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One human heart: Wordsworth’s old Cumberland beggar and the sweetness of being human

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By Anthony Esolen
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June 5, 2012 (thePublicDiscourse.com) - I am persuaded that the movement to demand that physicians corrupt themselves at the heart by assisting in the suicides of the superannuated is but a reaction of terror before a perceived inhumanity. We who have become the tools of our tools shudder at the last insult to our human nature, that we should be invaded by all the complicated paraphernalia of delay, to breathe our last in a dull white room, with the pitted panels of the drop-ceiling overhead (reckon up the chaos, O man, and count how many marks there are in one square), while the calls to the nurses come and go, and a television blares out the last few minutes of an inane comedy that was never once touched by youth or mirth or the milk of human kindness.

If I, old and dying, mean nothing at all, then let me mean nothing on my own terms. If I am to be swept out of consciousness, then let me ply the broom! But this is no argument. It is a cry of despair.

Such despair is inevitable, if we accept the notion that our humanity depends upon what we can do, rather than upon what we are. For the knees will creak, and the hands tremble, and the mind wander; and, whether for but a moment or for a year, we will be as helpless (though not as beautiful) as a newborn child, that most useless of creatures, who can do nothing but search for nourishment and love.

Then let us not try to fight unmeaning with unmeaning. Let us look again at the special beauty of being human, a beauty that is especially poignant in the child, the elderly, the unborn, and the dying.

One day the young poet William Wordsworth looked out upon the road and saw a figure from his childhood, a certain old man who trudged along the Cumberland roads, to beg from the villagers in their modest cottages. He stopped at a ledge at the bottom of a steep hill, placed there to help men remount their horses, and, taking his treasures from his bag,

He sat, and ate his food in solitude:
And ever, scattered from his palsied hand,
That, still attempting to prevent the waste,
Was baffled still, the crumbs in little showers
Fell on the ground; and the small mountain birds,
Not venturing yet to peck their destined meal,
Approached within the length of half his staff.

Such is the drama of the old man’s day. Wordsworth grants himself a gentle smile at the fellow, who doesn’t want to lose any of the bread he eats, but loses a little bit anyway, and who is so harmless that the small and timid birds manage to come within two feet of him, this mysterious creature, this man. We don’t know what is going on in the man’s mind. Wordsworth doesn’t allow himself that sentimentality. Whatever it may be, he is a part of both the natural world and the human village. There is a communion of sorts between him and the sparrows, he the more precious of that breed, and a communion between him and his fellow men.

For people are moved by him. Again, Wordsworth is not appealing to easy sentiment, but to action—the action of human souls. The sauntering horseman does not toss the beggar a coin, but stops, to make sure the alms are lodged safely in the man’s hat, and then, upon leaving him, “watches the aged Beggar with a look / Sidelong, and half reverted.” The exchange is not financial but human. The woman at the turnpike, when she sees him coming, leaves her booth and lifts up the latch for him to pass. The post-boy, harried with business, shouts to him from behind, but if the old man doesn’t hear, the boy slows down his horses and passes him on the roadside, “without a curse / Upon his lips, or anger at his heart.”

If the old man cannot earn his keep, can he at least behold with a full heart the beauty of the world around him? If we should insist upon it, then that, too, would reduce him to an object of utility. No, the man is so stooped, his eyes travel the ground at the same slow pace of his walk. He seems, quite literally, to make no mark on the world, as the world seems to make no mark on him:

His staff trails with him; scarcely do his feet
Disturb the summer dust; he is so still
In look and motion, that the cottage curs,
Ere he has passed the door, will turn away,
Weary of barking at him. Boys and girls,
The vacant and the busy, maids and youths,
And urchins newly breeched—all pass him by:
Him even the slow-paced wagon leaves behind.

What good is such a life?

Here Wordsworth turns with a glare at those who reduce “good” to utility, and utility to those economic speckles that can be counted up:

But deem not this Man useless.—Statesmen! Ye
Who are so restless in your wisdom, ye
Who have a broom still ready in your hands
To rid the world of nuisances; ye proud,
Heart-swoln, while in your pride ye contemplate
Your talents, power, or wisdom, deem him not
A burthen of the earth!

What nuisances, one might ask? The poor, whose souls we kill, while keeping their bodies well fed and at a comfortable distance? The simple, who shatter our dreams of Harvard, and whose habits embarrass us? The dying, who remind us of our mortality? The unborn, for whose little lives we are personally responsible? What good are these? But the goodness of being, the poet affirms, is absolute. All things partake of it, even the meanest creatures that creep on the earth; far more, then, does man, no matter how lowly. We cannot scorn that Beggar, unaccommodated Man, “without offence to God.”

But there is more. The old man is not only an object of charity. He is a living memorial to that kindness. He endows it with a human face—what no detachedly benign philanthropic system can do; and so connects his benefactors with their own better selves long past, and with one another:

While from door to door,
This old Man creeps, the villagers in him
Behold a record which together binds
Past deeds and offices of charity,
Else unremembered, and so keeps alive
The kindly mood in hearts which lapse of years,
And that half-wisdom half-experience gives,
Make slow to feel, and by sure steps resign
To selfishness and cold oblivious cares.

For some few, for the sublime and saintly among us, that beggar may bring them their first glimpse into a world of their own kindred amid sorrow and want; so it is that a Mother Teresa, that most unsentimental of women, will say that the poor, when they are loved, give more than they receive.

One thing they give us is the rare chance to break those fetters that can bind us tighter than sin: the fetters of right living. The Poor Woman of Leon Bloy’s novel, as she lies dying, will say with a heart filled with gratitude that the only tragedy is not to have been a saint. It is no tragedy to have missed out at a partnership in a law firm, or to have let slip one’s “dreams,” whatever those fantasies of power and glory may be. Wordsworth puts the point bluntly: what is there in the “cold abstinence from evil deeds” that can “satisfy the human soul”? A man pays his taxes, does not violate the law in any flagrant way, keeps well away from the marches of evil as mapped out by the latest scientists of ethics, votes for the correct candidates, and sends a check now and again to a distant charity. Does that satisfy the human soul? No more, I say, than a speckled ceiling or the drone of a television, or the false paternity of a government, or any other measure that keeps us conveniently apart from one another and from the good creatures with which we share this world.

For we need to love as well as to be loved:

Man is dear to man; the poorest poor
Long for some moments in a weary life
When they can know and feel that they have been,
Themselves, the fathers and the dealers-out
Of some small blessings; have been kind to such
As needed kindness, for this single cause,
That we have all of us one human heart.

That last line says all that I have been struggling to say here. The medicine for our inhumanity cannot be compounded of inhumanity. We must learn to love again—even to know our neighbors would be a good and toddling beginning. We must learn to love those incomparably useless and precious beings, the child, the elderly, the unborn, and the dying, because they and we are one.

Anthony Esolen is Professor of English at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, and the author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Ironies of Faith. He has translated Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata and Dante’s The Divine Comedy. This article reprinted with permission from thePublicDiscourse.com.

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Michael Lorsch, the real-life gay stripper hired by Canadian children's charity, Free the Children.
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,

So, a gay stripper walks into a top children’s charity and asks for a job…

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By Anthony Esolen

This week I'm taking a break from my essays on how to form in your children a wholesome moral imagination.  Instead I'd like to engage my readers in a fantasy of decadence.

Let's suppose that a prominent child-oriented charity in a once Christian nation hires somebody to meet with teenagers to encourage them to be “shameless idealists.”  Imagine that the pedagogue is a male stripper for a gay ho-down called Boylesque. 

At the Boylesque webpage, suppose you find a Mountie in a passionate kiss with a lumberjack, who is holding a bottle of beer foaming over. “Imagine your dearest Canadian icons,” say the Boylesque promoters, “stripped down and slathered in maple syrup for your viewing pleasure!”

Free the children? Teach them to blush. It's a good start.

The page features “Ray Gunn,” the Canadian “Mount-Me Police,” a rousing rendition of “O Canada” to make you “stand at attention,” an ad for a Valentine celebration of “debauch” at “our den of iniquity,” somebody named “Bruin Pounder,” somebody else named “Sigourney Beaver,” some stars of a “bisexual-athon,” and so forth. 

Imagine third-rate puns, puerile fascination with the parts down under, dopey titillation, debauchery, and “putting male nudity at center stage where it belongs.”

Now, let's see, what else can we add to this eye-rolling story? Suppose the boy-man who strips at Boylesque at night, after he works with girls and boys during the day, calls himself Mickey D Liscious. Let's give him an absurdly bogus education - a major in Sexuality Studies. Suppose the people who run the charity do more than look demurely aside from Mickey's mooning and lighting. They name him Rookie of the Year.

Now, to complicate the plot, suppose that people catch on to Mr. Liscious' nightly swinging, and complain to the charity. The directors say what cannot possibly be true.  They say they do not “discriminate” on the basis of what their employees do after hours. We presume that although whores and nudie wigglers may be welcome, people who write for conservative magazines would not be welcome, or embezzlers, pickpockets, bookies, loan sharks, dogfight promoters, or peddlers of contraband sealskin. The line has to be drawn somewhere. Prudence is a virtue. After all, we're dealing with boys and girls here. A priest who says, “Men and women are meant for one another, in marriage,” is to be shunned, but not somebody who simulates sex in front of hooting and howling strangers.

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Let's add the icing to the fantasy. We'll call the charity Free the Children, and we'll suppose that Free the Children encourages Mr. Mickey D Liscious to tell teenagers to be “shameless idealists.” 

Of course, everything in this tawdry and silly fantasy is fact. You can't make it up. No one would believe it.

You might suppose that I'd criticize Free the Children for its choice of Cool Child Companion, saying that he is the wrong boy to tell boys and girls to be “shameless idealists.” Mr. Liscious, for his part, believes that what he does at night and what he does during the day are of a piece, greasing the grooves and pistons of change. I take him at his word. He's right, and the directors of Free the Children agree. It's our turn to try to figure out what they mean.

By “idealist,” Mr. Liscious and his promoters do not mean “someone who believes that the immaterial is more real than the material.” Mickey is not giving lectures on Plato's Republic. They also do not mean, colloquially, “someone who believes in a high standard of personal virtue,” since such standards would deprive Boylesque of all those boys who like “a dirty flashmob” and “a Tim Horton's double-double served straight up.” They cannot mean that, because shame is what people with a strong sense of virtue often feel when they behave in a base or cowardly way.

The best they can mean is “unembarrassed promoters of some idea,” some fantasy of perfection upon earth, the Big Rock Candy Mountain, the dictatorship of the proletariat, a “better world,” and other gauzy dreams that earn you points at a beauty contest, while you tilt your head like a poodle and modulate your voice for caring and sharing. 

And all I can say is that the last hundred years have been stuffed to the eyeballs with shameless idealists: shameless ideologues. They had an idea, or an idea had them, and shame on them for it. The more wicked among them had names like Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Hitler, Pol Pot, and Khomeini. The more foolish had names like Harold Laski, who carried water for Lenin; Beatrice Webb, who carried water for Stalin; and Neville Chamberlain, who made a nice little pact with Hitler and proclaimed “Peace in our Time.”

Wilson was an idealist whose ideas got the better of his prudence and shame. We paid for that idealism in a crushed and belligerent Germany. The flower people of the sixties were idealists who scoffed at “hangups.” They could gaze upon the stars and sing about the Age of Aquarius, while their children looked to the empty place at table where Daddy or Mommy used to sit. Margaret Sanger was a shameless idealist. Hospital dumpsters are full of the result. 

We have had enough of shamelessness and foolish wars against reality.  

You cannot make “the world” a better place. The world is the world, old and stupid. Man is a sinner, and worst when he forgets that he is. That's not to say that you should sit and do nothing. Do the dishes. Read a good book. Be kind to your bothersome neighbor. Darken the church door and bend your knee in prayer.

Accept reality, and do the hard and unheralded work of cultivating virtue. Children are imprudent because they lack experience. Let them learn prudence from their elders. It takes no courage to follow the dreamy fad of the day, and children are suggestible. Let them learn the courage to resist the foolish and ephemeral. Children are often intemperate, because they're full of energy and so are given to hasty action and violent passions. Let them master and marshal their passions by subordinating them to right reason. Children see the world in stark oppositions of just and unjust. Let them keep their strong sense of justice, but let them temper it with the mercy that comes from acknowledgment of sin. Let shame instruct them in clemency.

Deny reality, dive deep into vice, and you will be a slave. Free the children? Teach them to blush. It's a good start.

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Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
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‘I am just getting started’: Florida AG vows to defend marriage despite rulings

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By Dustin Siggins

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is not backing down in her effort to defend the state's marriage amendment, even in the face of five judicial decisions against it.

On Thursday, the same day that U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled the state's amendment was unconstitutional, Bondi told reporters that her continued defense of marriage was related to her "oath to defend the Constitution of the state of Florida."

"When I was sworn in as attorney general, the 37th attorney general of the state of Florida, I took an oath," continued Bondi. “Six years ago, by over 62 percent of the vote, the voters of this state put [the ban on same-sex marriage] into our Constitution. That is part of the Constitution, which I am sworn to uphold."

Bondi acknowledged Hinkle's ruling in her comments, including his "stay" of the ruling, and said that her continued defense of the law "is me doing my job as attorney general. And I will continue to do that and if anybody wants me to moderate my message or stand for less, I have a message for them: I am just getting started.”

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Bondi has taken fire for her defense of the state law. Critics point to her two divorces and a recent trip she took with her fiance as evidence of a double-standard, and in May she was heavily criticized for saying overturning the state's law would "impose significant public harm.” Same-sex "marriage" advocates took the comments as evidence that Bondi believes heterosexual relationships are superior to homosexual relationships.

Shortly after the uproar over Bondi's May statement, State Solicitor General Allen Winsor said in a statement that “Florida is harmed whenever a federal court enjoins enforcement of its laws, including the laws at issue here.”

“Florida’s voters approved a constitutional amendment, which is being challenged, and it is the attorney general’s duty to defend Florida law," he added.

Numerous studies, most prominently one done by Mark Regnerus in 2012, show that the best environment for children is that which consists of a married heterosexual couple.

Bondi joins a number of state attorneys general from both parties who are defending their state laws. Some Democratic attorneys general, perhaps most prominently Virginia's Mark Herring, have said they will not defend their state's marriage laws.

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Shock: UK mom abandons disabled daughter, keeps healthy son after twin surrogacy

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By Pete Baklinski

A UK woman who is the biological mother of twins born from a surrogate mom, has allegedly abandoned one of the children because she was born with a severe muscular condition, while taking the girl's healthy sibling home with her.

The surrogate mother, also from the UK — referred to as "Jenny" to protect her identity — revealed to The Sun the phone conversation that took place between herself and the biological mother over the fate of the disabled girl.

“I remember her saying to me, “She’d be a f****** dribbling cabbage! Who would want to adopt her? No one would want to adopt a disabled child,’” she said.

Jenny, who has children of her own, said she decided to become a surrogate to “help a mother who couldn’t have children.” She agreed to have two embryos implanted in her womb and to give birth for £12,000 ($20,000 USD).

With just six weeks to the due date, doctors told Jenny she needed an emergency caesarean to save the babies. It was not until a few weeks after the premature births that the twin girl was diagnosed with congenital myotonic dystrophy.

When Jenny phoned the biological mother to tell her of the girl’s condition, the mother rejected the girl.

Jenny has decided along with her partner to raise the girl. They have called her Amy.

“I was stunned when I heard her reject Amy,” Jenny said. “She had basically told me that she didn’t want a disabled child.”

Jenny said she felt “very angry” towards the girl’s biological parents. "I hate them for what they did.”

The twins are now legally separated. A Children and Family Court has awarded the healthy boy to the biological mother and the disabled girl to her surrogate.

The story comes about two weeks after an Australian couple allegedly abandoned their surrogate son in Thailand after he was born with Down syndrome, while taking the healthy twin girl back with them to Australia.

Rickard Newman, director of Family Life, Pro-Life & Child and Youth Protection in the Diocese of Lake Charles, called the Australian story a “tragedy” that “results from a marketplace that buys and sells children.”

“Third-party reproduction is a prism for violations against humanity. IVF and the sperm trade launched a wicked industry that now includes abortion, eugenics, human trafficking, and deliberate family fragmentation,” he said. 

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