Jewish World Review August 14, 2001 / 25 Menachem-Av, 5761
Meaning that the things that seem so overridingly important today -- the news events that dominate the papers and the broadcast outlets for days and weeks on end -- almost all turn out to be, in context, rather fleeting.
The conflict, the acrimony, the charges and countercharges -- all dust in the air, someday down the line.
You get reminders of this all the time. I've encountered a few lately.
I'd written a column about the new speculation that Abraham Lincoln's uneven moods might have been adversely affected by some mercury pills that he was said to have been taking. Attempting to be whimsical, I made the point that, with his emotional ups and downs, Lincoln would have felt confused and out of place in our instant-contact era; I made a comment about e-mail being non-existent in Lincoln's day.
But a reader of the column in New Orleans -- Patrick Thomas is his name -- let me know that, in the context of history, things weren't so different in Lincoln's day:
"In fact, today's e-mail resembles nothing more than old-time telegraphy, which was instantaneous and a means of communications long before Lincoln was president. Indeed, the other day I was reading an old American Heritage featuring the reminiscences of Lincoln's telegrapher during the war. The president would come down to the office in the middle of the night in anticipation of some fateful message. Sounds a lot like things today to me."
In another recent column I wrote about when baseball was truly the national pastime (watching television is the national pastime today). I made reference to how, in World War II, baseball was promoted as the best way to relax Americans, to make them forget their troubles for two or three hours.
But baseball as a tonic apparently wasn't as strictly nationalistic as that. I heard from a reader of the column in Japan -- Hirohiko Narisawa:
"In Japan during World War II, people loved to play baseball and watch a ballgame. Even if baseball was born in the U.S.A., people here loved to watch professional and college and high school baseball games. Tokyo's university league was most popular at that time. Now high school tournaments are very popular with people. During World War II, people wanted to play and watch baseball."
Did the world know -- during World War II, did people in the U.S. realize that the citizens of the enemy nation were relying on baseball to calm them down, too?
Small news -- news that is not usually considered news. It can come in the form of a question, like this one, from a reader named Sandra Culliton:
"Have we become so cynical, or used to the worst in people, that good news isn't worth our time?"
She was asking why an army of 35,000 young people convening in one place was not considered important enough to write about. She was referring to a gathering in Louisiana of the National Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod youth group. Thirty-five thousand young Americans, cleaning up run-down areas of the town where they were visiting, volunteering to paint buildings that need it, spending part of their summer trying to do something worthy. Thirty-five thousand. "Thirty-five Ku Klux Klan members hold a rally, and it gets TV coverage," Sandra Culliton said. But 35,000 young people trying to do something good. . . .
News? Sometimes it makes the front pages; other times, news is what stays in the hearts and memories of your own family. This summer, the family of a 15-year-old Chicago-area boy named Emmett Fitzpatrick is smiling at their own bit of news:
"He hit a hole in one. He hit a 5-iron, sending the ball bouncing once before hitting the pin two feet above the ground and into the hole. It was his first ace, and also a first for his family. With five older brothers and his dad, he was the last one anyone would think would get the ace, but he did."
What's new? This summer, that