That tide in the affairs of men
By GARRISON KEILLOR
Back when I was 16 and an idealist, I decided that our church youth group — I was president — should sit and listen to Handel's oratorio "Messiah" and have a spiritual experience so I brought my LP and sat everyone down in a circle and talked about how wonderful it was and set the needle down on the vinyl.
They listened to the opening Sinfonia and "Comfort ye my people" and "Every valley shall be exalted" but the bass recitative did not hold their interest, and whispers of conversation broke out and by "O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion" a full-blown social hour had erupted, laughter even, and I glared at the violators but they were undeterred.
I sat and seethed as the beautiful spiritual experience leaked away. The contralto sang "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd" and it was pearls before swine. People were jabbering about school and cars and hairstyles and what they expected to get for Christmas, all of them like sheep gone astray, and I hated them all and wanted to beat them bloody with a baseball bat.
Now I'm just a tired old liberal and I know very well that you cannot expect people to speak their lines like characters in a play you've imagined in your mind. Woodrow Wilson learned that at the Paris peace conference of 1919, at the end of World War I. He sailed to Paris to create the League of Nations and bring the dawn of peace to a weary world and all the nasty Europeans wanted was to crucify Germany and divvy up the Middle East. So Wilson made concessions to get his League, the U.S. Senate voted against joining the League, and the concessions laid the groundwork for numerous future wars including recent ones in the Middle East. And so it goes.
Idealists don't do as well in politics as gamers do. Idealists are in a grim struggle to save mankind from itself and gamers are just trying to capture your bishop with two pawns. A crafty old fox can beat the goddess of light two out of three times. But one out of three may be good enough.
I took my daughter to a college women's basketball game on New Year's Day, in a big arena packed with families, lots of little girls seeing how thrilling the game can be, the fast breaks, the snap pass, the three-point swisher from deep in the corner that brings Our Team, which minutes ago was down by 10, within one point of Their Team, though theirs is clearly superior, and the crowd jumps up and roars as timeout is called and the tall skinny women with ponytails trot to the sidelines, the band plays the Minnesota Rouser, and we're all going crazy — this beautiful phenomenon is the result of somber dames in long black dresses who agitated for equality in the face of general ridicule ages ago. None of these little girls are aware of that history and there's no reason they should be. The world has changed. Political correctness is easily derided, but civility marches forward.
Back in my idealist days, about two months after I almost committed criminal assault in defense of truth and beauty ("14 In Youth Group Beaten Bloody By Leader Unable To 'Handel' Their Indifference To 'Messiah'"), the Anoka High School Tornadoes basketball team, widely expected to compete in the state tournament finals, played a first-round game against St. Francis, a tiny nondescript town of no distinction whatever out in the sticks somewhere, and our boys struggled against the gangly farm boys of St. Francis, and lost, in the closing seconds, 53-50, a defeat that, almost 59 years later, still sticks in my craw. This was not supposed to happen.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune,” said Shakespeare, and there is likewise a tide which, leading others to fortune, lands you on the rocky beach like a piece of damp garbage.
A year ago, in a restaurant in Minneapolis, the waiter brought over a note -- “from another patron,” he said — and the note, unsigned, said, “I'm from St. Francis and I was at that game, too.” I saw a man in a brown raincoat leaving and I wanted to chase him down the street and pound on him. That humiliation in 1958 blighted my life. I could've been a contender, Charlie. I could've been somebody, instead of a columnist, which is what I am.
Keillor is former host of public radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”