Where Two Roads Diverge (with apologies to Robert Frost)

Isolation over the past eight months has given me a new perspective, particularly about The United States, where I was born, raised, educated, and where I have lived since I was born in 1946. As a senior citizen, I remember the era of Joseph McCarthy in the 1950’s, the fear, division, and rancor he generated in narrowing the definition of being an American. He honed it down to a snide view, tiny enough to fit on the head of a pin. Though young and not yet aware of the wider perspective that would come from experience and education, I was conscious of a fear in watching beloved entertainers being grilled mercilessly about the faintest possibility that they could be Communists. The phony heroism of McCarthy and the narrow-minded bigots who were his cronies fanned the flames of hate, often in the name of religion. Lives were destroyed. Truth didn’t really matter. It was merely a stage production to make McCarthy appear to be some kind of protector or savior.

Over the past four years, a similar, simplistic patriotism that excludes rather than includes, has turned fear mongering and suspicion into art forms that make race demonstrations and political protests of the 1960’s look like mere football skirmishes. Like Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, our leader is gifted in his astounding ability to find and stoke terror about imagined foes, funneling the blame for social ills down to stereotypes of race and political party. Mistrust is intensified by biased accusation and malevolently blurred fault. That adrenalin rush for many is simply too irresistible and gives the gullible a feeling of satisfaction at finding easy scapegoats.

The peace and prosperity we might now have, had the pandemic been taken more seriously by our egomaniacal braggart of a leader, who is in everlasting denial about any responsibility he might have for anything, has little chance in a society of bored deniers of science and facts (a view that they emulate from its source in Washington). Self-righteous indignation has replaced civilized discussion, respect for real knowledge and social healing. Eloquence, compassion, decency, and goodwill have been replaced by screaming insults, blame, and fear that we may never again find the American dream, because “the other side” is trying to snatch it away and replace it with some apocalyptic nightmare. I suppose the two opposing fears, based upon the extremely oversimplified views of the two political sides are socialism versus totalitarianism (dictatorship, which we already seem to have). Few seem even remotely interested in any middle ground, but such compromise may prove the only way we can, as a nation, survive. Either way, the world is watching.   JB

About John

About John John Bolinger was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, where he attended Ball State University and Purdue University, receiving his BS and MA from those schools. Then he taught English and French for thirty-five years at Morton High School in Hammond, Indiana before moving to Colorado, where he resided for ten years before moving to Florida. Besides COME SEPTEMBER, Journey of a High School Teacher, John's other books are ALL MY LAZY RIVERS, an Indiana Childhood, and COME ON, FLUFFY, THIS AIN'T NO BALLET, a Novel on Coming of Age, all available on Amazon.com as paperbacks and Kindle books. Alternately funny and touching, COME SEPTEMBER, conveys the story of every high school teacher’s struggle to enlighten both himself and his pupils, encountering along the way, battles with colleagues, administrators, and parents through a parade of characters that include a freshman boy for whom the faculty code name is “Spawn of Satan,” to a senior girl whose water breaks during a pop-quiz over THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Through social change and the relentless march of technology, the human element remains constant in the book’s personal, entertaining, and sympathetic portraits of faculty, students, parents, and others. The audience for this book will certainly include school teachers everywhere, teenagers, parents of teens, as well as anyone who appreciates that blend of humor and pathos with which the world of public education is drenched. The drive of the story is the narrator's struggle to become the best teacher he can be. The book is filled with advice for young teachers based upon experience of the writer, advice that will never be found in college methods classes. Another of John's recent books is Mum's the Word: Secrets of a Family. It is the story of his alcoholic father and the family's efforts to deal with or hide the fact. Though a serious treatment of the horrors of alcoholism, the book also entertains in its descriptions of the father during his best times and the humor of the family's attempts to create a façade for the outside world. All John's books are available as paperbacks and Kindle readers on Amazon, and also as paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. John's sixth book is, Growing Old in America: Notes from a Codger was released on June 15, 2014. John’s most recent book is a novel titled Resisting Gravity, A Ghost Story, published the summer of 2018 View all posts by John →
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3 Responses to Where Two Roads Diverge (with apologies to Robert Frost)

  1. Mark Teran says:

    Mr . Bollinger ,

    I send greetings from a Corpus Cristi hotel , I send heart-felt cheer for an excellent , although ridiculous ending , to our Presidential election.

    I know American history better in some time periods better then others , I have not thought about or compared Trump to the McCarthy times, another excellent example of the simple leading the blind. I recently read a comparison of England’s King after his laughable faluire to negotiate a better position or win the war, with our last President. The historian suggested that the King’s position was considered as an example to future leader’s and that any similar repeat of such a poor preformance could be considered a farce.

    I did think of the 1st page of War and Peace , it has always stayed in my mind , the act’s of Napolean’s wars in Europe that were so irresponsible to the World , yet so many considered him special.

    ‘Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes. But I warn you, if you don’t tell me that this means war, if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that AntichristI really believe he is AntichristI will have nothing more to do with you and you are no longer my friend, no longer my ‘faithful slave,’ as you call yourself! But how do you do? I see I have frightened you sit down and tell me all the news.’
    It was in July, 1805, and the speaker was the well-known Anna Pavlovna Scherer, maid of honor and favorite of the Empress Marya Fedorovna. With these words she greeted Prince Vasili Kuragin, a man of high rank and importance, who was the first to arrive at her reception. Anna Pavlovna had had a cough for some days. She was, as she said, suf- fering from la grippe; grippe being then a new word in St. Petersburg, used only by the elite.
    All her invitations without exception, written in French, and delivered by a scarlet-liveried footman that morning, ran as follows:
    ‘If you have nothing better to do, Count [or Prince], and if the prospect of spending an evening with a poor invalid is not too terrible, I shall be very charmed to see you tonight between 7 and 10Annette Scherer.’
    ‘Heavens! what a virulent attack!’ replied the prince, 4 War and Peace
    not in the least disconcerted by this reception. He had just entered, wearing an embroidered court uniform, knee breeches, and shoes, and had stars on his breast and a serene expression on his flat face. He spoke in that refined French in which our grandfathers not only spoke but thought, and with the gentle, patronizing intonation natural to a man of importance who had grown old in society and at court. He went up to Anna Pavlovna, kissed her hand, presenting to her his bald, scented, and shining head, and complacently seated himself on the sofa.
    ‘First of all, dear friend, tell me how you are. Set your friend’s mind at rest,’ said he without altering his tone, beneath the politeness and affected sympathy of which in- difference and even irony could be discerned.
    ‘Can one be well while suffering morally? Can one be calm in times like these if one has any feeling?’ said Anna

    I notice this – “I will have nothing more to do with you and you are no longer my friend”, – and I wonder , are those friends, brothers , cousins , stained for life? Will that hatred of simplicity stay with me for ever?

    Also, “‘Can one be well while suffering morally? Can one be calm in times like these if one has any feeling?’” – where were the “true Christians” during such a terrible fire?

    Well, the farce is over!

    Onward – Mark Teran

  2. John says:

    Thank you, Mark, for your response to my little essay. Your comments are resplendently academic in their use of Tolstoy, and I enjoyed and share your references and conclusions. Our immediate future as a nation is cloudy, at best, but I believe we have those coming to power, who will help us find our way again. Take care, my friend. JB

  3. Mark Teran says:

    I also send an apology for having once mailed you – questioning the importance of political involvement as US citizen.

    My Birthday is Nov. 3 – I drove 200 miles – to vote!

    Best Regards – Mark

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