Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Redux: Now We Know How Happy We Can Be


I wrote this two years ago. Yesterday was Loving Day, and the fiftieth anniversary of that momentous decision. It's a complicated day, though, June 12, and I'm still unpacking what I think it might mean - if anything at all - that it's also the birthday of Anne Frank; the anniversary of the death of Medgar Evers; and, since last year, the day when we will long remember the hopes and dreams of 49 people who went out one night to dance and never came home. It's not a simple world, but with all the madness, I do still believe there's a place for simple songs. And hope. We have to hope. "That's what Loving, and loving, are all about."

Yes, it's two cute boys singing a ukelele-based cover of the Monkees' immortal "Daydream Believer." Just in case you don't think we're up on all the hipster trends here at the Café.

They are, for the record, Andrew Flip Oliver (I think he's the one on uke; I have to confess I'm not entirely sure) and Stephen Oliver.  I'm guessing they're brothers rather than an enviable couple, but it's still all pretty endearing.

Maybe it's just because I'm always the first one up, but I've long loved this song; it's not overselling it to say I think it's one of pop music's more piercing, telling little studies of domestic intimacy: just someone going through their quotidian morning routine, thinking the kinds of thoughts we think about our loved one while he sleeps.  It's a perfect throwaway moment, but one spun into what's turned out to be a durable minor classic.

Why, you say, are such thoughts of domesticity on my mind?  Well, among other good reasons, it's because today is Loving Day.  The Supreme Court, way back in 1967, decided in favor of the marriage of Mildred and Richard Loving, sweeping away prohibitions against interracial couples in the landmark Loving v. Virginia decision.  This year's observance comes, of course, as we hold our breath waiting for the Supremes to once again come down on the side, if not of Loving this time, then certainly of Love.

What novelist would dare, I ask you, to name the protagonist in such a case, Loving?  But sometimes names, I guess, are a kind of destiny, for it seems that that is exactly what Mildred and Richard were.  They would have had to have been, I suppose, to survive the indignities to which they were subjected after their wedding in 1958.  They were unlikely heroes, people as ordinary as any cold shaving razor or early-morning alarm; yet today they're history, among the people who to me form a kind of pantheon of secular American saints.

It's an eclectic bunch, no doubt, my saints, encompassing geniuses and more traditional Great Men (and women) like Benjamin Franklin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King. It is artists and eccentrics and fearless types, like Gertrude Stein, Mark Twain, Whitman, Eakins, Ginsberg, even I suppose true oddities and problematic types like Warhol or D.W. Griffith.  But it goes far beyond them, bringing in people who found themselves, in order simply to live their lives, having to stretch the boundaries of other peoples' comfort in ways large and small:  Helen Keller, Harvey Milk, Rosa Parks, Maggie Kuhn (lesser known now, but a true pioneer on behalf of the dignity, the simple visibility, of old people; I was lucky enough to know her, once)...and Mildred and Richard.

All they wanted was to wake up on an ordinary day at home, not really all that big a daydream - how much, after all, do we really need?  But they had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to get it all sorted out, and we are all the better that they did.  "I am still not a political person," wrote Mildred on the 40th anniversary of her big day, "but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about."

As someone who found my white knight on a steed (who regularly sleeps in long after I can), I find that a very good reason to cheer up, not just this once-a-year, but every day.

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