I don’t particularly like talking about the news in this column, because I have to talk about it everywhere else. As usual, the news I’ve had the dubious pleasure of reporting lately has not been cheery.
That’s news. Every now and then, something cheery comes along, but since cheeriness is subjective, even that news draws negativity from some people.
And that’s where I take issue. Without fail, whatever the news is, people feel the need to argue with each other about it, as if that’s going to accomplish anything. When the news is bad, it’s often bad for different people in different ways, and if it’s good for someone, it’s usually bad for someone else. When we’re all relentlessly attacking each other over something no one can control, who wins?
I’m not saying we all have to get along all the time; that’s unrealistic. I’m advocating for patience, for thinking before speaking, for exercising empathy and for considering the possibility that not every opinion needs to be shared as loudly as possible.
It’s not lost on me that this column is just my opinions, so maybe I’m being hypocritical, but what’s the harm in recommending books, movies and music?
Reading: Any biography of Edwin Booth
Edwin Booth was born on this day in 1833. He was widely regarded as the greatest Shakespearean actor of his time, possibly the greatest actor of the 19th century.
At the height of his fame, his wife died and he was absent for her passing because he was out on a post-performance bender. Now a single parent and recovering alcoholic, his life took another dramatic turn for the worse when his brother—you guessed it, John Wilkes Booth—assassinated Abraham Lincoln.
Edwin did not share his brother’s politics, and reportedly only voted once in his life—for Lincoln’s re-election. Despite that, and despite being cleared of any involvement in John’s plans, Edwin’s career was more or less over at that point.
At least, until a dramatic and unlikely turn of fate worthy of Shakespeare came around. Before Lincoln’s assassination, Edwin Booth rescued a stranger who’d fallen on train tracks just as a train was approaching. The stranger recognized Booth for his stardom, offered his thanks, and moved on.
Many months later—after the assassination—Booth received a letter from the office of Ulysses S. Grant commending him for saving the life of Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s son.
He took that as a blessing to begin rebuilding his career and after a successful comeback as Hamlet, was slowly able to put his life right again.
That story doesn’t have a lot to do with today’s introduction; I just think it’s amazing, and today’s Booth’s birthday.
Viewing: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”
I never watched Mr. Rogers growing up. I had no emotional attachment to him, no associated nostalgia, not even a little context. I did not take notice when he died. I went to see “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” because someone else wanted me to. I had no interest of my own. What unfolded was the most moving and deeply affecting documentary I’ve ever seen, and ideal viewing for hard times.
Without drifting into hagiography or sentimentality, the film shows Fred Rogers for exactly what he was: a genuinely good man. He did the right thing because it was the right thing to do; he treated others with kindness because people need kindness in their lives; he exercised patience, tolerance, generosity and calm; he saw good in others and refused to let the weight of the world stop him from being good.
These are rare qualities, especially in public figures. Mr. Rogers knew he couldn’t fix the world’s problems, but he also realized that there’s no need to make life more difficult for other people.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
Listening: “Stones in the Road” by Mary Chapin Carpenter
“A Keeper to Every Flame,” “Shut Up and Kiss Me” and “Why Walk When You Can Fly?” are all fun, upbeat, rousing tracks, and Carpenter folds them perfectly into the overall thematic flow of the album. The definitive tracks, however, are those more introspective, somber and honestly heart-wrenching songs, particularly the title track and “The End of My Pirate Days.”
The song “Stones in the Road” is all about life—about aging, childhood innocence, global strife and the importance of situating oneself within the grand scheme of things. She gives due credence to largescale tragedies and private ones in a song that can only accurately be described as timeless. Today’s title is from that song.
It’s an appropriate title track, because the album as a whole deals with the same ideas. The highs feed into the lows, and some of the lows get pretty far down there—“The End of My Pirate Days” is a seriously sad song—but we end up on top. There are even some “sha la las” peppered in there for good measure.
Even removing Carpenter’s powerful insights into daily life and human nature, “Stones in the Road” is just a really good listen. It’s one of those albums that sounds like a “Best Of” compilation because every track is flawless. Truly, an artist at the top of her game.