energy and chaos churning
I blink, what is my quantum state?
no form for eyes discerning
I can do nothing but wait for weight
with muons and gluons burning
no demon full of hellish fury
or soul worth grievous spurning
knows the heat that starts my journey
in fractured temporal storming
fragile existence expanding
my protons and electrons forming
the universe is grandstanding
opposites attract, particles conforming
to find orbits in that quantum foam
the first of all elements is swarming
looking for my nebular home
thick and thin gasses, uneven masses
gravity sorts out the cloud’s confusion
swept and swirled in stellar morasses
the pressure builds in cores of fusion
my life is nuclear, neutrons are made
I’m turned into carbon at six and six
a supernova ensues as energy fades
I explode into the hydrogen mix
and on and on, star to dust to star
until finally shaped in molten sphere
cooling crystals of quartz and feldspar
this is my planet I’m finally here
hard rock lies still while water flows
molecules of simple protein grow fatter
bathed in the warmth of geothermal glow
base pairs twist to form that helical ladder
then in each successive replication
a fight to survive the natural selection
copies borne with random mutations
fear to be subjects of nature’s rejection
smell, sight and sound – sharpening senses
growing complexity – evolutionary connection
avoiding predation – gaining defenses
the building of immunity to combat infection
here I stand, human, against all odds
limping to the present, eyes with dried tears
the winner of the day, no need of gods
my prize a lucky seventy or eighty years
when it’s time, Death’s touch does freeze
atop flaming pyre my body resides
my ashes blow away with the breeze
some parts of me become lithified
my carbon is breathed in by the trees
a deer eats grass, that has me inside
I glide through time with magnificent ease
I always have lived, and never have died
In silence you approach, slowly darkening days,
Autumn arrays of color fade to deathly brown,
Precious skies of blue are replaced by grays,
Sharp winds blow across frozen ground.
And then one day you bring all to standing still,
I watch as my breath, eager to show it’s alive,
Disappears hopelessly into air it can’t fill,
Icy touch on the shoulder of all that thrived.
And what more can we do who wait?
Where night comes early, but feels so late.
Hope for snow to settle on barren limbs?
A touch of white when all seems grim.
Snowy blanket covers the harvest’s reaping,
Lets us pretend the Earth is happily sleeping.
Each slippery step on landscape so bleak,
As we drudge through our lives week after week,
You take no pleasure as you tally the score,
We see what you’ve taken and you hunger for more,
And just when you drain our heat to burn our skin,
Though you love your endings, in the end you won’t win.
For when the sun hides for its longest hours,
We gather with friend and kin to warm with love,
With charitable hearts gloomy Death does cower,
Mocked by hopeful songs of the mourning dove.
New Year’s rejoicing as the sun climbs higher,
Dreams of future gains and not what we lack,
You snap and bite at us, even as you tire,
As snow melts into thawing soil, life bites back.
In a recent Facebook discussion, we talked about the value of occupations where people put their life on the line. This of course arose out of a conversation about the currently chaotic situation involving the police and the Black Lives Matter movement. A friend of mind said he leaned towards siding with police because they lay their lives on the line every day. Many people feel this way and it is oft used to not only build respect towards police officers, but also people in the military.
On one hand there is certainly courage getting up each day, knowing this could be a day you die…or rather a higher than normal percentage for the average citizen. Of course the average cop may have as good of odds as the average person who grows up in inner city areas that have a high crime and murder rate. That aside I agree that it still takes courage, but the stress of such a situation is likely not healthy without a good deal of treatment to deal with the stress. That kind of stress is likely to make you more likely to take less chances in any given interaction with the citizenry to protect your own life. Particularly in areas where there is a lot of crime, and for a job which doesn’t pay that well given the cost of your life.
On the other hand, one wonders what compels someone to choose that line of work? Do people say…”I really want to put my life on the line every day and be a cop or join the military, protecting people?” I am sure some of them do. Such nobility does exist. But I am sure there are plenty of reasons that come into play as well. Some may join because they can’t afford or don’t want to go to college. For the military, some may join for the opportunity to go to college, or the job opportunities that will be more plentiful upon graduation. Many join the military simply as a way to get out of poverty. Other factors may come into play, like trying to escape an abusive or dysfunctional household, doing it because your father and/or brother(s) did it. Other less noble reasons could also exist like just wanting the respect that comes with the uniform, picturing yourself as some action hero not even thinking about the consequences of you doing or wanting that instant authority over people. This has always been the trouble I have had with simply thinking of all cops or military personnel as noble heroes for being willing to lay down their life for others, because it’s unclear to me how much of this courage really factors into their decision to do the job.
But they do, do the job. At the end of the day isn’t that all that matters? Perhaps, but if laying down your life, whatever your initial intentions were make you a person with courage then such courage should also be bestowed on all people who have dangerous jobs. And there are such jobs even though they in no way are protecting other people. People who are loggers, fishers, and roofers come in the top 3. Here is a list of the top 20 most dangerous professions per capita (Police come in at 15). We also must then laud all those who lay their life down for a cause. This then includes your rebels, your gangs, your suicide bombers. This people also risk their life, sometimes end their lives for a cause they believe in. I think we can agree that this is not the type of person we want to elevate to nobility. Of course it is the values they hold, the values they fight for, the goodness that they protect. So if we can’t guarantee the motivations of all people who don the uniform, if there are more dangerous professions, and if what makes someone is a hero is the values they represent, it seems to me like “laying down one’s life” isn’t an overly relevant reason to elevate one to a position of automatic respect.
But you may say, “Big talk person with blog, but would you be willing to do the same?”. And I think it’s a fair question to ask and it’s also an important question I think to ask one’s self. “Is there a cause for which I’m willing to die for?” I certainly think I have the courage for it, but I know for me the death part isn’t what would hold me back. If there was truly no other way besides carrying a gun to solve the problem, then it is my passion that would override my fear of death, at least initially. It would simply feel like the right thing to do regardless of the consequences. What I will say is that I am definitely capable of making a mistake, and possibly a deadly one. Dying to me is quite honestly less scary than taking the life of someone who did feel I deserve it. Had I shot Tamir Rice. I would be wishing myself dead, and if they didn’t lock me up, I’d quickly turn in my badge. Because, how are you going to live with that?
When it comes the situation between cops and blacks in the U.S., all I can say is that there is definitely racism in the justice system, and most cops are simply doing their best. They see the worst of society and the see it every day. There is no question this wears on them, and there is no question in changes the brain. But so does poverty and racism. The key is I think is to reach out to all those who need help. You don’t have to lay down your life to support the police and black people. Things have to change or a lot more people are going to die and those are the lives we all need to work together to save.
I’ve been away from blogging for a little while as work became quite busy and stressful as I was given a project that normally would take several months to prepare for and was given two and half weeks. I’m not complaining though, I am still very fortunate to have the job that I do, and in the end it was a very rewarding outcome. I had to organize a Science Olympiad tournament for 40 regional high schools and middle schools and it ended up going very well. I didn’t actually have to do this task, but if I didn’t a lot of kids would have been hurt, and a lot of teachers very angry and so it really wasn’t something that I took any time to consider, I just knew it had to be done, and I did it because it was the right thing to do.
It got me thinking a lot about stress on how much it affects our behavior. It cost me my spring break and I was bitter about that. In that time I was also certainly less attentive to others in my life. I was more moody, snapped a little more than I probably should have at people that I care about and had a lot of trouble sleeping. The guilt of snapping at people at being less attentive to others, and lack of sleep are positive feedbacks which worsen your condition. I am fortunate that it was only a rough few weeks. I am fortunate to even have a spring break. I am fortunate that even though the semester still has lots of work left in it, there will be summer holidays starting in early May. There are people who face what I face, every single day of the year, with additional stresses associated with finances that I do not face. When I reflect on how irrational I might be in times of stress I think about the cumulative effect such things must have some people. How hard they might struggle to find a way out, who they might time to blame their stress on, and wonder what things they might rely on to find peace. It makes a lot of irrationality in the world understandable.
At the same time it makes you really question why it has to be that way. We have the resources to feed everybody, we have the knowledge and ability to give good health care to everyone. We know a lot about the universe and how to give people quality education, and we know the things that make people truly fulfilled and happy. We know a lot about our own imperfections and biases so that we can avoid the pitfalls of our flaws. We know better ways to correct deviant behavior, we know better ways to reduce the possibility of criminal and violent behavior, and we know better ways to raise. We may not know everything, but we know better. “Civilized” society seems so counter to how we operate as humans that somedays I really question whether or not it is all worth it. Even though we might live longer on average than our hunter gatherer predecessors, and can avoid many of the deaths from natural disasters that our predecessors could not, sometimes I do wonder whether or not it was all worth it, and whether or not we shouldn’t all still be climbing trees to pick fruit. And yeah maybe it would be sad to lose a few people to drought, or malaria, but so much death nowadays seems to be preventable and avoidable. The destruction in Belgium and Turkey recently really makes one question whether all this is worth it. Has any of this civilization experiment increased happiness? Benefitted the home we call Earth? Given our evolution as a species perhaps this trajectory was unavoidable, but it feels so much easier to accept deaths caused by the pitfalls of living in the wild over seeing death occur from senseless acts of violence that will never lead to any gain, or seeing children die from hunger while not very far away somebody sits on a fortune of money and resources they do not even need.
Alright, I know this is not very cheery and I am not helping much to increase human happiness either, but I think many people share these thoughts. I of course do believe that this trajectory of civilization was to avoid human suffering and nobody really imagined the consequences we are facing now. Maybe these are the growing pains we must go through. I hope that our intelligence is great enough to get us out in the end. Perhaps the real shame is that our lifetimes are still too short to be able to see the end result of all this suffering. I wonder if a 13th century scholar who watched people die from plague after plague, and endless crusades and wars, could visit us now if he would actually be impressed with our moral progress. Maybe what we have now is further than he or she ever dreamed. Maybe they would remind me to consider myself lucky that I live in such times and that now that they have seen the change possible over the long march of time that there was every reason to continue to have hope and strive for more. And if there is one thing that I know for sure is that nothing has ever been made better by despair. And if I want a world in which people do not live in despair and have reason to be hopeful then I must lead by example, even if I only touch a handful of people in my world. Who knows how far the ripples of our impact will travel through time.
After running with long healthy strides,
Summer sighs and rests its weary bones,
Catching its breath and closing its eyes,
It thinks back on the life it has made, smiling,
And begins a journey of deep reflection,
In that quite moment, autumn is born.
That green, so pervasive and full of life,
Begins to give way to a symphony of colors,
And a clear night ends in a cool morning
Bringing us all relief from summer heat.
No surface is excluded from thick dew,
Lying under a blanket of slumbering fog,
Snaking its way through the valley,
Slow to wake and start its day in the rising sun,
And as the noon time sun shines brightly,
The skin no longer hides from that blazing orb,
The humid haze of summer has left,
The sky, a perfect blue, brings clarity of mind,
A feeling of nostalgia for carefree days,
A joy for the closeness of friends and family,
Inner warmth protects against shorter days.
Gentle summer breezes are replaced by brisk winds,
And waning leaves are forced from their homes,
To settle anew on the hardening soil below,
And the year begins to feel the consequence,
Of getting lost in sweet remembrances.
It must also account for the passage of time,
And see that less lies ahead than lies behind,
A bountiful harvest is full of summer’s heat,
Animals fill their bellies with old sunlight,
Saying their goodbyes as life withers on the ground,
And as the morning air hints at winters bite,
Fur is thickened and homes are secured,
Each ray of warm sunshine becomes a great gift,
Moments of laughter are appreciated more,
And wisdom and gratitude replace youthful vigor.
And in the longer night hours, silence sets in.
A light frost adheres to stubborn leaves,
Who cling to their branches, refusing to face,
The inevitability that all life must meet its end,
And that all we can do is hope we lived well,
So a better world begins in winter’s wake.
Let’s say you are on a big cruise ship. Over 6,000 men, women, and children are on board. This cruise ship promises to take you to paradise and it’s not a lie either. A place where everybody is happy, nothing bad ever happens, and everybody gets along in love and friendship. Children are laughing and smiling and running around. Nobody
is hungry or hurting. Everybody lives in harmony. There was no charge to even be one of the passengers. You’re on for free and who wouldn’t pass up such an opportunity.
As you are making your way to paradise, the captain announces that due to some unknown structural defects that they need to get rid of about 100 passengers or the boat will sink. Fortunately there are an equal amount of bad criminals who have done some bad things and don’t really deserve paradise on board and the captain knows who they are and asks everybody else to throw those people overboard. Would you still want to be on that boat? Keep in mind that by even looking the other way, you are an accessory. But many people, I think, given the promise of such a wonderful destination they could make it work for their conscience.
Now rewind the scenario and the same announcement comes on and says we need to unload 100 passengers or we all sink, and paradise will never be reached. It’s only 100 people and still some 6,000 people will get to go to paradise. But everybody wants to go so nobody volunteers. People get tense and some people start deciding for themselves who might be bad or good, who might be too old to survive the journey and thus can justify getting rid of them. Would you still want to be on the boat? Again doing nothing to help still makes you an accessory. In this scenario, not that the group who stays must develop some sort of justification for why those people will have to die. Judging them without evidence, making assumptions, perhaps developing a philosophy that gets people to volunteer, convincing the more gullible of passengers that they will get to paradise anyway by making the sacrifice (even though they don’t know that to be the case, no matter how strongly they believe it to be so).
Let’s rewind again except this time the captain announces that his good friend the Grim Reaper will be coming around and taking the lives of 100 people at random. It
could be your child, your friend, your wife. Slowly everybody watches 100 people keel over without knowing why they had to die. Would you still want to be on that boat? If you stayed, what justification would you come up with to be okay with those deaths?
Let’s rewind one more time. Instead of the Grim Reaper, the captain announces that everybody will be restrained while a psychopathic killer, wrought by the same person who made the paradise, will be coming around to kill 100 random people. Having little control over his actions and lack of moral center, he will beat, rape, and torture these people before he kills them. Many or all of these people are innocent. Most importantly some are children. Young children, perhaps even babies. Children in their innocence and purity must be physically and sexually abused in order to reach this paradise. Would you still want to be on the boat? What justification would you invent to be okay with this if you stayed?
In one the most influential books to me was The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. In that book one of the Brothers Ivan is having a conversation with his younger brother Alyosha in a chapter I believe called “Revolution”. Ivan is an atheist and a collector of news stories around Russia of atrocities committed against children. He questions the religious harmony that Christianity offers (I do not single out Christianity here, only relaying the religion that was used in the book). We are all supposed to follow The Bible and follow its moral teachings. The goal being that we will all come to know God on Earth and secure our place in Heaven afterwards. But we are also supposedly given free will and thus some do not follow. This allows for the possibility of great harm to innocent children: abuse, rape, torture, death (not even counting all the natural/accidental causes that take the lives of children). Ivan claims that if this is the price of harmony then he would like to “respectfully return his ticket” to the Creator.
In reading that passage, I could not help but agree with Ivan. Being a father now only reinforces that idea more. If there is a Creator who is omnipotent and decides what happens to all His creation and that there is a reward of Heaven for those who are good, then I submit that this existence is simply not worth the price given all the suffering that does and has taken place already to get there. There are of course many other atrocities that happen to adults, that make it not worth the price either, but it is especially hard when I think of the harm that comes to children. The logic of a Creator who commands us to act according to His moral guidelines in order to achieve some post material existence paradise at the expense of harm to innocent people, simply does not add up. It’s not enough for me to say that “God works in mysterious ways” or that “no one can know the mind of God”. It’s not enough for me to know that God has taken the innocent up to Heaven either. Because what is the point of this existence if they had to suffer here? And for the life of me I really don’t understand why that can be enough of an explanation for anyone else. I’m open to any and all explanations as to why the tears of a suffering child are worth this paradise?