APRIL 27, 1962
LOS ANGELES—I am always moved to become aware of one great value on trips away from New York. I become conscious of the things I enjoy in New York which I am apt to forget about when at home and when only the disagreeable things seem to make any kind of impression.
I know that New York is not the cleanest city in America, and I wish that we, as New Yorkers, were more insistent on keeping it clean. I saw with horror not long ago a sanitation truck going through one of our streets and the men were so carelessly emptying the garbage cans that in one place it looked as though half of the contents of the can had been left in the street. The men and truck moved on, placidly leaving this unsightly mess for anyone having sufficient respect for cleanliness to gather it up again.
An incident of this kind, of course, makes one critical of his city, but then he begins to wonder where else he could find such a center of communications, with its newspapers, magazines, radio and television. Where else could he find as good and as varied entertainment in drama, in music, in exhibitions of paintings; in fact, in any field in which he might have a special interest? Where else could he live with such utter privacy if he wished, or find such pleasant and varied companions if he wished for them?
So, being away from home is a good lesson in why one enjoys one's home.
On long airplane trips when I have done what necessary reading I must do, I find time to do some reading for enjoyment. On this lecture trip I have been reading T. S. Matthews' "O My America," which was written after a long visit home to America after having lived abroad for a number of years.
It is an easy book to read because it is well and entertainingly written and he weaves in the comments of his wife and his mother-in-law, who were with him, and somehow manages to give a flavor of their personalities. He did some traveling by air and by train but in large part he went by motor.
He tells us he would not be a citizen of any country but the United States but since he has lived a good many years away from this country that makes him easily conscious of its defects. One may find more beauty of architecture, more age, and a better climate here and there in other parts of the world. In fact, Mr. Matthews gives the reader a feeling of what values he finds in various areas where he has lived and traveled and does it in a way which makes one want to visit these areas.
But then he questions what is happening to people who live in this country and who tolerate certain things that he finds distasteful. Our values trouble him and, because he is an American, he feels that he should tell his America how he feels about the crudities, the ugliness, the lack of world-mindedness, and even the money greediness that he finds among his compatriots.
His book reminds me a little of a family situation which you sometimes see where the parents are very critical of the children. If the children feel that back of the criticism lies real love and understanding they accept it and they may improve. If, however, they feel the criticism comes from a certain desire on the part of the parents to get away from those they criticize, then the situation is apt to grow from bad to worse between the two generations.
I would recommend that all Americans read "O My America," but I am afraid many of us will feel that it was written with a sense of superiority and without real love, and so its value may be somewhat questionable for the average American.
Another book I have had a chance to read on this trip is "Madame Ambassador" by Anne Guthrie. This is the life story of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit. The latter part of the book a good many of us have watched take place as participants of some of the same experiences as Mme. Pandit has had. But, to me, the beginning is fascinating, for it reveals what has made this woman one of the interesting and great women of the world.
She was given beauty, and her upbringing may have been responsible for her charm and her dignity as well as her intelligence. The character and backbone, however, which saw her through the difficult time of India's struggle for independence—which made such a delicate woman endure separation from husband and children for long periods of time, go to prison and live with filth and deprivation and triumph over it all—were due to her greatness of soul.
I have always enjoyed working with Mme. Pandit and watching her with admiration, but in this book I have gained a deeper understanding and greater appreciation of her character and greatness.