Archive for May, 2011

Honoring the fallen on Memorial Day

May 30, 2011

Today is Memorial Day. It became a holiday after the Civil War, to honor the Union and Confederate soldiers who had died in battle, and after World War I it was extended to honor all United States soldiers who died in any war. It happens to fall this year on May 30, which was the original date for the holiday… Writer’s Almanac

This happens also to be the 18th anniversary date of my marriage. Interesting coincidence. Puts the battlefield analogy in its place. No lives have been lost here, except the ones we might have lived instead. Two very precious lives have been added. Plant a flag, lay a wreath, lament the losses, thank the fates, fire up the grill, slice the pie, and enjoy the parade.

Marriage is an alliance entered into by a man who can’t sleep with the window shut, and a woman who can’t sleep with the window open.  ~George Bernard Shaw

A long marriage is two people trying to dance a duet and two solos at the same time.  ~Anne Taylor Fleming

A man marries to have a home, but also because he doesn’t want to be bothered with sex and all that sort of thing.  ~W. Somerset Maugham

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Happiness is the first full day out of school

May 28, 2011

Happiness is… the first full day out of school, the beginning of summer break. Older Daughter had one more final exam but it was a Daddy-Younger Daughter Day for the rest of us.

We began at Pfunky Griddle, where you pour your own pancakes right there on the grill embedded in your dining table. It’s in an old house that used to be a pfunky used bookstore. That was cool, but this was tastier.

Then we ambled down Bransford Avenue and ducked into some of the other quirky shops in the neighborhood. Happy Japan & Cat Shoppe & Dog Store were YD’s favorites.

Then it was time to fetch OD and get on with our first real summer’s day in May. We had a whole lot of nothing-in-particular to do, so we did it. For some reason I couldn’t interest them, on this day, in the summer reading lists I’d just printed. (Wouldn’t it be nice if my job for the next two and a half months, aside from babysitting, was simply to read The Hobbit, The Graveyard Book, Cat’s Cradle, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, The Blind Watchmaker, The Future of Life… Nice work if you can get it!)

So we hit the batting cages, then picked Mom up and headed to McCabe’s for dinner. Not a bad way to start the season.

Oprah scares the hell out of some people

May 26, 2011

Bye Oona... I mean Oprah! 

She “scares the hell out of” Richard Powers’ protagonist in Generosity, in her audience to discover “the secret of happiness,” even as she reassures him. She scares fundamentalists with her version of New Thought and Positive Thinking, which is often silly but usually harmless and sometimes actually constructive.  (More on this to come in SoL.) And say whatever else you will about her Book Club, it got people reading.  She was the J.K. Rowling of daytime TV.

But did God really raise her ratings and give her her “best life”?

Not yearning for autumn yet

May 25, 2011

The real secret of life is that there is no single secret. There, I’ve gone and let the cat out.

But, if there were one it might very well be what’s been called the gift of the present. I awoke this gorgeous morning– it’s a perfect 70 degrees Fahrenheit, calm and quiet by current standards, just the birds and a few early-bird cicadas and now a jet overhead– humming JT’s ballad and recalling Matthieu Ricard’s discussion of “golden time.”

Those whom summer’s heat tortures yearn for the full moon of autumn

Without even fearing the idea

That a hundred days of their life then will have passed forever

Buddha Shakyamuni’s epigrammatic poem is perfect for now, on the cusp of summer. It only really begins tomorrow around noon, when school’s finally out for the kids. We’ll do our best not to waste it.

“Best of all possible worlds” takes another hit

May 23, 2011

I was reading Leibniz and thinking of divine perfection last night when the first images of decimated Joplin, Missouri started to circulate.

And so we add another item to the endless litany of improbable “Best Possible World” realities Bertrand Russell began to enumerate in 1927:

Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan or the Fascists?

Or Joplin.

Remembering Phyllis Easterday Oliver (1927-2008)

May 22, 2011

…on her birthday. An exemplary caregiver, nurse, nurturer, Mom.

She was “dedicated to caring for people all her life.”

Gideon Yu knows the value of good teaching

May 20, 2011

The graduating seniors at University School of Nashville (USN) were treated to a convocation send-off the other evening that almost made me wish to be seventeen again. Alumnus Gideon Yu (USN ’89), formerly of Yahoo, YouTube, and Facebook, now of the San Francisco 49ers, came home to regale his young successors with wonderful, inspiring stories of perseverance and virtue. He came, too, with a fat check in honor of the retiring High School math teacher (Ms. Davies) whose simple words of encouragement had a huge impact, at just the right moment. That made me proud of my profession.

“What if there’s no Hell?”

May 18, 2011

Went for my annual check-up yesterday. No bad news, and in this season of life that’s good. Even better were the results of the “Partners for Health” questionnaire they made me fill out, with its implication that my exercise habit– the mere fact that I have a “weekly” habit of  exercise at all– places me in the upper tier of Americans. Large numbers of us apparently never exercise, and never intend to. The fact that I do it as much for soul as for body makes the health benefit a bonus. I don’t even call it exercise, I just call it walking and breathing. Living.

By “soul,” of course, I mean nothing metaphysically distinct from body and nothing eligible for either eternal life or torment. That also places me in a statistically shrunken category, apparently, in the U.S.A.

Last month’s “Hell” feature in Time greeted me in the doctor’s exam room. “What if there’s no Hell?” What a question. What if there’s no Easter Bunny?

Adults who take such questions seriously began, typically, as children who were encouraged to fear for their souls. (“If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take” etc.) Some of them then eventually show up in my classes, insisting on many of their peers’ impending eternal doom (and mine, obviously). So sad, to have been “nurtured” by trusted adults to build one’s life on baseless fear and self-loathing. More than sad, it’s abusive. It’s wrong. It has me thinking again of Dale McGowan’s Raising Freethinkers and the “meming of life“…

You can’t walk away from education

May 16, 2011

It wasn’t my turn to walk with our graduating class this year, so I was surprised to find myself seeking out the live stream of Vanderbilt’s commencement ceremonies the other day. By “tradition” Vanderbilt saves a dime and has its Chancellor deliver the big send-off address. That’s usually a let-down. Maybe it was again, for most of the graduates. But I was excited when Chancellor Zeppos cited John Dewey and quoted him at length, on what’s best about education. The gist of it was that education is not something you can ever walk away from, if you mean to be an educated and intelligent organism. It’s a lifelong endeavor. “The heart of the sociality of man is education,” you can’t commence anything worthwhile if you already think you know it all. Good message.

And so is Tali Sharot’s, in yesterday’s Times, on the value of “cautious optimism”:

That may be the most useful message to communicate to graduates — believe you can fly, with a parachute attached, and you will soar like an eagle.

But most college graduates these days won’t be impressed by commencement cliches. They just need a little positive encouragement. They don’t need to soar, they just want to get off the ground.

Like the shuttle Endeavour, in about an hour…

POSTSCRIPT: “Expanding our knowledge, expanding our lives in space.”

Give peace a chance

May 14, 2011

The Dalai Lama came to New Jersey yesterday with his message of peace, compassion, and loving-kindness, versus “too much emotion, attachment, anger or fear.”

Fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams took issue with HHDL.

“I thought it was strange to be asked to be on this panel on inner peace, because I don’t have much,” she said. “It’s anger at injustice which fires many of us.”

She went on to criticize aspects of American policy that favor corporations and the wealthy, and, without naming a particular conflict, said there was no such thing as a “just war.”

They’re both right. The path to peace is fraught with conflict, anger and negative emotion can be constructively channeled to positive ends, and the ultimate personal prize is still a happy disposition. It’s not an either/or.

It’s reported that Deepak Chopra was also in Newark, explaining the (pseudo?-) neuroscience of happiness. He makes some people angry, too, like Julia Sweeney (but in a sweet way.) We’ll see how he and others play this Fall in SOL (the course formerly known as “Happiness 101” and now rechristened “Happiness and the Secret of Life”), with their various candidate Secrets.

I’ll be pulling for peace, myself. It was in somewhat short supply here last night, with our house full of ‘tween-age sleepover guests celebrating Younger Daughter’s impending birthday. I hope Mom finally got some sleep, it’s like the sign on Mother-in-Law’s door says: “when [she] ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

“Peace in the family” is something we all need more experience with, Your Holiness.