One of the most famous movie lines of the 20th century was Humphrey Bogart’s farewell to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca “We’ll always have Paris.”
This week millions of people around the world were jolted into thinking about Paris because of the terrorist attacks that were carried out there. Parisians and tourists sitting in a restaurant or listening to a concert were killed or wounded and thousands others terrified by the sights and sounds of that night.
Although the Paris attacks dominated the news in Europe and America, there were other terrorist attacks this month—in Beirut and Mali as well as other countries. So much death and pain spread across so many nations leaves us with very little to feel thankful about as the holiday dedicated to giving thanks draws closer. For many people this will be a drab and fearful Thanksgiving Day.
But it is good to remember that we will always have Paris—the city has endured centuries of troubles and will not surrender to fear and despair. And we will always have Mali—a country that has been a crossroads of
Africa for many centuries, as well as Beirut, which has been a city since the 15th century BC and is mentioned in in ancient Egyptian scrolls. No uprising of terrorist activity, not outbursts of anger by young men with grievances will keep people from enduring and surviving into the future. So I guess that’s what we have to be thankful for this year—for the endurance of the human spirit. We will always have Paris, and Beirut and Bamako and we will always have people striving to make their way in our harsh but beautiful world.
Perhaps after all a good way to end this would be to consider the familiar Victorian poem by William Ernest Henley, “Invictus”. Although often ridiculed as an overly heroic statement by a minor poet, it may have something to say to us today.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
When I was ten years old, I decided I wanted to grow up and be the first woman president of the United States. My teachers encouraged girls with all the stories about how women, having finally achieved the vote, and having served in so
many capacities in World War II, were destined to be leaders just as men were. And we had great role models in Rosalind Russell and Katherine Hepburn who portrayed strong, capable women in the movies. Somehow my life didn’t turn out that way and neither did the life of any other woman of my generation. Now, more than half a century later, we are still waiting to see the first female president.
I remembered those optimistic feelings when I read Gail Collins’s thought-provoking column in today’s New York Times about “Hillary in History”. Collins goes through the list of women who have come close to the presidency or attempted to reach it, starting with Victoria Woodhull in 1872. who I have written about in this blog. There have been other contenders over the years, including Shirley Chisholm and
Margaret Chase Smith, but none was ever taken as seriously as Hillary Clinton. Millions of women will be cheered by her victory if she wins—cheered perhaps even if they don’t agree with all of her positions and policies. It’s wonderful to think that at last a woman is being taken very seriously as a potential threat to the old-boy network that has run the country, and the world, for so long.
An yet, nothing is perfect. When President Obama was elected in 2008, the media and many of us ordinary citizens engaged in an orgy of celebration. With an African American in the White House, we must surely have seen the end of racism in the country. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, has it? We still have to struggle with the everyday racism that affects so many Americans despite the great achievements of individuals members of minority groups.
No doubt it will be the same with women. If Hillary takes over the White House, we can expect she will have the successes and failures that all presidents have encountered. There will not be a sudden rise of women to executive positions in the top corporations; Silicon Valley firms will still hire more men than women; and media commentators will still believe it’s appropriate to critique a woman’s fashion choices instead of her policy statements when she gives a speech.
Golda Meir was one of the most powerful leaders of Israel and Margaret Thatcher one of the notable British leaders of recent years, but as we look at the pictures of powerful leaders in Israel and England today, the women are notably absent (except for Scotland, of course, which carries on its independent ways). The election of Hillary Clinton will not change the entire fabric of women’s position in society, but if it happens, it will be an important step toward the eventual goal of having every individual given a fair and equal place in the world.
Meanwhile be sure to read Gail Collins’s column!