I Hate To Sound Trite, But …

21 April 2017 BE: All this past winter, people have been risking life and limb to cross illegally from the US into Canada, to claim asylum. One of the first, who nearly froze to death crossing by foot into Manitoba, said later on the radio, “I hate to sound trite, and I certainly didn’t plan it this way, but it was worth losing my fingers to get into Canada because here I’m a human being.”

WH Auden hated to sound trite too, and the young man on the radio reminded me of him. Auden was so embarrassed by the line “We must love one another or die” that he dropped the entire long great poem “September 1, 1939” from his collected works. Millions have now read that poem on the internet, and it keeps circulating, so maybe there is such a thing as being too concerned about sounding trite.

Michelle Obama, being interviewed in the White House last December by Oprah Winfrey, said, without hesitation or embarrassment, “Open your heart; that’s all it takes.”

I haven’t lived in the US for thirty years now, and have learned in the meantime to dish out advice only to myself, as a matter of personal policy. Still, there are some things it’s easier to see from a distance than close-up. So, one final time, I’ll venture into territory where I’m likely to get whacked:

Dear Cousins to the South,

Remember how quickly the Soviet Union came apart? That’s how fast your country is falling apart.

Remember your first civil war, the one that at the time was the bloodiest conflict in human history? You’re sliding into a second one, where every state is a border state, friends and family turn on each other, there is no clear definition of victory or defeat, and almost no one knows what they’re doing, apart from destroying or hiding in their house or intellectualizing the whole situation.

Please, people, pretty please with sugar on it, do what Michelle told you to do. Open your heart. Don’t try to figure out how this jives with your metaphysics or your politics or your plans, just do it. Like, now.

With sincere best wishes for the future,

Yr friend, Harriet Ann


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Harriet Ann Ellenberger

writer, editor, translator; co-founded the journal "Sinister Wisdom"

11 thoughts on “I Hate To Sound Trite, But …”

  1. Totally true. Totally true, even considering that you’re my big sister and I love you very much. Hmm, what happened to the good old days when we disagreed on things? (Secret answer to rhetorical question: Trump et alia)

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  2. Another bull’s eye—Every time I come here there’s something like a tall cool glass of water for mind and soul. This lays open how “encouraged” we are to cling to the ego, which keeps us feeling separate and afraid—worrying WHO’s right rather than WHAT’s right. And as America continues to find out, that way there simply is no bottom to our subjection. Keep nudging us awake, Harriet!

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  3. I have sent this article to a lot of people around here – what I forgot to mention was the power of that particular photograph and its relationship to the post – You do have a habit of getting things just right.

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    1. The photo is one of those feel-free-to-use-it images found on the internet. I don’t know who the photographer is. I posted it first with “Sunrise Over the USA,” the poem dedicated to Barbara Mor, but the image haunted me, so I used it again.


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