Serenity

A few weeks back I posted about a dove that had built a nest on an unused planter on our front porch.  I’d read that mourning doves choosing your house was a sign of peace and tranquility.  Each morning I went out for a jog, the dove’s little head would pop up and she would eyeball me.  There was no fear in that gaze, but rather serenity.  She was sitting on her eggs and knew I wouldn’t hurt her.  Several days ago she was gone from the nest.  We were out for a family walk when my daughter noticed.  We crept up to see two good-sized chicks sitting there instead.  Within days we had a couple of young birds flapping around the yard, trying to learn how to live on their own.

I missed the dove, though.  The nest was empty.  I felt less bad about stepping into somebody else’s bedroom every time I went out the door, but still, I’d grown accustomed to having her—them—on the porch.  This week when I again went out for a jog (the jogging never ends), she was back.  She looked at me with a knowing stare.  Ours was apparently a safe house.  Mourning doves, I read on the Cornell University ornithology site, can raise a brood of two in six to eight weeks.  From the laying of eggs to abandoning the nest is only a two-month proposition.  The website then went on to say that doves will sometimes return to their previous nest.  This one obviously had.

Peace is a rare commodity these days.  Stress seems to be our daily matrix.  How long will our jobs hold out?  Will opening up the economy lead to a second wave?  (Likely yes.)  Will we be able to make mortgage payments if our companies can’t weather the storm?  Who really owns this house anyway?  There is a serenity to relinquishing anxieties of ownership.  A kind of freedom to belonging to a world that will, at least in some nations, help you make it through a crisis intact.  There’s a wisdom to the animal world that we too often ignore.  We can find peace if we look for it.  One cold morning I found one of the chicks sheltering on the leeward side of our fence.  I took her some sunflower seeds since she looked so miserable.  I don’t know if she ate them or not, but I knew that we humans had benefited from having her under our roof.  Such gifts are worth more than might be imagined.

Too Close?

What with the US Navy admitting that UFOs are real and all, it seemed like a good idea to watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind over the holiday weekend.  Like many of my generation I saw it in a theater—itself kind of a distant memory—back in 1977.  I’m not sure why it’s been on my mind lately, but since it’s a long movie it takes a long weekend to accomodate it.  As we settled down to classic Spielberg scenes—lots of khaki and crowds and desert locations—it was a reminder of how silly we all looked in the seventies.  (What were we thinking?)  Other than that the film has aged pretty well.  The plot, although not action-packed, is probing and has several moments that seem to have inspired Poltergeist.  What made the film blog-worthy at this time, however, was the wearing of masks.

When Roy Neary and Jillian Guiler arrive at Devil’s Tower the governmental cover-up is in full play.  A nerve-gas leak—and who can check out whether such a thing really happened?—has a mask-wearing restriction in place.  I wondered where one could get a gas mask today when the crowd scenes of the pandemic won’t even leave a roll of toilet paper behind.  Checking for rubbing alcohol to make homemade hand sanitizer I found it selling for $300 per gallon on Amazon.  Where are we going to get a gas mask in circumstances such as these?  That particular scenario never really stood out to me before although I’ve seen the movie many times over the years.  Back when I was a student at Boston University the school tee-shirt worn by Barry Guiler was the interesting cultural context.

Films that survive the years take on different aspects over time.  Some suggest that a branch of the military admitting to the reality of UFOs during a pandemic was intended to underplay the event.  Others have argued that a similar release of information many months ago received similar lackluster interest.  If there are aliens out there, I have trouble imagining that they’d travel all this way for a synthesizer concert at a national monument that received a major uptick in visitors due to the movie’s release.  Maybe we love our fictional aliens more than the possibility of meeting those that seem to be vexing our navy?  The movie was the right choice for the circumstances, it seems to me.  Some things about the seventies are worth revisiting from time to time.  Strangely, in retrospect, life seemed simpler then.

Somebody Elsism

It’s 5:30 a.m. the day after Memorial Day and I’m out jogging.  I go out at this time because there’s not much likelihood of encountering many other people.  Oh, I know others are awake, but few are out on the trail at this time of morning.  I’m made a bit sad by the amount of trash I see along the path.  Yesterday turned into a pleasant afternoon and I suspect lots of people were out here then.  I even find the remains of some kind of homemade fireworks launcher, reminding me that it was supposed to be a patriotic holiday.  I’ve seen an uptick in Trump signs around here and I wonder if it has anything to do with the rampant somebody elsism that I see strewn along my jogging trail.

Somebody elsism is the attitude that I can make a mess of things and let somebody else deal with it.  (It’s my right as an American!)  Maybe you’ve seen it too.  The doggie doo-doo bags that are filled and left beside the trail for somebody else to pick up and dispose of.  It’s my right to own a dog, and although I may feel compelled to bag its leavings, somebody else will have to throw it away.  The idea’s pretty rampant.  I’ve even found such things on my front sidewalk.  I suspect this is a chapter in the myth of rugged individualism.  I have a right, but somebody else has the duty.

Life itself is like this, I guess.  We have to leave wills to help those left behind sort out the various messes we’ve made in our lifetimes.  Still, the Trump administration has all been about somebody elsism.  There is no such thing as controlled chaos.  The coronavirus should have taught us that, if we hadn’t figured it out long before.  Living together with other people requires a commitment to some basic things.  As much as I dislike yardwork, you can’t own a house and let the plants take over.  Your wild growth will seed somebody else’s weeds.  I’d rather be sitting inside reading.  It’s a holiday weekend and I have so little time to read during the week.  Won’t somebody else take care of the grass that has been loving the rain and warmer temperatures?  If only.  So I’m out jogging early, but I have to wait until it’s light.  There are so many things you can’t see before twilight kicks in, and unless somebody else picks them up I’m bound to step in them.

Remembering Cautiously

Memorial Day has a special poignancy when thousands of people are needlessly dying from a disease.  As the unofficial kick-off to summer, the holiday also marks the loosening of restrictions (most likely prematurely) and we can only wonder how many more will die when our usual carelessness resumes.  I’m not alone, I suspect, in hoping that this crisis will have brought some permanent changes, such as thinking about others.  It’s almost impossible to hope that such consciousness will rise to the level of government, of course, but if we the roots of the grass care for one another won’t that care naturally grow to a national level?  Americans have long loved the myth of rugged individualism.  There may have been a day when that was plausible, but we are now so interconnected that anyone considered successful has become so only because of considerable support of others.

This holiday is all about remembering.  Unfortunately remembering our war dead hasn’t done much to prevent wars.  If they’re not the acting out of our fears (as every belligerence since World War II seems to have been) then what are they?  Phobias of communists, terrorists, and assorted “others” lead us into mass killing, often for economic gain.  What if we were to put those vast military resources toward fighting a deadly disease?  What if we had a national will to take care of our people rather than to enrich ourselves?  Wouldn’t we be all the richer for it?  Instead we face more needless deaths, more people to remember on the next Memorial Day.  Maybe the sun will be shining then.

Those of us non-essential workers who’ve nevertheless been working remotely these past two-and-a-half months have a day off today.  Many will want to gather, but we know it’s not really a good idea.  We know the way infection works.  We have no battle plan against COVID-19.  We’re chomping at the bit for economic vitality, forgetting that those who are on the front lines are continuing to get sick.  It’s strange to have a holiday under such circumstances.  The warmer weather invites us outdoors while the plague drives us inside.  There’s a place for bravery, but when bravado masks itself with foolishness there will be a price to pay.  It’s Memorial Day and we can honor our dead by not rushing to join them with unreflective premature relaxing of safety measures.  Let’s stay safe this holiday by remembering what we’ve learned.

Nothing To Eat

Some stories are unsettling to the point of spirituality.  That’s my impression of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian.  My wife wanted my opinion of it and when she used the adjective “Kafkaesque” I knew I had to comply.  The comparison is eerie in that Franz Kafka essentially starved to death because no way could be found to feed him with his underlying medical condition.  The Vegetarian shifts focus in its three parts, but the protagonist, Yeong-hye, is a young woman who finds her life run by other people in her family after she decides to become a vegetarian (in actual fact, a vegan).  Basing her decision on disturbing dreams she has, those in her Korean culture cannot accept vegetarianism and attempt, by various forms of coercion, to change her decision.  Throughout the account, Yeong-hye becomes silent—we’re never given her point of view—but those around her can’t accept her decision.

This is a challenging book to read, given my own personal history, but after scratching my head a bit when I finished it I came to reflect on this spiritual side of it.  My own vegetarianism was an ethical decision.  I realize that I can’t and shouldn’t impose my ethics on others, but I’ve not had much resistance from others (apart from colleagues who occasionally make reservations at eateries with no hint of the concept).  Likewise, I became a vegan a few years back based on further reflection of an ethical kind.  This is actually a spiritual practice.  I don’t often express it in those terms, but clearly it is.  In the novel when Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law tries to direct her life, he takes her to a Buddhist restaurant because he knows nowhere else to find vegetarian offerings.

Yeong-hye believes herself to be becoming a plant, and that leads to the next logical step in this progression of thinking.  Eating is, or at least can be, a spiritual exercise.  Many religions advocate fasts of various durations to derive the benefits to the soul.  Daily life is a matter of routine for many, often based around our culturally driven mandate of three meals a day.  I’m not alone at working through lunch while trying to get more done at my job.  By the final meal of the day I find myself exhausted.  It’s about more than food.  This strange little book has put me into a reverie about the ethics of eating.  I don’t know if Han Kang is a vegetarian or not, but she does understand the soul of one.

Ancient Technology

The pandemic, like any news event these days, has generated a whole new vocabulary.  I had to look up PPE on Google (Personal Protective Equipment, if you live in a cave like me).  I want to help with the effort to curb the coronavirus, but being a non-essential worker, I’m not sure what I can do.  Then my wife found an organization making PPEs.  In this case the equipment they make is face-shields.  And they were looking for, believe it or not, transparency paper.  Well, it’s really not paper, but acetate.  Although we’ve had to move several times since being pushed out of the Nashotah House nest, when I went looking for that box of transparency film that I paid for out of my own pocket in the PPPD (Pre-PowerPoint Days), I found it without too much trouble.  We still had 25 unused sheets left, and we donated them to the cause.

Nashotah House used to have one semester of required Hebrew and one semester of Greek.  Since the curriculum was highly regulated in those days, there was no opportunity for further courses in either language.  If you teach Hebrew you know that no textbook assumes just fourteen to sixteen weeks to learn it.  I quickly gave up using textbooks and had students begin translating as I walked them through it.  I had to use an overhead projector since Nashotah had no internet connection until the turn of the millennium.  It was such a small account that the cable companies didn’t want to go all the way out there to lay the physical lines then necessary for connectivity.  So I bought transparency film.  I even learned how to run it through my printer which, thankfully, wasn’t dot-matrix.

Over the years I bought quite a few boxes of the stuff.  Then the Enlightenment.  Let there be PowerPoint.  I converted all my teaching to PowerPoint slides while others made fun.  When my services were no longer required, I had to purchase a projector so that I could continue to teach on a freelance basis.  But I kept that expensive transparency film.  Now it is out there covering faces, and hopefully, unlike seminary education, saving lives.  As an erstwhile teacher of Greek and Hebrew I’ve found myself having to make some flashcards to learn the new words the crisis is giving us.  It’s a good thing, then, that when I was looking for transparency film I also found a couple packs of unopened index cards.  Sometimes antiquated pedagogy is commodious after all.

WHO Knew 2?

According to Mark Twain’s taxonomy there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.  Right now about all we have are in the last of these categories under the most statistical administration in history.  Still, if we want to get out of the house once in a while we need to look for some facts.  I keep coming back to the World Health Organization daily situation report here.  That’s because I trust WHO.  It’s an ethical, international organization not in the rear pocket of the self-proclaimed genius that puts that pocket beneath his holy posterior in the Oval Office.  In fact, just this week said genius threatened to make the United States’ contributions to WHO disappear forever unless they met his demands.  China, on the other hand, upped their contribution by a couple billion.

I don’t have the time, or certainly the numerical capacity, to read the entire report daily.  Nor to internalize all the vast numbers of cases and deaths worldwide.  It’s too much.  Still, I stop to check the places I know, including the one in which I happen to live.  There may be a time delay here since I check the reports early, and since the data from which I’m drawing came from yesterday, but still I have to wonder.  According to the stats provided by our grand ole US of A, there were no new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.  We went from 1,477,459 to zero in one day.  Actually, the day before (Tuesday) we reported 31,967 cases.  Don’t believe me?  Go ahead and check; I’ll wait.

Not born yesterday (not by a long shot), I know that numbers sometimes have to be adjusted.  I receive a salary, so I know that well.  At the same time, we have a statistician-in-chief that had only days before threatened—blackmail is what we used to call it, if the other party had actually done something wrong, which doesn’t really apply—to remove all funding in saecula saeculorum.  Can I get an amen?  Many of us, perhaps even most, learned early in life that you don’t get what you want by throwing a tantrum.  Of course, most of us didn’t grow up filthy rich.  Most of us can’t afford to buy the presidency.  Heck, most of us have trouble making the rent or mortgage.  So we have this great statistical anomaly whereby one spoiled kid says if you don’t play by my ruse, I’ll take my marbles and go home.  And I’m not lying.