All the Young Men became my equivalent of Burt Lancaster’s The Flame and the Arrow, the Black boy’s fantasy movie about an impossibly heroic person, an impossibly competent person, who fights for king and country. Poitier’s character made me proud to be an American, made me feel as if I was an American without any hesitation or crippling doubt.
For Black Americans, the questions might be asked, what does Christmas mean to us? And how can we make Christmas something usable for us? If, as Frederick Douglass argues, Christmas was tainted by the power politics of slavery, as the stories in Collier-Thomas’s collection make clear, it was equally tainted by Jim Crow and segregation.
Military deep-sea divers like to play the world’s fools, even though most are supremely competent and a little piratical. They know what their real work is and find ways to play between bouts of it. This is not “blowing off steam.” It is one answer to the problem of being in the sea and to that of being immersed in any purpose—medicine, management, even writing.
The First Nations taught us the fun of chomping on sweetened tree resin. So what did we do? We replaced it with a synthetic gum made of butyl rubber, paraffin, petroleum wax, polyethylene, polyisobutylene, and polyvinyl acetate. Now, in the first ten years of this millennium, we have manufactured more plastic than we made in the entire twentieth century.
I appreciate that marriage does not have to be an empty receptacle for property exchange and reproduction. I also appreciate that Gloria Naylor and Toni Morrison believed in love. I have seen marriages in their literature that I recognize: troubled marriages, shallow marriages, commitments based more on double incomes than courtship, relationships aging into dry and empty nests. Marriage is not salvation, or a goal.
If the role of marriage in the presidency and the public attention it receives has changed, it is more a matter of degree and of detail than any sort of revolution. Marriage has always been an inextricable feature of the presidency.
In the most elevated terms, Milton urges an understanding of marriage altogether spiritual and intellectual, a union nearly without bodies, for in the divorce tracts he repeatedly figures marriage as the joining of rational souls, as the mind’s solace and satisfaction, its source of “comfort and peace,” an apt and cheerful conversation that hedges a man against the solitary life.
On the one hand, Hindus have placed tremendous importance on arranging the marriages of their children and relatives. On the other hand, there is an important (and impossible to ignore) history of pre-marital sex, love marriages, and even polyamorous relationships among the goddesses and gods in texts held sacred by the same Hindus. Which one is endorsed (and who endorses it)?
The new divide will not be between the conservative and the sex-crazed, but between those of us who are alarmed by our own capacity for jealousy and those who either deal calmly with theirs, bury it, feel none, or lie.
Balzac, who married only late in life, is unclear whether a husband or a wife would need to be an almost-genius to create a good husband. Maybe by genius he meant the attendant spirit of a couple working together to make something, which after all is a chief value in marriage.