements are analyzed and dissected…acts of love are scrutinized for honesty and validity…motivations are questioned…

…so many elements of a normal, healthy display of love and tenderness from a partner are suddenly force filtered through an emotional microscope to discover any visible flaw or perceived lack of sincerity which might disqualify it from being accepted as truthful and meaningful.

It is an agonizing process to dance with these ghosts. The echoes of their footsteps stir up the dust of past mistakes, which then settles into the warm pool of contentment where I bathe, tainting the waters and poisoning the purity of what is the life-blood of any relationship: trust.

Trust…that oh so fragile, essential, and beautiful component of love that makes it whole. That which forms the cornerstone required for building an impenetrable fortress where love can safely reside. It is the strongest part of the strongest relationship and the weakest part of the weakest. The ghosts know this and know this well. To remove that stone, to push and pull and prod and chip away at this one vital piece of the architecture of love is to threaten the entire structure.

Once removed, even the strongest castle becomes nothing more than a house of cards…then the ghosts kick their emaciated heels together with glee because the damage…and their work…is done for another day.

But just before the dance ends, they lie.

They lean over and quietly whisper in my ear, words slithering from their fetid mouths like gelatinous snakes…telling the lie that has misled uncountable numbers of their dance partners of the past: "Trust must be earned and once it is gone it can never be rebuilt".

It plays so well and sounds so true and it is easier to swallow than warm honey. And it is poison, for life has taught me that trust can never be earned, it can only be extended towards another person. Once bestowed in this manner it must be well tended and cared for, true, but it can never be earned. For trust is nothing more than a humanized form of faith and faith isn't given TO someone…it is extended TOWARDS them. And once a trust is damaged it is not lost or broken, it is simply withdrawn. The one who was trusted cannot repair it; it can only be re-extended by the bestower since it never really left their possession.

So the ghosts dance, then they lie, then they slip silently back into the shadows to await the results of their handiwork. Waiting for that one strong breeze of discontentment to come along and finish the job.

And when the dance is over…the haunting music lingers and echoes a tempting invitation to continue the dance. The questions and fears…and pain…remain. Those discordant notes serve not only as unsettling reminders of the dance but ultimately, as a death toll for the soul of a love that has fallen ill.

Therein lies the dilemma…and the choice that only I can make. To believe…to trust…to have faith…to love… or to heed the ghosts pretending to be my protectors. To dance again the dance of the lost and damned.

I choose to love.

A.W.G.

5/30/2k-6/02/2k

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