But first you must wade through some context to understand my thinking, such as it is. The turning of the year has had its influence, heavy as it is with intimations of mortality. Another year gone by, another year older. When will it stop? Aye, and there’s the rub.
The New Year never fails to bring me an extra dose of rueful reflections, because the early days of January coincide with my birthday and my parents’ birthdays.
I am writing this on my father’s birthday, Jan. 8. He would be 111 years old if he were alive. He shared the same birthday as Elvis, the only thing they had in common.
My dad was a Capricorn, just like Elvis and Jesus. Think about the three of them: the king of kings, the king and a prince of a man, all Capricorns. My mother, princess to the prince of a man, was also a Capricorn, with a birthday Jan. 5.
My birthday was Jan. 3 and this year was a big one — 65, a year when many sensible people quit work, find a rocking chair and sip a geriatric health drink, such as a Bloody Mary, in the shade. Nobody ever said I was a sensible person.
Still, this birthday came hard upon me. I felt not like a Capricorn but just another old goat grazing in the twilight of his career. I fully expected a young person to come up and say: “In your chats with the pharaohs back in the day, did they ever explain why they walked like Egyptians with their hands, like, imitating ducks? What was up with that?”
To add to the emotional turmoil of the soul at ebb tide, my daughter Allison and my tiny granddaughter Tillie ended their surprise visit to Pittsburgh and returned to Australia. They left the snow and went back to a 105-degree heat wave in Sydney. None of us felt cold while they were here; our hearts were affectionately aflame and, besides, Allison kept turning up the thermostat when we weren’t looking.
On Sunday, before sunrise, we went to the airport with our funny daughter and the humorous little baby. When they were kissed and gone at last on their long trip home, we consequently felt as low as a snake’s armpits, as they say Down Under.
And so we went to church in the hope that it might cheer us up. It did. By chance, the minister spoke of his belief that the Lord does not much care about the things we care so dogmatically about in this life — politics, for example — but instead cares whether we reflect the light of goodness.
This made me a tad uncomfortable. When it comes to the eternal light, I feel like I am behind in my payments on my heavenly utility bill. The good reverend’s point, however, was well taken. I have never believed that a person’s character should be judged, say, by whether he is conservative or liberal. Neither political belief has the monopoly on virtue, and my nature is to like everybody until personally disappointed.
Which brings me to the conservative Republican I wish to say something nice about — and thank you for your patience. He is Keith Rothfus, the freshman in Western Pennsylvania’s new, absurdly configured 12th Congressional District, which a mad artist couldn’t draw but political partisans seeking advantage could and did.
His first congressional vote on a significant policy issue was in the minority against federal aid for New Yorkers and others devastated by Superstorm Sandy. While expressing sympathy for its victims, he did not want to add to the deficit. I thought this was cruelty in the service of ideology. But at least his vote was true to the approach he promised the voters.
I like Keith Rothfus. Although we are not close friends, I know him personally. Like most events in my life, I met him in an absurd way — a few years back we played on the same paddle tennis team. There’s nothing like playing a ridiculous sport to get the measure of someone’s character. I think he is a good person, however un-nice his votes may seem to me. Lord knows, sometimes principled people are just honestly wrong.
In this New Year, I think America needs to relearn the lost art of agreeing to disagree without being disagreeable, although I hope good-natured teasing will still be allowed.
Reg Henry writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.