#980: This Is

September 14th, 2018

This is a section of Sumerian tablet Istanbul #2461, sometimes called “The Love Song for Shu-Sin.”

Bridegroom, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet,
Lion, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet.

It was found carved on a small hunk of stone in 1889. It wasn’t translated until 1951, when a researcher poking around the Istanbul Museum looking for his next project opened a drawer and picked it out at random from the other pieces.

It’s believed to be the world’s oldest surviving love poem.

This is what happens when you toss sodium in a lake.

This is a clamshell found in Indonesia. It’s been dated at between 540,000 and 430,000 years old, which is about when someone carved those zigzags into the side of it.

The carver wasn’t human, at least not Homo sapiens like us. If the intent was what hopeful researchers believe, the zigzags were decorations created by a Homo erectus, making the shell one of the contenders for the oldest piece of art we know about.

This is a species of comb jellies called “sea walnuts.” These two are babies.

This is Chiune Sugihara. A Japanese official working in Lithuania under the Axis, he secretly issued travel visas so Jews could escape through Japanese territory. He spent 18-20 hours a day writing them out by hand, producing a month’s worth of visas every day.

As the consulate was closing, he was forced to leave Lithuania. On the ride to the station and from his compartment, he was still writing visas, throwing them to the crowd. At the station, he said to the crowd “Please forgive me. I cannot write anymore.” He wished them the best, then bowed.

As the train pulled away from Kaunas, he kept flinging blank paper with his signature and the consular seal out the window in hopes Jews would find them and forge visas.

He issued as many as 6,000 visas. As many of which allowed heads of households to take their families with them, we’ll never know how many lives he saved.

And finally, there’s a hexagon on Saturn. Like a cloud pattern that naturally formed into a hexagon. The storm’s been going since at least 1981. Between 2012 and 2016, the color changed from blue to gold.

This is Donald Trump. He’s a shitbag.

My blog has become more political lately, less about the people and places of Chicago, Illinois. Part of it’s the national heartbreak we’ve lived in since gamesmanship took the nation and the loser by three million took the throne.

There are still hundreds of stolen children imprisoned through our tax dollars. Teachers still have to train students in reading, writing and active shooter drills. We’re poisoning our soil and killing our air and seas in the name of jobs that simply are never coming back.

Our liar king just denied the deaths of 3,000 Puerto Ricans. I’m sure in a few months I’ll look back on this story having forgotten that happened, future me incensed by what worse he’s done since then.

The other part of my political bent is a life that’s become busy and joyful, leaving little time for the 21 stories I have left to tell. Hellos to strangers, hidden clown art and odd spots to eat lobster become harder to manage when my personal world has gotten deeper.

But this is my reminder to you that we live in a universe of hexagons and heroes, of Istanbul 2461 and Chicago 2018. And this little man, so weak in spirit, so infantile in anger will be forgotten.

This is the farthest into the stars humans have yet looked.

This is a small man who will be a trivia question on future quiz nights, a space-filler on the back of the commemorative rulers they will sell at the presidential museums of greater men and women. He’ll hurt many before he slinks off, forgotten. But he will be forgotten, and our world of poems, stars and sea walnuts will live on.

Read about those shooter drills

Read about the upsurge in racism down my street

Read about the Cubs’ ties to the president

And now, the theater kids

What's this?

You are currently reading #980: This Is by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

  • Get Stories by Email

  • Chicago Corruption Walking Tour

    Join the email list for tour dates and info.