Thursday, November 11, 2010

Those Who Do, Don't Speak

Today is Veteran's Day, the day set aside for us to remember and thank those who have stood on the front lines in defense of freedom and liberty – and sometimes, simply because they were ordered to and honor and training compelled no other response.

My grandfather – my Dad-dad, often featured on this blog because he rocks hard
served in the Pacific Theatre of World War II on the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard. He is 92 now, but the memories of that service have not faded.

USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) c. 1944
Not too long ago, he told me the tale of his return, when the ship was anchored off the coast of California. It was one of the last carriers to arrive as one of its last duties was transporting discharged soldiers home. A fellow sailor sought Dad-dad out in the bowels of the ship to tell him Dad-dad's brother was on deck looking for him. When he went up top, he found my Great Uncle Henry, my grandmother's brother who was a Marine, himself recently returned from the war. They went off for a day doing whatever sailors do only on this day, after root beer at the club (he may have edited himself here), they went together to buy what would be my Great Aunt Vera's engagement ring.

It's been a few years since he told me this story, but I never forget it. I never forget how Uncle Henry referred to himself as my Dad-dad's brother when he was, in fact, a brother-in-law. Such distinctions had no value then. I never forget the smile that crossed Dad-dad's face when he revealed to me that it was Uncle Henry up top awaiting him or the pleasure learning his brother lived still gave him all those years later. I never forget how this was the first memory of that time that he ever shared with me, and that it was a memory of joy.

I never forget.

He doesn't talk about the war. He'll talk about what happened afterwards, once he even talked about a non-combative situation on the aircraft carrier, but he doesn't speak about what he did or what he saw.

And that in itself speaks volumes.

I was an adolescent when I first watched a Charlie Brown special called What Have We Learned?, the one with Snoopy as the ace WWI fighter pilot drinking root beer in the French café. The show concludes when Linus (who else) recites In Flanders Fields in a field of poppies. I'd never heard that poem before, and I had no clue to what event it referred. But my young self was so touched by the words, so impacted by the visual of cartoon poppies surrounding white crosses, the next day I went to the library to find and memorize it.

I can still recite that poem to this day (along with the opening paragraph to The Outsiders, but that's a different story), though I've only just realized that I've had the last line wrong lo these many years (still so Polish).

My grandmother's family sent seven men to World War II, including my Dad-dad; miraculously, seven came home. We are fortunate in the fact that it was the last time my family sent members into combat (we're mostly a family of women) but I am never unaware that others went instead (I'm thinking of you, Cavanaugh, wherever you are). They serve their country in battlefields around the world and many are suffering for it as well, as Aaron Sorkin illustrated this morning in his great piece for Veteran's Day.

Today, I'll call Dad-dad and thank him for his service (I tear up a little thinking about it) and I'll probably watch an episode or two of Band of Brothers and remind myself of the unfathomable courage those men exhibited every dang day.

In honor of those many men and women who have served and lived to tell about it, go thank or even hug a veteran or active duty soldier today, and tomorrow, and then again next week.

They've earned that and more.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Television Tuesday: Sherlock

I dislike plot points that invoke a disease as explanation for a lead character's personality quirks. I don't particularly like Temperance Brennan of BONES because I think she's a bit of an arrogant tool. Is she brilliant? Yes, unquestionably. But her assertion of rationality above all else is conveniently set aside when she's the one making leaps of judgment based on unqualified data, impressions, intuition, or gut instinct. Her inconsiderate and often outright offensive treatment of people is justified by her brilliance and success, and her rudeness and lack of social know how is generally excused (though never, to my knowledge, explicitly stated in the show itself) as due to her having a disorder along the lines of Aspergers syndrome.

I disagree. Now I know jack all about Aspergers syndrome beyond what TV tells me, and we all know how accurate that is, so please don't harangue me about how ignorant I am about the disease because I am well aware. Deconstructing the syndrome isn't my goal here. Commenting on its use as a character trait/excuse is.

I think Brennen's simply an arrogant if brilliant tool with no concern for the feelings or viewpoints of anyone else beyond herself (which are sacrosanct) and the people she values personally – and often, not even them – most especially evidence by the way she shifts her views of rationality based on what suits her best at the moment. This seems most evident to me when she insists on wielding a gun and going through a door side by side with her FBI "partner" Booth. A trained sniper and agent, Booth has the experience and training to go into potentially violent situations bearing arms. That Brennan vehemently and repeatedly insists she has every right to do the same without those years of training or specialty irks me sorely. I've stopped watching BONES because I can't tolerate the character any longer; not even the pleasure I have watching David Boreanaz succeed post-Angel is enough for me to further stomach more Brennan quirks. And with BIG BANG THEORY and COMMUNITY now in competing time slots with the show on Thursday nights, it's bye-bye-BONES.

As I watched A Study in Pink, the first episode of the BBC's brilliant new series SHERLOCK, early on I worried that this would be another quirky/annoying Aspergers-like sufferer exercising his brilliant mind coupled with an insulting and annoying personality in the pursuit of justice. I should have trusted the brilliant Stephen Moffat (co-creator of SHERLOCK and writer of A Study in Pink) more. Very early on in the episode, the exchange between Sherlock Holmes and the bitter pathologist with a grudge against him put my fears to rest.

"This from the psychopath," (or words to that effect) the pathologist sneers in response to one of Sherlock's startling observations.

"I'm not a psychopath," Sherlock retorts. "I'm a highly-functioning sociopath. Do your homework, [Smith]." This last bit of signature patronizing snark is laced with a keen self-awareness refreshing for its lack of glamor.

Color me hooked.