Small Local Efforts at Diversity

It may not be a good idea to editorialize about a magazine article that is editorializing about other editorializing. But here I go again.

Somehow in mid-July I ran out of New Yorker stories to read. Desperate on a hot day for something to read at the table over lunch, I rifled through old issues. I discovered an oddly titled piece from April 6, 2015, that I had somehow missed.

I will admit that my prejudices led me to start the story entitled “Carbon Capture.” [1] But soon I realized that I had stumbled across a piece that was different; an argument that would give me the intellectual twist and challenge that I desired.

In my humble opinion, this is a significant piece. It borders on political philosophy. By the end, I was thinking back 40 years to the blockbuster book “Small is Beautiful” and thinking the small, the local, and the diverse retained the strength, clarity, and utility that I had once thought they did.

This represents my mindset fairly: take nothing for granted, keep changing perspectives, focus on the small and the local and the naturally diverse. By this path, we will live better and end nobler.

FOOTNOTE:

1. The subtitle of Jonathan Franzen’s article “Carbon Capture” in The New Yorker on April 6, 2015, focuses the mind: “Has climate change made it harder for people to care about conservation?” He gets to the point early and holds fast to it: “As a narrative, climate change is almost as simple as ‘Markets are efficient.’ The story can be told in fewer than a hundred and forty characters: We’re taking carbon that used to be sequestered and putting it in the atmosphere, and unless we stop we’re f~~ked.”

Adopt an Elder

To liberals and conservatives alike, I say you cannot love (or, you are no warrior) until you have cared and fought for someone you know and owe – not a vague abstraction, but someone close by. Most of my friends and family have experienced this revelation. I am a Johnny-come-lately in this forced march, but I am willing to advocate for it as if I discovered something awesomely new.

Decline is inevitable. It is the future of us all.

Young people, love and cherish your elders before it is too late. Record and remember their sacrifices, foibles, follies, triumphs, and wisdom.

Time is relative, supposedly, but it is an unrelenting hunter. Do unto others as you would have others down the food chain do unto you. When you come to embrace the majestic, unexpected degradation of life, you will come to understand it; only then will you apply to it the full measure of your diminishing capabilities.

Some differ on the focus of their crusades for life. From my perspective, the life not present and formed can have no place of precedence if the life that is nearby is not completely honored. And the life that has given to others many times over cannot be relegated to obscurity and daily want if life to come is to thrive.

We are and have been a busy, self-regarding generation. Those after are perhaps busier. Business is our nature and our fog. Too often we are busy about nothing – nothing of significance at all. Wisdom is recognizing obligation and noting one’s hair’s-breadth remove from insignificance.

Young nieces and nephews – grand nieces and nephews – young friends and strangers, I marvel at your energy and health, your white teeth and strong voices, and your time left for mistakes and successes. But the train of old age is coming at you much faster than you know; you will only know it when it hits. Be prepared for a new near-life. Be prepared to be a model for your descendants in gracefully negotiating the years that were supposed to come so slowly. And pray like mad that your children and their children, and the great souls of your community, will mercifully adopt an elder.

Raid on Palau

Having known R. W. Hulme (Bob) forty years, I can, without reservation, attest that I believe every single word of his stories. It is a wonder that he came to write his stories and that we should hear and like them so much.

I like the excitement and cool detachment; the brevity, clarity, and detail; his determination to get it done; the humility and the humor. But most of all I like the unmistakable humanity – the “one” and the “we” working it out on the fly.

Bob was drafted into the Army on his twenty-second birthday in September, 1941. That fact is completely consistent with the tone of his stories. He was no daring-do cowboy. He moved by force of persistence, against significant odds, into flying. Once there, he took charge without bravado.

Essentially, over time, Bob did not alter, except where a house full of lovely, intelligent, honorable women helps a man adjust admirably. It is noteworthy that his telling of this story comes in 1992. After Ross Perot, Bob privately struggled, for 19 more years, to negotiate the new world order. He adapted in increments like the self-taught, well-read, hard-working, experienced gentleman that he was.

Despite what they claim in fiction and history, great things happen in increments. Bob’s stories – and life – show us that great feats happen in short steps. The context of those steps is often out of control – as are the guiding instruments – but it is how one handles the stick that substantially determines when, where, how, and if one lands.

The new world order was more ambiguous and less trustworthy for a man such as Bob. He respected learning, loyalty, common sense, and work, but he clearly objected to the way things were headed.

After seeing the television series “The Pacific,” I am heartily grateful that Bob was in the air. His is the war that we know through his stories. He and they allow us to suspend judgment about the time, and all that preceded and followed it, in the suspense of how our loved one managed to survive intact. Not just survive, but thrive as the same man we read about now and knew around the kitchen table.

As he makes abundantly clear, Bob was one of many, a leader who wanted to get the hell out and get his comrades out, too, while doing his assigned task in a way that, though not exactly by the book, gets it done and wins peace in which a new world could emerge. Big men yield. But when they succumb to age and change, they leave gaping holes.

Click here to read this story.

Stories in TennesseeSoul by Lt. Col. Robert W. Hulme, USAF (Ret.)
(ordered by date of war event)

Black Sunday
Raid on Palau
The Big One
Clark Field
The One