I’m with a group of hang-glider pilots bound for the top of a cliff on some island in Polynesia. Looks a lot like Diamond Head in Hawaii. As we’re schlepping our gear, we’re joined by a group of ‘natives’. No idea who they are and even the locals don’t seem to speak their language nor do they speak English. They range from mid-life to pre-teen. All have painted faces a la Melanesians. Each has the same particular symbol painted on his cheek (no females seem to be in the crowd). As we start up the back of the cliff, they drop back and watch. One smiles and we exchange thumbs-up.
We all set up and launch. I find a thermal and am soon sitting about 3500′ above the beach. Normally, one kind of ‘sloshes around’ in a thermal to ‘feel out’ the configuration and find maximum lift, then ‘cores the thermal’, ascending in ever-rising circles. Instead, I decided to trace in the air the pattern I saw painted on the cheeks of the natives.
Wham! I am instantly lifted to about 20,000 in a matter of seconds. Aside from the thin air and extreme cold, it scares the living shit out of me (almost literally). I think, “Hey, if you’re looking for my limits, you just exceeded them about 15000-feet ago”. It – whatever IT is – relented and stopped the elevator. I cranked the kite 90° vertical and dropped like a rock until I got back down to about 5000 feet. Catching my breath, I headed for the tip of the island, which had a small fishing shack and bar. Figured I deserved a beer. Once I started descending, the natives had followed my progress in crowds, VERY excited. I was tired, still trembling. I landed the glider and collapsed, gasping for breath, then walked over to the shack and was handed a beer.
The natives talked excitedly to an old man sitting aside, watching the world go by. He caught my eye and motioned to come sit beside him. I plopped myself down and offered him a swig. He sipped a bit of beer, obviously as a gesture of courtesy. This man had no paint on his face, but I saw the mysterious symbol on his upper left chest. He leaned back and looked intently at me, then called out to someone in a language I cannot identify – and I’m a linguist. A woman came up bearing a black goo. He painted the symbol on my upper left chest, to match his decoration. A second woman provided a paste which he plastered over the symbol. By signs, he indicated I was not to wash off the paste until after 5 days.
That symbol, which I cannot identify and will never forget does not appear on my body. But if there’s something deeper than the bone, flesh and skin that I’m familiar with, the symbol is there for all to see who know how to look deeper.
I think of the Lakota Sioux blessing/farewell “Mitake Oyasin”. It literally means ‘All My Relations” but the idiomatic meaning is “We Are All Related”. I can’t really say what the native symbol means, but it connects me to every human on earth. And probably all who have ever lived or will live; and probably all living things since Day One. I am blood-brother to the first bug oozing out of the primordial slime; and to the Dalai Lama; to you and probably to the rocks that lie underfoot.
We are born alone. We die alone. In between, we can only learn to appreciate life – and each other.
The late Richie Havens sang;
We are all alone
Each one his own
We are all alone… together.
With all that solitude, remember to be Alone Together
For reasons of no particular interest here, a perfect storm of conditions recently caused my first-ever COPD flare-up and subsequent five-day hospital stay, the only time in 77 years I’ve been in for more than same-day surgery. The process left me somewhat chastened and realizing that using good genes as an excuse to ignore my health was probably not a viable long-term option. I will therefore have to take seriously the task of regaining and preserving as much as possible of my health going forward.
The process also left me with some memorable experiences which I will chronicle here, in case anyone’s interested.
When I was a teenager, I came into possession of a large amount of booze. (It’s a long story). I kept a bottle in my school locker and used to take a nip between classes – more to cock a snook at Authority than because I really wanted a drink. I used to lie in bed at night with an 8oz tumbler full of whiskey and read, listen to country radio until about 4am as I sipped my booze.
When I was growing up, we didn’t necessarily expect law enforcement to be happy with all the hell we raised. Technically, TPing someone’s house or tipping over their outhouse was vandalism but no one would have expected or condoned an officer pulling his gun under such circumstances. Putting a condom on the tailpipe of the cop’s car or plugging it with a potato were frowned upon by the victims, laughed at by the kids and smiled tolerantly at by most grownups, including the cops (once their blood pressure got back to normal).
It was common for us kids to stay out well after dark, often ‘camping out’ on someone’s lawn for all-night bull-sessions. We sometimes raided a garden – our own or others’ – for spuds and veggies to roast in a campfire. One gent in the neighborhood tried to grow corn: at 7700+ elevation & a 3-month growing season it got about 31/2 feet tall and the cob about 3 inches. Nevertheless, he was extremely proud and possessive of it. When a couple of us grabbed a few of the mini-cobs, he discovered us and let loose with a shotgun. Fortunately, we were too far away for buckshot to be very effective. But we were justifiably offended at his over-reaction.
Word got out (it’s hard to explain away gunshots in a small town) and the sheriff rounded us up next day and scolded us. We both realized he was obligated to do so, but neither he nor we took it too seriously. However, he also paid the gardener a visit and told him that if he ever shot at kids again, he’d be locked up.
Today the gardener would have an AR15 and someone might be dead – and he would be applauded for ‘standing his ground’. Today’s cop would deal with us heavy-handedly – maybe tasers for white kids and 9mm for the hispanics.
I spent 50 years in bleeding-edge IT work. I was very good at what I did, probably in the top 10-20 people in the world at one time. I credit that not particularly to brilliance or training but to the fact that I am basically a creative person who happened to hit the computer world at a time when it was in flux. It needed creative thinking because a new world was being made possible by computers and we were creating new ways of doing many things, from business to science.
I spent 25 years of those 50 years at SIAC, the IT subsidiary of NYSE and was lucky to work there with some exceptional people. SIAC was widely recognized as not only a leader in the use of technology, but also a great place to work. It was a well-deserved reputation, chiefly because during its ‘golden years’, it was run by an execptional individual, Charles McQuade. Any corporation takes it cue from the top, and Charlie was first and foremost a decent, honorable and caring human being – and he ran the company accordingly. We busted out butts for SIAC because SIAC treated us well. When my wife was hit by a car and spent weeks in ICU and months in hospitals for multiple surgeries, I took off whatever time I needed and SIAC was completely supportive. So when SIAC needed a piece of code working by next Monday, I worked non-stop from 6am Thursday to 4pm Sunday to make it happen. We both did the Right Thing and nobody kept score or nitpicked.
Some time ago, I wrote a post entitled Cockleburs of Culture and later added Cocklebur Time Again. I was, of course, using cockleburs as a metaphor for those annoying little habits, practices, beliefs and expectations which our cultures (or ourselves) seem determined to embed in our lives.
The Great God of Cockleburs was evidently not amused by my figure of speech. Continue reading
The world in general and America in particular often seems like a house whose owners can no longer maintain it. It just gets more and more messy and run down as time passes. They know that eventually the roof will fall in but they neither fix it nor move out.
I’m sure my outlook is not that uncommon today. Indeed, the way things are going, optimism might well be grounds for a psychiatric examination. It was not always this way, and it may be instructive to examine why.
Ken Smith has been keeping Joe Bageant’s website live and recently posted this.
Go on, read it. I’ll wait.
The takeaway I see in that short article is twofold: the person-to-person connection (which just happens to be father/son) and the whole-different-lifestyle thing.
Having arrived at Agonist in December ’09, I missed the early years, so I’ve been reading s lot of the Random Posts that show up in the lower left sidebar. Given the incessant barrage of Newsertainment and Infomercials that inundate us daily, it’s remarkable we are able to turn it off long enough to view current events on any scale broader thatn a week or a month. We recall major things from years past which are particularly pertinent to issues at hand, but the day-to-day experiences of 1990 are usually as remote as those of 1970 (or 1950 or 1940, for some of us).
I find that going back to only as recently as the early Agonist is informative, if depressing. Just a casual browsing of our archives reminds me that howwever grim and screwed up things are today, it’s nothing new. We’re just a bit further down the road than we were ten years ago (and gaining momentum).
Back in the ’60s, one hippie slogan was “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”
Well, what if they gave a riot and everybody came?