Tuesday Nov. 29, 2016

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She Tells Her Child of the Assassination

In November of 1963, you
were all the center of my days
and when I heard on TV

Kennedy had been shot,
I wrapped you in your blue
blanket and walked for miles (I was

strong then), carrying you
on sidewalks in the middle
of a country stunned by rapid-fire

bulletins. It was
pink Chanel suit, brain matter,
film loop, Walter Cronkite—

but I had your sweet-
smelling head close to my lips
and I walked 40th Street. The leaves

broke and scattered under my feet.
I passed the blank faces of doors and windows,
the news spreading dark over the lawns.

“She Tells Her Child of the Assassination” by Marjorie Saiser from I Have Nothing to Say About Fire. © The Backwaters Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

On this date in 1947, the United Nations voted for the partition of Palestine. Palestine had been under British control since 1917. Zionist Jews from Europe and Russia were migrating in ever-greater numbers, with the intention of forming their own country, and hostility between the Jews and the native Palestinians was also growing. Britain supported the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine, but they also recognized the rights of the Arab Palestinians. Support for the Zionists grew during World War II, especially after people learned of the horrors of the Holocaust. In 1947, Britain decided it wanted out of Palestine and asked the newly formed United Nations to make recommendations for a plan that would ensure the rights of both sides.

The U.N. drafted a plan, also known as Resolution 181, that divided the region into three Jewish sections — more than half of the territory — and four Arab sections; the city of Jerusalem was internationally administered. The plan also guaranteed religious rights and minority rights, and made provision for free access to any holy sites. The two states would share a monetary system and all services, and have equal access to water and utilities. When British forces withdrew in August 1948, a five-country Commission would be put in place to occupy the formerly British regions, establish borders, and help the two states set up their governments.

The Jewish Agency in Palestine approved of the plan because it reflected international recognition of their cause, but they felt it didn’t give them enough territory. The United Nations General Assembly voted 33 to 13 in favor of the partition plan. Britain was one of 10 nations that abstained from voting. The six Arab delegates walked out in protest.

Six months later, on May 14, 1948, Jewish Agency Chairman David Ben-Gurion formally announced the formation of the State of Israel. The next day, forces from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq invaded.

Today is the birthday of British novelist, scholar, and poet C.S. Lewis (books by this author), best known for the Chronicles of Narnia series, seven volumes of stories about young children who find entry to another world through an old wardrobe. They meet a magisterial lion named Aslan who asks for their help in battling evil. Aslan says, “I never tell anyone any story except his own.”

Lewis was born Clive Staples Lewis in Belfast, Ireland (1898). His mother died when he was young and he spent much of his time at boarding school, where his headmaster wielded a cane and admonished students to “Think!” Lewis and his brother created a special world called “Boxen,” where animals talked and had exciting adventures. Lewis once said, “I am the product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles.”

Before becoming a scholar of classics at Oxford University, Lewis served as an infantryman in World War I. He was wounded in the back, he said, “oddly enough by a British shell.” He became lifelong friends with writer J.R.R. Tolkien, and they met weekly at Oxford for tea and literary discussion with other writers for 16 years. They called themselves “The Inklings.”

It’s the birthday of the writer Madeleine L’Engle (books by this author), born in 1918 in New York City. She was an only child. Her parents always had a house full of artists and writers and musicians, and she said, “Their lives were very full and they didn’t really have time for a child. So I turned to writing to amuse myself.” She wrote her first story at age five. She was shy and clumsy, and some of her teachers thought she was stupid. Her parents sent her to a fancy boarding school in the French Alps, and she hated it. She went to a series of boarding schools, then to college, and then worked in the theater, where she met her husband, an actor. When they had a daughter, they decided to raise her away from New York City, so they bought an old farmhouse in Connecticut. And since there was nowhere to be an actor in rural Connecticut, the family needed some more money, so they bought an old general store and managed it.

The family went on a 10-week cross-country camping trip, and Madeleine L’Engle was reading about quantum physics, and she said: “We drove through a world of deserts and buttes and leafless mountains, wholly new and alien to me. And suddenly into my mind came the names, Mrs Whatsit. Mrs Who. Mrs Which.” From there the idea for a story unfolded, about a girl who travels with her brother, a high school classmate, and Mrs. Whatsit, Who, and Which, through space and time to find their father, a physicist researching the space-time continuum, who has been imprisoned on another planet by an evil being called “IT.” It didn’t take her long to write the book, but the manuscript got rejected by 26 publishers, because no one understood what kind of book it was. L’Engle wanted it to be a children’s book, but publishers thought it seemed too dark and difficult. Even L’Engle’s agent finally gave up on her. Then L’Engle threw a tea party for her mother, and one of the guests was friends with John Farrar of Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, and arranged for L’Engle to meet with Farrar. He liked L’Engle, and he liked her manuscript, and even though FSG had never published a children’s book before, they started with Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Wrinkle in Time (1962), which went on to win many awards and sell 8 million copies.

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