The Odd Job

Unlike some professional assassins, who simply eliminated their targets in whatever generic manner was easiest, Robert prided himself on his personalized kills. Since your neighbor had stolen one of your goats a few years back, you now wanted him to choke to death while eating a poisoned goat? Robert would find a way. You had a special phrase you wanted uttered right before your uncle was stabbed in the very same rib that he stabbed your father? Robert would make it happen. 

After twenty some-odd years providing such customized assassinations, Robert was pretty sure he’d heard all the weirdest, most specific requests, from some of the most peculiar people, that he would ever hear. That was, until the day he heard the Emperor describe exactly how he wanted his mother killed.

“The Emperor” was the short nomenclature, of course; the long version was His Imperial and Royal Majesty, the Emperor of the Koruna, King of Lira, Protector of the Confederation of the Mark, Mediator of the People. After that last title was added, and the Emperor started mediating what some people thought was a few too many things, other, unofficial titles were often used, like “Dictator, “Despot,” and “Tyrant.” That was none of Robert’s concern. The man had invited him into a very swanky room in his palace, served him what he assumed was good wine, and said some very complimentary things about how Robert was just the man to “take care of” the Emperor’s mother.

“I confess I don’t especially care exactly how it all goes down in every little detail,” the Emperor admitted, casually swirling the wine in his glass. “You can use a knife, a rope, a pistol, whatever suits you. But,” the Emperor paused his swirling, and looked very intently at Robert, “this is very important: as she dies, you must tell her precisely this: ‘Today, your son has become the Lavender Rabbit.’”

Even Robert had to admit that there was a slightly awkward beat. He recovered quickly: “Oh, okay, I can do that. ‘Today, your son has become the Lavender Rabbit.’ Certainly. Your order will be carried out within the week, unless you have some other timetable in mind.”

The Emperor waved his hand. “No, within the week will do just fine. End of the month would even work, if some complication arises.”

“From what you’ve described of your mother’s guards and habits, I don’t foresee any,” Robert assured him. 

There was another long silence. Finally, the Emperor cleared his throat. “I assume you’re restraining yourself from asking just why your Emperor is reminding his mother of a lavender rabbit as he has her assassinated?”

Robert shook his head. “Not really, your Imperial Majesty. I like to assume that all my clients have their reasons. My job is just to make their vision a reality.”

The Emperor wore a highly amused expression. “Well, you’ll be returning here once the job is done for your payment. If, by that time, curiosity has overwhelmed you, as mine would if I were you, I will be happy to satisfy it.”

Robert and the Emperor parted, and Robert set off to do his job. 

The Emperor’s mother was killed within the week, just as Robert had promised, and, just as the Emperor had predicted, Robert was dying – no pun intended – to know what the Lavender Rabbit referred to, and why the Emperor had become it. It had to be some sort of in-joke. Robert thought he had seen a flash of understanding in the woman’s eyes, but death was often full of very confusing emotions for those undergoing it, so that didn’t necessarily mean anything.

The Emperor appeared very satisfied when Robert told him he was indeed quite curious as to the mysterious phrase. The Emperor sat back in his chair, and propped his legs up on the table in a very un-imperial manner. “I was quite close with my mother as a child, and to all appearances throughout adulthood – by the way, I’m sure you were surprised she was my target, and I doubt many people in this kingdom will dare suspect a thing. Anyway, she used to read to me every night, and my favorite was a little book entitled Lavender Rabbit’s Odd One Out.

“It was a delightful story of a lavender rabbit whose owner’s house was such a mess, and so he took it upon himself to clean it up. He does so by sorting all of the things into piles of like objects – dishes with dishes, blocks with blocks, and so forth – but there was always an “odd one out,” – a paintbrush with the socks, say, or a rubber ducky with the dishes. The rabbit would take that odd one out, and put it where it belonged.” The Emperor paused for a moment. Robert, practiced in being nonjudgmental, simply fingered the envelope of money he’d been given.

The Emperor continued: “I was very inspired by that rabbit. Creating order from chaos, seeing what needed to be done and doing it, molding the world to fit his vision, doing what others would not do. Finding the odd one out, the thing that no longer belonged.” He laughed. “Reading a bit too much into a children’s book, perhaps, but, you know, impressionable youth and all that. I would often joke with my mother that it was that book that made me who I am today…and doubtless you see where this is going.”

Robert nodded as if he did. 

“My mother had become the odd one out,” the Emperor explained. “She was saying things like, ‘Perhaps you shouldn’t take all the peasant’s flour, your birthday cake may be important, and I understand that you want it to be the biggest birthday cake ever, but the people do have to eat…’ That simply wouldn’t do. So, I had her sorted where she belonged. Ridiculous, I’m sure you think.”

Robert shook his head. It took all sorts to make a world.

“I appreciate you being a good sport about all this,” the Emperor said. “Now, I do have just one question before you go.” He reached forward and rang a small silver bell on the table.

“Of course,” Robert agreed.

The door opened, and three guards walked in, sabers drawn, advancing until they stood just behind him. Robert felt his palms, still clutching the cash, grow cold.

The Emperor grinned. “So tell me. Which of us here do you think is the odd one out?”

 

Inspired by Alan Baker’s lovely children’s book “Gray Rabbit’s Odd One Out,” which I highly recommend and contains no murder.

Hymns and new songs

It is not everyday that you find new or interesting takes on classic Christian hymns, and while there have been a plethora of covers in various styles (bluegrass, country, etc) -some quite good, an artist who takes a distinct stylistic road is hard to find. Enter JG Hymns, out of Edinburgh, UK. Combining instrumentation with solo male vocals, he weaves the lyrics of classic hymns to a new and unique sound. While certainly not a style aimed at congregational singing, his musical interpretation of well known songs it quite interesting and insightful, and some of his original works are quite good as well.

Just as I am, without one plea

The Thing He Thought He Left Behind

 

Spine-tingling,

With humid heaving,

Softly growling,

Now loudly howling

Is the Thing he left behind.

Story-trusting,

Musket-wielding,

A youth in part,

But with a grown-up heart:

He made a vow to kill its kind.

 

Rifle raising,

Muzzle blazing,

Now reloading,

Then un-loading,

A silent corpse he left behind.

 

Hip-hip-hooraying

And hand upraising,

The boy turned about

And went grinning to his house,

While the Thing went out of mind.

 

Decades passing,

Then the boy, he,

Like Ulysses, traveled home,

And, waiting for him there

Was the thing he left behind.

Remembering Rockwell—Snapshots of the Ordinary

I wish Norman Rockwell had been there.  Scenes like those were the stuff that inspired him, I think.  The little moments in life.  Something so ordinary it resonated with audiences and became extraordinary.  Rockwell had an eye for those moments.  He captured the humor, the sweetness, the tenderness.  Then he, or a Saturday Evening Post editor, enhanced the image with a simple but fitting caption.

I wish I were artistic or had my camera when those moments happened.  Instead, all I can do is snapshot the scenes in my mind, trying to imprint every detail for later recall.  I realize now that I have a mental scrapbook of moments like these.  And while it can be a delight to peruse them, I wish I could free them from those solitary pages to share with others.  But like dreams, these pictures and their emotions can rarely be brought to light without losing the meaning that I feel so keenly.  A glimmering quality is lost in translation.  Words can’t capture the entirety of what I try to communicate.  I doubt even the best writers communicate a thought or a picture as perfectly as they want—at least not often.

If people gave up because they knew perfection was impossible, though, where would we be?  Only by trying will we improve, so here I am.  Spilling my thoughts and stretching out the moments until I make the jump.  Here I go.

Getting Acquainted

“Look, Elaine.”  My sister and I had just slid into her car after a brief shopping expedition.  I was pointing across the parking lot.

“I wish I had my camera and could capture moments like these,” I commented wistfully, as my sister looked too.  “Isn’t that sweet?”

What had caught my attention was a uniformed police officer.  Standing at a corner of the sidewalk, he was approaching a woman who was walking her German shepherd mix dog, and by his body language, I could tell he was asking if he could pet the dog.  The woman agreed, and the officer bent down and tentatively reached out to introduce himself to the canine, who appeared to be a bit uncertain about the acquaintanceship.  It was a moment of vulnerability for both.  An ordinary scene that I had never seen before.  The dog obliged and let his head be petted as my sister and I drove away.

Here was a little moment in time where a police officer was an ordinary guy who liked dogs.  I wish I could have shared that occurrence with others as vividly as I experienced it.

 A silly, optimistic part of me imagines that this Rockwell scene could change people’s perspectives and combat their prejudices.  But the moment these scenes become publicity, they tend to lose their credibility.  I think that was part of the appeal of the moment.  The people didn’t know they were being watched, which made the scene that much more touching.

Rainy Day Melancholy

I was eating a meal with some friends when something beyond the cafeteria window caught my eye.

“That’s so sad, isn’t it?” I commented, pointing out what I had just noticed to my friends, who turned to see for themselves.

“It’s the picture of finals week,” I continued.

“Yeah, that is pretty sad,” one of my friends agreed.

Trudging past the window was a dripping college student.  A bedraggled black umbrella drooped from his hand, almost unidentifiable.  It looked more like a kite than an umbrella, it’s tines bent and fabric torn into triangle-shaped scraps.  The student gazed at his umbrella with an attitude that seemed to mimic the mournful appearance of the umbrella.

I felt so sad for him when I saw his expression as he contemplated his ruined umbrella.  I hoped that his day improved and that what I saw in passing didn’t summarize how his finals were going.  Despite my sympathy, though, I admit there was something comical in the scene.  What I saw was the weird juxtaposition that Rockwell would capture, where a scene walked the tightrope between sorrow and humor, where perhaps one person took something a little too seriously when others wouldn’t.  It was just an umbrella, after all.  But I think I understand.

Contrary to Popular Opinion

The following post is by guest author Caroline Bennett. Normally our musical columnist, she has expanded into U.S. history for today’s essay.


In most towns in the United States of America, preparations for July 4 begin nearly a month in advance. People become extra patriotic, swathing their front porches with bunting, lining the sides of their driveways with mini-American flags, and stockpiling fireworks. Reenactments and parades take place across the country on July 4, and Americans travel to be with family and enjoy hotdogs and pies. Independence Day is one of the most popular holidays celebrated in the United States, marking the day a group of men from thirteen colonies declared independence from Great Britain, creating the foundation for the great nation that Americans know and love today. Considering how important Americans consider Independence Day, however, few realize that July 4, 1776, was not actually as important a day for American freedom as July 2 or even August 2, 1776. Many assume that the fading parchment exhibited in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. was written and signed on July 4, but in reality the process of declaring liberty from Great Britain spanned many years.

In the Course of Human Events

John Dickinson

As American colonists became more and more restless under British rule in the 1770s, colonial leaders made the decision to coordinate the actions of the colonies by forming the Continental Congress (Thompson 190). The first Continental Congress convened briefly in the fall of 1774, and delegates from twelve colonies attended (Johnson 148). After the confrontation between colonists and British soldiers at Lexington and Concord, the second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia (Evans 229). A merchant from Massachusetts, John Hancock, presided over the Congress, and all thirteen colonies sent delegates. On July 7, 1775, the congress approved a declaration authorizing the use of force against England (190). Originally, Thomas Jefferson, a young Virginian lawyer, was to pen this declaration, but after his writing proved too inflammatory, John Dickinson, a solicitor from Pennsylvania, wrote a second draft (190). M. Stanton Evans, an American journalist and author, notes in his book The Theme Is Freedom that most American colonists were not eager to declare independence from Great Britain (229). Colonial leaders spent decades writing manifestos and demanding redress, and Dickinson’s declaration assured readers that the Continental Congress was not dissolving the union between the colonies and Great Britain (196).

To many delegates, separation from Great Britain was still an alien concept in 1775. Numerous congressional delegates feared the colonies would fall into chaos if they threw off the structure of British government (Johnson 154). John Adams, a Massachusetts lawyer, dismissed these fears and unofficially led a group of supporters of independence. Adams and his associates debated before Congress over the course of many months, attempting to convince the delegates that a separation from Great Britain was necessary (Evans 231). Indeed, it was nearly a year after Dickinson penned his declaration, in May 1776, that some of the Congressional delegates finally made motions to declare British power null and encourage the colonies to set up governments of their own (231).

Richard Henry Lee

Thomas Jefferson returned to Philadelphia on May 14, having been absent since the previous December (Evans 231). He arrived just in time. On June 7, Richard Henry Lee, on behalf of the Virginia Assembly, asked Congress to “adopt a declaration of independence, prepare articles of confederation, and solicit ‘the assistance of foreign powers’” (Rakove 74). John Adams seconded Lee’s motion, and the following day the delegates renewed the debates on independence (McCullough 118). The delegates in support of independence were increasing in number, but still the Congress could not agree to declare the colonies free from Great Britain. On June 10, the delegates opposed to severing ties with Great Britain requested that the final vote be delayed until July 1, so that the Congressional delegates could send for new instructions from their colonies (McCullough 119). Congress agreed to the delay but appointed a committee consisting of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson to draft a declaration of the colonies’ independence in the event that Congress voted in favor of the measure (Johnson 154).

Right of the People

Thomas Jefferson was the youngest member of the committee and had spent the least amount of time in Congress. Nevertheless, the committee nominated him to write the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. Whatever the reasons of the committee, Jefferson’s appointment was fortuitous. His rhetorical eloquence is powerful and serves as a testament to his education and extensive reading. Nevertheless, total credit for the Declaration of Independence should not go to Jefferson alone. He was a part of a committee and wrote what his associates agreed upon. The Declaration of Independence was to be a corporate statement, after all, and it essentially summed up all the debates that had taken place in Congress over the past two years (Evans 232-233). David McCullough, a historian and lecturer, records in John Adams that Jefferson later wrote

Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, [the Declaration of Independence] was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. (121)

Because the Declaration represented the opinions of many different men, colonies, and beliefs, it was naturally influenced by a variety of sources. The colonial leaders certainly found inspiration in the writings of philosopher John Locke, particularly in the concepts from his Second Treatise of Government (Rakove 78). Locke’s belief that people should throw off the authority of their king or government after suffering repeated violations of their rights reflected the influence of his heritage in the English common law, however. The English common law was grounded in the idea that political authority came ultimately from the people, and that kings and other magistrates were their agents (Evans 241).

King George III

With centuries of history backing him, Jefferson wrote out the list of abuses charged against George III. Many people have speculated why the Declaration was addressed only to the king instead of the British Parliament. M. Stanton Evans points out that American colonists had never pledged allegiance to Parliament, only to the king of England, and therefore the Continental Congress only needed to address its sovereign (234). The reason for writing a declaration was simple: to let George III and the entire world know why the thirteen colonies could in good conscience throw off British rule and establish their own government. Excluding the introduction and conclusion, the Declaration of Independence is a summary of George III’s violations of authority. The king had obstructed justice and rule of law, made it difficult for legislative bodies to meet, kept standing armies in the colonies during times of peace, held mock trials for his guilty subordinates, deprived many colonists of trial by jury—the list goes on and on (Thompson 204-205). These were not violations made only by George III, however; he had been king but sixteen years. The colonists were charging George III and his predecessors with failure in their duty to justly use the power their people had given them.

Once Jefferson finished writing his draft, he and the committee revised it. Impressed by Jefferson’s conciseness and clarity of thought, Franklin, Adams, Sherman, and Livingston made mostly minor changes (McCullough 121-122). The concepts the declaration presented were powerful and undeniable, and the committee did not alter them. Most of the changes made the document easier to read. For instance, the committee altered the wording of the famous second paragraph, replacing Jefferson’s phrase “we hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable” with the simpler “we hold these truths to be self-evident” (121). The committee finished revising the draft of the Declaration of Independence after a few days, and by June 28, 1776, Jefferson and his associates were ready to present their Declaration of Independence to Congress (Rakove 74).

To Throw Off Such Government

The second Continental Congress reconvened on July 1, and the debates on Richard Henry Lee’s resolution to declare independence continued. John Dickinson said that severing ties with England was premature, but acknowledged that his was an unpopular opinion. Dickinson knew that in opposing independence, he was ruining his career, but he believed that “thinking as I do on the subject of debate, silence would be guilt” (McCullough 126). After Dickinson delivered his moving speech, Adams stood and “wished now as never in his life…that he had the fits of the ancient orators of Greece and Rome, for he was certain none of them ever had before him a question of greater importance” (126). Following Adams’ speech, other delegates took the floor, including John Witherspoon from New Jersey and Joseph Hewes from North Carolina. A preliminary vote followed the speeches. Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Delaware voted against declaring independence, and the New York delegates abstained from the vote because they lacked instructions from their legislature (128). Though nine colonies favored independence, Adams and his associates hoped for a show of solidarity, and thus the final vote was postponed until the next day in hopes of more colonies changing their votes.

On July 2, 1776, the two chairs reserved for the Pennsylvania delegates were empty. Delegates John Dickinson and Robert Morris could not in good conscience vote in favor of independence, but they also knew how important it was for Congress to speak with one voice, so they absented themselves from the proceedings (McCullough 129). When the final vote was taken, New York once again abstained from the vote, but South Carolina and Delaware changed sides. The colonies’ decision to declare independence was unanimous, at least in the sense that no colony stood opposed (129). Adams joyously wrote to his wife later that evening,

The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival…It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more. (McCullough 130)

Free and Independent States

Now that the Congress was agreed to declare the colonies free of British rule, the delegates began revising and approving the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson and the committee had written. Once again, many of the changes were minor, largely focused on making the writing less verbose and toning down some of Jefferson’s language.  All in all, the Congress made more than eighty changes to Jefferson’s draft (McCullough 134). In the end, the concluding line of the declaration read, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” (Thompson 207).

The final sentence of the Declaration of Independence reveals the feelings of the Congressional delegates. Casting accusations at the king of England and declaring the thirteen colonies free of British control was no laughing matter, and the Congress knew full well it might face disbandment or punishment for treason (Armor). Nevertheless, twelve of the colonies ratified the Declaration of Independence on Thursday, July 4, 1776. The New York delegates initially abstained from the vote, but their legislature later approved the declaration, ultimately making the vote for the Declaration of Independence unanimous among the colonies (Armor). On July 5, printers began making copies of the momentous document, and the Congressional delegates sent copies to friends and to their legislatures. On July 8, the Declaration of Independence was read publicly in the State House Yard in Philadelphia, and the Liberty Bell was rung (Johnson 156).

The Declaration of Independence was not yet complete, however. A copy of the declaration was “elegantly engrossed on a single, giant sheet of parchment by Timothy Matlack, assistant to the secretary of Congress” (McCullough 137). On Friday, August 2, most of the Congressional delegates convened to sign the Declaration of Independence. Once more, there was no fuss or ceremony, and the delegates simply stepped forward and fixed their signatures. John Hancock, as president of the Congress, made his signature in the middle of the document, using large, flowing strokes. A number of other important delegates were noticeably absent—Richard Henry Lee, George Wythe, Oliver Wolcott, Elbridge Gerry. They signed later. A new member of Congress from New Hampshire, Matthew Thornton, fixed his signature in November 1776, and Thomas McKean of Delaware signed in January 1777 (138). Approving the declaration had been seditious enough. Now the delegates were writing their names on it—undoubtedly a treasonous act. As a result, the signing of the document remained a secret for some time (Armor).

The legal process of severing ties with Great Britain was concluded after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but seven years would pass, and thousands of men would die, before the thirteen United States of America were truly independent. Nevertheless, Americans began celebrating their liberty and freedom just one year after the second Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence. On July 4, 1778, a few local celebrations took place (Armor). After the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, Americans began more extensive celebrations. Despite Adams’ conviction that July 2 would be commemorated, July 4 inexplicably became the day that Americans chose to celebrate their independence. In 1873, Pennsylvania became the first state to officially recognize July 4 as Independence Day (Armor). Other states followed suit soon after, and eventually Independence Day became a federal holiday in the United States of America.

Conclusion

For most Americans, the Fourth of July is a holiday that takes place in the heat of summer, involves fireworks and parades, and celebrates American independence. Many believe that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, a day that ushered in celebrations and the ringing of the Liberty Bell. Declaring independence was not that simple, however. The truth is that numerous colonial leaders left their families and homes for months on end, argued with one another for years about the right course of action, and struggled with their personal doubts and fears. The Congressional delegates put their lives on the line by voting for independence, voting to approve the Declaration of Independence, and affixing their signatures to the same document. The delegates knew that what they were doing would go down in history, but they did not know whether they would be remembered as defeated traitors or as victorious American patriots. The delegates would probably not care what day Americans have chosen to celebrate independence. The second Continental Congress did not meet in Philadelphia in order to be remembered, but in order to give future generations of Americans a government that prized life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


Sources

Armor, John. “‘Independence’ Day, Past and Present.” World & I 11.7 (1996): 72. History Reference Center. Web. 26 June 2016.

Evans, M. Stanton. The Theme Is Freedom. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1994. Print.

Johnson, Paul. A History of the American People. New York, NY: Perennial-HarperCollins, 1997. Print.

McCullough, David. John Adams. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2001. Print.

Rakove, Jack N., and States United. The Annotated U.S. Constitution and Declaration Of Independence. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2009. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 26 June 2016.

Thompson, Bruce, ed. The Revolutionary Period: 1750-1783. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2003. Print.