One of my great passions is history, particularly American history. I find comfort and inspiration in looking back and seeing how Americans have endured through difficult times and, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, been touched by our better angels.
On Farm to Market Road between Floorsville and La Vernia, Texas, there’s a landmark that everybody knows. Directions around those parts go something like this: “You’ll want to turn left at the Volkswagen in the tree.”
There’s no way you can look at that photo without smiling.
Connie Spaid was in high school when her grandmother taught her how to crochet. That is probably how most people learn an art like crocheting, something that to most might seem quaint, maybe even a bit outdated. Connie certainly never thought of it as anything more than that. She learned two basic stitches, enough to piece together a simple pattern on her own, and she was happy to know how to do it. She could add that to her creative skill-set.
The idea is simple. Every single day, we are besieged by businesses, political strategists, marketing gurus and media entities telling us what we are. We are young. We are old. We are Southerners or Northerners or Californians or from flyover country. We are Republicans or Democrats, male or female, straight or gay, working class or middle class or upper class or elites. We are our race, our religion, our height, our weight, our family status, our heritage.
Over the past several months, as I’ve managed a variety of challenging client matters and Joe has been out counting down the 100 greatest baseball players for The Athletic (a list I have strong disagreements with, by the way), we took a bit of a hiatus from the Passion project. We wanted to rethink some things. We wanted to consider so new angles.
One of the joys of my life has been reading books to our daughters. They’re too old now, which hurts. There is nothing that fully replaces that experience, nothing that can quite connect us in the same way. And of all the reading experiences through the years — the Dr. Seuss books, the Harry Potters, the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Harry Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy, Goodnight Moon, Giraffes Can’t Dance experiences — the best of all was when I read The Princess Bride to our oldest.
Wendy Cope is one of those extraordinary people whose talents, so far at least, has not quite crossed the Atlantic Ocean. She’s a major celebrity in England, where a poet can still be a major celebrity. Her first book, “Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis,” sold more than 200,000 copies, an absurd number for a collection of poems. Her poetry is sparse, funny, heartbreaking, and in the spirit of a hero, Emily Dickinson, always more complicated than its effortless flow.
When you look at the scope of our passions, it’s tempting to say that nothing connects them. What does horseback riding have to do with Sodoku puzzles have to do with cross-stitching have to do with the Fortnite dance have to do with slow-cooking barbecue have to do with collecting bobble head dolls? The American landscape is vast. We are all very different.
Ellen McCarthy has written wonderfully about passions in her time at The Washington Post — both literally and figuratively. She wrote about technology, arts, and entertainment before her memorable run as the Post’s wedding reporter. That led to her acclaimed book “The Real Thing: Lessons on Love and Love from a Wedding Reporter’s Notebook.” She is now a part-time features writer for the Post and full-time mother of two young children.
A few years ago, while on an extended trip to Asia, I made a stop in the Kingdom of Bhutan. I attended an archery exhibition (the shared national passion), visited a small public school, and toured a monastery with a Buddhist Monk who lectured me about serenity and peacefulness as he constantly juggled incoming calls on his new cell phone. I also got a surprise lesson in passion from two Bhutanese twenty-somethings.