Old front page headlines made new
NORFOLK, VA. — As we draw nearer the New Year it is impossible to escape the year-end 'specs - retrospective, introspective, and what we'll be 'spectin' the future to bring.
I got a unique review, not from a TV montage, but from our attic and layers of 92-year-old newspapers wrapped around our heating pipes. The post-Katrina rise in fuel costs had moved my spouse to "properly" insulate our home.
For a week my husband and oldest son, Zoltan, peeled the old local papers off the pipes and gingerly laid them out on the dining room table for perusal. Zoltan, 12, was absorbed by the invention of pre-Microsoft vertical filing cabinets to "keep your correspondence at your fingertips!" Then the news was all about MI5, not MP3.
"Hey, Mom!" Zoltan called from the upper reaches one day, "Papa found a Christian Science Monitor from Nov. 20, 1913!"
On the Monitor's front page were the hauntingly modern headlines "Mining Future of Alaska is Called Bright" and "Albanian Ruler Selection Said to be Imminent; Austria-Hungary Foreign Minister in Annual Statement to Hofburg Urges Importance of the Creation of the New State."
The Op-Eds included: "No Class Owns a Government Office," "Making and Revising Ethical Codes," and "New Problems of Censorship Are Here."
The pages of the ancient Monitor turned to dust as I attempted to read them, crumbling like overcooked filo dough. For further insight I went online and Googled the year "1913" to better understand these headlines. Reading about the events of that year was a bit like listening to an old relative sitting in the corner at a holiday party recounting bygone days in the midst of a modern celebration. I came away with sort of perspective-driven vertigo from the cyclical nature of time and events.
The online articles helped to fill in events from that year: Rosa Parks, whose passing will be retro-fodder for 2005, was born Feb. 4, 1913. The workweek had just been reduced from 56 to 54 hours a week for women and children. And the 16th Amendment was ratified, and with it came the birth of income tax.
Theodore Roosevelt had a few things to say about America at wartime in his 1913 autobiography, written in the run-up to World War I. Roosevelt wrote, "I respect all men and women who from high motives and with sanity and self-respect do all they can to avert war. I advocate preparation for war in order to avert war; and I should never advocate war unless it were the only alternative to dishonor. I describe the folly of which so many of our people were formerly guilty, in order that we may in our own day be on our guard against similar folly."
I began reading through all the old local papers from the attic as well and found, "Plaint of the Tired Soul" written by syndicated columnist E.K. Wooley in the Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch of Dec. 31, 1913. It is the lament heard round the ages, and while it could have made me feel depressed, I was surprised at how comforted I felt. His poem is about the parade of life and how we all hustle to stay in step with our peers, profits, and what we think we need.
"I am weary Lord. Tired of keeping up with the procession. Let me lag a little. I'm tired of putting up a front. Let me droop a little. My feet are throbbing from the pace," he wrote. "They're crushing and they're pushing and they're running past to get beyond me. Haggard faces, leering faces, selfish faces, grim and careless faces, they forge on to the front."
Here I sit in empathy for the heady pace of 1913, its worldly pressures, knowing that in 92 years someone whose attic is stuffed with today's Monitor might share my mirth afresh. I suspect souls will still be just as tired and yet, just as fresh as the ages wear on.
My 1913 counterpart gave the solution, "But beside me walks another. I know him not. He calls himself our Brother. His smile is gentle and his handclasp warm. 'Courage friend!' His voice in hopeful accents rings. 'Look! Others falter more than you. Their hearts too are heavy. Go give you your shoulder for the weak to lean upon. Cheer on some other soul to keep the pace. Strive to bring a smile to some one.'"
I was reminded of hurricane Katrina and the outpouring of grace "modern" souls bestowed on the suffering. My heart also went out to those entangled in war, their souls marching while their loved ones pack up holiday baskets to take the grim, haggard looks off soldiers' faces.
Wooley concluded, as I do now, "Listen! Don't you hear the singing down the line? Look about you. What if some do lack the virtues? There are shining souls here: There's love with the strife and peace e'en though there's sacrifice."
How nice to have found a message to insulate us from the cold and bitterness of life by keeping our spirits stoked.
• Lisa Suhay works at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and is the author of seven children's books.