Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Finding beauty and virtue amid the noise of everyday life

When things look the darkest it is natural for us to look the hardest for slivers of light.

We find them, or they us, at strange and unexpected times, and they don't arrive with flashing lights and bugle fanfares.

Sometimes we have to watch and listen.

My son, Sean Holland, died Oct. 24 at 47 after a long and courageous battle with cancer. His wife, mother, stepfather and I were at hand. There were tears, hugs and great towering waves of anguish for all of us.

I mention this primarily because I wrote about his illness a couple of months ago, and was touched by the kind responses from readers and friends, but also in part because of something that happened a few nights before his death while I was staying in a Gainesville motel room between visits at Haven Hospice, Shands at the University of Florida and his home.

Disgusted by endless campaign advertising and talking heads filling airtime with droning discussions about what they don't know, I switched to a favorite, The Daily Show, for a lighter touch.

Host Jon Stewart was interviewing Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and, not being a big Harry Potter fan, I wasn't paying rapt attention other than that due from any writer when another writer who has made more than a $1 billion with more than 450 million books in print is speaking.

But then I heard what she had to say about why she has chosen to "stay and pay," and I perked up.

Rowling could be living somewhere like Belize or Monaco, where there are no income taxes. Instead she chooses to live in her native United Kingdom where tax rates that pay for the kind of social system abhorred by some Americans are massive.

Don't ask me how massive. Like most Americans, I can't figure out a 1040, much less the ins and outs of a complex system that provides government paid health care and "benefits," as the British call them, for the poor. I feel comfortable saying she pays millions in taxes.

Why?

Because at one time in her life, Rowling said she was "as poor as it is possible to go in the UK without being homeless."

She wrote for seven years without knowing if any of her books would ever be published.

She stays and pays because she feels she owes it to those who are less fortunate.

"I owe," she said. "My country helped me. There were places in the world I would have starved."

In a week of bellicose bellowing about entitlements, she spoke of obligation.

The second uplifting message came from my friends Molly Moorhead and her husband, John Sessa. She is a reporter for Politifact and he is an expert bicycle mechanic who works for an international racing team.

Molly and John were at a wedding in Port Townsend, Wash., for a rider on the team.

They noticed that the best man's girlfriend was hearing impaired and were impressed that he was signing other people's words and the wedding ceremony to her.

But more impressive was that the best man's friends, including the groom, had also learned sign language in order to be able to communicate with her.

Some, Molly noticed, were spelling words out in sign language.

They had learned the American Sign Language alphabet and not just a few signs, meaning they had gone to a lot of effort.

"It's hard to imagine a greater display of love and friendship," said Molly, tearing up as she told me the story.

So there you have it: a billionaire writer who feels obligated to reach back and help those who are now where she once was (what Stewart called " a perfect example of government making a good investment") and a group of friends, on a bride's special day, going out of their way to make the best man's girlfriend feel welcome.

These are, perhaps, not earthshaking examples. Maybe they lack drama, but please know this.

I am touched and moved that I have friends who have friends like the guests at that wedding — and who are smart enough to know when they are in the presence of grace.

And, though never a fan (not a detractor, either, just not a fan) of the Potter books, I have purchased Rowling's new book, The Casual Vacancy.

I am buying it partly because it deals with the social milieu from which she came. And I am buying if for the same reason I bought The Satanic Verses in 1988 when the Ayatollah Khomeini ordered that author Salman Rushdie should be murdered over content he said was blasphemous. Frankly I never understood it, but buying it was a matter of principle.

And I know I am quoting Linda Loman, from Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, out of context, but it still fits.

Sometimes, especially when the universe is throwing more minuses than pluses at you and something makes you smile, "Attention must be paid."

Finding beauty and virtue amid the noise of everyday life 11/10/12 [Last modified: Saturday, November 10, 2012 9:48am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Car bomb kills 13, injures 24 in Baghdad; Islamic State claims responsibility

    World

    BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad just after midnight today, killing 13 people and wounding 24, hospital and police officials said.

  2. Leaping shark floors angler in Australia

    World

    In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway's protagonist battles for three days to pull in his prized catch. For Terry Selwood, it came a little more suddenly.

    A 9-foot shark lies on the deck of a fishing boat at Evans Head, Australia on Sunday. Fisherman Terry Selwood said he was left with a badly bruised and bleeding right arm where the shark struck him with a fin as it landed on him on the deck. [Lance Fountain via AP]
  3. Rays rally twice to beat Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ARLINGTON, Texas — Starting Erasmo Ramirez on Monday after he closed out Sunday's marathon win turned out, despite the Rays' best intentions and rigid insistence, to be a bad idea as he gave up four runs without getting through three innings.

    Erasmo Ramirez, starting a day after closing a 15-inning marathon, struggles against the Rangers and comes out after throwing 43 pitches in 21/3 innings.
  4. Britain investigating missed signals over Manchester bomber

    World

    LONDON — Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is investigating its response to warnings from the public about the threat posed by Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people and wounded dozens more in an attack at a crowded Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last week.

    People gather Monday at St. Ann’s Square in Manchester, England, to view tributes to victims of the suicide bombing that killed 22 on May 22 as a concert by Ariana Grande was concluding.
  5. Trump condemns killing of pair who tried to stop racist rant

    Nation

    The mayor of Portland, Ore., on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a "Trump Free Speech Rally" and other similar events, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.

    Coco Douglas, 8, leaves a handmade sign and rocks she painted at a memorial in Portland, Ore., on Saturday for two bystanders who were stabbed to death Friday while trying to stop a man who was yelling anti-Muslim slurs and acting aggressively toward two young women. From left are Coco's brother, Desmond Douglas; her father, Christopher Douglas; and her stepmother, Angel Sauls. [Associated Press]