Birth, death, baseball, dayenu…

“The old world is dying,” Gramsci has it, “and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.”

Spring, famously, is the season of rebirth. But births—as we humans pretend not to remember—are messy, fraught, dangerous.

This spring is unlike any in living memory. Even as more of us are vaccinated against a world-historic plague, we’re reminded of the hundreds of thousands who didn’t make it, and the countless, luckless others who are still waiting for their rescue. (“You know,” Robert Shaw’s Quint says in Jaws, “that was the time I was most frightened. Waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again.”)

Meanwhile monsters great and small wait for us.

Death and the blossoms

‘Cherry Blossoms, U.S. Capitol,’ Harris & Ewing (1936)

The cherry blossoms are falling. Like so much else about world history, D.C.’s blossoms don’t stand much scrutiny. Still, they’re platonically beautiful and their short, fragile lives are a perfectly sweet metonym for spring itself.

This year, we weren’t even allowed that much reverie. On April 3, just a couple of days after peak bloom, a deranged man drove his car past the Capitol barricades and killed U.S. Capitol Police veteran Billy Evans with it. The barricades past which the killer sped had been extended thanks to the last attack on the Capitol (which had meant some of the sweetest spots for blossom-gazing were already closed to us).

No doubt some brain lord in the security apparat will now argue that this can only mean the fences must be extended even farther. I suggest a ring from the Greenbelt Metro to Palm Beach County. One can’t be too careful these days.

Early reports are that Evans’ killer was a devotee of the Nation of Islam. Of course, no one wants to rush to judgment (&c…) but it’s a reminder that even as this country literally gasps to catch its collective breath, Islamic fascism and Christian fascism are tripping over themselves to strangle us in our sick beds. That they’ve chosen the Capitol for their scene is, I suppose, natural. To repeat, though: messy, fraught, dangerous.

Baseball and plagues

‘Doc’ White’s baseball card, ca. 1909-11. American Tobacco Company

Like so many middle-aged honkies, I love baseball. (Unlike most middle-aged honkies, I’ll spare you the soliloquy about it.) This year of all years was it welcome. Not only are fans (slowly) being allowed back into the stands—spring’s other glorious buzzing sound—but my White Sox might finally have something to say about things.

Have you watched them? Young, dynamic, fun, “urban.” Then owner Jerry Reinsdorf forces the team to hire Tony La Russa—a drunken, racist coot and one of the unsung villains of the steroid era. It’s like having someone pour instant oatmeal all over your Irish breakfast (if the oatmeal was a gabbling bigot).

To add injury to insult, Eloy Jimenez—one of the most dynamic and fun of the Sox’ young, dazzling urbanites—went and got himself a mangled on a fence. He will be out most of the summer. My friend Dan Bernstein likes to argue that the Sox are the Jews of baseball. He means that in relation to the Cubs, who just have better holidays, but I’m warming to the theme. Plot twist: God puts Pharoah in charge and sends plagues to afflict His Chosen People. Oy.

Death and dayenu

A Jewish refugee holds Passover food and supplies, ca. 1950-1959 (photographer unknown)

Something else Dan taught me is the old song “Dayenu.” Sung at Passover, it’s a real shteyn-bumper. Like so much else about religious tradition, it doesn’t stand a lot of scrutiny. Then again, irony is a Jewish specialty.

For all you goyim at home, dayenu means, roughly, “It’d be enough.” The lyrics move from slavery (“If He had only brought us out of Egypt…”) to the miracles (“If He had only split the sea for us…”) to being with God (“If He had only given us Shabbat…”) It’s meant to be a reminder to count your blessings, look on the bright side (&c…).

You gotta be really careful with your small gratitude. Like all vices, it can become addictive. Studies have shown it’s also a gateway drug. It can lead to quietism and even worse. Next thing you know you’re hollering “stick to sports” at strangers, desperate for a fix, mumbling things like, “This is about patriotism, not politics.” Not pretty.

If you’re careful, though, small gratitude can also be a stoic virtue, even a revolutionary one. “I may well be a flop at this line of endeavor,” Saul Bellow’s Augie tells us. “Columbus too thought he was a flop, probably, when they sent him back in chains. Which didn’t prove there was no America.”

Gramsci died in chains. The monsters got him. That didn’t stop a new world from being born. It took a lot of messy, fraught, dangerous work and horrible sacrifices but it got done. Two different fascist attacks haven’t stopped the cherry blossoms from blooming on Capitol Hill. There’s so much work ahead of us but for now it’s spring, and there’s a vaccine.

Dayenu. And play ball….

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Bill Myers
Bill Myers
Bill Myers is a journalist, teacher, researcher, and investigator. Raised in a small town in Illinois, he has spent most of his life in newsrooms in Chicago, Cambodia and Washington, DC.

Content Copyright © Bill Myers

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