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I think it was back in college that I was first seized with the idea of a story set to The Doors’ Riders on the Storm.

I remember the story still.

In the hall of a Magyar lord, somewhere and sometime in old Hungary, a stranger came unbidden during a great storm. The lord of the hall would never allow himself to be accused of denying hospitality. Even though the stranger had a sinister air, still he was welcomed, and allowed to sit at the table with the lord and his two sons.

What the lord could not know was his guest’s frame of mind. The stranger struggled under horrible compulsions, like a toad squatting on his mind. In the midst of the meal he became agitated, picked up a knife, and stabbed his host to death, the blood pouring out to mingle with the Tokaj. Before anyone could react, the murderous guest ran from the hall and out over the Pannonian plain.

The brothers called for pistol, sword and cloak, leapt on their horses, and gave chase. With the rain and thunder, it took all their years of experience as huntsmen just to pursue their father’s killer, but pursue they did, becoming inexorably closer.

The elder brother was fearless, thinking of nothing save avenging his father. He did not know his danger. Not danger from the murderer–danger from his younger brother.

For the younger brother had a toad of his own. For years he had nursed a jealous rage against his older brother, who would inherit all their family’s vast estates while he received nothing. Even as they rode out, the men of the hall hailed the elder as their lord. But now was the perfect opportunity. All he had to do, as they closed with the killer, was put the first bullet in his brother and the second in the stranger. Then he would be lord.

Could he pull the trigger? Would the elder brother realize the younger’s plan? Would the killer escape in the fratricidal chaos?

Riders on the storm…

The lesson of the shift from the Geocentric to the Heliocentric model is that that which seems to be the most obvious in the world–such as the fact the sun moves and the earth doesn’t–can turn out to be a trick of perspective.

In the same way, much of what we hold most dear might cast a most different profile when viewed through a wider lens.

Friday evening I heard on the radio: “There are three things you have to remember–her birthday, your anniversary, and THEIR SACRIFICE FOR ALL OUR FREEDOMS!”

I almost threw up.

American culture typically has problems dealing with the dark side of life, but when applied to death in combat, the banality stinks more than normal.

Most folks don’t know, but “Thank you for your service,” which appears to be a sentence of English words, is actually a series of phonemes from an obscure Amazonian indigenous tongue translating to “Please absolve my guilt for enabling your participation in a series of brushfire wars and the resulting witness of horrors unspeakable in our popular imagination.”

The best possible solemnity for today would be public group readings of Paul Fussells’s Wartime and Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War.

But that’s not going to happen. What’s more likely is that an American soldier, somewhere in the globe, will be killed, in combat or by accident, and have their name misspelled in the newspapers.

In closing, here is Founding Father Benjamin Rush’s 1798 proposal for a Department of Peace.

Sometime in the late Seventies, a certain stream of photons flowed through a window in Barryville, NY. In the flow danced tiny bits of dust. I, at age four or five, stared transfixed at the beam. Did the beam create the dust or just illuminate it? I hoped the former, even though I suspect I was wrong.

Years later, I had an epiphany. According to Einstein’s theory of special relativity, time is experienced according to how we sense light. Therefore LIGHT==TIME. Excited, I sped to an astrophysicist friend and asked if my idea was accurate.

Nope! My friend informed me that light plays very little role in how physicists think about the phenomenon of time.

(This is why you always want to ask someone with expertise, folks)

The thing is that you can go the other way: since, according to Einstein, light is so plastic, physics had to proceed to more reliable ways of describing time (and time gets more complicated and much less assured as you discover more about it.)

Yet there is some relationship. LIGHT==TIME was off. But I am told that if I were to somehow teleport to a point far enough away from earth, I could see that moment captured in my memory fleeing out to distant stars. When we look into the night sky, we see the distant past. Light is a form of time travel.

I still remember that beam of light, defining the dust motes within it. Light and memory and time, all interwoven. Beams of light everywhere and always, in 1978, in 1928, in 1028, in -1028, ten thousand years before that moment, ten million years before that moment, ten hundred million years before that moment. Light may not define time, but it defines the moment.

(A juxtagraph is a prose poetry form, best described as “a mosaic of facts.”)

THE MBTA: A JUXTAGRAPH
-DW Twiddy

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is the mass transit system serving Greater Boston. It includes light rail, trolleys, trackless trolleys, heavy rail, buses, and ferries. The T, as it is known, serves more than 200 communities. At the end of 2017 the system carried 1.7 million passengers, about twice the population of the city of Boston proper, each day.

Between 1996 and 1999, every workday, I rode the Green Line B Train from Grigg Street, near Boston College, to Lechmere, almost its entire length, an hour each way. I read my newspaper, fell asleep, ate my lunch. The trolley became my living room, a second home.

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