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?
“If in the 6th grade there was a section in our science class about clouds, and then a section on it in the 8th grade that taught me more about meteorology I might never have picked the field to study. And then if they hadn’t shown that video about radar in my undergraduate from the University of Oklahoma I might never have decided that I want to specialize in that and go to the University of Oklahoma. That interest in radar in clouds led me to the University of Wyoming. And then if I hadn’t met that girl Diane studying in the geology department who shared a love of games with me, leading to us taking turns hosting games nights. And then at one of those games nights if I hadn’t cooked chicken curry for some of her acquaintances from the geology department who were invited and who didn’t announce they were vegetarians beforehand and couldn’t eat what I cooked, causing my friend to be so insulted on my behalf that she refused to invite them again, thus causing her to invite two new people to replace them, one of them being my future wife. I would never have the wonderful life I have now.”
I am quite sure you have done this before. Maybe it’s about a special relationship, maybe it’s a great job, maybe it’s even a tragedy or negative situation. You could even go back further to how your parents met, grandparents, etc. But let’s take a closer look at this journey through our life. We look back at this chain of events and we see all the amazing decisions along the way that brought us through a path in life and it is somewhat mind-blowing. What we’re really doing is amazing ourselves about how large events in our life might never have happened if not for an amazing set of circumstances. And of course it is true that this chain of events lead you to where you are. Is it fate? Should we be blown away by all these amazing set of circumstances?
To answer this question we must ask ourselves another one. What is the alternative? There is none. Events happen in time in a chronological order in
which one event always leads to another. And every person has their own timeline. Every bit of life has a time line. And even some things that aren’t alive have a timeline like hurricanes, avalanches, earthquakes etc. All these events are happening and as each of us follows our path in time and space it is natural that we will intersect with the paths of other things in their timeline. There is no choice to this. If you met your future spouse in a convenient store as you were both reaching for the same bottle of coke we say this is remarkable how you were both thirsty that day and arrived at the same convenience store that was out of your neighborhood and decided to get yourself a beverage. One of you feeling like Pepsi that day would have changed the course of your entire life, but there would like be another major event as you met somebody else instead later, not knowing what you missed, with a different chain of events that you deem important. In fact what’s really interesting here is that, in a way, the fact that you chose Pepsi and not Coke that day allowed you to have the path you enjoy now but you would never even know the significance of that choice.
It seems also that part of the reason we are blown away by such a recounting of events, is that ultimately we are the ones who choose whether an event is even significant at all. Meeting a lover, a best friend, or getting that perfect job might be all things that we find extraordinary and thus the events that led up to them seem almost banal leading to such momentous events. But what if we were just to look at everything that happens in our lives as events? For that is what they are, with each one only have the significance that we ascribe to it. This walking into the convenience store before you met the love of your life and reached for that bottle of coke, is the same chain of events minus one link. The moment when you realized you were thirsty and wanted a coke two less links in the chain of events in your life. I think you get the picture.
So what should really blow our minds is that every event in our lives is the result of a complex chain of events, and that the littlest decision such as whether
you want a Pepsi or Coke can be equally as life changing. In one hand you realize it (choosing Coke) on the other hand you don’t (choosing Pepsi). Now if thinking that every one of the littlest decisions of your life might be the most important you ever made stresses you out, don’t let it. You are bound to make decisions, and even deciding not to anything about a situation is a decision and those decisions will lead to outcomes. It is unavoidable. I just think it’s a nice thought to think that every event might be as important as the next, and that any event might be one that is extremely significant even if we don’t know it at the time.
I am going to publish this post now instead of 5 minutes ago because I decided to heat up my chai because it got cold. And who knows, maybe that will be change the course of my life.
My baby is not much of a crier. So when he does cry it feels a bit worrying. Of course a baby will have different cries. Sometimes those differences are subtle and they change a bit as they grow day by day. There is one for wanting a dry diaper, one for hungriness, one for loneliness and just wanting to be held, and there is a whiny one for a toy they can’t reach (so you give it to them and they become bored 30 seconds later but then want another one!). But there is one cry that seems very different to me. This is the one in which they are in pain or misery: maybe teething, gastric discomfort, sleep deprived and tired, perhaps an ear infection. Whatever it is as a parent you will know this cry. They wail at the top of their lungs. They are inconsolable. There is no reasoning with them because there is no way you can communicate with them except to simply hold them and hope your warmth and love eventually calms the down.
There is a helplessness to babies, especially before they can understand language well and before they can move on their own that draws us towards them, that pierces our heart so deeply that we move almost unconsciously to try and take care of them. But that cry of pain is a helpless cry for which there is no immediate solution. You must simply bear it and simply wish each and every moment that such cries will stop. Hopefully it is just a matter of the pain passing, the medicine working, sleep arriving, or whatever it is (because sometimes you just don’t know) stopping so that that helpless and desperate cry will stop. And I have to admit that the first time I experienced this cry when I was alone and I didn’t want to bother my wife who was getting some much needed time out with a friend, I despaired and felt helpless myself. Not knowing what to do. Of course this is part of what all babies go through and it’s not traumatizing for them, it’s just life. Nevertheless it brought tears to my eyes and feeling like a terrible father for not being able to take my son’s pain away. In that moment I felt utterly helpless as he wailed and wailed in my arms.
As I was able to let my mind catch up to my emotions it occurred to me how fortunate I was to have medicine, how fortunate I was to have a 911 to call, or a pediatrician that has a 24 hour answering service, or just people in my life in general to turn to. Sometimes it just takes the reminder even that all of this is just normal and that everything will be fine. Then I started thinking about all the mothers out there in the world who must listen to that cry for which there is no help. There is no medicine. There is no spouse. Maybe they are just desperately tired after a long day of work and could use their child’s smile to life their spirits, but instead the baby is sick and wails into the night. I started thinking about all the babies whose cries go unheard. Helpless as they are and even through their tears there are no arms to hold them. I have to admit I cried again, but it’s probably worth all our time to take a moment to remember this.
It is a sad reality though that “helpless” is not only something we all feel, but is sometimes the actual state of things. How many times have you felt helpless in your life? I’m sure there have been plenty. We might have felt helpless against a bully at school, a loved one dying from a terminal disease, helpless against the abuse of a parent or guardian, helpless because there is nobody to go to when we are in trouble, or helpless against a traumatic event, accident or natural disaster through no fault of our own. Maybe you have a loved one with an addiction. Whether a child, sibling, parent, or friend. In such cases no amount of help will do much good unless they want it, and the feeling of helplessness mounts.
There are certain realities that are hard to face. Perhaps even harder than facing death. As we grow we feel more powerful, we feel like there is more we can do to affect change, help ourselves and help others, but in the end we are always subject to forces outside our realm of influence. Life is a mixture of experiences both in and out of our control. Recognizing the difference between the two seems, to me, a lifelong struggle. All we can do I guess is to continue to love and care – about ourselves and others, and hope that feelings of helplessness will pass quickly for all who walk on this earth.