A Sketch of my early life is one of constant movement and various disappointments. These experiences were formulation and still burn in my memory as I get older. I amean a millennial so my memories have real weight and meaning, I wanted to share a brief memory to share.
I was flunking out of middle school and I was profoundly miserable in Billings Montana. My mom had moved their for work and social oppurtunities that never really appeared for me. More people in a large and isolated Western city. I learned to ride the bus and be alone. I learned one day that was how Lee Harvey Oswald would spend his time a fact which terrifies me now! I was not popular is school though I made a friend who I am still in contact with today thanks to social media. I was bullied by some kid for some reason probably for some ill purpose. I became a regular at the library. Like my mother I had discovered Tolkien’s axiom, “How can it be wrong for prisoners in the materialist world be wrong in seeking escape beyond the confines of walls and jailers” we found those in books and stories. Though I expanded my mind I still wasnt a great student. Never put the effort in really, I wanted to sit back dream and be happy which was becoming an impossibility in that time. So it was decided I would return to my home in South Dakota to finish 7th grade and 8th grade at my Grandmothers house. Its strange, there is no way out of misery you just keep going. I decided I wanted that so the arrangements were made to drive the long grasslands of the powder river country on the US 212.
As I made my arrangements to leave it was odd that I still attended school waiting for my mom to pick me up and drive me home. The librarians wept when i left, this is no joke, they were in tears when I told them i was leaving. I was in Mrs Mattzingers math class, a vexation of mine full of incomprehensible symbols and mystic scribbles I am still trying to understand. Mattzinger was a very kind hippy woman. I appreciate her kind heart and think this is how all math teachers ought to be everywhere. My mom was at the door. I stood up in the crowded classroom all I eyes on me but I ignored them and as I walked out of the room I shot one arm in the air flashing the V sign and then I shot up the other making three V’s a trinity of defiance like Richard Nixon. I should note I was a strange kid. I loved history but I barely knew Nixon but I knew the gesture. Kids have great instincts they can see things we don’t want others to know. I learned a lot more about Nixon.
I don’t see him as this grand historical villain or liberal boogeyman. Nor do I see him as the apologists, I see in Nixon myself. I see a lonely kid trying to make good destroyed and broken by the things that destroy any man. I know what he felt the pain of loss and the agony of having a home slip from your fingers. I know that pressure to succeed from the poor families from which we come. I know his anger and being looked down on by the snobs and those who think they know better than you. I know what its like to grow up as that lonely child to retreat into a rich inner life at the risk of being seen as awkward and as some kind of clown, People look down on Nixon in that way and I fall in temptation to hate them for it. But as I learned more I hope to learn from him. I hope to avoid his sins. I hope to avoid his grudging nature, his loose tongue, his lack of confidence, his racism, his pettiness and his cruelty. In Oliver Stones Nixon, on the night before his resignation looks to a picture of JFK he says this; “When they look at you they see what they want to be, when they look at me they see what they are…” I took that lesson to heart. We are all sinners. We are all human and we are all frail beyond measure. It is far better to seek wisdom than illusion while wisdom is painful its beauty lasts in its hard truths while illusions are beautiful in their lies which fade and are gone.My journey like all of ours would not end there.
Now back to my memory. As I stood in front of the class giving my final gesture to these people I would never see again Mrs Mattzinger looked at me and I saw her smile and give a peace sign. Her smile was warm and it was true because I think she knew what was going on. When Nixon gave his gesture he was a broken man, driven from his hard won office jeered by many and never understood. We walked down the hall got in the car and drove the 6 hours back to the Rosebud Indian Reservation. I asked my mom what she thought of my little display. She said I did good. “You know they beat him but he didn’t let them get him down”. I think she understood. I think she saw it as a act of defiance one she could identify with both of us as children of trauma. I was broken and would remain so for many years. I learned and I grew up. In those years I would lose all my grandparents my mother and feel the loss of one home after another. But I learned defiance. I also learned about life and mortality making every day count, I learned to seek beauty and reject ugliness I sought truth and wisdom, I learned to pray and sing with utter abandon and I learned to dance in the day and in the night, In short I learned to live. Life is hard and filled with pain. Anybody who follows and “ISM” without question is avoiding the problem. There is a God and there is suffering. But there is also Truth, Love, Virtue, Glory, Life, Joy to accompany the many troubles that we all encounter. I read Ecclesiastes and Job and believed what they said. Maybe with these skills I will discover what Nixon sought, Peace. I will leave you with an excerpt of his final speech which always brings a tear to my eye.
“And when my heart’s dearest died, the light went from my life forever.”
That was T.R. in his twenties. He thought the light had gone from his life forever — but he went on. And he not only became President but, as an ex-President, he served his country, always in the arena, tempestuous, strong, sometimes wrong, sometimes right, but he was a man.
And as I leave, let me say, that is an example I think all of us should remember. We think sometimes when things happen that don’t go the right way; …We think that when someone dear to us dies, we think that when we lose an election, we think that when we suffer a defeat that all is ended. We think, as T.R. said, that the light had left his life forever. Not true.
It is only a beginning, always. The young must know it; the old must know it. It must always sustain us, because the greatness comes not when things go always good for you, but the greatness comes and you are really tested, when you take some knocks, some disappointments, when sadness comes, because only if you have been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.
And so I say to you on this occasion, as we leave, we leave proud of the people who have stood by us and worked for us and served this country. We want you to be proud of what you have done. We want you to continue to serve in government, if that is your wish.
Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.
And so, we leave with high hopes, in good spirit, and with deep humility, and with very much gratefulness in our hearts. I can only say to each and every one of you, we come from many faiths, we pray perhaps to different gods — but really the same God in a sense — but I want to say for each and every one of you, not only will we always remember you, not only will we always be grateful to you but always you will be in our hearts and you will be in our prayers.
Thank you very much.
Richard Nixon – August 9, 1974