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.

Friction

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Our LX @ Low Tide in the Mouth of the Narrow River. Photo JAL

It’s time to bid adieu to a year that has been rife with friction. This year we experienced friction via Tweets, the daily news, stock market crawls, and while surfing (always look for the bright side). Friction is the resistance that something encounters when moving over something else. We should be used to friction as it’s been part of our world since Earth and the moon began their celestial dance. I’ll explain this marvel through tidal friction.

The oceans have tides because Earth has a moon. As Earth spins dizzily on its axis the Moon’s gravity makes the oceans appear to rise and fall. It’s an illusion of sorts. The moon generates colossal tidal waves that ebb and flow across the oceans in accordance with its  pull on our planet. This constant wave motion creates friction between the tides and the rotating earth.  Tides rub both bodies the wrong way. Over four billion years they’ve maintained a friction that makes the moon creep away and drains enough of Earth’s energy to lengthen day length (in the beginning it took just 22 hours to call it a day vs 24 today). There is an upside here, we now have about 35 fewer days a year (regardless of calendar – it’s the time it takes to circle our sun) to deal with the friction that is besotting our news feed. 

EarthMoon from Mars NAPS:UPL

Earth & Moon. View from Mars. Photo by NASA

Friction begets fiction, tall tales, and stories told ‘round the hearth about how good it used to be when we moved faster, back when our days were brighter and plentiful. We create legends about dark forces that eroded freedom and titanic clashes that rendered Nature numb. Some folks blame the dark side of the moon for over powering news cycles. That’s fiction. It’s really friction. We know friction as conflicts or a clash of wills between bubbles filled with us and bubbles full of them. Friction takes its toll. You don’t need to be a physicist to understand that whenever our social/political/emotional bubbles rub against each other the friction is going to wear one out as the other is pushed away. It forecasts an apocalypse of bald tires and pot holes, worn out records and dull needles, and busted bubbles. What we need is an ocean of WD 40 to lubricate the friction between rival fictions and factions.

So as the calendar year ebbs and we settle in for the longest nights, be content that there’s a balance in Nature that will keep the moon in view as we twirl about and circle the sun. Let’s get into the tidal ebb and flow by accepting that for each high we celebrate there’s a low we’d rather pass. It’s okay to slow down and hit the pause button as we end the year. Even the tides slack off for a bit between rising and falling. Be blessed by a Universe that works in accordance with laws that assure us of a future balanced by days and nights. After all, it’s not the fiction (fake) news that’ wears us down  – it’s the darn frikSH(ə)n that makes the news!

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The water is calm but the tide is moving.  The ropes are vigilant though they wear thin the boats rise and fall with the tides. Wickford Harbor, RI. Photo JAL