Monday, March 19, 2012


Being mortal and possessed of the ability to think of life well beyond our own existence, we humans have the potential of becoming obsessed with that which succeeds our presence on earth.

And so we constitute elaborate rules for the selection of successors. Primogeniture ensures passage of your worldly possessions and estates to your first born: in the Norman and English traditions, males only, or, in the French, the first born no matter the sex. British monarchs can't be Roman Catholic. The ulema in Saudi Arabia must approve all royal successions. North Korean leaders must be sons of the current leader. And so on and so forth.

And we invent indicators to publicize preliminary results (or non-results) along the decision making process. Black smoke from the Vatican signals failure to reach agreement on a papal successor, while white smoke signifies confirmation that the Council of Cardinals need not be fed a diet of water and bread to induce agreement, as happened in 1268. For nearly three years, willful cardinals apparently considered too many fallible potential successors to occupy the ostensibly infallible position of Pope. It wasn't until the roof was removed from the room in which they were sequestered that they came to agreement.

Lest that high political body charged with maintaining international peace and security be trumped by the cardinals' monochromatic scheme, the UN Security Council in 1991 introduced color-coded ballots (red for permanent members and white for the non-permanent) as indicators of the succession, er, I mean election process of that other most famous singular position in world consciousness, the UN Secretary-General, that takes place in the Council's New York chambers every 5 years 

And we constitute rituals to see us through succession: recitations of solemn oaths, consecrations, marches, processionals, coronations, speeches, interments, and all the pomp and circumstance we can muster. So ingrained is the ritual that even the creators of Star Trek felt inclined to include a Rite of Succession, a Klingon ritual, to govern the succession of leadership of the Empire.

And of course, when we can't agree or when the rules don't quite fit the circumstances, we revert to the next best thing: violence, as in wars of succession.

And many there have been: "The Anarchy" (a civil war in England and Normandy that erupted after the 1135 death of Henry I's only legitimate son and his attempt to install his only daughter; the conflict finally ended in 1153); those of Champagne (1216-1222) and of Flanders and Hainault (1244-1257); the first (1383-1385), the second (1580-1583), and the third (1828-1834) Wars of the Portuguese Successions; of Breton (1341-1364), Lithuania (1431-1435), and Stettin (1464-1472); the Incan (1529-1532) and the Mantuan (1628-1631); and the Spanish (1701-1713), the Polish (1733-1738), the Austrian (1740-1748), and the Bavarian (1778-1779).


Our battles over succession are, thankfully, now, usually, less violent.

And so now we come to treat succession as entertainment (so indicative of our psychology, no?): who shall succeed the current president, or become the next Politburo chief (a major question amongst Kremlinologists when there was a Soviet Union)? Who shall marry the prince? Do Will and Kate have sex? Will they produce an heir? Can we see her rounding belly just yet? Likewise, the media used to make a big deal over the Miss America and Miss Universe succession pageants, but now commentators (and fans) are content to squabble over the NCAA or World Series championships or some other such succession games, and games they are.

In the literary world, the issue is not without notice. Robert Silvers, 82, stands as the longest serving editor in chief of any major publication. He is the Kim Il Sung of the publishing world, though, thankfully, sans official lies, purges, and nuclear crises.

Yesterday, The New York Times speculated about a potential succession crisis in the halls of the famed  New York Review of Books. There are currently no identified successors, albeit rumored ones. Even after the death of his co-editor, Barbara Epstein, in 2006, no plans were made to insure the editorial succession of one of the great learned publications.

That article reminded me of my own looming succession battle: The War of the Scotch Broom Succession.

You see, the Lena Scotch Broom in my sun garden has reached the end of its 10-15 year life-span. It looks dead. Compared to the one in my backyard garden  (which at this time of year receives a full day of sun, but once the maple leafs out only gets morning to very early afternoon sun as is looking very fit), the front garden Broom appears brown and dessicated.

Of course, Lena grew too tall and thus overshadowed what was supposed to be her Boxwood backdrop. But I could not move her; no. She was too delicate (appearances are deceiving! She is one tough gal!), and too gorgeous to fiddle with. So I left her, ignoring the aesthetic blight she created.  Love really is blind.
But now that she is, I am convinced, dead, I see the shortcomings of her placement.  Yet until I decide something, I cannot remove her browned bones. Gone will be the sound of her maracas--unexpected musical instruments given her Scottish ancestry. But that's why I loved her so: she seduced by surprising.

Gone will be her citrus melon and yellow flowers.  Gone will be her smart accompaniment to the electric blues of Siberian Iris.

Perhaps indecision really is the insulator against violence: why battle, over what is there to battle, if one cannot make up one's mind?

All I know is that the succession will not be bloody, though it may be not pretty. Brown in the garden?  Not a color one really takes to celebrating. But celebrate I must--or prepare the ground for battle--until I decide something, anything.

UPDATE: Yes, battle lines are being drawn.  Might Provence Lavender, which actually is doing splendidly well in her current space, take over the seat once occupied by Lena?  (She has outgrown her location and thus may need to be resituated.) Might Kalmia latifolia Minuet (Mountain Laurel) make a lateral move: s/he (?) needs more sun. Or might a new interloper be introduced?

Stay tuned.

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