I am writing to you again in letter format, since a letter would have been more appropriate for the times I'm speaking of. Anyway, my blog is outdated already it seems, according to the New York Times, as people, particularly the younger set, are moving more toward Facebook and Twitter for instant, brief communications. Being the old-fashioned type who won't confine my thoughts to 140 characters or less, I'm writing a letter from my desk in the great state of New Jersey (which is nothing like it is portrayed on television).
As the world focuses on sweeping, fast-moving people's revolutions in Egypt and elsewhere, I'm thinking of our own bloodied American revolution for Independence, which was just a wink of an eye ago. Looking at the snow falling, I'm reflecting on the snow and harsh conditions of the winter in 1777 and 1778 at Valley Forge that faced George Washington and his troops.
"If there was ever one person who was absolutely indispensable to the American Revolution and American independence, it was George Washington," said historian David Walker Howe. Washington showed the world an army of farmers could take on the mighty British.
The Bergen County Historical Society held its annual county ball for George Washington (whose birthday is February 22nd), filled with dancing (the re-enacters were dressed for the occasion) and crullers and cider for guests in the tavern.
Do you know how to dance? I know some more modern couples dances, and the great exercise, joy and social aspect of dancing. In school years, exercise is so often just about competitive team athletics like baseball, football and basketball. But not all exercise needs to be about competition, and I think some form of dancing should be taught in schools (given our lack of emphasis on the arts, yes, I realize I'm dreaming).
In an age of mass production (which has yielded overflowing landfills), consider the craftsmanship of everything in earlier life - from candles to shoes to quilts, some simpler and others showy, like this one, made in 1875 in Hackensack, New Jersey, and was displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition.
In the Dutch out kitchen, potato leek soup was simmering on the kettle.
Reflect on your life now and what it would have been like in Washington's time. Think your dinner routine is complicated? Most of us don't have to harvest our own food, and we definitely don't have to kill our own animals - we leave that work to underpaid labor who have come here for their piece of the American dream. I recall a quote at Ellis Island I once read from an immigrant who said they believed the streets of America were paved with gold, then realized they were not paved at all, then the reality that they had to pave them.
Let us not forget Abraham Lincoln, who made an appearance at a prior Bergen County Historical Society event. His birthday was February 12. With an upcoming film in April, The Conspirator, and Daniel Day-Lewis set to play Lincoln in the Steven Spielberg-directed film adapted from Doris Kearns Goodwin' book Team of Rivals, Hollywood is smitten with Lincoln, and I'm grateful for that.
It seems almost every holiday, the true meaning is being lost on most Americans, who think little about veterans on Veterans' Day or the war dead on Memorial Day. It doesn't help retailers try and persuade us it is just another sale occasion (I stick by a motto I once heard, "It's not a bargain if you don't need it"). I also think Americans are becoming more overworked, and in our technological age, boundaries are becoming erased between home and work life. No leaving the briefcase at the office - your gadget is always with you, and to finish your work, more are expected to be on them as employers try to get more out of fewer workers and capitalize on employees' fears over job security. Any day off - understandably - is cherished.
But I also think knowledge and wisdom are just not really valued by our culture. A lot of lip service is paid about education, but a lot of it is meaningless. Possessions are bragging points, or how a child did on their latest basketball game, but I'm more impressed by: What book did you just read? Is a news story provoking thought or outraging you? What art form - film, music, dramatic, and such - is making your soul smile? Are you reflecting on Presidents' Day?