Laid to Waste by ‘Beneath a Scarlet Sky’

***SPOILER ALERT***

The following are my thoughts in response to having read Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan.  If you have designs to read this book, while I appreciate you frequenting my blog, please save for a later date.


Edison Project BASS

Calamity.  Utter and total heartbreak.  Those are my feelings today, as I’ve closed the book on Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan.  I don’t know how I’ll ever open another book.  In the week since I first opened this beautiful, hopeful, inspiring and yet altogether heart-wrenching novel, I’ve cheered for Mimo and Uncle Albert, scorned General Leyers, revered Father Re and Cardinal Schuster and fallen in love with Pino and Anna. The kind of love where your hope resides in a greater future for the love you posses within yourself and for others.  The kind of love only found in Eden’s paradise, before we cast ourselves into shadow.  I don’t know that I’ve ever cursed at a book out loud before.  I probably only did so because I saw it coming, and was powerless to stop it.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky is set in WWII Milan, leading us through the winding trials of Pino Lella.  Pino finds himself in one harrowing predicament after another.  Shortly after the bombing of Milan began, Pino’s parents scuttle him to Casa Alpina, where he’d spent much of his youth skiing and studying under the careful tutelage of Father Re, the remote school’s headmaster and priest.  Pino soon discovers Father Re has other designs for Pino; leading one expedition after the next over a chain of Italian Alpine Mountains with Jews seeking refuge in Switzerland has his repetitious mission.  Pino encounters thieves, doubt and avalanches along the way.  His faith is tested but his outlook on life remains untainted, ever-desirous of finding love.

Prior to turning 18, Pino is jettisoned back to Milan under the bequest of his father, that he might avoid the draft and instead enlist in the German Army under a division that would keep him out of harm’s way.  After a near-death incident shortly into his career, an injury places Pino on leave.  Upon returning home he is yet to even set foot in his home before he encounters General Hans Leyers, the chief engineer in Hitler’s Nazi Regime in Italy.  Having learned to maintain and operate vehicles as a hobby while at Casa Alpina, it is his deft technical skill that earns him the new position as driver for the General.

On Pino’s first day as driver, he knocks on the door of the General’s apartment and is greeted by the maid, a beautiful woman named Anna to whom we are introduced earlier in the story.  The night of the first bombardment, Pino has scheduled a date with Anna to see a movie.  She stands him up, avoiding, unbeknownst to her, a bomb hurtling through the roof of the theater.  Their subsequent near daily interaction quickly leads Anna to reciprocate feelings for Pino, who is now operating as both the General’s driver and a spy for the resistance in Italy.  Pino’s love for music abounds as Sullivan deftly conflates Pino’s passion for Anna, and for music, into one solitary tone.  The two fall in love despite the war-ravaged surroundings and become engaged just before the German retreat.  The love scene depicted in the story was written in such a way that anyone looking for clues as to whether or not their days would entail each other for the rest of their loves quickly becomes aware that Anna will not survive the war.

As much as I knew this to be true, still there was hope.  Perhaps the words would rearrange themselves in the coming pages and the tragedy about to ensue I would be spared of.  Fully invested in their world, their happiness, their continued existence, I trudged forward.  Sure enough, a few calamitous decisions on Pino’s behalf coupled with the ill-timed retreat of the Germans and the vendetta killings required by the Partisans set the stage for Anna’s capture, due to her association with General Leyers’ mistress.  A public gathering’s boisterous atmosphere attracts Pino’s attention.  The strapping young man works his way to the front of the mob as an executioner leads out “collaborators” of the Nazi party.  Anna among them.  Before he can explain the mistake, the executioners try the traitors and kill them by firing squad.  Pino has a front row seat to the barbarous atrocities, his heart breaking mine.

I can think of only one other such case where I felt so abandoned by the death of a literary love interest: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.  All of this leads me to feel powerless and forlorn, with a burning resolution to evade Italian-set World War II tragic novels.

I am glad I encountered Pino’s story, it was a world I relished having a window.  Pino is a hero for so many of his actions.  Much like much war literature, Pino’s humanity befalls his passion and love.  Pino’s misfortune reinforces my good fortune.  I am grateful to have never known war.  I am fortunate to have never been separated by my wife.  Blessed to have never feared what might become of me, my wife or my children.  But yet still, here I am, heart-broken over the evil that stole Anna from this world, even if I’d never known her.  To have come all that way in such a perilous time and die at the hands of your misunderstanding countrymen is what makes Beneath a Scarlet Sky so difficult a pill to swallow.

Yours in the Passionate Pursuit of Happiness – Con Smania

Will O’Connor

A Week Of Thanks: The Blanket Under Which We Sleep

There is a home in Neenah, Wisconsin, on a street like any other across this nation, with rough wooden treads, leading in succession down to a dark, unfinished basement, in a home like any other across this nation.  As I lay here, dreaming in my mind’s eye of that wooden door with a brass knob, honey-combed and discolored from its years of resolute function – the turning back and forth, the latching of its strike, I remember its most indisputable treasure.  Deep within its containment sits a soft-green suit, adorned with ribbons and insignia distinguishing itself as proof its owner was once, and will always be among the few and the proud.  Wrapped in protective plastic, it has not been worn in decades.  Its presence, however, permanently impacted the culture of a family.  One descendant of its owner has gone on to be so persuaded of its honor and virtue, as well as the honor and virtue of the dress-whites of his father as to have earned his own place among those same ranks.  All of the descendants of its owner have a profound respect for the sacrifice made by those now entombed, cloaked in their Class A’s.  As much as any other day, Thanksgiving is about them.  More than for any other reason, Thanksgiving is a product of their iron will.

For the entirety of my consciousness, I have spent this day in eager anticipation of the events that lay ahead.  As a child, it was a football, slick from the rainfall that preceded, too cold to have dried out, that was the star of the show.  Unashamedly soaking the knees, elbows and shoulders of whatever outfit my mother had picked out for me, I was blessed then.  As a teen, a plush leather couch enveloping me as the games flashed in the living room, sweet smell of the Turkey brine, cooked brown sugar and pumpkin pie running in their own various trade winds throughout the house, circuitously taking turns presenting themselves before my awaiting senses; I was blessed then.  As a young man, desperately clinging to the thread of hope that this woman would be eternally mine to have and to hold, as we weaved each other into old traditions, old comforts; combining with it new horizons as we shared our hopes and dreams – those goals yet un-attained for which we were most thankful, for the hope that lay within them rested the source of our future gratitude.  For it is in the promise of a new day that I am most thankful; that I may this day be closer to the man I’ve always dreamed I could.  I was blessed then.  This year, the undeserving husband of a fantastically beautiful woman, the father humbled by the daily miracle that are his three gorgeous children, the son of two tireless parents; I am blessed.  For none of this is possible without those not here to share in the bounty they’ve created – preserved.

Not just on Thanksgiving, indeed every day, we stand in debt to many we’ll never meet, and to whom we’ll never rightfully repay.  Of those whom we are blessed enough to know – those brave men and women who selflessly advance the causes of freedom and liberty, of devotion to the constitution, both at home and abroad, and all it demands in its preservation, only the dedication to living in the light of our protection can we properly thank them.  Only by chasing our dreams, living intentionally and pausing to reflect on our blessings along the time we have can we come to understand the good fortune they have handed to us.  This year, as I give thanks, not just tomorrow, but every day for the life I have, I intend to keep within my heart those who have dutifully removed themselves from their homes to defend our great nation.  That much we owe.  For all of the uniforms in our lives; those worn to keep our streets safe and our towns secure, those donned to ensure those in need of emergency response get it swiftly, those crisp and slightly melted after exiting a home saved from flames, and especially those hung by the rafters, in nondescript basements in little homes scattered throughout our land.  May we be ever thankful for those beautiful garments, and the heroic men and women who wear them with full hearts for moments to come, in which they’ll be reunited with those whom they love.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Current Events: A Break from My Standard

EdisonProject34

I created this blog not to comment on social or political matters, but rather to share experiences which, I hope, can be shared by others and lead to a more positive overall approach to this world.  Occasionally I will break from that stride to address matters I believe to be of great importance.  Some of these will be conservative stances, others more moderate.  I do not subscribe to a particular party line.  I believe each person ought to formulate for themselves the most logical set of beliefs and incorporate how these beliefs affect the world as a whole, prior to solidifying them.

The President, and the military, are front and center this week.  After decades of specifically banning trans-gendered people from serving in the military, President Obama passed into law a bill that provided protection for, and even medical treatment to, people in the military who believe themselves to be trans-gendered.  Just yesterday, President Trump reinstated the ban on the trans-gendered entering, or continuing to serve in the military.

Dysphoria

The American Psychological Association holds that gender dysphoria is a mental illness.  This is an important distinction, because the same Association is held as the standard-bearer for other ailments, diseases and illnesses that would disqualify an applicant from serving in the military.  Given the vast amount of research the individuals belonging to this Association have put into the work that they publish, it raises a very fair question about how we are to approach the trans-gendered in the military; Should a person affected with an illness be allowed to bypass the application process on the grounds that it is discriminatory to do so?  The follow-up questions are:

  • Does the nature of the physical, mental and emotional requirements of the military provide a need for the military to restrict admission to the military based on affliction of diseases, ailments and illnesses?
  • Does the military, as a government entity, have the right to be discriminatory if they believe that such afflictions negatively impact performance in such a high-stress field?

I believe that both questions need to be properly answered before we, as a populous, bring forth a suit against the government, and the President specifically.  I’ve seen people in droves, on both sides of the aisle, publish their feelings on this most recent ban.  I believe all of these defenses and outcries are premature.  My general feeling is complicated, because there are multiple layers of privilege and benefits that are bestowed upon our military, and multiple layers of privilege and benefits that are heretofore to be revoked from a specific demographic of the United States population.  Namely, the distinction of having served in the defense of our great nation, being chiefly among them.  Secondly, items such as the GI Bill, bestowed upon all, and sex-change operations, bestowed upon the trans-gendered, are privileges set to be revoked from a certain group of people.  These people have done nothing specifically to deserve this revocation, but stand in possession of a form of disorder, no matter which way you slice it, that is akin to color blindness, AIDS, amputation and a myriad of other disabilities or illnesses that preclude one from serving.

Initially, I believe the assessment to bar those possessing gender dysphoria from the military to be a wise one.  I’ve searched my feelings on this since the announcement was made.  Am I making this determination based upon hatred of a group that I seek, even subconsciously, to marginalize? Am I uninformed on the challenges that a trans-gendered person might face in the wake of a sex-change operation with regards to their capacity to discharge their duties? Am I making this decision based upon pre-formed opinions? I’m still grappling with those questions.  I don’t have a solidified set of answers.  But I do believe that until we address the first three questions I posed at the top of this blog, that we have a duty as citizens to uphold and support this ban.  Should there be data to prove the ability of a trans-gendered person capable of discharging said duties on a level consistent with those not trans-gendered, then I believe that there ought to be some capacity in which this group of people ought to be included.

This would then raise the question about whether or not medical benefits bestowed upon armed service members or veterans should include sex-change operations.  On this topic I am decidedly more conservative.  I do not believe that the taxpayers of the United States ought to foot the bill for such a procedure.  On this, I don’t believe data ought to be the prevailing factor.  Sure, a total value should be presented to the legislature so that a quantitative value can be placed when making the decision, but I think that the government paying for sex-change operations, hormonal replacement procedures, and all other associated forms of medical services is not a wise decision.

I am trying to fathom a medical procedure that is provided for armed services members or veterans at the cost of the public treasury, but to date cannot find one.  If a combat veteran is wounded in the line of fire, skin graphs, plastic surgery, prosthesis, general surgery etc. may be required in order to provide that serviceman or woman a semblance of their former selves, but this is caused by combat, not by a mental illness.  There are no other mental illnesses which are treated by the government, at cost to the tax-payer, without being inflicted during battle, to my knowledge.  Unless that basis of knowledge is amended by proof of pre-existing mental illnesses being treated by the government, at cost to the tax-payer, I believe we have precedent to uphold this ban and continue forward searching for the best and most capable citizens to serve our great nation.  I continue to believe we have the freedoms and privileges we do as a direct result of the courage, bravery and sacrifices bestowed upon us by our incomparable military.

I look forward to getting back to topics of observed and experienced happiness, and hope we all do the same as often as humanly possible.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor