I was in my office at 7:45 this morning and the first thing I noticed when I opened the door and turned on the lights after being away for more than three months was the wall calendar still turned to March. Little did I know when I turned out the lights, closed the door and left way back in late winter that I would be gone for so long. The entire spring, with all its tumult and uncertainty, came and went. Now July is here and I went in to do a few things possible only in my office, pick up a few things, and go through some papers in preparation for the upcoming fall term. I only ran in to three people in the complex: one colleague, a construction worker, and two security officers. On my way out in the early afternoon I had a brief conversation with the officer at the entranceway about all the changes in the world since late spring, not least the deaths of several people from the college community who have perished from the virus.
Today is the 52nd anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, who was mortally wounded just after midnight on June 5, 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Los Angeles and died the following day. Various journalists and pundits today, in June 2020, are noting that our current year began like 1974, turned into 1918, and has since devolved into 1968. I received an email yesterday from someone who said they were so distraught that they were having difficulty processing what is happening and even functioning to a certain degree. I responded as best I could and offered Lincoln’s words from the American Civil War that sometimes events are so confusing and come so quickly that we simply cannot understand them. Our decisions and responses have weight. Contingency and agency matter. The people of Match 1865 did not know when and how the war would end. Lincoln went on though that it is up to us to do what is right as we see it.
The coming summer days, weeks, and months will be difficult on a number of levels. Memorial Day Weekend I came to the realization that the entire summer is going to be one of sheltering in place just like the last days of winter and all of spring. Alas I won’t be visiting many of the sites and places this summer I had planned to. I have resigned to this notion. Getting back to the idea of agency, a way to deal with the current moment is by focusing one’s energy in creative and productive ways. Take on a project, read some history and literature, watch and listen to historians online. Try to be in a different place, if not physically then intellectually and emotionally, come summer’s end.
(image by Boris Yaro for the Los Angeles Times)
(image/Library of Congress)
Happy Halloween, everyone. I saw this small ad from an October 1918 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and thought I would share. I found it curious that it does not give a store name or address, saying only “Subway floor, East Building.” Perhaps the Brooklyn subways were still so rare that readers would have known what that meant? I don’t know. They are plugging their wares to be used for Halloween parties in honor of soldiers on leave from their training camps. The war was grinding to its conclusion by late October 1918, and would end less than two weeks later. The ad is fascinating because it shows us in real time that many doughboys were still stateside when the war’s end came. As for Halloween itself, other editions of the Daily Eagle inform us that there was a big party at Camp Dix on Halloween night. I’m sure camps across the country had their own as well.
Enjoy the day.