The Ark of Solar Power

And so it begins. Photo courtesy of Scott Berstain
Point Judith, RI

I’ve kept to Noah’s directive for passengers aboard the Ark and sailed 50 times around an enormous spinning, shining nearly perfect sphere of hot plasma with my First Mate. Love is a lot like sunshine. Sunshine is what happens when within a tiny tad of mass a bunch of heavier and lighter elements are forced to fuse together. Their union creates a tremendous amount of nuclear energy in the form of light and heat that shapes our lives. Sunshine fuels love.

Sustaining love for over half a century requires a great deal of energy that must endure long after the big bang. People whose relationships dissipate often describe feeling that there wasn’t the right chemistry to fuel love. Blame breakups on sunshine. The sun creates energy and energy makes everything work. Being human, each person requires food – plants and animals- as fuel to energize our emotions and make relationships work. Everything we eat is essentially a smorgasbord of chemical matter that is the product of energy harvested from the sun. Some things, like mushrooms – who do not mine energy from darkness –   use energy from other living things that previously harvested their energy from sunlight. That’s one reason why most couples rely on the support – energy – of close friends of family. It takes the right chemicals – or if you’re on WW, the right diet and movement – to keep love burning strong. Love is consistent with laws of the universe, as Einstein explained, nuclear fusion happens when stuff is subjected to great pressure and heat which creates blinding energy.

Sun above and in the waves. Photo SB

Sunshine itself is as blind and out of control as a hormonally surcharged teenager’s first crush. The sun mindlessly absorbs a forest’s moisture to the point of a spontaneous combustion that leaves behind an acrid landscape. Sunlight energizes a scorched patch of earth with the power to thrive again much in the same way that broken hearts heal to love again. The sun melts polar ice caps and 7 11 slushies during the same day just like the warmth of an embrace soothes a soul and brightens our spirit.

 Some might wonder whether two elements that come together with the pressure and heat of love can sustain enough energy over 50 years to keep burning brightly. Yes, they can, though it takes a lot energy and to keep a hunk of burning love aflame for that long.  Love needs to be protected when it’s just a small flicker of warmth sputtering in the wind. Every now and then an ember of love needs a breath of fresh air to ignite. While our love burns a bit slower it’s not scorched and hasn’t cooled off.

Nothing thaws my heart as powerfully as my first mate and crew. We’ve enjoyed a half a century of solar cruising. Like all of the twosomes on the Ark we did our fair share of multiplying during the first legs of our journey, though Noah never seemed to heed Sheriff Brody’s advice to get a bigger boat as our tribe increased.

I’ve always said that I love my family more than sunshine which is contrary to logic. They are sunshine. Sunshine is energy. Energy is everything.  It’s true. Love is sunshine.

May peace warm your nights long after the sun sets. Wickford Cove, Summer 2020. JAL

Happy 50th Anniversary, George.

Managing Momentum

Newport, RI. Photo JAL
Might as Well. (photo of a gift card given to me)

I’m learning to sail – again. As captain of my own small fleet of sailing vessels for half a century I’ve worked to project a confident, responsible persona. I have a hearty respect for the power of wind that some call Maria. She can instantaneously morph from a catatonic state into a raging bitch.  I accept the truism that water always wins and pay Neptune homage before leaving the dock. I’m sensitive to the moment a boat settles into the center of effort as the hull, wind, and water harmonize.

Translating experience into coherent lessons that will be my legacy to grandkids takes a whole lot more than visual imagery and sea tales. Sailing is a very technical skill set that comes down to managing momentum. It’s about knowing how things should move predictably on command and understanding most stuff is driven by universal laws of physics. That’s a writer’s way to politely say, “all that wind and water colliding with my boat scares the living s•¶∞ out of me.”

I’m learning to sail racing dinghies in 708 billion gallons of salt water that covers 147 square miles. Here critical race theories are grounded in physics not history. I’m getting reoriented to the basics of energy, motion, and force that involve gauging the wind to trim sails, tending the tiller to aim the boat, and anticipating wind gusts to avoid a dunking.  

I’m the senior in the adult sailing class. I’m pretty sure some of my classmates and instructors were born in the 21st century. I’m in the third act of life that my parents’ generation described as “go-go, slow-go, no-go”. Say it ain’t so, Boomer! Researchers concluded that Nuns are better equipped to dodge cognitive decline because they do crossword puzzles and used to sport wimples that kept jowls tightly concealed and elevated lower eyelashes to the mid-brow. Nuns were forever young looking in a stiff sort of way.

My generation isn’t known for our rosary beads. We are the very souls our parents warned us about. We’re not porch sitters. We are big dawgs who run for fun, explore, cultivate, and create while earnestly disrupting our parents’ notions about aging. We’ve got will and momentum with a sharp eye on the clock. Being mindful of Now we devote less energy to reminiscing our past lives in favor of tackling the future.

Dog Days Race @ Wickford Yacht Club. Video from Race Committee Boat. jal

Narragansett is an Indigenous name meaning “people of the small point.” I’ve forged fresh friendships on the shores of the Bay. Whether on the waves or ashore, the small point that connects us is the belief that we can never stop learning about life. The sea’s in our veins, we’re forever sailing forward, always forward. First word Across, seven letters, “beginning a voyage, leaving a harbor.”  

My Crew – Team Levesque. Surprise 70/50 Private Cruise around Newport Narragansett Bay July 2021

Thanks to Shale for a great sailing lesson and to Skip for coining the phrase, managing momentum.

MetaHappy

Somewhere Under the Rainbow. Photo by Scott Berstein

What makes people happy? Abe Lincoln was quoted 50 years after he died for implying that happiness is what people get when they set their minds to being happy. A century later Pharrell Williams invited us to “clap along if you feel like a room without a roof.” That’s being meta-happy, you experience happiness when you think you’re happy, and that makes people near you happy too.

Nautilus Stained Glass by Barbara Dawson Makes Me Happy

For past 86 years, Harvard researchers have been studying what makes adults happy. Being happy requires a lot of verbs, making it more of an action than a disposition. The Harvard crew discovered that happy adults are highly aware of what it takes to be happy. They are constantly choosing to be happy with whatever they do. This seems to be a commitment to embracing the the best and worst of times with minimal guidance from Charles Dickens.

As we reunite with kith and kin after months of social distancing, I hear more positive things about the lockdown than negative aspects of being in a room with the leaky roof.  One friend, married for over 40 years said she came to really appreciate her husband and treasures the way they made it through a pandemic together. Another stated the lockdown freed her from social anxiety. She felt peace and comfort during the time she simply tended to her home. People seem to be reconstructing their memories of 2020 to shape stories about the creative endeavors they took on and new things learned, like total household weekly need for toilet paper.

Tending to our closest relationships makes us happy. Clap along if you know how good it feels to strengthen ties with the people who matter most in your life. Nobody needs a Harvard lecture to appreciate the value of true friendship and having a place within a family circle. After a year and a half of only seeing me on a flat screen my youngest grandkids think grandparents are much like Flat Stanley. Clap along if you think happiness, is the truth.

The third ingredient of happiness may be the hardest to feel that it’s what you want to do. It’s taking care of yourself physically, financially, and emotionally. Happy people, young and older, sense time is limited. A friend advised me to separate my emotional connection from our home, sell it for top dollar, wait two years for the market to collapse, and then buy a really nice place on the water. I declined, citing I only have a finite number of “two years” left and want to be happy in a place shared by wonderful neighbors. Personal, family, and my small local community well-being have taken priority over financial gain. Happy people choose how and with whom they spend time with. Clap your hands if you know what happiness is to you.

Mark Twain reflected that some of the worst times in his life never happened. Happiness is not about forgetting that bad times are hell. We can’t always do or have what we want.  In general, I consider myself a very happy person. It’s what I want to be. I don’t go as far as Thoreau did by sucking the marrow out of the bone of life, but I tend to take big bites. Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do.

Happiness is a pair of new Top Siders.
They Fit Me.

Read again and sing along, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7dPqrmDWxs

It is the Dusk of My Age of Aquarius

Courtesy of FB NTB local photographer – thank you.

It is the Dusk of My Age of Aquarius

I clamored into the 70’s in Boston with flowing tresses, great tickets, college roommates and a date to see the play Hair. At the finale the cast invited us to dance on stage, The Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In. I rocked and rolled into the dawn of my 20’s – eager to take on a world filled with “trust and understanding.” My heart was open to the future – 50 years later my date and I dance and sail the stars together as a crew of 14. The sunshine went straight into my soul.

Recently, a guy on our dock confidentially shared paternal concern about his daughter’s future. He asked me, not as a sailor but as an educator, what advice could I offer a 17 year old about charting life pathways given she “just wants to help people.” That’s a tough question even for an “Aquarian” who’d plotted a career through teaching in a rural high school, labyrinths within Ivory Towers, tiny desks in classrooms, and family learning centers. Though not a cognoscenti in humanities, here’s what I’ve learned about helping people from 50 years emerged in the Age of Aquarius.

Dear Passionate Yet Undecided Youth,

Many jobs and careers help people. Plumbers who fix the toilets help us as do engineers that design civic centers and sound systems. People who serve icy cold Frosties at sports events, those who bring our dinners to a table, code Apps, bring medicine to the poor, clean water, preserve resources, clean our communities, protect the environment, and those who adhere to callings to bring food to the hungry, solace to the troubled, equity to the disenfranchised, peace to warring factions– all help us survive, endure, thrive, prosper, and become ever a better village to raise our children, grow old together and bury our loved ones.

So do youth who scoop ice cream on summer evenings and help us remember simpler times while gathering with friends and family for sweet licks.  And, people who lend money, and forgive rental late fees, yes, it’s not a level playing field, but they help people reach their dreams – even at a cost. Helping is a very difficult term to describe in today’s world. The most effective way to begin to make things better is to be kind. That’s not simple either, but try.

So, lower your anxiety about what is helping people until you understand how all of us connect on shallow and deep levels. Don’t just be a random forgotten key in the junk drawer. Remember you are the only key that will open the gateway to your future and once you realize there are a lot of keys in the drawer you’ll figure out there are many locks beyond the drawer. Communicate with other keys.

Listen – not only to what people say but also what you hear when nobody is talking. You don’t need a stethoscope or a degree to perceive what’s most important.

Being a passive observer has great power – good and bad. Not taking action against a wrong is as powerful as wielding the brutal forces that create great harm. Not to act is to do. Risk is always part of change for better and for good – but remember it has a flip side too. Beliefs need no facts to be accepted as true. Scientific statements need proof and so what’s true today might not be tomorrow. Research changes facts. Adapt.

You can’t just wish to be brave or courageous. Both are interlocked with a sense of being an agent for something that benefits others in ways measured by character, civility, reason, and humility. Being brave demands testing your competence and confidence. But all of this is limited to specific contexts. A good lifeguard at the community pool isn’t necessarily someone who fights for social justice. Being brave blasts through all of this. Yet, it is a possible you.

Be your best. Live your dreams. And most of all – be kind – it is the most helpful disposition in life.

Best, (it comes after figuring out whether something is good and whether that’s helpful to anyone but yourself)

JAL

PS

Last weekend, my granddaughter’s dance recital answered that caring dad’s question, “she wants to help people”. A single hour in the audience raised my awareness about the power of dance and music to help us connect disparate factions within the rhythm of life. Those who create music, dance, streaming videos, TikToks, comfy crafts, novels, journalism, matchmakers, parenting strategies, food pantries, updates from interplanetary explorations, videos from human failings, ice cream on trucks, guitar solos, books, plays, vaccines, haircuts, takeout food, product deliveries, babies, cancer cures, fitness coaching, farm to market, and on and on – all  help people us to understand that life is complicated and dependent on networks of people willing to negotiate an understanding of what helps, and what’s good – for some, but never all. If done with a sense of decency, most of whatever a 17 year old decides to pursue as a life pathway can help people. Except of course, decisions that destroy self and others.

I’m ending this stream with a promise made in my 1969 yearbook, “to make a sad song better.” Hey, Jude, many of us take songs we believe are sad because we have a different perspective and so, making “them” better becomes about us helping ourselves rather than others. Few among us are altruistic – those who care about others first and self somewhere down the pecking order – that’s not a bad thing. Fifty years later, it seems nothing I can say about reliance, competence, and confidence will resonate with all of my friends and associates. Nah, nah, nah, nananahnah.

Wisdom has always been co-opted by the context of time and community. I’m entering my personal dusk of the Age of Aquarius. I’m a tad rusty about Aquarius and don’t care whether the moon is in the seventh house or not. I am ambivalent as to whether or not Jupiter is aligned with Mars because Rover is there sending me daily photos.  I’ve lived through the 60s and my 60s – it’s time for some cool changes.

I danced on the stage of Hair to let the sun shine in. I’m greeting my 70’s tomorrow with a heart that’s still open to feeling it. Here’s to us, Jude.

Jeri, Class of 69 turns 70, 6/4/2021.And Mick Jagger, as you know, It’s NOT such a drag growing old –

Point Judith Light – After the sun goes down – FB friend photo post

Shifting Sand Dunes

Cape Cod National Seashore

Once upon a time, I was a very pregnant first time Mom spending Mother’s Day Weekend on Cape Cod chaperoning 56 class of 1976 Seniors. The class president announced they’d voted unanimously that each Senior be allowed to place their hands on my beachball sized mid-drift to feel the baby kick. Respectful of democracy, as their social sciences teacher and faculty advisor, I agreed figuring that for teenagers, feeling an unborn baby’s movement was a reality check for any post lights-out fraternizing in the motel.

Narragansett Beach Dunes circa 2000. jal

Early Sunday morning, we took the crew of sleep deprived (and probably hungover) to the Cape Cod National Seashore. The park boasts the grandest sand dunes of New England. That was way before the dunes were planted with sea grasses and beach plums to save the Cape from the relentless forces of sea erosion. Back then the dunes were majestic windswept mountains of fine, powdery sand with sparse vegetation. The kids sprinted up the lee side of the dunes and gasped at the diamond strewn ocean vista. A chilly wind whipped their hair, the cold Atlantic stole their voices, and the brilliant sunshine bolstered their courage. They proceeded like lemmings. Screaming joyfully they bolted off the dunes into the endless blue sky towards the Atlantic Ocean.

I quietly stood by as a sentinel and watched them tumble away from adolescent turbulence into the undertow of adulthood. The dunes, unprotected by recent law to preserve them, absorbed the force of their fall. They felt they were safely jumping on Mother Earth’s feather bed. Once their youthful energy was spent, many rested their backs on the warm sand and crooked arms behind their heads as they contemplated life past this day and graduation. It’s pretty doubtful that any current school conduct and safety policies sanction class sponsored beach weekends or endorse students’ laying hands on a pregnant class advisor’s belly.  Yet, all returned safely to their mothers, bearing celebratory greeting cards and sandy hair in time for Sunday dinner.

Over the years the winds have scattered my children around the world just as wind shifts sand dunes from one place to the next. To be clear, the forces that move dunes reflect the laws of nature and to the disappointment of poets shifting sands are not entirely unpredictable. Sand dunes evolve over time.  So does motherhood.

My maternal perspective progressed as our family evolved and I was crowned a grandmother. I’ve learned over time about how swirls in the flow can blow a family towards unfamiliar turf. It’s natural to be wary of change but it is the way of life. Motherhood is a process of trying to protect one’s dunes from storm brewed tidal swells that can sweep a beach right off the coastline. Mothers plant notions of family in each dune hoping they’ll take root and hold the sand in place. If successful, over time the dune will be our protection from damaging wind and encroaching surf.

The Nest pathway to Indian Rocks Beach – Between the Dunes. jal

Perhaps the greatest wisdom of motherhood is knowing that it’s okay for kids to climb and reach the top of a sandy dune, sense the wind, raise their fists toward the sun, and take a daring leap toward the sea. They’ll grow up and likely migrate to other beaches but the sandy footprints left in their mother’s hearts will never be erased by winds or tides.

Two Shots At the Worm Moon

The first full Moon of Spring 2021 is a wake up call to the red, red robin and a doomsday alert for earthworms catching a bit of the sun. Photo courtesy of Old Farmers Almanac

The past year of lockdowns included the memory of “I Got You, Babe” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyBSrBqogPY playing on a cheap bedside alarm clock on Ground Hog’s Day. Then along came the shots that were heard but not felt by all ‘round the world. Color me lucky, like my Irish forbearers. Due to an abundance of acquired birthday candles, I’ll celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a second shot.

My Wild Irish Gnomes. Photo JAL

Opening numbers begin the march toward a performance’s finale – whether grand or humble – they set the tone for what follows. Tennyson saw weeding the past as, “the old order changeth yielding place to the new”.  The old Roman calendar kicked off the new year with March, by honoring Mars, the god of war. Romans evidently believed prosperous years were won with spirited conflict and juicy battles. We’ve spent a year under siege, battling mortality and wrestling with morality. I’ve had it with this existential duel and enlisted with warriors in a campaign to defeat a viral enemy. I’m not gonna waste my shot regretting what we couldn’t do for the past year or refusing to make peace with people whose beliefs I do not share. I’m aiming to work for things I believe and playing nice with others. Like Hamilton, I’d like to create a legacy of fortitude and passion.

Today we sprang forward and left behind a bear of a winter. When our son was a wee lad he observed, “you know its spring when it smells like worms outside.” Whether March crowns with a lamb or lion, spring will commence with the Full Worm Moon. After a long winter burrowed deep into our homes let’s wiggle our way through spring out in the open and take a few chances with birds. Aim to make the best of the bears, lions, lambs, and worms in your life. Or as my dear Irish Mom (who we laid to rest on a St. Patrick’s Day) would wish, “May your troubles be less and your blessings be more, And nothing but happiness come through your door.”

Beatrice. Thanks, Mom.

Perseverance

I dreamed of becoming an astrophysicist. I figured that by my adulthood guys like John Glenn would be able to do more than just orbit the earth – astronauts, women like Sally Ride – would be headed for Mars. I was unduly influenced by the Jetsons, “B grade” outer space science fiction, and Miss Donadio, my kick-a¶• 7th grade science teacher. To prepare for off-planet employment, I turned part of the basement, next to my art studio, into a chemistry and biology lab. My parents were exceedingly tolerant of paint splats and searing odors of weird chemical compounds that were not inhaled or ingested. Another facet of preparing for space exploration was discovering stuff in local swamps and shorelines within reach of my bicycle. It was the 60’s when parents believed that kids should stay outside until the streetlights and adolescent hormones turned on.

Eventually my hormones kicked in and art won me over around the same time boating in general and sailing in particular allowed me to disengage from terra firma. Plotting courses, navigating new waters, timing adventures with the tidal cycles are small sips of my big dream of stepping through the door of a tin can to float around with Major Tom.

2:15 EST 2/18/2021 Perseverance NASA webcast begins. Artistic illustration NASA/JPL – Cal Tech

When it came to astrophysics, I didn’t have the grit required to cross out of my comfort zone and pass advanced theoretical mathematics. Then again, I didn’t have the raw talent or maturity to endure critiques and become an artist. Science and art became casual interests rather than careers. But tomorrow, I will listen to Bowie’s Major Tom and Sir Elton John’s Rocketman while watching in real time the harrowing seven minute landing of NASA’s Mars Rover, Perseverance.

The 21st century is a wondrous time for humankind. There’s a half a foot of snow in the cockpit of my sailboat that’s snug in her winter’s berth. That’s as it should be at this northern latitude. I’ve no need to sail anywhere on earth this cold winter’s day because tomorrow I am going to virtually sail off planet. With a laptop for a nav station, the course set and on autopilot, I’ll monitor the traffic patterns of five missions from Earth orbiting Mars while Perseverance jockeys for the finish line. Wouldn’t it be incredible if we learn that there is life on Mars? What if we living on the big blue marble next door are not alone? Join me on this solar sailing venture. https://mars.nasa.gov/explore/mars-now/

By using this link we’ll have the same view as NASA’s astrophysicists when Perseverance makes land fall 33 million miles from her home port. You don’t need to pass trigonometry to experience space flight after all. But, Miss Donadio was right about one thing; learning about how the myriad of interwoven complexities of science work within our universe is one of the most beautiful experiences of a lifetime.

https://www.space.com/mars-rover-perseverance-landing-webcasts

Soon May the Wellerman Come

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, photo JAL

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.

Dutch Ships on a Calm Sea. Willem van de Velde II. Rijkesmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands, JAL

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[1] 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).

A Ship on the High Seas Caught by a Squall, The Gust, Willem van de Velde II (1680) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Photo by JAL

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.”


[1] You can see/listen (without logging into Tik Tok) Nathan Evanss sing Soon May the Wellerman Come at https://www.tiktok.com/@nathanevanss/video/6910995345421962498?_d=secCgYIASAHKAESMgowbCsJx9/hZ4trtZspE/K7/0w12D+Y0N6a/XcqO84JIEOiQ5vKVCmiJ0l5xG6zjYSAGgA=&language=en&sec_uid=MS4wLjABAAAAe5JtE7EmiWU4tUj3vnZxuCtcrJhcXu1d_nq6cTOVehCJBZUOgyBFKbLf5oRIMrG-&sec_user_id=MS4wLjABAAAAX3u16nzRZpGvQ_aTzNxTu_OTMye571axRcH4Gsk3ma1ZU4cnZMx9dQCH8SVT9kkM&share_author_id=6780028321529332742&share_link_id=6FB74FDE-33B7-44C0-A57D-AB2AD2F35960&tt_from=copy&u_code=d2d4k00i7hl4hc&user_id=6608890212703797254&utm_campaign=client_share&utm_medium=ios&utm_source=copy&source=h5_m

Crisis Competence

Weather satellite photo courtesy of NOAA.

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.

Always behind my writing leading me ahead. JAL

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.

Fair warning but y’gotta look anyway. JAL

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.

Wash your hands and raise a glass to ’21.

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor, water and nature
New day. New Year. Not too cold. Not too wet.
Photo by Scot Berstein @ Rhode Island Yacht Club

Dancing with the Stars on the Shortest Day of the Longest Year

The Great Conjunction of Saturn & Jupiter Rising on December 21, 2020 . Photo JAL

Winter crossed the starting line last night. Shiver ye timbers – stoke up the hearth – we’ve set course to sail through the seas-on of very long nights.  Many folks think of winter as the doldrums of the year; a monotonous period of waiting for warm spring breezes to fill our sails.   That’s not the best approach to this Winter Solstice. We’ve been stuck in irons for far too long to diddle away the next dozen weeks.  

Photo courtesy nasa.gov

Time and distance are relative. It’s somehow fitting that the longest year in memory, not counting pregnancies and freshman classes, is a leap year. It’s been 800 years since Jupiter got close enough snag Saturn’s rings. Back then, here on Earth, Emperor Phillip founded the University of Paris to offer a liberal education while Genghis Kahn was tweaking the recipe for gunpower. Blue and red medieval pennants rallied rival troops with promises of eternal glory. If we jump back another 800 years we find ourselves marking the first Julian calendar. It too was a leap year (400 AD) when we could settle by the fire to read the Roman physician, Caelius Aurelianus’ best seller, Concerning Acute and Chronic Illness. The world was ripe with contradictions and possibilities for changing our ways.

Saturn by Ivan Akimov. Courtesy Wikipedia

The contrasting forces of nature are best explained through stories. Take for example the Roman myths behind the two seemingly merged bright spots in last night’s Solstice sky. Saturn and Jupiter were Greek/Roman gods who had eternity to wax and wane together. It’s no coincidence that their namesake planets never come closer than 456 million miles of each other while humming Cats in the Cradle. According to legend, so it’s probably not fake news, Saturn was exiled from Mount Olympus. Something about eating his own kids irked the people. Fortunately, most Romans lusted to be Greek-like. They welcomed the great god Saturn.  And so it came to be that Saturn wisely ruled the Roman Empire during an age of peace and prosperity. With no wars to fight or babies to eat he had plenty of time to dabble with viticulture, the art of grape production. It’s unlikely that Saturn ever shared a bottle of red with Genghis Kahn though because he was devoted to ridding Rome of barbaric customs like sacking and pillaging. Saturn had reset his moral compass, a millennium later he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities by the University of Paris.

Then, by Jove, along came Jupiter, Roman god of heavens and sky, ruler of laws and social order. Jupiter was an enormous god so it’s no surprise that the hugest planet in our solar system is his namesake. Jupiter’s mother saved him from his father’s heinous habit of devouring his sons at birth. Eventually, Jupiter overthrew his father, a gentle ruler but a down right scary pater familias, and reigned supreme over the universe. Who’s his Daddy?

Saturn. The son wanted to be just like his Dad who unfortunately was busy making wine and had no time to play. To this day their relationship ebbs and flows as young, mighty Jupiter briskly circles the sun once every 12 years and his old man shuffles along making the circumnavigation in 29 years. It’s hard for a kid to be that patient waiting to get together, so Jupiter makes off with his dozens of moons while Saturn lags behind and spins his rings. Every 800 years they have a family reunion and sample Saturn’s vintage wine.

As Harry Chapin asked, “When you coming home son?” The reply holds in many homes this season,
“I don’t know when, We’ll have a good time then.” Photo of Jupiter. Simple English Wickipedia.

If a Father who rules the sky with peace and his son, known for a jolly, optimistic world view, are able to spend eternity apart but together, we can endure a dark season of social distancing. This Christmas Eve falls on a Thursday – that’s Jupiter’s day when he makes a cheery toast to his father. Take a moment to raise a glass as the father and son climb the heavens.  It’s okay to call it the Christmas Star of 2020. Christmas is the day the Son will light the way for our next circle around the sun.  

Wishing you Merry and Healthy holidays.