Pain Management and Love

jefferson-davis

We like to sit on very high horses, don’t we? Every high horse I’ve gotten comfortable on has bucked me off. I suppose that is the nature of aging (and learning). I still have my moments.

Jeff Davis was only a decent cadet at West Point, but an excellent rider and extremely good looking (according to EVERYONE who met him). His military bearing, his grace, his unflappable sense of person integrity impressed friends and acquaintances, but he wasn’t perfect. He was involved in the EGGNOG RIOTS at West Point. Yes, it was as silly as the name. The boys smuggled in whiskey and got completely out of control one Christmas.

As a handsome military man things sometimes happen. I’m no apologist but I have a checkered past (and I was a straight A student set for great things!). For over a hundred years people have wondered about Jeff’s debilitating eye infection. The current theory is that AT SOME POINT JEFFERSON DAVIS CONTRACTED HERPES SIMPLEX. Jeff was not the sort to kiss and tell (as far as we know). I wonder at our shock over the Donald’s crass words when we seemed to love the bawdy talk of  the women of Sex in the City–but maybe it’s just another high horse waiting to bolt.

Jeff Davis fell in love with Sarah Knox Taylor. When her father ZACHARY TAYLOR refused to give his blessing to the couple, worried that his daughter would have a horrible life following Jeff in the military, Jeff resigned. Three months after their wedding Sarah died of malaria. Jeff almost died as well. I wonder if his eye troubled him yet?

I think we tend to gloss over what pain and tragedy does to a man (or woman). My brother went crazy for about five years when his wife died of brain cancer. Imagine a wedding and a funeral so closely following. Imagine the weakness and depression felt by a young man recovering from malaria and the loss of a young, beautiful wife.

Jeff hermit-ted himself away on the plantation his brother gave him as a wedding gift. He read history. He by chance went to a political meeting and to his surprise was given a position. This post is not about slavery. It’s not about tearing down monuments and in doing so tearing down the complexities of history (don’t you mourn the loss of photos and diaries of your forebears when you find a heartless relative threw them away as clutter?)

People in pain sometimes fight battles and cling to old ideas as their only means of survival. At a Christmas party Jeff met Varina Davis, a girl with Northern ties. Was Jeff just lonely? Did he love her as much as Sarah? They married.

We look at photographs of Jefferson Davis as either a hero of the “Lost Cause” or a hardhearted traitor to his country, but it’s never that easy. Jeff served his country in and out of the military for years. Slavery (only recently done away with in England and still quite a popular thing in the rest of the world including Africa at the time) was seen by different people in different ways–just as pro-life people see things differently about abortion than other people. Most of us go with the flow. We listen to the people with strong opinions one way or the other but very few  of us do more than that.

As the debates about slavery heated up again (for slavery was debated constantly since the founding of the nation) so did Jeff’s pain. Herpes simplex comes with black pimples forming around the eye, the eye swells and a film forms. I won’t disgust you with the horrible details of 19th century treatment but it was bad. During a recurrence of symptoms which can lay dormant for a time, Davis lay in a darkened room for days and weeks. Did he wonder if any of it was his fault? Why would he? Even a strong wind hitting the eye was said to bring on his outbreaks.

But there was more. Sudden and severe shocks of pain assaulted  his face. A pain so terrible that Varina said the only words Jeff spoke to her were intermingled with such tortured cries of anguish she could hardly stand it. But she did. With every bout of TRIGEMINAL NEURALGIA (considered one of the most painful nerve disorders known to man) Varina stayed at Jeff’s side–sometimes just holding his hand. He could neither eat nor move–again this went on for days and weeks. As a senator he cared so deeply for his duties that on many occasions Varina and others carried him to his work in Washington.

If Jeff loved Varina at first, he was devoted to her now (and would be for the rest of his life).

Jeff shared an unlikely friendship with WILLIAM SEWARD, an openly pragmatic anti-slavery senator from New York, and through Jeff’s illnesses Seward visited him on a daily basis. When a doctor suggested Jeff might have to have his eye removed, Seward reportedly cried with Varina that to spoil Jeff’s face–a face of such masculine beauty– would break their hearts.

Words said in a sick bed are often quite interesting:

After Seward admitted that he never voted  but only as it might help his career, “The weakened Mississippian gasped to Seward, ‘Do you ever speak from conviction alone?’

“‘Ne-ever,’ said Seward, stretching out the word as he leaned forward in his chair.

“Davis raised his head from the pillow, looked right at his Northern friend, and said in a low voice, ‘As God is my judge, I never spoke from any other motive.’

“Seward was genuinely moved.”**

**Essay inspired by  Bruce Chadwick’s book 1858

Attacks of trigeminal neuralgia may be triggered by the following:

  • Touching the skin lightly
  • Washing
  • Shaving
  • Brushing teeth
  • Blowing the nose
  • Drinking hot or cold beverages
  • Encountering a light breeze
  • Applying makeup
  • Smiling
  • Talking

Amusement Parks and Masculinity

 

We talked about Lena Dunham wanting to be loved not for her writing but for her half-naked figure in grungy underwear as we sat by the lake watching boys split into rival teams; ISIS vs.soldiers and super heroes.

One hundred and fifty years ago both Union and Confederate soldiers “spoke routinely of deluded people, dupes of the politicians, and ignorant masses. Both  Northerners and Southerners feared that democratic institutions were not adequate to deal with the realities of nineteenth-century America–they relied too heavily on the existence of a virtuous and intelligent citizenry.” Civil War Soldiers by Reid Mitchell

After the Civil War there lived some men and women who imagined high art and expositions like  the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 could pull the native and immigrant masses from their ignorance and childishness. For these men and women believed that real manhood and womanhood were attained when one practiced thrift, sobriety and volunteerism. This Yankee discipline and religiosity had served the North well. The aristocratic South lay in ruins and many veterans of the war remembered the South as a bizarre, other-worldly place of sloth and heat.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is never an empty place, thank goodness. On most weekends the front stairs are crammed with students, tourists and people needing a seat to eat their hot dog lunches, but many, many more people have rejected this “high” art as bizarre and other-worldly.

As much as we hate to admit this about humanity, there are many people who would rather not work at liking something. They’d rather go with their feelings and fuss over strained muscles (brains and brawn). Informational booths at a fair do only scant business compared to the corn dog stand (I like corn dogs–do you?).

Man/boys may have always existed in Western civilization, but for a good, long while in Yankee American culture they were looked down upon, seen as missing a key element of manhood and suspected of deviant behaviors. There is a certain sad and pathetic element to men who play too many games and wear funny pajamas. Women/girls who do photo shoots in bathrooms, give lip service to an ever changing feminism and then complain when young, handsome athletes don’t fawn over them are pathetic as well.

The once famous man/boy Fred Thompson who created Luna Park on Coney Island in the early 20th century had an epiphany at the Buffalo Exposition when the high-minded men of learning nearly bankrupted the endeavor for failing to realize the simple fact that most people didn’t want to be uplifted. They didn’t want to know about lost civilizations and proper canning methods. What they wanted was to be carried along the Midway where amusements abounded. Exotic dancing girls, loud music and incandescent lighting mesmerized and excited the people who already felt too old. Peter Pan was (and is) the hero of the day.

Even among the boys at the lake  some  created strategies and lofty goals. Some boys interrupted with random thoughts about nothing. Some led and some followed. The less ambitious waited to be picked on a team but offered nothing more than their feelings and soon wandered off to cool themselves in the lake before getting a snack from their mothers who probably like us were talking about inane controversies involving childish women we would never actually meet.

Sometimes, even beside a beautiful lake, it’s difficult to stay in an elevated frame of mind.

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It is the mystery of the unknown
That fascinates us; we are children still,
Wayward and wistful; with one hand we cling
To the familiar things we call our own,
And with the other, resolute of will,
Grope in the dark for what the day will bring.–Henry W. Longfellow.

 

 

“Sympathy is no substitute for action.” David Livingstone

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Not every tenement dweller can become the David Livingstone of his generation, but what if that was put forth as the goal?

In terms of disease, sanitation and real poverty 19th century tenements were far worse than the modern versions in most western nations today. I wonder if the attitude was better then or was David Livingstone just a fluke. Why is it that so many great men of the 19th century rose up from poverty to do great things and to become great men?

A staunch abolitionist, fearless explorer and medical missionary Livingstone spent his childhood in a single room tenement and worked long hours at the mills in Scotland. At the end of the day he hit the books. The other day a teacher told me she didn’t have the heart to give students homework–school was too hard on the little flowers of today. One wonders if Livingstone complained to his parents about hard work.

Here’s where the victim mentality wreaks havoc on children. If a child has the right to be angry forever about the state of his life then when will he  ever see that hitting the books in the evening could quite possibly lead him on a life of useful  and exciting endeavors? Victimhood nurses cowardice and bitterness–two things David Livingstone seems never to have accepted into his young life of poverty. Somehow he knew that  poverty of the mind (and heart) was far worse than living in a tenement for one’s soul. We know that as a missionary he must have believed in callings and God.

David-Livingstone-jeune-env1845
“If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all.”

Sometimes it’s easy to be quite blase about explorers.

In an age when tourists like to pretend to experience past adventures but are seconds away from medical assistance and police, real explorers almost seem boring–though they shouldn’t. Livingstone on one of his many trips to Africa witnessed a brutal massacre of an entire town by Arabic slave traders and vowed to speak out against slavery. One must always remember that white, Christian men were the only abolitionists in the worldwide slave trade and were the only ones who ended slavery. We must remember this especially now when victimhood is the fashion and searching for someone to take revenge on is the rage.

In the West we die of heart disease, cancer and depression nowadays–victims of bad food, lackluster educations and endless hours watching other people do bad things on TV–yet we live in a “free” society.

We demand our right to complain. We isolate ourselves and wonder why people are so awful (the ones we meet in our office or the ones we see on TV). Totalitarian governments love dependent children. It’s so much easier to lead them by the nose.

Dear David Livingstone,

Thank you for stepping out in faith each day. Thank you for not only witnessing the evils of the slave trade but for doing something about it in your lifetime. You lost your wife to fever in Africa but never stopped exploring. You made the connection between malaria and mosquitoes and malaria and quinine. Good for you! I’m sorry I never knew more about you than the cartoon version of you.

You didn’t see your life as one to be lived demanding your personal rights but worked for the kind treatment of others–in short you gave up your life and in the end received a bigger life than most people ever dare to imagine. I wonder what drove you. I suspect it was your faith in old dead heroes and the one dead hero who rose again on the third day. It’s too bad that most heroes are banned in schools today. We need a a journalist like Henry Stanley to come looking for the likes of you even now!

stanley1“Henry Stanley  was a remarkable man. Orphaned at an early age he spent his formative years in a workhouse in Wales, crossed the Atlantic at age 15 as a crewman of a merchant ship and jumped ship in New Orleans. Befriended by a local merchant, he took the man’s name – Henry Stanley – as his own and went on to fight in the Civil War before working his way into a career in journalism.”** Eyewitness to History

Stanley was sent to find Livingstone in Africa after he was presumed dead. He uttered the famous, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” and came away from their meeting with this to say: For four months and four days I lived with David Livingstone in the same house, or in the same boat, or in the same tent, and I never found a fault in him. I am a man of quick temper, and often without sufficient cause, I dare say, have broken the ties of friendship; but with Livingstone I never had cause for resentment, but each day’s life with him added to my admiration for him.

David Livingstone in his own words sums up life like this:

“For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.”