Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Wheels and Water

Ah, people ask me questions, 
Lost in confusion.
Well, I tell them there's no problem,
Only solutions. 
- John Lennon

I do not pretend to know whether John Lennon believed that to be the case, when he wrote that lyric more than three decades ago.  Hell, there are time when I am uncertain, even on this date, the thirty-fifth anniversary of his murder, whether I believe it to be the case.   I hope like hell that it is.  Or that at the very least, it could be.    

Everything - or damn close to it - that I know about The Beatles and about John Lennon was taught to me by the single-greatest teacher I have ever known, my brother Bill.  As one whose birth preceded the formal dissolution of the group by only three years, as a practical matter everything I know of the former has been seen through the prism of history.  And in the decade that separated the end of the Beatles and the end of his life, I knew barely anything at all about John Lennon.  

I know that I learned of his murder while seated in the front passenger's seat of Dad's station wagon in the back parking lot at W-H's Inman Avenue campus, as Dad and I waited for the defroster to clear enough icy buildup from the car's windshield that we could begin our journey home to Neshanic Station.  We had been in New York City that evening as part of a school trip to a Broadway show. What one I cannot recall although I seem to remember our party having dined prior to the show at Beefsteak Charlie's.   

I was driving down to Monmouth County this past Friday afternoon to take a deposition when Lennon's Watching the Wheels was played on whatever station I happened to be listening to in my car.  While I am not at all a knowledgeable fan of his solo work, this is a song that I have always enjoyed.  So, when it came on, I listened to it.  As I did, for whatever reason, I found myself paying more attention than usual to the lyrics.  When he posited that, "There's no problem, only solutions", it caused me to think back to the extraordinary book I had just finished reading a day or two earlier. 

Daniel James Brown's "The Boys in the Boat" is, in my estimation, one of the most remarkable books I have ever read.  

The cover of the book suggests that its central theme is "Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics", which I suppose is true - as far as it goes.  The book, however, goes far, far beyond that theme.  Point in fact, the "boys in the boat" are the nine members of the University of Washington Heavyweight Crew Team (eight oars and one coxswain) who captured the gold medal for the United States in the eight-man crew event in the 1936 Summer Olympics.  But the story Brown tells goes far beyond their experiences on the water in Germany that summer.  

The central character of the piece is Joe Rantz, a member of the UW Crew whose life was pockmarked with trials and tribulations that made the Labors of Hercules appear to be the equivalent of a Friday afternoon at a no-show job.  At any one of a million or so stops along his incredibly rough road, Joe Rantz could have cried "Uncle", thrown up his hands and walked away.  He never did.  He continued to figure out a way to solve whatever unsolvable problem confronted him, irrespective of the hardship and - often times - the heartache associated with the fashioning of the solution.  

While I do not know for certain that the favorite sons of Sequim, Washington and Liverpool, England never made one another's acquaintance, I am reasonably confident that they did not.  It matters not. Each realized that a solution can be realized, even when confronted by overwhelmingly daunting odds.  Each realized that talking a problem to death, without putting a plan into action to try to solve it, is nothing more than an exercise in mental masturbation.   

Something for which neither man had a minute to spare.  

And neither should any of us.


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