Monday, September 26, 2011

Observation and subject for the day: Penny, my cat, sleeps a lot. I am told, and it has been my experience, that most cats sleep a lot. I suppose a cat that did not sleep a lot would be the exception. That is not to say that it would not be unheard of. I imagine that there are variations in the amount of sleep that a cat needs—or wants—as there are variations in humans. My doctor recently told me that I should get eight hours of sleep each night plus naps during the day. I took exception to that because I was never in my life happy with eight hours sleep at night. I felt logy all day after getting that much sleep. I did better with six or seven hours. Maybe one does need more sleep as one gets older. I always appreciated naps during the day but when I was younger they were twenty minutes in duration. Now they are about an hour long. So maybe my doctor is right and I do need more sleep.

Still, I don’t really agree with the standard of eight hours sleep being what everyone needs at night. That may be an average but who do you know who is entirely average? I venture to say that an entirely average person does not exist. I read once that Winston Churchill’s habit was to work four hours and then sleep two. In doing that, he did get eight hours sleep in a twenty-four hour period but in his own way.

Each of us is an individual and each of us has variations of likes and dislikes and of what works best. Some of us are “day” people and some “night” people, for instance. Variations of behavior exist in animals as well as people. I remember when I heard a member of the Pennsylvania Game Commission being interviewed on the radio. The subject of the springtime interview was how to prevent wild animals raiding gardens. The conversation turned to folk remedies for same—such as pepper, garlic, beer or other natural treatments. The Commission officer was asked if they worked. Some do, he answered, and if you try such a remedy and it works, then use it. But, he cautioned, one must remember that each wild animal is an individual. A remedy that works for one may not work for his brother, his sister or his cousin.

What goes for animals goes for humans. We humans don’t all like the same things or the same patterns of behavior. If each of us were free to work out a pattern of behavior that suited us and that did not harm others, we’d all probably be a good deal happier. The way the world works is not conducive to making that sort of thing possible. So, each of us has to make the best of being as average as possible. That way we “fit in.” Ironically, it’s often those people who manage to break that pattern of behavior and are untypical that succeed in contributing the most to the progress of society and the world. That’s something to think about, isn’t it?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The circumstances on 9/11—the 9/11 of 2011 and not the 9/11 0f 2001—have caused me to think. On 9/11 of this year, the tenth anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City, the TV was filled with nonstop images and rhetoric of destruction, death, anguish and vengeance. A recount of the occurrences of that day and the subsequent happenings that were spread out over years were recalled on radio and in newspapers as well. There were memorial services in countless locations throughout the country.

I well understand the need to honor those that died in the attacks that took place on that day and the desire to teach those who were not yet born at that time the immense horror of what took place. But is there not a better way to do that?

As a nation, we condemn the attacks, now as well as then, as being acts of terrorism, violence and destruction that were beyond understanding. We reject any thought that they were justified. We announced to the world that we were totally opposed to such acts and would not condone them. Yet in our remembrances of that day, we recreate them in detail. For what purpose?

We say we want to follow ways of peace, to extend justice, equality and democracy to all nations. Does our dwelling on the execution and effects of one of the most horrific acts of covert terrorism to ever happen aid us in those efforts? Do we spend our time, energy and money in this way simply to present an example of what not to do? Is that effective? Hardly. More than likely it simply causes a desire in the viewer and the listener for vengeance, retaliation in kind, a repetition of violence and destruction and, in these days of war by remote control and “improved” weaponry, a loss of other innocent lives. In other words, a continuation of the same.

If we truly want the opposite of death, destruction and sorrow, then why do we not observe the day by putting those opposites into effect? The opposite of destruction is construction, the opposite of sorrow, joy and of death—life. It isn’t difficult to think of many ways to demonstrate such things. In every neighborhood of our country there is a need for such things. Why not start this custom—tradition—right here in this neighborhood? It has to start somewhere. Why not here? If it is meant to, it will spread. If it does make it to other neighborhoods, other sections of the country, why let it stop there?

Dream a little. Think what this could mean. More than confining our efforts to our homeland why not carry them abroad—to other countries where they are needed? And let the recipients know where it comes from and why—that this act of good will and kindness is our answer to the terror that was brought to us. Out of our pain and sorrow we give to you this token of hope for the future of us all.

What if it were possible to do this? What could be the result? All over the world, in small ways, we could reverse the symbol that is 9/11. Out of sorrow could come joy; out of destruction could come construction; out of pain, healing; out of violence, kindness; out of despair, hope. Out of death could come life.

The principle is sound. Work for what we want and not against what we don’t want. Put our energy where it counts. The principle is worthwhile in any number of situations. What if something like this were tried and it didn’t work? We’d be no worse off than we are now. But if it did work? Then the act of terrorism would be marked and known worldwide in a positive way. That would truly be an effective way of countering and nullifying the act of terror itself. Let everyone know that terror gains nothing but that positive works can gain everything.

Sound impossible? Maybe it isn’t. The point is, is it worth a try? What have we to lose?

Let’s try a better way to remember 9/11.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I spent this past Sunday afternoon doing something I should have done a long time ago; I constructed a wood and wire enclosure for a small tree I have in my back yard. That project was very important to me and I felt I should have done it a long time ago.

In the spring of 2010 I planted a young Fuji apple tree. It did well during the summer and into the winter but at some point during the snowy months, some entity—probably a deer—decided to dine upon it. The trunk was damaged to the extent that I was fearful for its survival. This past spring I watched carefully for signs of life but saw none. Then at its base I saw new growth. New shoots were appearing around the still apparently lifeless trunk. I thought my Fuji apple tree had survived until I found out that was probably not so. Nurseries, I was told, graft cuttings of trees such as a Fuji onto root systems of hardier trees—crab apples, for instance. The tree that was growing from the roots was probably a crab apple.

I was disappointed but did nothing to the tree. I was curious to see it complete its recovery. At some point in the future, I thought, I might even try my hand at making crab apple jelly. Then: tragedy. The little tree was again dined upon. In the middle of summer, with all sorts of succulent growth around, its leaves were eaten and some of its branches bitten off. This, I assumed, was the end of the little tree. I was wrong. Within a day or two, new leaves appeared. The tree once again exhibited vibrant life. That’s when I made up my mind that I would help it in its pursuit of life. To protect it, I would build a deer-proof enclosure around it.

But I procrastinated. Once again a hungry marauder with a taste for small apple trees returned and once again ate of the tree. That, surely, was the end of the little tree. But no! As before, new leaves appeared. That was early last week. So this past Sunday I let plans that I had made go by the wayside, made a trip to the supply store, bought wood and wire and constructed a protective enclosure for the little tree. I hope I have done an adequate job and I hope that the tree has not suffered too much from its ordeal and will survive. Anyway, I’ve done what I could and what I had intended.

As I write this piece, I realize a significance I had not noted before. I accomplished the construction on the tenth anniversary of September 11—9/11—the day the TV is filled with non-stop emphasis on death, destruction, lamentation and vengeance. I think any time I or anyone else spent that day on a simple act of regard for and the protection of life, no matter how small or inconsequential, is a positive and welcome thing.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sept 6th. Day after Labor Day. The end of summer—or so we think of it. There was a time when I was under the impression that the end of summer came much earlier in the year. My mother, I recall from days when I was young, maintained that the sound of locusts was the signal for the end of summer. That distinctive whirring, pulsating sound, if I recollect correctly, came in early august. My mother’s pronouncements bothered me back then. As a boy I didn’t want summer to end. That brought the start of school—the end of freedom. More than that, close on the heels of summer’s decline came bad weather and snowy walks to the school bus stop on frosty mornings. The end of sunny days and balmy nights did not appeal to me.

These first emotional reactions to my mother’s bleak pronouncements gave way, as I grew older, to others based on a superior foundation—that of logic. Summer, I reasoned, officially ended on September 20th and not the middle of August. Moreover, warm weather, for that was what I associated with the summer season, could continue on well into October. Summer did not depend on the presence or absence of locusts.

Much later in my life, I came to be of the opinion that summer is more than a season. Summer is a state of mind. Weather is only one factor in the scheme of life. I found that it is possible to have the same positive enthusiasm I associated with the bright sun of summer at any time of the year. This became especially evident on a trip I took to the city of Johnstown, PA one weekend. This trip occurred before the establishment of the Penguins in Pittsburgh and, for my wife, Mariellen, and I, Johnstown of the 1960’s was notable for one reason: it was the nearest city with a professional hockey team. One weekend in January, the Johnstown Jets were to play home games on Friday and Saturday nights. I took a day’s vacation from my job and we left early Friday afternoon to spend a hockey weekend in Johnstown. We hadn’t bothered to read the weather reports and what we didn’t know was that Johnstown was expecting a major snowstorm.

We arrived in Johnstown just slightly before of the storm, unknowingly having driven just ahead of it all the way from our home just ewast of Pittsburgh. Our first clue that something unusual was occurring was the heavy traffic that greeted us, all headed in the opposite direction—out of town. The great amount of the working population of the city had been given the afternoon off in deference to the storm. It had begun snowing heavily by that time. We made it to the parking lot of our motel, which was, fortunately, in downtown Johnstown. It was the last we used the car until late Sunday. It was the last of our driving in the streets of Johnstown. Nobody was driving in the streets of Johnstown that weekend. The weather forecasters had been right. The worst snowstorm of some years had descended.

It was one of the best weekends I ever had. Mariellen and I were forced to walk everywhere. We were forced to take it easy, to slow down and not hurry. We were forced to be aware of and appreciate where we were, where we were going and how we were getting there. We spent little time running around and more time relaxing. We saw a hockey game on Friday night but the game for Saturday night was cancelled, the visiting team having been snowbound somewhere east of Bedford. We spent our time at leisurely meals, in meeting and getting to know other people in long conversations in the motel tap room and in being with each other.

That weekend was the start of my attitude of not much caring what the weather is going to be. I’ve developed the attitude that weather is only a minor part of life and that with a proper attitude I can enjoy myself anytime, anywhere. That has been, over the years, extended to a philosophy of believing that the true purpose of life is enjoying oneself. But that statement requires a bit of elaboration and explaining. Maybe I’ll do that next time.