Something that's Greek to me, but comes out loud and clear (2)

After six days of whipping and slashing the world’s body politic, Stefan and I had to call it a week. With the ills of the world temporarily put to rest, I took him to the airport and left him there to charm his way through the security hassle at PDX. On to Athens , my good friend!

As I drove back, there was only one thing on my mind: a box that I could now open, the present from Stef. This much-handled and bruised box (customs and security checks, I would guess) was about to surrender the long awaited secret that was held there.

First to appear was a small chest, more like a coffer, of fir and leather resembling a jewelry box. Inside it, encased in purple velvet, was a book, a very special book- a nineteenth century edition of Alexis de Tocqueville’s “La Démocratie en Amérique”. And folded within was a handwritten letter which I will share:

“Dear Ben:

“Remember the gift you gave me thirty-five years ago this month at the Ambassador, for my birthday? Exactly! Three days before Bobby Kennedy was shot in that same hotel.

“It was a then recent translation of Tocqueville’s ‘Democracy in America ,’ and a present which has stayed with me to this day. You turned me into an admirer of this lawyer, historian, anthropologist, sociologist and incredible writer. Not as a source for how the American government functions, now obviously dated, but at the makeup of democracy itself- something which appears not to have changed philosophically in these two centuries. Thanks, my friend.

“Last year I came across a book antiquary in Lyon and found this copy which I thought might put your French to a test. Not too rare a copy, but in good condition.

“In the book you gave me, the editors, Mayer and Lerner, had a number of notes that Tocqueville jotted down prior to his writing [Democracy in America] one which is of particular interest to me, and to the picture I am seeing of today’s rampant America:

‘Despotism occurs under both extremes of sovereignty: when one man rules and when the majority governs. Despotism is a disease inherent in unlimited power, no matter who represents that power.

‘For democracy to govern, it must have citizens, people who take interest in public affaires; they must have the capacity to participate and to determine. The cardinal point to which one must always return.’

“And what I am seeing, Ben, is a tyranny by consent, allowed by a citizenry that does not properly exercise the power of the vote; nor take interest in public affairs; nor have the capacity (or will) to do the right things.

“You are letting an elitist group with a questionable moral agenda (at best) take the reins of your destiny. I call it despotism for the willing, and all in the name of patriotism.

“As much as I love and owe America , it pains me to see this turn of events. If only we could just wake up and erase this bad dream. Let’s wake up, Ben!” [Signed, Stefan]

Reading Stef’s letter it all comes back to me, starting with my insistence to have my Greek friend add a view of America and its people through the eyes of this great chronicler, Alexis de Tocqueville.

But this letter brings much, much more. It brings back memories of a week so intense, so concentrated in weighing over America ’s future that, like heavy water, it brought a higher boiling point to our existence. A week that saw the burst of a dream, as Bobby was interred at Arlington , a short distance, and a few breaths away, from Jack.

A letter that brings back memories of troubled times trying to adjust to a new, more just, America, and a war which seemed to have no end; troubled times that called for the reconciliation of the races; troubled times that called for a common purpose for young and old; troubled times that called for a better understanding between those with a fortunate economic condition, and those who could only hope for one.

I might add that it was also the week in which I was personally certificated to enter the world of laissez-faire capitalism.

A coral anniversary letter, that’s what Stefan’s letter has been.