Monday, February 16, 2015

Presidents Day 2015

As I type this I am 13 pages from the end of William Henry Harrison's biography. I spent Presidents Day Eve leaving my visit with my 92-year-old grandfather prematurely and getting a head start on the drive home before an impending snowstorm threatened to strand my daughter and me in Southeast Kansas. Because of this last-minute change in plans, I still haven't finished the book.

I'll go into greater depth in a separate post about President Harrison once the 13 pages are complete and I've gathered my thoughts on his life. I'm grateful it's under 130 pages because I don't think I could read 300 plus pages about this man.

I also made a trip to the public library this evening to pick up the John Tyler biography on reserve. There's something very motivating about having the next president's biography waiting in the wings. I bet I'm one of a handful of Americans who actually THOUGHT about the presidents ON Presidents Day.

This particular post seems a must-do for a blogger who is reading her way through the presidential biographies. I spent a good amount of time considering what I would write as I drove in the blinding white glare of snow down the interstate.

How different life was for the first nine presidents. Consider how QUIET their lives were: no radio, no television, no automobiles, no electricity. That quiet seems especially appealing as I watched my daughter play basketball tonight and fought the pain of a migraine made worse by 15 bouncing basketballs and the obnoxious noise of a little sister's electronic device bing-binging awful game noises while she waited out her sibling's practice.

The biggest lesson this project has taught me nine times over is that THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A PERIOD OF TIME that could truly be called the GOOD OLD DAYS. This has been a source of comfort to me. Given the divisive, gridlocked political environment of today, it's nice to be reminded that this is not the first time the humans in charge of government have been small-minded, petty, and short-sighted. These complaints and so many more have been repeated over and over and over again. What makes it feel new and scary and THE WORST IT'S EVER BEEN is that this is the only time period we've lived through, so we don't have the benefit of historical continuum. Unless, you choose to read historical accounts of days gone by and then you are able to see the cyclical nature of humans and the government they endeavor to run.

Consider this passage by Gail Collins, Harrison's biographer:

“The urban world of 1840 America was a violent one and the excitement of a
political campaign tended to cause endless brawls; each side accused the other of
attacks. (It's possible that women did not mobilize to demand the vote earlier
because they connected elections less with the patient march of democracy than with
drunken fistfights.)”

Some things never change. They may take another shape or form, but change, no.

Reading these biographies has reinforced that every age is bestowed with nimrods and the wise, the insane and the balanced, the self-absorbed and the civic-minded. People have always thought theirs was the generation that was going to hell in a hand basket. And looky there, we Americans are still bumbling along doing the best we can for better or worse generations later. It's comforting and comical. It's inescapable and frustrating. It's also a relief. Other bad times have been lived through. If Americans of the past can persevere and muck their way through political tomfoolery, so can we. So can we.

Happy Presidents Day.

1 comment:

  1. Nimrods...ha! A highly under used word. True story, for an entire summer we thought a kid down the street was named Nimrod because of the way her siblings pronounced her name. Sounds like you are really plugging away at your presidential list! Woohoo!