A Scary Trip into My Little Red Radio
Like so many of us in the Northeast this week my family and I found ourselves without power for several days. I’m not complaining. In fact, I feel very humbled by the experience and ashamed that I felt so sorry for myself considering how much more suffering others have had to endure, and are still enduring.
After three days I nearly lost my mind. No heat. No light, save the two flashlights my wife just happened to pick up a day before Sandy came to call. My only connection to the world : my tiny, red, wind up emergency weather / flashlight / A.M. F.M. radio that my kids bought me for my birthday years ago.
This little marvel has come in handy over the years : I recall nights hovered in the cellar – at my wife’s insistence – when the air was heavy with tornado warnings. Irene. And even in times of non emergency, I use it to listen to the Phillies games when working outside in the garden or in the garage.
So late one night, bundled up in three sweaters and two pairs of socks and my goofiest and warmest knit hat, the rest of the family long crawled off to bed under their quilts and covers, my mind starved for intellectual stimulation, my heart and soul for inspiration – words of comfort or music to sooth my savage breast – I turned to my little red radio. Well, I might as well have been in Oz the day the Gale’s house was swooped up into another meteorological melee.
When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was crawl under the covers at night with my transistor radio, prop up the telescopic antennae, and slowly turn the dial, listening for some distant call letters from New York or Nashville or Chicago – maybe even California! The entire country was inside that little box, and I could hear it speaking, if only for a few minutes at a time before the signal petered out.
I started at the beginning, the first channel on the far left, the channel that, when I was a kid, was my favorite rock and roll channel, WFIL. Gone were the Beach Boys and Bobby Rydell and Fabian. In fact, music seemed to have all but evaporated from the A.M. dial, save some Contemporary Christian offerings. But bad music is all over the radio dial, A.M., F.M. and even satellite. No, it was something much scarier than that creepy cross between The Best of Montevani and The Worst of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir that got me wondering just what the hell is going on out there?
When I was a kid under the covers, sure there were lots of radio preachers and cracker barrel philosophers flapping their homespun gums but … I guess was just a kid and never really listened to what these guys were saying, only the way they were saying it. They all sounded like Burt Lancaster in ‘Elmer Gantry’. Still, I had to wonder if those guys were as full of vitriol and bigoted bile as the new ones today, chirping from my little one inch speaker.
Hate isn’t a new thing. It’s as old as love, but twice as mean. I guess when it comes to us homo sapiens, nothing changes. We never were and will never be any better, nobler, or dastardly then we were the day we first stood up and started bullying every other creature in the jungle. The only thing that does change is technology. With every ground breaking geek from Marconi to Gates we get to hate and dismiss our fellow man with ever more blinding speed.
There isn’t more hate in the world, only more outlets to vent it.
Every sixteenth of an inch I heard someone hating someone else. Gay and lesbians were undermining our family values. Mandatory evacuations at the Jersey Shore were just another example of Chairman Obama and his socialist agenda – the nanny state! Hey! You were warned. The weak and indecisive deserve to die, stranded on their rooftops. Ever hear of rugged individualism? Preachers spreading hate about … other religions! Of course, Islam is always fair game – but they weren’t talking about radical extremists – all two billion Muslims around the world are suspect, no matter how law abiding or peaceful. Mormons? Cultists. Catholics? Idolatrizers!
And then … Out of Nashville, the strains of Old Timey music. A banjo and a fiddle and a lilting refrain :
As I went down to the river to pray,
Studying about the good old way,
And who shall wear the robe and crown’
Oh, Lord, show me the way.
I’m not a religious man, but I have always loved this music. It’s full of wonderful ideas like : Helping to lighten the load of a fellow traveler. Feeding and clothing the poor. Faith, Hope, and Charity. Remember them? A sister act from way back in the old days.
Each day I’ll do a golden deed,
By helping those who are in need’
My life on earth is just a span,
And so I’ll do the best I can.
And redemption :
The evening sun is sinking low,
A few more days and I must go,
To meet the deeds that I have done,
Where there will be no setting sun.
Before there were air waves, water waves carried the news up and down and across, from land to land. And as I sat there, shivering in my cold, dark living room, faithfully cranking that handle, hoping, and relying on the charity of all the good people out there working so hard in the wind and rain to help the rest of us out of our misery, it occurred to me that this was the real news – indeed, the Good News : Faith and Hope in the Charity of your neighbors. And, when the time comes, returning the favor.
Oh, Brothers! Let’s go down,
Down, down, won’t you come on down?
Oh, Brothers! Let’s go down,
Down to the river to pray.