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Danny & Tommy the Champions of the World
Structuring my thoughts for this edition has been a fruitless endeavor. Just fifteen days ago I was in a tizzy over all my writing projects and the realities of a terrible situation in Afghanistan was coming into full form. The only way to breakthrough this mess is to pin down some thoughts very briefly regarding both topics. Otherwise, I will get bogged down with conflicting perspectives and questioning the purpose of my writing.
The pressures of writing eased each day that passed as my thesis came into its final form. This past Monday I submitted it with a mixture of hesitancy and confidence. When I handed the flash drive over to the man at the printer for binding, he grabbed it, clicked his mouse a couple times, and then pages started flying out of the printer. He quickly clamped together the paper I have toiled over since last November. And just like that it was finished. This final act to bring it to completion happened so fast and out of my control it was alarming. Was my theory and discussion coherent? How often did human error play into silly typos? Should I have put a period at the end of my thesis statement on the cover?
I winged this thing nearly from start to finish so I sent it off with a prayer. Who knows if that will be enough, but a couple weeks ago while kneeling in the Frauenkirche, I pleaded to Jesus up on the Crucifix with, “Lord, if you can get me out of this deal, I’ll promise to quickly drop any future ambitions for that poly-sci or MFA degree.”
Putting aside the prayers and anxiousness about passing, there is plenty of confidence in my thesis. I believe there are a lot of fresh and erudite perspectives. My tables and references are in good shape and clocking in at sixty-six pages just for the main body, I am proud of this large piece of work. Completing this has been a boost to my writing identity as well. A year ago this month, in all my self-confidence, I proclaimed myself as a writer. Imposter syndrome though quickly set in since the only credence to this lofty aspiration were the thirteen newsletters I had written to my family and friends. I will be able to fully celebrate all this MBA work next week after I submit my final assignment. From there I will let this accomplishment settle for a couple months and then fully reflect on the experience.
Last edition’s other topic though will take a generation to fully grasp the consequences and enormity of it. There is a chance I will never write about the war in Afghanistan. Opining on these events is not really my place for my only connection to the country was a couple dates in my early twenties with a stunningly beautiful Afghani woman and an uncle that served in the region. There is no doubt I am political, and I have a good grasp on the situation but is commenting on war the type of writer I want to be? One thing I know for sure, coming to any conclusions just two days after the end of a twenty-year conflict would be completely worthless.
It was still a topic of discussion yesterday when I had coffee and cake with a German friend. She didn’t fully understand all the connections between bin Laden, the Taliban, 9/11, and the war in Iraq so I was able to give her a play-by-play and only expressed a couple times where things might have gone wrong. Beyond that we of course chatted about our future and past travels, debated over our shared Catholicism and all its debacles, and offered our perspective on each other’s countries and people.
Afterwards while still savoring the taste of my mango coconut cake that had a mountain of fluffy whipped cream, I biked through this city that was the birthplace of Nazism and one that my country helped level with bombs over seventy years ago. This made me wonder about two questions:
After such a conflict, why was it possible for me as an American to sit at that café in Munich and enjoy a lovely afternoon mit einer schönen deutschen Frau?
What would it take to make it safe enough for me to sit at a café someday in Kabul and enjoy a coffee not far from the mountains that sheltered al-Qaeda?
Neither of these questions have easy answers but it might be worth getting to the bottom of and seeing what it may tell us about war.
The first book that led me to imagine myself in the very place I was reading about was Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World. I was about eleven years old and pictured myself in England next to Danny as he drove the car through the dark night. I can still imagine being in the pitch-black woods with Danny searching for his father. This is what I love about reading, the ability to escape to another world just by sitting in your chair and absorbing the words on the page.
This past week I have been transported again to a place but one in my own past. After scrolling up and down Netflix I finally just clicked on Downton Abbey. Years ago I watched the first couple seasons but figured the aristocratic English countryside of the early 1900s would be a nice escape after researching the final points to my thesis all day.
As the first episode popped onto my screen and the title song began a wave of emotion and images ran through me. That particular musical piece has both a pulsating and soothing tone to it. The piano diligently taps away to keep the staff of Downton moving, but the long yearning of the violins and cellos draw out the genteelness of the lords and ladies. While sitting on the red IKEA couch in my Munich apartment, my mind and soul went to the living room of my old pre-war Tudor in the Brookside neighborhood of Kansas City. It was probably around 2013, which meant I had poured myself a big Scotch into a Waterford Lismore glass that was heavy in my hand. The surroundings enveloped me in natural tones with a touch of patina as I lounged in the cream colored coach and threw my feet up on the wood coffee table. My Goldendoodles Oscar and Cooper were nestled together in between the gray paisley patterned wingback reading chair and a roaring fire. The roomed glowed from the Christmas tree lights that sparkled against the crystal snowflake ornaments. My passage back to this warm place and time filled me with tingles of comfort and joy.
As I watch the drama of the Crawley family today, I still roll my eyes at their preposterousness. I laughed out loud again when Maggie Smith, playing old Lady Grantham said, “What is a weekend?” I still enjoy Downtown Abbey not for its patriarchal standings, and marital traditions, but for the pace of life. Correspondence was done by telegram, the hustle and bustle of town was primarily by foot and the heir presumptive rode his bike to and fro.
Watching this cast of characters from over a century ago in a way feels slightly more familiar now. I experience more properness here in Bavaria along with a less rushed lifestyle. I am no lord, nor do I have a castle but my days are more often just filled with friends, reading, writing, a call here and there, and taking walks around the park. There is something to be said for lowering your consumption to avoid errands.
A little observation has occurred regarding my surrealistic mind. I have this rootedness between America and Germany where I actually live my life, but also an imagination that seems planted in Britain. Be it with James Bond and MI6, Winston Churchill facing his darkest hour, or the irascible yet indefatigable Queen Victoria and her German husband the patient and progressive Prince Albert of Saxe-Coberg. This connection to Britain happened after I visited London and Scotland in 2015. My time there sent the trajectory of my thinking in a totally new direction. I saw more clearly history and the expanse of time. The United States is still a young country, but to then be in England, the society that America came from, battled against and then refreshed into the Special Relationship, gave me a new perspective on life. It is also true that I was a restless soul from that trip on until finding my place here in Germany as a writer.
These past two months I have been absorbed with my thesis, but I started each day with reading a couple chapters of Middlemarch by George Eliot. This again took my mind and spirit off to the English countryside some two hundred years ago. It is a doorstopper but once I got the characters down I could focus on this story of love, betrayal, death, a newspaper business, politics and foremost money. Sounds quite 21st Century if you ask me.
Middlemarch is considered one of the great novels of English literature. It is beyond me how Eliot came up with the combination of words to express her philosophical ideas and virtues so eloquently. I tried to be judicious with my pencil and not underline every phrase, but I will end this edition here with a couple of her priceless thoughts.
“…women were an inexhaustible subject of study, since even he at his age was not in a perfect state of scientific prediction about them!”
“Reasoning is good up to a point. Then you have to believe in something to propel yourself forward. If not we will be stuck in the past.”
“Obligation may be stretched till it is no better than a brand of slavery stamped on us when we were too young to know it meaning.”
“But oppositions have the illimitable range of objections at command, which need never stop short at the boundary of knowledge, but can draw for ever on the vasts of ignorance.”