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Birney Imes: Sweetness and light on a Friday afternoon


Birney Imes



"The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there."  


Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance 




Friday afternoon at 6:30 I was standing in front of Shattuck Hall on The W campus watching honeybees fly in and out of a Corinthian column. Dewey Blansett, the school's facilities director, had called earlier in the day, a hint of urgency in his voice. A homecoming event was to be in the building the following evening and school officials were worried about the bees, which on warm, sunny spring days are very much in evidence. 


As I stood there looking up, a jet plane glided past overhead high above. Juxtaposed in my field of vision was a Corinthian column whose design dates back to fourth century B.C. Greece, a busy hive of apis melliferi (apis, Latin for "bee"; melli-, Greek for "honey" and ferei "to bear") and a silver cylinder full of humans sailing through the heavens at 500-plus miles per hour. 


These "honey-bearing bees" have more important things to do than harass MUW alums. And, for all anyone knows the column could be filled with honeycomb and bees, a Pandora's box that shouldn't be opened, at least not on homecoming weekend. My advice to Dewey was to stand pat with the bees. 


No one wants to see harm come to this industrious insect whose survival requires each member of its community do his or her part for the benefit of the whole. 


I'd just come from the Larry Feeney opening at the school's art department where for 30 minutes the retired art professor regaled students, townspeople and alumni with stories about his subjects that were as intricate and clearly realized as his drawings of them.  


My favorite was that of Mike, a one-time bad boy and former Hell's Angel, who did time in San Francisco when Haight-Ashbury was in full bloom. Mike had mellowed and ended up in Columbus, a member of the same book club as Mr. Feeney. 


When a club member had been unable to find Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" in local bookstores, Mike volunteered that his friend Larry, who had a bookstore in Frisco, might be able to get it. "Larry" happened to be the beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who Mike had known in the 60s. 


Feeney calls his drawing of Mike, "Larry's Friend." 


Earlier the same afternoon state Democratic Party Chairman Ricky Cole stopped by The Dispatch for a conversation. The Jones County native, his Southern accent thick as cold molasses, was well into his boilerplate message when someone asked how he would encourage qualified people to run for office. The question transformed Cole from politico into storyteller, and while his answer might not have precisely matched the question, it bears repeating: 


"It's a duty. ... If y'all will forgive a personal example. I'm the first generation of my family to be born in a hospital. Both my parents were born at home. When mother was pregnant with me in 1966, she had an equilibrium problem and couldn't walk for the last six weeks ... there was a hospital in Laurel ... that was built with federal funds. ... The doctor who delivered me was educated under the G.I. Bill. I weighted 9 pounds and 10 ounces and was 28 inches long. I was breached. She was in labor for nine hours. I am here, alive -- and mother is too -- because federal taxpayers in San Francisco, New York and Chicago, and Miami and Dallas and other parts of the country who were making enough money to pay federal taxes sent money to Washington. 


"Senator Stennis and Mr. Whitten and others got the money to Mississippi to build a hospital and educate a doctor, so that I could live. And there are folks who call that socialism. I call it being part of the greatest community ever conceived in the history of man, the American community. And so, I'm happy to think now that whatever I can contribute may go to help someone in a similar situation in another part of the country. 


"Too many folks aren't taught early enough what we owe to the larger community around us. We're sorta like the turtle that went through the flood and woke up on top of the fence post and thought he got there by himself. We all are obliged, and I don't think we spend enough time reminding each other how interconnected we all are." 


Were we to collectively realize this -- were we as a community to emulate the bees who work together unceasingly for a common good -- what a honey of a place this would be.


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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