PessimOptimism

Graphite drawing: Self-Inflicted“Prepare for the worst but hope for the best.” It’s part of my credo, I guess, and may well have been aided in its development by doing those hilariously futile duck-and-cover atomic bomb drills of the Cold War era. And the air raid drills—we lived in a Ground Zero area near several military bases, strategic coast, and a handful of Nike missile sites in those days—fire drills, earthquake drills, tsunami drills, and later when we lived in the midwest, tornado drills. You’d think we’d all have grown up incredibly paranoid after such stuff in childhood. But I think that besides being remarkably resilient, kids use logic on such daily puzzles far better than they remember how to do when they hit adulthood and have been taught their prejudices, and are much more easily distracted and blinded by grey areas.

I don’t remember ever believing that crouching under a flimsy little wood-and-steel desk would save me even from the shrapnel of shattering windows and imploding walls in the event of an attack or large-scale disaster, particularly since I imagined the desk itself would become shrapnel along with everything else in the atomizing roar of a bombing. Little and naïve though we were, we had gleaned hints of the enormity of such things from our beginning school studies of the world history of war (skewed to our own culture’s view, of course); no matter how grownups think they’re shielding kids by sanitizing and limiting the information the wee ones are allowed to see and hear, children are quick to notice the blank spaces where redacted information interrupts the flow of facts, and no adult is more curious than a child to hunt for clues as to what was redacted. Frankly, if there really is any use for an institution like the CIA in this day and age when practically anyone can find out practically anything with the aid of easily accessible tools like the internet, cellular phone, and, apparently, privately owned drones, along with all of the more traditional tools of spy-craft, I suggest that the crew best equipped to uncover any facts not in evidence would probably be a band of children all under the age of about twelve.

Meanwhile, we still have large numbers of people who think it prudent to withhold or skew the information passed along to not only kids but even fellow adults, giving out misguided or even malevolent half-truths or remaining stubbornly silent and in full denial about things considered too dark for others’ knowledge. And what do we gain from this? Are there truly adults among us who still think that even smallish tots can’t quickly discern the differences between a fable or fairytale, no matter how brutish and gory it may be, and the dangers and trials of real-world trouble? Does delusion or deception serve any purpose, in the long run, other than to steer us all off course in search of firmer, more reliable realities?

As I just wrote to my dear friend Desi, it seems to me that the majority of humans always assume a fight-or-flight stance in new or unfamiliar circumstances before allowing that these might be mere puzzles to decipher, and more importantly, we assume the obvious solution to be that whatever is most quickly discernible as different from self IS the problem. Therefore, if I’m white, then non-white is the problem; if I’m female, then male. Ad infinitum. And we’re generally not satisfied with identifying differentness as problematic until we define it as threatening or evil. This, of course, only scratches the surface—quite literally, as the moment we get past visible differences we hunt for the non-visible ones like sexual orientation, religious or political beliefs, and so on.

Unless and until we can change this horribly wrongheaded approach on a large scale, we’ll always have these awful problems, from petty playground scuffles right into the middle of the final mushroom cloud. The so-called justice systems of the world are set up and operated by the same flawed humans who make individual judgements, so the cycle is reinforced at all levels. Sometimes it truly makes me wonder how we’ve lasted this long.

Can we learn from kids? The younger the person, the more likely to blurt out the truth, whether it’s welcome or not. The subtleties of subterfuge are mostly wasted on children, who unless they’re engaged in happy storytelling for purposes of amusement and amazement, would rather be actively puzzling out the wonders of life than mucking about in search of evasive answers and duck-and-cover maneuvers. We might gain a great deal by reverting a little to a more innocent and simplistic view of the universe, one that blithely assumes that others are not always out to get us, that direness and doom aren’t lying open-jawed around every blind corner, and that the great powers of the internet and cell phones might just as well bear cheery tidings of goodness and kindness, and drones be removed from deployment as spies and weapons to work instead at delivering birthday presents to friends and packets of food to hungry strangers.

I’m not fooled into thinking any of this is easy to do, any more than any savvy kid would be, but I’m willing to believe it’s possible if more and more of us will commit to such ideals.

The More Things Change, the Less We Stay the Same

photo montageIn the dark on an airplane, I heard a click and it was accompanied by a quick flash of blue-white light. What followed was far more startling, though: first, a softly chattery rasping sound, repeated twice, rapidly. Then, the realization that I was hearing film being wound. It really wasn’t all that long ago that I’d’ve seen and heard these things without even taking note of them. But the world has changed dramatically, and all the more so have we within it.

It’s been a long time now since any flash of blinding light from an unseen source or any sound, however soft, of indeterminate mechanical movement has become the instant focus of suspicious thought.

Longer still, I realize, since I’ve been in the presence of anyone using a disposable film camera. That, of course, is what it was. It’s remarkable enough to have one appear like that and be struck by how long it’s been since I started expecting to only be around people taking photos that never need developing, shooting them with no sound, or with a distinctly artificial click, with their phones and digital tablets and pens and eyeglasses. Weirder still to realize how few years ago it was in reality that those disposable film cameras were on the cutting edge.photo montageThat is precisely, though, the way of the world. New ideas, inventions and technologies arise and supplant the ones we knew. The pace is ever more relentless and extreme. We fear the new in the instant of its inception, and seemingly minutes later, have forgotten even the existence of the old. One day’s science fiction is the ancient history of the next.

As always, I’m left in the wake of these little cataclysms wondering: what of today is soon to be obsolete? What strange marvels that are yet undreamed lie waiting in tomorrow’s dark? And where, in the midst of them, is the place I’ll occupy?photo montageI know that eventually I’ll lie forgotten in the jumbled janitor’s closet of history, as virtually all things and people once useful or known or loved eventually do. But like most animate beings, I do still harbor a whisper of hope that at least one person will remain for at least some little time after I’ve gone, still able and willing to remember me, if not as significant or laudable, at least as well loved during the short while that I lasted. With that, I think I can go off and return to dust happily.