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Spelling and Sonnets
May 5, 2008 |
I recently had the great fortune to hear you in Dayton, Ohio. You ended with a sonnet, filled with skepticism, as well as longing about God. Is that available anywhere? Also, I had wanted to ask you in the Q/A session that followed whether the talk you gave at the White House Correspondent's Dinner during the Clinton administration was available anywhere as well. I just remember it was right in the midst of all the news that wasn't fit to print and both President Clinton and Hillary were in attendance,the material for the "roast" was so painfully obvious that I wasn't going to watch until I heard you were the guest speaker. You managed to not mention any of it, but gave a talk about compassion and cajoling us to avoid self righteousness. To this day, I think it was one of the most graceful marriages of content and events I've ever witnessed. So, I hope I spelled everything correctly because I know misspelling drives you nuts. Thanks.
If misspelling drove me nuts, Pat, I'd be under heavy medication most of the time. Very bright people send me letters every day saying "let's not go their" and I don't babble or screech, I just make a mental note not to hire them. As for the sonnet, here it is:
Here I am O Lord and here is my prayer:
Please be there.
Don't want to ask too much, miracles and such.
Just whisper in the air: please be there.
When I die like other folks,
I don't want to find out You're a hoax.
Not down on my knees asking for world peace
Or that the polar icecap freeze
And save the polar bear
Or even that the poor be fed
Or angels hover o'er my bed
But I will sure be pissed
If I should have been an atheist.
Dear God: please exist.
Not a classic Shakespearean or Spenserian sonnet, but a sonnet nonetheless, or so say I. The recent Bed of Roses Sonnet Contest produced some entries that I picked to read on the show that drew complaints from traditionalists because the sonnets weren't iambic pentameter or were unrhymed, but I am 65 and beyond caring about that. What is freedom if we can't use it?
I remember the White House Correspondents Dinner. I went through the metal detectors, my speech in my vest pocket, and was ushered into a room full of senators and White House people, all of whom seemed to know each other, all of them mingling and making small talk, no partisanship visible at all, which is startling to us neophytes — to see Senator Stevens of Alaska chuckling with Senator Kennedy — but that's the beauty of politics, civility. I sat next to Mrs. Clinton and we talked about the Supreme Court — Justice Blackmun had just resigned and President Clinton was to fill the seat — and I asked her if she ever got to visit the Court and she replied, rather wittily, that she didn't think she should since the Court might be taking up a case involving a member of her family. And then she turned to her right and spent most of the dinner talking to Speaker Dennis Hastert, who was more important for her to talk to. I had agonized about the speech. Traditionally it's a comic turn by a comedian but to do that would've meant plowing through the same Monica material that every comedian had been doing for months, and so I struck out in a different direction and gave a sermon. I was pretty sure that it disappointed most of the crowd and I don't think it made any difference to the Clintons who were sort of prisoners of the occasion. I walked away alone through the lobby of whatever enormous hotel it was held in and a very dapper Sidney Blumenthal came over and told me he thought it was a good speech and I was awfully grateful for that. I went back to my room and crawled into bed and got up early in the morning and flew home. So much for fame. (In New York there would've been a party after the dinner but in Washington a lot of those people had 7 a.m. meetings to attend.) I'd be happy to send you the speech and I thought I would've saved it on my hard drive but I can't find it. One less thing to read.