Saturday, April 28, 2012


Lamenting. I’m guilty of writing that way; longing for another time or situation while whining about the present state of this or that. Lamenting is something we Americans do well. We feel a tug of longing to read about regret. Editorials exude lamentation.

Woe is me. Woe is us. We’re heading toward a cliff. We stand on the edge. Lookout! What have we done? We missed an opportunity. We should have, could have, if only we would have. Back when and if only we could restore this onetime good, that long ago atmosphere.

Every once in a while I read something that seems to capture the present like one of those gritty Polaroids. Remember those? Sorry, falling into the lament thing. But really, pieces of writing that describe a situation with clarity and honesty. We know it when we read it.

Political speeches, good ones in our measurement, contain a narrative, a story. Speeches grab our attention with a personal story and build upon that focused vignette, to a larger concept. Lace a bit of lament in the speech and it swings. Spice it with hope by way of selective memory. The result? Longing.

We long for what we think we once knew. We long for things made in in promises. We purchase the lottery ticket. We accept someone’s vision for a better economy. We choose to elect them.

Lamenting is a big part of our collective behavior. We learned early in life what it means. Our culture borrows the emotion from Abraham, not Lincoln, and all the gods his story gave to so many. Nostalgia fuels the lament. Self-examination leads to regret. Often we cannot move past that feeling of failure.

Editorials often lack the “this is how I see it” or the invitation to invite others to share how they see it. I like to hear it all.

Today, I enjoyed a writer’s take on traveling to London for the coming Summer Olympics. He lives in London and took the time to tell me what to expect. With humor and honesty, he shared that Londoners will begrudgingly welcome the masses of visitors. He recommended a few quiet pubs. He characterized London as a collection of principalities. No Londoner has witnessed the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. He exaggerated while sharing his truth which is something you’ll have to find out for yourself. He was, in an English crude phrase, “takin’ the piss”. It’s a phrase you’ll hear at a pub often, a sort of honest English phrase akin to Robert DeNiro’s famous line in Taxi Driver: “You talkin’ ta me?”

“Takin’ the piss” is the opposite of the lament. In America, we don’t take it often enough. We have our cultural “takers” – examples: in writing, The Onion. On TV, Stephen Colbert. They take it but when they take it, we know we’re giving it. We so rarely tune in to the taking that we fail to let it be taken. We’re comfortable with lamenting, thrive on hope and enjoy longing.

Travel to London at your own risk this summer, America. If you go, keep your lamentations under control. Here we call it whining. In London, the translation is whinging [ win jing] …a word not part of your MSWord lexicon.

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