Gifts and Glories and Remembrance

Morris Ertman
November 11, 2011

It’s been a week since The Gifts of the Magi opened on our stage. The word “glorious” comes to mind as I think of the company of performers and technicians and audience that have come together around this classic story by O. Henry. There’s a song that Jim sings in the show called “How Much To Buy My Dream”. It’s about living on the edge of it all, holding out for hope and love and life. In our staging, the song takes Jim home to Della - his wife and the love of his life. It’s the day before Christmas and to Jim, she’s the brightest light in the world right now. ... (You'll have to see the show to get the rest.)

Today is Remembrance Day, and something about that song, this day, and a John Steinbech quote all come together in the words “glory” and “glorious”. (And, just so we’re clear, when I read the word “man” in this explosion of thought from Steinbech’s East of Eden, I hear “person”, meaning women and men.)

“Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then - the glory - so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man's importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men. ...
At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?
Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. ...
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. ... If the glory can be killed, we are lost.”

There was an article in the Edmonton Journal this morning about children laying poppies on each and every military gravestone in a cemetery in Edmonton. There was yet another story about a soldier and his newly minted bride, marrying while he was on leave in 1945. A statement in that article brought me full circle and back to The Gifts of the Magi and the marriage at the centre of the story.

“Love was then as it is now - an act of involuntary hope, a gesture from the heart that we promise to carry into the future.” - Robert S. Jahrig -

There is something like an explosion of heart that happens when we wake up to the glory in each other. Marriages happen. Children happen. Families happen. Deep and lasting friendships happen.

Some 60 or so years ago, my wife Jo’s uncle died hours before troops landed on Normandy beach. He was a paratrooper and Mother’s son from Saskatchewan, the result of “an act of involuntary hope” between a working class husband and wife. His Dad was a traveling salesman, an ordinary Joe, not unlike Jim Dillingham in The Gifts of the Magi. Who knows what Morris Ellefson’s dream was, but he wrote to his Mother words about God keeping them all hours before he climbed aboard the fateful plane that took him to a much too early eternal glory. He and other ordinary Joe's like he and his Mom and Dad carry a shine that on this Remembrance Day seems particularly glorious.

Gifts and Glories and Remembrance

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Morris Ertman