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TRAMONTANE/Julius Lester In Memoriam: John Howard Griffin On September 9 of this year, John Howard Griffin died of complications from diabetes in Fort Worth. Most knew him as the white man who “dyed” his skin and travelled through the South for six weeks in 1959 so he might know what it was like to be black in America. He recorded his story in the best-seller, Black Like Me. If Griffin is ultimately remembered only for that book, it will be a travesty. He was an extraordinary novelist, and even more, a consummate human being. Born in Dallas in 1920, he was educated to be a doctor, was a recognized authority on Gregorian chants at age 21. He worked in the French underground early in World War II and helped smuggle Jews out of Nazi Germany. Forced finally to flee Europe or risk capture, he enlisted and was sent to the South Pacific, where an exploding bomb left him blind in 1946. He did not regain his sight until 1957, and at that time, saw his wife and two oldest children for the first time. During the years of his blindness, he wrote two novels The Devil Rides Outside and Nuni. No summary of their plots or themes can do justice to their richness and depth. Both are serious, complex works. Literary critic Maxwell Geismar wrote, “Nothing like them has been written in American fiction of the modern period. For sheer talent, power and virtuosity of craft, Griffin ranks very high.” Unfortunately, both novels have been long out-of-print, and while excerpts were published in The John Howard Griffin Reader, edited by Texan Bradford Daniel, it, too, is out of print. It is significant that Griffin’s novelistic output is limited to the years of his blindness. There were many novels in progress, but, as much as he loved writing, Griffin was not a literary man. That is, he does not seem to have lived and died for the agony of creating a universe in words. Besides Black Like Me, only two other books of his were published: Land of the High Sky, a short historical work about the Staked Plain area of Texas, and A Hidden Wholeness, which features the photographs of the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. The latter work may give a clue to why Griffin did not fulfill himself as a novelist. He chose to fulfill himself as a .human being. A Hidden Wholeness is as close as one can come to holding a Bach cantata in one’s hands. It features Griffin’s text, some photographs of his, and mainly those of Merton, taken primarily around the Abbey of Gethsemane. The book is supposed to be about Merton, but it is really a co-mingling of Merton’s spirit and Griffin’s. The two were close friends, even spiritual brothers, each living out a part of life the other had chosen not to live, living a part of life through each other. Merton was the contemplative in the cloister; Griffin was the contemplative in the world husband, father, social activist, journalist. What characterizes the work and lives of both men is contemplation as the “gift of awareness, an awakening to the Real within all that is real.” Merton also described contemplation as “life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being.” This contemplative core in Griffin is heard also, but less purely in. Griffin’s other works. “Nowadays we seek happiness and we seek love; in my day we believed we had to be happiness and love,” he wrote in The Devil Rides Outside. In a letter to a friend, he wrote about writing, but also made a statement about himself: “The writing is basically nothing more than the overflow of this great love which causes men to throw out all the paraphernalia of what is in favor of what ought to be.” It was this abiding sense of “what ought to be” that compelled him to become a black man. It is this same sense which pervades his journals, of which extracts were published in the Reader. There, as well as in the extracts published in Volume One of the Merton Studies Center, one is in the presence of one of the most extraordinary journals, and it is to be hoped that they will be published now in their entirety. The journals will establish him as one of the major writers and figures of our time. In the journals his deep religious sensibility speaks most clearly, and these words, written on the eve of his departure to be a black man in the South, are words for all time and all people: Nothing is more difficult than deciding to look squarely at profound convictions and to act upon them, even when doing so goes contrary to all our desires; deciding to abandon ourselves deliberately and completely to that which is so beautiful, justice, and to that which is so terrible, the reprisals, the disesteem of men. He knew that “disesteem of men.” He was forced to leave Mansfield, Texas, after returning from his Black Like Me odyssey. His life and his family’s lives were threatened repeatedly. He knew deep suffering years of blindness, years of pain, the consequence of the treatment he received to darken his skin. Yet, through it all, there seems to have been “this great love,” which always put him on the side of “what ought to be.” Now that he is dead, “what ought to be” is the fullest recognition of an extraordinary life lived extraordinarily well. CONTRABAND/Laurence Jolidon Anyone here seen America? All the music has ended in madness. The mind searches for a lesson in the stories about the hit man of rock and roll. He is sick, of course, a Frankenstein fan lurching out of the night, deranged by the adoration he was no longer able to keep holstered, by an adoration that pukes itself up as rage. I am the walrus, wrote Lennon. I am the sex pistol, thought Chapman. “Mr. Lennon!” he shouted just before he shot. Mr. Lennon. Is that not polite? We are polite in our madness. But is our society sick? Or simply negligent? An adored public figure is killed and, invariably, someone will pull rationality out of its sheath and try to spike the foul deed in its tracks. It never works. Madness flows around the blade of rationality and congeals further on. Insanity’s fault line runs through the core of the species. We look for cracks. We write a geologic treatise of THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5