Monday, June 28, 2010
VISITING EISENHOWER----WOULD YOU TRADE LIVES?
Never visited a presidential library or museum--resolved to do so here--in Abilene, Kansas--home town and grave of Eisenhower. It's late in the day so I settled along this quiet street on the outskirts of town--will visit the museum tomorrow--will bike around the city --letting it speak to me.
Ike as a boy--an accurate likeness--in a park downtown--made me ponder what accidents of fate or traits of character propel someone to greatness--wonder if any of his townspeople saw anything remarkable about him.
He grew up in this house--upper right room--one of several kids---all had distinguished careers.
Next day I paid the $5 and spent the day in the museum---which was excellent--really well done with full sized panoramas--movies--maps, guns--everything. I come away really understanding his life and times--I was a part of it--remembering election day--our store was the community voting place.
The Library is mostly for scholars and researchers---The Museum is an equally imposing building. I learned that the taxpayers fund all this.
Mural in the museum. I resolve not to leave till something "touches me".
Ike wearing the famous Eishenhower jacket--he selected for the troops--thought they looked spiffy. I do too. I wondered how he managed to stay so trim even into old age. Learned the secret from a historian on the scene. (Managed to corner two of them before I left.) Turns out Ike was a super heavy smoker--3 packs a day--It finally killed him--via heart trouble. I quizzed a second historian about his (alleged) affair with his female jeep driver---said it was probably true. Truman wrote about it in his biography--said Ike asked permission to divorce Mamie and marry the lady--apparantly was swept away---like the governor of South Carolina. Truman said he ordered Ike to end the affair and get on with the invasion of Europe. In all fairness I should report that Truman when writing this years later had soured on Ike--considered that he'd betrayed democratic principles. (wikipedia)
He and Mamie are buried here---I waited till everyone had left--wanted to be alone with the president.
He lies beneath this simple plaque.
RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES: Alone in the buriel chapel, letting myself feel whatever surfaced, my first flash was a poem fragment by Grey:
" The boast of heraldry and the pompt of power,
and all that beauty and all that wealth ever gave
awaits alike the inevitable hour,
for the paths of glory lead but to the grave."
True enough, but once understood as the context for all our lives, is somewhat irrelevant to the keener question: WHAT IS A LIFE WELL LIVED? Was Eisenhower's a life well lived? Is mine?
Big subject, but I'm a clever condenser: I thnk Eisenhower was a product of Germanic culture that stresses obedience (duty) as a primary value--as the path to success--a higher value than creativity. Emotions must subordinate themselves to the prime value. So Eisenhower plodded his way to the top---a career of endless years--following orders---slowly discovering his personal genius for herding humans by wielding power inoffensively. So rock steady and dependable that superiors could not but appreciate and promote him. But was he happy? Was he a joyful--well-rounded personality like Franklin or Teddy Roosevelt---or Ben Franklin for that matter. The answer is NO. They led us creatively and progressively. He had to be dragged into issues of social advance. (Little Rock school integration)
The sad incompleteness of his character surfaced in his addiction to cigaretts and his heartrending hunger for romance. I would not trade lives with Ike--I would rather be a creative, joyful nobody---which I am.
P.S. The Germans have much to answer for---foisting on the world a scripted, joy starved culture of obedience--that leaves them vulnerable to emotional con men.
And to my question about the good life---I say it is a life of LOVE AND CREATIVITY.