The air in Carversville is so clear, the light so luminous, that church bells penetrate the air from miles away. The sound is more penetrating to my ears than in Florence. Why is it that I fall deeply into considerations of the meaning of everyday life, immersed in the sensory delight of this lush landscape?
I drink my double espresso, reading Tom Junod’s thought-provoking article about Angelina Jolie in July Esquire. The topic is virtue … hers and ours … and the meaning of 9/11 in our celebrity-struck, American lives, over five years later.
Life at the Scene of the Crime
Jolie has worked tirelessly since 9/11 to make a difference. Have I?
My NYC home lies on the perimeter of the World Trade Center site. A collage of photos of the Twin Towers, the Statue of Liberty, and a Parisian bicycle with a heart-shaped front wheel are displayed in my bedroom. The votive candles are new, but I bought the black and white art photos in London, a few days before the massacre. No explicable reason why I chose these photos; I liked them; who knew.
Junod raises an interesting question about virtue and democracy in today’s world. It’s easy to consider the merit of his query, with nothing more than at least 50 dancing, prancing butterflies to distract my thoughts.
New Day Democracy
Jolie intersects with Mariane Pearl in the new movie “A Mighty Heart”, the story of Pearl’s husband Danny’s death in Pakistan. Bound by Jolie’s portrayal of Mariane Pearl, the two women believe that “the real story of Daniel Pearl’s death lies in the coming together of good people to fight evil, rather than evil guys coming together to destroy good. The movie “A Mighty Heart” celebrates the fact that some people are just better.”
Junod wonders aloud if we are ambivalent about do-gooders like Jolie and Pearl because we fear that they actually are better and are “self-selecting themselves into a natural aristocracy.
” Democracy”, Junod argues, “looks worse and worse now that Islamists have harnessed the power of the mob. The salvation once inherent in the power of the people now depends on the power of people who live on screen or on the radio.”
Reflecting on Dagny Taggart
These words cause me to reflect on my own literary idol, Dagny Taggart. I’ve lived with this woman … heart, mind and soul … for decades. While I find Ayn Rand harsh and overly-simplistic at times, I love Dagny, one of Jolie’s next film projects. I’m a lot like Dagny.
The clear message of “Atlas Shrugged” embraces a natural aristocracy based on hard work, real productivity and genuine talent … although the first two qualify you for club membership. Inclusion isn’t based on privilege or politics. Nevertheless, it is a totally self-reliant ideology … a selfish one to many people.
I understand self-reliance, having made my own way always — and attracting financial supporters to me and my business projects. I cleaned houses at 12, because I made more money per hour than babysitting. Lemonade stands were for whimps in my playbook.
I’ve led a grand life around the world a zillion times in business and on the arms of very rich men — and struggling artist types, too. Am I the model, then, for the average American woman? I think not. My capacity for excellence is not normal; rather it is a gift. My moxie is not the norm but also a gift from the universe — from God, if you prefer.
Do I judge others by my own standards of excellence? Only partially — because I’m overwhelmed with empathy and understanding of the lives they have lived. Only the strong survive and overcome, achieving the American dream with no help from others.
Should I hold my fellow Americans to my standards and expectations as everyday normal — or believe instead that I have a leadership role to play in life, an obligation to serve, convince, educate, and help sort out this mess of a post 9/11 world.
We have all received the big wake up call. Next?
And what motivated Daniel Pearl?
The Bell Tolls for Virtue
Oh my goodness. I came to Carversville from Manhattan to commune with nature, to drift in rapturous beauty for a day or two … to play Mozart on my new piano … trim my rose bushes … the essence of a simple country weekend.
This second entry in my little journal is much too serious, diverting me from the objective of a getaway.
Instead a men’s magazine and church bells ringing in the distance call me, not to prayer, but to reflection on real virtue in a 9/11 world. George Washington crossed the Delaware a few miles down the road from these dancing butterflies. I wonder what he would think about this increasingly complex notion of democratic principles in our modern world.
All in all, I think it’s time to make gazpacho. The temp will be 90 degrees in the shade today. Who can eat anything hot?