Amidst the unrelenting stories of carnage, corruption and incompetence comes a reminder there is good news if you look long enough to find it.
And it should come as no surprise that this reminder comes from Brooklyn.
Generations ago, the New York City Department of Parks took a triangular piece of park property along Kings Highway in Midwood and renamed it "Sgt. Joyce Kilmer Square." It lies along a historic Indian trail that became a major thoroughfare for European settlers traveling between rural communities called Flatbush, Gravesend, and New Utrecht.
In time, New York City would acquire the parcel as the arrival of the automobile required the realignment of many Brooklyn streets, resulting in this modest triangle. It was dedicated as parkland in 1934, and named "Sergeant Joyce Kilmer Square" in 1935.
Today it is lined with benches shaded by large oak trees, with a flagpole along East 12th Street. It is a respite for local neighbors seeking a moment's relief from the challenges of the day.
It is a modest tribute to a giant of an American – and he likely would have had it no other way.
Kilmer was born in New Jersey before the start of the 20th Century and educated at Rutgers University and Columbia University, from where he earned his degree. Kilmer married and had four children. After teaching Latin for a year at Morristown High School in New Jersey, Kilmer began his career in 1909 as a dictionary editor with Funk & Wagnall's Company. In 1912, he served as the Literary Editor of The Churchman, an Anglican newspaper, also contributing freelance articles and poems to several other publications. On the eve of World War I, he joined the staff of the New York Times and subsequently converted to Catholicism.
It was at this time that Joyce Kilmer became one of America's best known and beloved poets. His masterpiece "Trees," would be recited by millions of children and it remains a cherished literary work to this day.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
When the United States entered World War I, Kilmer enlisted to fight as a private and would quickly become a sergeant. He would be assigned to the dangerous job of gathering intelligence on the enemy while on patrol in "No Man's Land." While stationed in France, he also wrote for Stars and Stripes, the Army's then weekly newspaper.
On July 30, 1918, Kilmer was mortally wounded by a German sniper's bullet and died later that day.
He is buried in a French cemetery.
But in Brooklyn, on a small triangular piece of park property, a strand of trees shelter the weary visitor. It is a modest but powerful reminder of a great American who wrote words of exquisite beauty before going off to battle, where he witnessed the horrors of modern warfare. Despite his self-deprecating tone, "Poems are made by fools like me...", Kilmer's legacy is found within all of us if we only take the time to embrace his devotional words that remind us: "Only God can make a tree."
Lawrence Kadish serves on the Board of Governors of Gatestone Institute.