Stuck with insomnia, I spent last night listening to Isaac Hayes “Hot Buttered Soul,” my favorite of his albums and thinking about what a masterpiece both “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and his version of “Walk On By” are. I’ve always loved the album since I was a kid and I’ve always loved the passion of both songs. His version of Burt Bacharach’s “Walk On By,” is by far the most complex, unique and beautiful. From the beautiful string arrangements to the guitar. It’s such a sad and lush production, very unlike Dionne Warwick’s version which is a standard pop ballad. The only other version of “Walk On By” I love is Cyndi Lauper’s cover on her jazz standards album, but it still pales in comparison to Hayes.
Now he has died, leaving this masterpiece of an album behind, among others. His booming deep voice on “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” echoes in my head as I can see the car fly by on southwestern highways to its southern destination away from the woman who broke his heart.
I thought about the enormity of Russia invading Georgia, its former providence, and worried as an amateur history buff that this all has a very World War I ring to it. And example of how a small regional conflict can explode and rapidly spread. How far will Russia go now that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is comparing Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to Saddam Hussein and their aggression to our aggression in Iraq.
Putin has called out the pot for calling the kettle black.
“Of course, Saddam Hussein ought to have been hanged for destroying several Shiite villages,” Putin said in Moscow. “And the incumbent Georgian leaders who razed ten Ossetian villages at once, who ran elderly people and children with tanks, who burned civilian alive in their sheds — these leaders must be taken under protection.”
This is what happens when you lose your moral standing, all tyrants are emboldened by the new rules — there are no rules. Just ruthlessness. Russia didn’t like the idea of its former property vying for a membership in NATO, the alliance created with the sole purpose of protecting Western European countries and the United States. And if Georgia were a member of NATO I can almost guarantee this would not have happened. An attack on one in NATO is supposed to be viewed as an attack on all, and Russia, the only country who can even attempt to match us militarily, has no desire to tussle with us, the Brits, the French, et al.
Although, with us mired in two wars, we don’t get have much weight to throw around to protect or bargain Georgia’s way out of this conflict. If Russia wants to crush Georgia it can. If it wants to take back it’s other former territories, it can. Who can stop them? What can we do? We’ve spent the past 60 years trying to advert war with Russia. Any attempt to stop them by force would be charging head first into the war we never wanted. The one we thought died with the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. No one wants to go the party we prepared for. No one wants the one kind of war we actually know how to fight.
I know we won’t get involved, but it still concerns me. If the conflict spreads, as the Ukraine is threatening to cut off their ports to the Russians, what will happen next? If the Russian’s take Georgia’s capital?
Then, unexpectedly comedian Bernie Mac died from complications with pneumonia. I knew he was in the hospital. I knew he was ill. But to see him died of something preventable saddened me. He was only 50 years old and I tire of black men, rich and poor, who die at an early age from preventable diseases. Gerald LeVert and his brother Sean come to mind. And also another man much closer to me.
My father’s younger brother, my uncle died on Thursday from cancer. He originally was diagnosed with colon cancer more than a year ago. He’d been sick longer than that but refused to go to the doctor until he was in horrible pain. He had emergency surgery to remove a large tumor form his colon. It was malignant, but even after learning that he didn’t want chemotherapy, only later coming around to the idea of taking the treatments. In the end, it was too late. The cancer spread to his liver and eventually it was evident the chemo couldn’t help him at all. Nothing could help him and we all had to watch over less than six weeks as he went down, becoming thinner and thinner, sicker and sicker, until he could barely walk or talk and was in so much pain.
When his daughter, my first cousin called on Thursday to tell me her father had passed on, I didn’t know what to say or how to feel. I’d loved my uncle, a happy, funny guy, who never seemed to worry about anything. Who even tried to use his humor to make us feel less sad about him dying. He was my father’s best friend. A grandfather. And he was dead at 64.
And if he’d only gone to the docto
r for his regular check ups, if he’d had a colonoscopy, this could have been caught early like my mother’s colon cancer. It could have been treated and he could still be with us. My father is 66 and my mother is 63. I can’t imagine them suddenly dying so early, but I know they could, anyone could. You never know when it’s your time to go. But if you’re a man and you are avoiding the doctor out of ignorance or arrogance, stop. There is no reason for you to avoid an hour of discomfort when that avoidance could lead to you becoming yet another statistic of the abbreviated life expectancy of the black male.
Why would you want to leave us alone? I know that as my uncle lay dying he didn’t want to leave us alone, but he didn’t have a choice at that moment. Brothers, give yourself a choice. Don’t let the disease make the decision for you.
I normally don’t write things that are personal and I normally don’t write about my own spiritual beliefs, but if you believe in praying, considering the state of our two wars, the genocide in Darfur, the unrest in many African countries ruled by despots and dictators, China’s crackdown on dissidents, the severe poverty of the people of Haiti, our failing economy and healthcare system, the violence that gripes American cities like St. Louis and Philadelphia, horrendous inner city schools and black children who grow up believing their lives are worthless and behaving as if they are worthless, if you consider the AIDS epidemic with black people here and abroad, if you consider how a war in Georgia could affect the whole world depending on what the Russians do next, I’d suggest you pray. And if you don’t believe in praying, I’d suggest awareness. Be aware of the world you live in. Be a responsible citizen and study the facts before you choose your congressman or woman, governor or representative, city council member, judge or president. Do not base your decision on looks or popularity, but on facts. Do not make decisions with emotion, make them with your right mind.
Be aware of what your country does in your name and what it does not and remember in the end that we, as Americans, get the government we deserve because we are the ones who vote for them. Rather than having contempt for Congress, have contempt for ourselves as we elected that Congress. And rather than complain, arm yourself with information and turn that information into action. You don’t have to save the world, but you can find the change that fits for you.