Fri, 08/18/2017 - 8:15am

Last week, I came home with every expectation of going back out in the evening, but I started reading an old document about a summer of disease on Block Island, written at the start of the 19th century, then fell down the vortex of old documents in archaic language. The forecast was not good and I walked around the house before going to bed, carefully lowering windows, leaving them an inch or two open where it seemed least likely heavy rain would make its way inside. 

Rain it did, and I awoke with a start, remembering too late I had, with that expectation of going back out, failed to close the windows in my car, something I always do, as a precaution, regardless of the forecast.  

With the iffy weather, drizzle and fog battling sunshine, it took a couple of days for the seat to dry, completely. So, certain as I was of the status of those windows when I awoke early today to more rain, I found myself stumbling downstairs and peering out in the gray dawn to see, blessedly, a full pane of glass rising beside the driver's seat. 

The keys are never in the car, not from an abundance of caution against a thief dumb enough to steal a car as old as mine, rather against my own actions, over a decade ago, managing to lock myself out twice in two months. So, in my sleep-addled state, twice this past week, I have crawled back into bed, only to realize, in my last seconds of awareness, that the car keys are still in my hand. 

Daylight came, the rain stopped and people went to the beach. I knew by the sound of children's voices rolling up through that dip in the land, the same hollow that gives me the sound of surf on the night air, and even, some mornings, the muffled announcement on the boat as it leaves the harbor. The air was damp, heavy mist edging toward shower as I started out for town in the afternoon. 

First I met bicyclists, braving the wet, the first in cheerful denial. Then, as the rain became a bit more real, impossible to dismiss as a micro-shower, a caravan of cars heading down the Neck Road, like a Wednesday morning in winter, the single weekday the dump is open. It was Tuesday, the cars were unfamiliar, vacationers, unlikely to be dump goers, and it was after hours, anyway. They were more likely going to pick up those children at the beach, and the more optimistic of the family willing to venture out with them. 

We need the rain this summer, not just usual need of August when the ground is always dry, the difference between the years only a matter of degree, and not just on our little island where most talk of “drought” has little relationship to the truly severe conditions experienced in other parts of our country. 

We need it to wash clean our world, a flood of Biblical proportions that might allow that dreamed-of justice to roll down like a river. 

It is Tuesday, and last week's events in Charlottesville, Virginia, still dominate the news, the reality of them and, now, the reactions to them, the spinning of what was done, what was said, already evolving into the inevitable “how important is this?” that question which is supposed to end all conversation.

How, I find myself wondering, is the same Chief Executive who repeatedly has stated his preference for “winners” not denigrating those waving the flags that are universally associated with the losing side in major wars this nation has fought as “losers”? It is not the flip question it may sound. 

This is, after all, the same person who called Senator McCain (no, I did not vote for him when I had the opportunity but I never questioned his honorable service to his country) exactly that, a “loser” for having been captured and held in a prison camp in North Vietnam. 

“Oh, that was just theater,” I was told, with that same dismissive tone now underlying “How important is this?” 

Theater has a place and sometimes it is necessary to gain attention, or so it used to be. It was, here, back in the 1980's when talk of secession over the moped issue began, my too-literal side surfaced in my reaction: “it's not that easy, the South tried it.” I understood, by then, that our bloody Civil War was a matter of states' rights run amuck. 

It was also the war in which more Block Islanders died, albeit mainly from disease that was so common among troops, than in any of the major conflicts following it. 

The South lost, so what harm can there be in their scattered monuments, such as the ones sparking recent confrontation, in Charlottesville and other southern cities and towns, was a premise I accepted for decades. Then I looked at a seemingly endless list, way beyond the battlefields and sites that always will be historic and read the footnote that so many were erected, oddly, to me, in the twentieth century, 

And I go back to words spoken by another President, in September of 1963, after a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Four girls died, four black girls, on a Sunday morning, a backfired act of white supremacy of epic proportions.

John Kennedy said: "If these cruel and tragic events can only awaken that city and state — if they can only awaken this entire nation to a realization of the folly of racial injustice and hatred and violence, then it is not too late for all concerned to unite in steps toward peaceful progress before more lives are lost."

A little over two months later, President Kennedy, himself, fell victim to violence in one of our own cities. His voice was not silenced by his successor, but rather used to achieve triumphs in the arena of Civil Rights.

That was almost 54 years ago.