Happy Birthday, Mr. President Washington!

February 22, 1732 [Julian Calendar, February 11, 1731) – December 14, 1799

February 22, 1732 [Julian Calendar, February 11, 1731) – December 14, 1799

How many times have you said (or thought) today, “When I was a kid. . . “ If it’s more than once, you are old. Take my word for it. Old!

If not in years, in attitude.

When I was a kid “you knew where you were then.” A birthday was a birthday. And you actually honored and praised and feted the person whose birthday you were celebrating.

Not anymore.  We celebrate the birthdays of important historical figures whenever we damned well please; that is, when it will give us the most pleasure. Get a day off, have a barbecue, have one too many beers, act like fools.

Oh, my, Professor, you have passed over the “curmudgeon” line into the realm of the nasty “old fart.” Well, read on. My honor and praise and fete of George Washington is going to sound very much like it’s all about me. Well, perhaps it is if you can’t read between the lines.

When I was a kid, George Washington’s birthday celebration was on February 22, the day he was born (and Abraham Lincoln’s was February 12, the day he was born). Our teachers gave us lessons about these great men who did so much to shape the ethos of America—and (Lincoln especially) defined such concepts as “equality” and “freedom”—in essence, of course, made them realities, not concepts.

Constitutional Convention, George Washington presiding

Constitutional Convention, George Washington presiding

The truth is, we celebrated Washington’s Birthday on an arbitrary day. Arbitrary because the British Parliament in 1750 changed the calendar. I don’t know from calendars. Washington was born on February 11, 1731, and then his birthday changed to February 12, 1732. So when he died in 1799, how old was he? Sixty-seven or sixty-eight? And why did the Parliament—which at that time was the Parliament of the Colonies—change the calendar from the Julian to the Gregorian simply because the Roman Catholic church and most of Europe did?

It’s important to me because Washington was either my age or a year younger when he died. YIKES!

So here’s my little meditation on change for the morning:

It’s bad.

And the explanation is that, by the time you get to be sixty-eight, you realize nothing ever changes. Washington’s birthday wasn’t Washington’s birthday while he was still alive, and it isn’t Washington’s birthday today. I guess it’s all in perspective. And when you wake up wondering why you have all this stuff, what—after all—writing on this blog, or wearing clothes that college students won’t laugh at, or having Grapenuts for breakfast, or anything you will deem important today has to do with reality. . . because the Father of our Country lived only to the age you are now. . .

Oops! This was supposed to be light-hearted, to be about my own foibles not to make fun of Mr. President Washington

—I am offended, deeply and profoundly offended by the cheap, untrue, malicious sniping that attends so much conversation about our Head of State these days; I am deeply, profoundly offended by those who do not understand that the horrible untruths and vicious characterizations, as well as the grotesque attempts at humor about our current President are, in fact pillorying the nation—

The closest I'll ever come to making fun of Washington - portrait in Faneuil Hall, Boston

The closest I’ll ever come to making fun of Washington – portrait in Faneuil Hall, Boston

no, not to have fun at Mr. President Washington’s expense but simply to marvel at how different my perspective is now than it was “when I was a kid.” He was this mysterious old man—not simply because he lived in the olden time but because he was “old”—who must have been mature and wise and honorable. Now he is a man. Certainly more organized and leaderly and civilized than I am, but simply this man. This man who knew what to do when he was summoned to greatness, but who lived and died just like me. Probably wondering about the “meaning,” not of his particular life which was eminently clear, but of life.

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