Supply chains are supposed to be efficient and economical, not like last year’s flow of face masks, hand sanitizers. and toilet paper. That chain busted at the same time Dr. Fauci advised; cover your mouth, wash your hands, and mind your own business. The crisis could be abated by staying put and keeping your distance until the plague passed or a vaccine arrived. The world waited for the wellerman to come.
Prior to 2020 thinking about toilet paper was something left best to weird Mr. Whipple who scolded customers for squeezing the Charmin. My thoughts were limited to stocking the boat with fast dissolving toilet paper and hoping George would learn to swap out the empty tube for a new roll. Life is often amusing and frequently confusing. None of us dreamed that we’d soon mask up, get in line and pray Mr. Whipple had left a meager supply of off brand, cheek chaffing tissue. With over 7 trillion bare butts on planet Earth, toilet paper was a commodity in short supply. There were few supply ships able to deliver. And so we waited for the wellerman to bring us sugar, tea plus rum and T P.
Now it’s ’21, the virus has come of age. Ear worms have pushed away from 2020 Hip Hop (WAP) and dirges (I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry) to 19th century sea shanties. Makes sense. The virus left many feeling as bereft as an old salt a’top the crows nest on midnight watch. Folks know better than to grab babies or old ladies to sing them Hip Hop, fearing, God forbid, they discern the lyrics. Brother Love’s Traveling Show is currently led by a young Scotsman who brings us together with sea shanties. We know the words and can carry the tunes with Quint and Hooper aboard the ill-fated Orca. These are shaggy dog tales of early morning drunken sailors, seamen like Joe who hauled away, and a beach boy and his grandfather aboard the Sloop John B. Today’s top sea shanty crashing the ‘Net is about whalers aboard the Billy of Tea. There’s whale toggled to their harpoons that’s drags the ship for longer than the endless song as the crew waits for a supply ship (wellerman).
It’s the song of this dreary season. We’ve stockpiled enough crap traps and loo rolls to wipe away a zillion dingleberrys. The supply chain is still Kinked and we’re still waiting for a couple shots, not in a glass, in the arm. Whether the cargo aboard our wellerman is sung by Pfizer, Moderna, or that Euro-indie group Astra Zenica, I’m going to sing it like sailor Joe. He saw black clouds rising and bellowed, “Away haul away, we’ll hope for better weather. Away. Ho! We’ll haul away together!”
The Billy of Tea is still chasing the whale. When the wellerman comes, with a tot of sugar and rum for the tea, the crew will take their leave and go. I’m eager to leave harbor and set sail again. Until then, “we’ll haul away together, we’ll haul away, Joe.”
Welcome 2021. The millennium is now old enough to legally purchase and consume alcohol. I hope it heeds the Roman comic Plautus’ view that, “moderation in all things is the best policy.” I’m taking a Goldilocks approach to the new year and will avoid things too hot or too cold. We’ve had enough of too hard or too soft views on government and health care. It might seem that the calendar has outrun 2020 but it’s doubtful that our collective vision is as blurry as it was a year ago. It’s clear to see that an abundance of hope is always accompanied by a profusion of fear.
I was one of the few social science teachers in the 70s that was not named Coach. One of the ongoing themes was to help students understand George Santayana’s missive, “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” The kids were quick to inform me that in all of their dozen or so years on Earth they hadn’t done anything except to grow up. They protested the notion that were they doomed by the mistakes of thousands of years of millions of old people. I challenged them to learn from history and avoid the penalty. Forgetting or ignoring important things that happen over time around the world doesn’t mean the consequences will brighten the present and may well blight the future. These young people were on the cusp of changing the world for better and worse, and as we saw over time, for good. The goal of my rift was to get them to read their textbooks, newspapers, and anything they chose past the written driver’s exam. I was that teacher who believed Descartes nailed it when he mused, “reading good books is like conversations with the finest minds of the past.” I fervently believed that youth write the future page by page over their lifetimes.
Those high school students are now in their 60s. I’m in contact with two of them. Leslie retired very young as a genetic engineer and sailed the Pacific for decades. Jessica retired from the business world and moved back home to her farming community. The three of us have reached an age that’s partially defined by crisis competence. We’ve lived long enough to recognize the destructive power of a creeping crisis; a situation foreshadowed by a series of events that decision makers don’t view as part of a pattern. Mostly, our personal creeping crises are the consequence of believing our bodies last forever even if we don’t heed our physician’s advice eat, drink, and exercise in moderation. That’s somewhat challenging in the midst of a sudden, universal crisis such as the Covid 19 pandemic where we’re more isolated and closer to the kitchen.
It’s tempting drive through the year without looking back. Fact is, in order to drive safely, you’ve got to check the rear view mirror. People can’t see exactly what’s behind as the mirror warns, “Objects May Be Closer Than They Appear”. A photo taken 22,200 miles above the earth foreshadows the effects of rapid climate changes. The smoke of millions of burning trees, ignited by a record heat wave in the Pacific northwest, sailed the jet stream and dimmed the sun above New England. Global smoke shadows beckon a strange new world. Being crisis competent means knowing that the damage done will get worse the longer it’s ignored. Blacking out the lessons of ’20 will bring forth a wicked hangover for ’21.
Obsessing on what’s behind when the vehicle is in Drive could cause your headlights to merge with someone else’s brake lights. Read the signs and pay attention to what you see while remembering what you’ve learned. Have confidence that having survived a challenging year you’ve grown enough competence to survive and thrive this new year. Think first decide next. Let hope tip the scales towards optimism.