Hardly anyone wants to talk about their own mortality. There’s no benefit in tip-toeing around the topic or assuaging ourselves with euphemisms for death. No matter if one is a king or a peasant, or how great or meaningless one’s contributions are, in the end we’re all just a pile of carbon. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” and all that. The most we can hope for is to leave a legacy, a spirit, for our heirs to follow.
The concept of mortality is certainly not new to me. But like most everyone else, I don’t think about it unless I have to, and recently, I had to. Earlier this summer I contacted an attorney to have a will drawn up. Since I have no spouse, children, or direct heirs, dying intestate (ie, without a will) would create quite a legal mess for my surviving friends and family. This process coldly reminded me that it’s not a maybe. I’m going to die, someday. If I really care about the people in my circle, and I truly do, why not make it easy for them?
When no one speaks your name.
Aside from accepting our own eventual deaths, it’s even more difficult to realize that at some point our names and memory will be lost forever. Somehow, somewhere, your name will be spoken by someone for the last time.
Names such as William Shakespeare, Jesus Christ, Napoleon, George Washington, and various monarchs are timeless. We still know and talk about historical figures who have not walked the Earth for hundreds or even thousands of years. In another thousand years, they will likely still be relevant.
But I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about ordinary people like me, and probably you too. After my death, loved ones will likely often mention my name. But as they also die off there will be fewer and fewer people around to remember and talk about me. Eventually, there will be no one.
When that moment comes will be different for everyone. Due to the internet, records of our lives could linger far beyond our biological function. It’s entirely possible a curious distant descendant will look for me in obscure archived on line documents. It may take hundreds of years, but someday, my name will be spoken for the last time and at that point I will truly be forgotten.
Every single run down, neglected, abandoned cemetery was once pristine and well tended. Loved ones regularly visited and caretakers maintained the site. Little by little the mourners stop visiting, the caretakers fall away, and nature reclaims the place. The gravestones become weathered and illegible. No one will remember the souls in the graves. This is the fate of all cemeteries; it’s a metaphor for what will become of all of us.
Your legacy can live even if your name doesn’t.
If this sounds dark & disheartening, have hope because although our names and memories may be finite, attitude, spirit, and legacy can last forever. What you do for others will have an endless ripple effect. If you were kind to others, if you were helpful, even in a small way, that spirit will carry forward. The direct beneficiaries of your good deeds will in turn “pay it forward” and so on and so on. In that regard, you really will “live forever”. Of course, not everyone will be grateful for your kindness, and not all of your acts of charity will be perpetuated, but if you are consistent in your goodwill it will rub off on enough people to have a net-positive effect.
Who we are and what we mean to others is not confined to words and the direct memory of others. More importantly, we should seek to leave a positive legacy for others to replicate after our names and life stories are forgotten. Goodness does not need to have a name attached to it.
I was on vacation, rocketing west across Illinois on my motorcycle. The day’s mission was to pick up Illinois Route 2 in Rockford and take it down to Sterling. It’s a beautiful, scenic, twisty road that hugs the Rock River. I had not been that way in many years and was looking forward to revisiting a personal favorite. The weather was eighty-five degrees, sunny, no rain for three states in every direction. My motorcycle was compliant and smooth. Clipping down I-88 at at 75 miles per hour and 5800 RPM out of the engine, all systems were normal. My mood was as well tuned as the motorcycle below me.
My plans were firm until the moment I passed a sign on 88 near DeKalb, IL: “Northern Illinois University exit Annie Glidden Rd.” Successfully operating a motorcycle requires a very high awareness of one’s physical environment. A side effect of that is an awareness of oneself, a Zen-like intuition of soul & spirit you cannot get from driving a car. Whether they realize it or not, motorcyclists are also philosophers, When on a motorcycle no plan is ever “firm”. Something inside me said to take the exit. I listened to my inner voice.
Exiting north onto Annie Glidden Rd., the first thing I noticed was the road was a lot wider. There were many new businesses. The Bottle Store, a popular liquor store that was famous for displaying hundreds of confiscated fake IDs (some of which were hilariously bad), was now a CVS Pharmacy.
Mixed in with the new were familiar old sights: Dumpy student apartments, The Junction Diner, the Evans Fieldhouse. There were many new buildings, but I was startled by how much had not changed. They rearranged some of the parking lots, but 80% of the place was the same as it was back in the late 1980s. I didn’t intend to stop and walk around. I just wanted to do a quick drive-by and roll on to Rockford. Then that voice came back. I steered the motorcycle towards Reavis Hall, home base of the English Department. northern Illinois university homecoming
It’s very difficult to park legally at Northern Illinois University without a permit. I stopped my motorcycle in front of Reavis, cut the engine, and dropped the kickstand. It was summer; school was not in session and the Covid virus was keeping most of the staff at home, so I figured it didn’t matter. I dismounted the bike, removed my helmet, and for the first time in over three decades I was standing on the NIU campus.
The place had a familiar yet creepy vibe. Familiar because it was mostly the way I remember it. Creepy because other than the occasional jogger, there were no people around. Feeling like an undergraduate again, I walked up to Reavis Hall. The door was locked. I looked through the window. Everything was the same: The wooden doors on the rooms with stenciled numbers. The dated tile floor. This was the building where I had spent hundreds of hours studying, rejoicing in successes and lamenting struggles. It’s where professors like Dr. Garrab and Dr. Van Cromphout (both deceased now) impressed me with their knowledge. n
I felt like a benevolent spirit drifting undetected through Reavis Hall.
I wondered if Reavis 214 was still the undergraduate advising office. I spent many hours in RH214 talking to Dr. James Miller, the undergrad director in my time. He was responsible for shepherding us through our degree requirements and steering us around our own screw ups. About a year after I graduated, I sent Dr. Miller a lengthy thank you letter. I don’t know if he is still alive. If he is, he’d probably be in his 90s, or very close to it. Leaning on a bench outside the building, I took a few moments to reflect. That building was the setting for an important part of my life. I was grateful. northern Illinois university homecoming
After walking the area for a while, I was surprised that a guy in a motorcycle suit roaming around peeking in windows had not attracted any attention from the police. I guess I really was alone. During my exploration, I found one of the doors to Reavis Hall was unlocked! I could not believe it! It was as if fate had left the door unlocked just for me. I nervously stepped inside.
northern Illinois university homecoming
The building was like a time capsule. Except for a laser printer and some recycling bins in the hallway, everything was exactly as I remember. The only significant change was a wheelchair ramp and an elevator. Even the faculty directory, the old style kind with white plastic letters hand-placed into a black backing board, was there. I didn’t recognize a single name. The vending machines remained, upgraded over the years but in the same spot near the door. The building was well maintained. Very clean, no signs of neglect. There was an eerie quiet. I’m pretty sure I was the only person in the place. I didn’t see or hear anyone. I felt like a benevolent spirit drifting undetected through Reavis Hall.
I wanted to take my time and soak it all in, but keeping in mind my motorcycle was illegally parked and I was probably not supposed to be in the building, I felt hurried. I walked the entire length of the second floor until I came to Reavis 214. My question was answered. Not only is it still the undergraduate advising office, but it still had the same lettering in the window. At that point, I figured I had pushed my luck far enough and I better leave before I get into a situation that might require posting bail. northern Illinois university homecoming
I wasn’t done with my unplanned quest just yet. I pointed my motorcycle toward Grant Towers South dormitory, which was my “home” for two years. This area was desolate and empty too. Grant South gave mixed messages. It generally looked like it had not been used in a while, yet showed some signs of life such as a working vending machine and a clean but empty lobby. There were no unlocked doors but it was easy to see through the large windows. northern Illinois university homecoming
The best thing I got out of living in Grant South was my friendship with Jay. I met Jay on my very first day at NIU. We clicked immediately and have been close friends ever since. He lives in Arkansas now; I video called him so he could be a part of this experience and see what Grant South is like now. We reminisced for quite a while about our younger lives there as I showed him as much as I could. Jay is more serious & thoughtful than he will admit. His insight was the last necessary element of my ad hoc journey of time and place. My conversation with him completed the circle. northern Illinois university homecoming
The motorcycle pulled me down the entrance ramp to the tollway with the campus behind me no longer pulling back. As I left NIU for what will probably be the last time in my life, I felt a sense of satisfaction. I graduated in 1989 with a BA degree in English. No longer an aloof & immature student, I returned a generation later as a responsible, successful, functioning adult.
I grew and learned from my mistakes. I evolved into a better person because of my time at NIU. Perhaps unconsciously I felt I still had something to prove. Maybe I needed to show the ghosts of NIU what had become of me? It seems now I am a something of a ghost myself. Like a wandering spirit who found a resolution I didn’t know I needed, I can finally let go and move on. This motorcycle philosopher took a thirty year detour and never made it to Rockford. northern Illinois university homecoming
We rolled into the small town of Spiro on an early April evening. The sun was out; it was warm and the skies were clear for as far as one could see across the Oklahoma plain. It was about as heartland as it gets. If you drove through Spiro and never drifted off Highway 271, you’d probably think it was just another nondescript dot on the map where corn and cattle collide. I would soon find out that the scene was deceptive. We turned off 271 and the life lesson started.
One only has to go a few hundred feet from Highway 271 to find the life lesson this town teaches. We turned down a street into a neighborhood that was obviously not wealthy, or even lower middle class. The character of the houses progressively degraded until we came to another street that literally and metaphorically went no where. If GPS had not told us where to turn we might not have ever found the place. We couldn’t identify name of the street because the sign was so badly rusted and worn.
As we looked for our destination, me and my friends just gave each other uncomfortable glances; very little was said but we were all thinking the same thing. The awkward silence was broken when I acknowledged what no one wanted to be the first to say but could no longer ignore: This place is the definition of poverty and need and hardship.
One house had a net, not a screen door, hanging over the front entrance. A few small kids, the oldest was maybe five, were running around unsupervised. There was mud and junk cars everywhere. We found our stop. It was run down and neglected, just like all the rest, with a shabby trailer in the yard. I did not know it yet, but that ended life lesson, chapter one.
An old man smiled and warmly greeted us as we walked up to the house. Some grubby boys, maybe 8-10 years old, were roughhousing on the patio and making a lot of noise like boys often do. The wife was serving punch and sugary snacks, the kind of stuff that kids should not have very often. These boys probably ate junk food most of the time as all except one of them were visibly overweight & hyperactive. They’re not even teenagers yet and already well on their way to diabetes and heart disease and tooth decay.
My guess is the old man and his wife do not have the resources or awareness or time to make healthy meals, so they default to processed junk that is inexpensive and requires little or no preparation. These kids are living proof that one can be both overweight and underfed at the same time, and their socioeconomic status has a lot to do with it. End of life lesson, chapter two.
I had never met these people before this encounter. I had travelled from out of state to visit my friends, who live a short drive from Spiro. They planned this road trip in advance and since I happened to be in town, I went along for the ride. The life lesson continued on the drive home when my friends put into context who these people were and why we went to see them.
My friends met these kids incidentally through a professional relationship with the old man, who happened to be the kids’ grandfather. My friends are goodhearted and selfless people, almost to a fault. They recognized that this family was in need and decided to step up. The purpose of the trip was to bring gifts for the kids, pay them a short visit, and let them know that someone cared. Their altruism must be having an effect. When they got out of the car the kids excitedly ran up to them and hugged them tightly.
These kids, particularly the younger boy, have lived a horrible life. Their parents were no longer in the picture and the children had recently been removed from an severely abusive foster home. They were placed with the grandparents who themselves were struggling. To know that the environment they are living in now is an upgrade from where they came is one of the most unsettling thoughts I’ve had in a long time. These kids are still not in a good situation, but they are with grandparents who care and are doing the very best they can with what little they have. They absolutely have my respect.
That brings us to life lesson, chapter three. There is no greater teacher than reality. In my entire working middle class life I had never personally witnessed poverty. Oh sure, I’ve seen it in the media and maybe from traveling through various towns and neighborhoods, but I never stopped, got out of the car, and visited a poor person’s house. This was new to me, and very disquieting. It was no longer just a distant concept. It was right there in front of me. People really do live this way!
The other reality check was the strong spirit that makes the United States as great as it is. The old man and his wife did not have much going for them, yet here they were, doing everything possible to give these kids a decent life, one day at a time. And although the life these kids were getting was not good, it was the best Grandfather had to offer.
Not everyone grows up in a stable, loving home. Not everyone has a comfortable middle class existence. These are people who at their roots are not really that much different than me. Their wealth, or lack of it, does not determine how much they care about their kids. They are not giving up, and neither should anyone else. That is the life lesson one gets when one wanders off Highway 271 in Spiro, Oklahoma.
World War II ended 74 years ago. If a kid turned 18 and enlisted at the very end of the war, they would be 92 years old today. Even if they lied about their age and were really sixteen, which was not that uncommon at the time, they’d be 90 years old now. Most World War II vets are older. A soldier who turned 18 and enlisted at the beginning of the World War II in 1941 would be 96 this year. Actuarial science always comes to the same ultimate conclusion. There are very few World War II vets left.
This basic math tells us that the youngest a World War II veteran could realistically be is 90 years old, and that’s stretching it. According to the US Veteran’s Administration, less than 2% of the 16,000,000 original World War 2 vets are still alive. They are passing away at an average rate of 372 every single day. Within a decade, maybe a little longer, there will be none left. None.
One of those 16,000,000 originals was my great uncle Joe. He served in Italy and also fought in the Battle of the Bulge. An artillery guy. He never said a lot about his time in World War II. All I ever got out of him was that his unit was attacked by Stuka dive bombers and he lost most of his hearing due to being in artillery.
Uncle Joe had a quiet dignity about him. I never saw him wear army veteran hats or place stickers on his car proclaiming his service –not that there’s anything wrong with that– it just wasn’t his style. He never talked about how he was the reason why the United States is still the land of Liberty. He never talked about the violence and death of war that he personally witnessed. He never talked of the grateful faces that cheered the American soldiers as they went town to town across Europe driving out the Nazis and restoring peace to the world.
Uncle Joe surely must have understood the history-altering significance of what he did. In his own way, with very few words, the World War II freedom fighter and real-life hero let his character do the talking. I’ve met several World War II vets and this seems to be a common trait among them.
They don’t say much about their service, at least not to those who did not share the experience. I think that is part of the character of the generation. Service to country was something you did out of a sense of duty. It wasn’t about calling attention to oneself. An important job needed to be done, so they stepped up and did it. It wasn’t any more complicated than that.
After World War II uncle Joe did what most of his peers did: Got a solid job, married, had children. He lived a completely respectable life. It was the same kind of comfortable middle class life millions of Americans enjoy…because of people like him.
We go to productive jobs, take the kids to school, practice a religion, speak for and against various causes, read any books we choose, own firearms, vote, travel freely, have access to a legitimate legal system, and run our mouths on the internet…none of this would happen but for uncle Joe’s selfless service.
But uncle Joe would never tell you that. He was much too modest even as there was nothing even remotely modest about his contribution to the United States. I don’t know if World War II gave soldiers character or brought out the character they already had. Does it matter? I’d like to think that if I had been alive back then I would step up and defend my country too. I’ll never know for sure. And thanks to uncle Joe, I’ll likely never be put to the test.
When Japan & Germany provoked the USA into World War II, they did so on the theory that Americans were hedonistic pleasure seekers with no mettle for a long war. Guys like uncle Joe showed them how incredibly flawed that theory was.
Uncle Joe recently died in Chicago after a lengthy illness. His memorial service will be next week. Adding to the sad but not exactly unexpected news is that between now and next week, many more World War II vets just like him will pass away too.
It’s too late to thank most World War II vets for their selfless service, but like uncle Joe they probably would not want to be called out anyway. We can truly honor all the uncle Joes of World War II by living in freedom with the kind of spirit that only Americans have. We need only to look to them as an example.
It was so fast, but so grand! The total solar eclipse of 2017 was long anticipated and especially exciting because it went from coast to coast and gave hundreds of millions of Americans a rare chance to see firsthand the wonders of nature. A solar eclipse is an impressive stellar dance with little bit of luck thrown in. If there is a astronomical jackpot, a total solar eclipse is the big prize.
There are accounts in the Bible where God makes the Sun stand still (Joshua 10:1-15) and go backwards (Isaiah 38:8). There is zero scientific evidence that these events literally happened, and I doubt an absolute God would make a cosmically enormous exception to the laws of physics that He Himself set in place just to prove Himself to a human (walking on water and burning bushes notwithstanding), but astronomers have plausibly attributed these accounts to eclipses.
Now imagine a time when mankind had no scientific understanding of the solar system. There were no telescopes, no computers, no way to collect, process or record large amounts of complex data. Very few people were educated, and the ones that were did not know much by today’s standards. In that context it would not be a big stretch to believe a solar eclipse was the Sun “standing still” or “going backwards” or going through some phenomenon that would be ascribed to a miracle of the Deity because there was no other explanation.
But what was missed in the festival atmosphere that most eclipse-watchers took part in last Monday is that a solar eclipse is the work of a Deity! If you believe that the entire universe was created by God, then it only makes sense that a solar eclipse was purposely engineered into the plan. If you believe the universe was not intelligently designed we are all the winners of a cosmic lottery, then your faith in mathematical probability is infinitely greater than my faith in God. That one star and one moon among countless quadrillions can line up to produce a moving shadow on a nearby inhabited planet –and it’s all due to pure random chance– is more than my mortal mind can accept.
A solar eclipse is a way of demonstrating that science and religion are not mutually exclusive. Yes, of course the event has a totally logical explanation solidly based in physics and geometry. But where did physics and geometry come from? It has been there from the moment God created the universe. Mankind did not invent science…it was discovered.
God is not a magician. He placed all these unmovable laws of science in place to achieve His higher purpose and show us humans that He is in control. It is takes some serious cognitive disconnect for one to say they believe in God, but the universe happened by chance. A random god is not really a god.
Celebrating the solar eclipse does not require one to either reject religion or reject science. The non-religious will use accounts from the Bible such as Joshua or Isaiah to dispute and even mock those who believe in God. What the non-believers miss in their own cognitive disconnect is that these stories were created by uneducated people who did not know anything about astronomy. The glaring scientific errors in Joshua and Isaiah do not alter the larger point of these Biblical lessons: Those who witnessed these events were so moved by an act of God demonstrating His science that they recorded their observations so others could experience the marvel of His work.
Today hundreds of millions of people still find hope and inspiration in Bible stories from thousands of years ago. Believers know exactly where –and from whom– the solar eclipse comes. Everyone else is just not paying attention.
I was at the store last Sunday, and it being Father’s Day, all the usual accessories for the occasion were on full display. What caught my attention was that according to the selection of greeting cards, at some point it was decided that Father’s Day should also extend to uncles, older brothers, women in same sex relationships, and even pet owners. What was supposed to be a simple and understated day of gratitude to fatherhood has been transformed into yet another catch-all “everyone gets a trophy” event dedicated to “inclusion & diversity.” I’ll let my readers draw their own conclusions about the political inclinations of those who think this revolution is good idea.
I’m having a hard time relating to single moms, same-sex female couples with children, uncles, brothers, and pet owners (yes, pet owners!) who think they should be under the fatherhood umbrella and therefore merit a pat on the back on Father’s Day. It’s not that these people don’t do anything meaningful. And it’s not that I don’t empathize with the problems they face, which are just as real as anyone else’s problems. And it’s not that they can’t be a wonderfully positive influence on children. It’s that they’re not a father! Jeeze, people! Does this really need to be explained? Apparently, it does.
Living in a society where everyone wants to be in the pageant but no one wants to watch it makes me wonder how far afield has fatherhood gone that huge swaths of society has become oversensitive marshmallows because they were excluded from a holiday.
They remind me of a four year old screeching at a birthday party because he’s not the birthday kid and not the center of attention. The version of fatherhood I was raised under was fortified with the concept that not everything has to be about me, that I’m not the center of the universe, and (to the horror of the snowflake crowd) sometimes I’m going to be left out.
And here’s the anachronistic kicker: My Dad believes, and I concur, that not having your way every now and then builds character. If the adults no longer believe this and have become the grown up version of a four year old at a birthday party, how can anyone expect the children to figure it out? The progressive quest for everyone never to suffer even a moment of discomfort or exclusion has reached a point where one cannot tell the difference between truth and an article fromThe Onion.
Unknown to my childhood self, my dad would sometimes purposely let me be the outsider, not because he enjoyed seeing me struggle, but because he wanted me to learn things for myself and find my own place in the world. It was his chance to guide me through the experience and better prepare me for a future where those around me are not particularly concerned about my feelings.
And wow, what a future that turned out to be! Several decades removed from childhood, I’ve discovered that Dad was right: I’m not the center of the universe! Imagine that! Judging by the Father’s Day greeting card selection, it seems many others have not been taught this concept.
I doubt this goofy social justice fad of extending fatherhood honors to pretty much everyone is going to end, but the next generation would be much better off if the adults would stop trying to blow the candles out on someone else’s cake.
A new construction house is a poor teacher. When a building is sparkling and new, there is nothing to change or fix. It will be many years, maybe a decade or more, before any major upgrades or repairs should be needed. But an older house carries with it the wisdom and skill of the previous homeowner, or if the case may be, the flubs and foibles of the previous homeowner.
My house is about 35 years old, and I’ve lived here for fifteen of those years. The guy who owned this place before me was a “tool idiot”. He meant well and really tried, but pretty much everything he touched became a fat smelly turd. One would think fifteen years is enough time to undo all his screw ups, yet even now I still occasionally come across one of his homeowner from hell Frankenstien efforts.
At first it was easy & obvious stuff: Upside down hardware on the doors. Ten feet of trim held up by only two nails (and they were incorrect nails). Bathtub caulk that looked like it was put on by someone having a seizure. Then I got into the hidden treasures: A bathroom fan that vents to nowhere. Pink paint under wallpaper that needed numerous coats of primer to cover up. Plumbing that defies the laws of physics. A deck put together with three different kinds of screws.
Sometimes his flubs actually worked to my benefit, namely, wallpaper so poorly hung that I effortlessly tore it off in huge sheets. My dad is a supreme handy man and homeowner. He can do pretty much everything, and he usually helped me with the bigger projects.
Over the years I’ve needed dad’s help less and less because as I became more experienced as a homeowner, I figured out how to do things myself. My latest project is the bathroom. After a decade and a half, the tool idiot strikes again: An improperly installed vanity and a tile floor that could have been done better by a first semester high school shop student. What was supposed to be a relatively simple weekend paint/redecorate ended up with me completely gutting the entire room.
I was frustrated but not surprised. I long ago acclimated myself to expect these problems and now approach them with a sense of humor. I tell myself it’s just another one of what’s-his-face’s screw ups. The upside is that his screw ups are my homeowner education. But for his hapless incompetence, my skills would have never developed this far. I’ve learned so much in the last fifteen years that now my dad asks for my input on projects he’s working on. One of the greatest signs of respect is when the master defers to the student.
Back in the day, I was told that the guy I bought this place from moved into new construction a few towns over. His house is now at the age where big stuff starts breaking. Assuming he’s still there, I imagine he will revert to his old ways and the cycle of tool idiocy will perpetuate itself.
The old cliché that you learn from your mistakes has a forgotten step brother: You can also learn from someone else’s mistakes. That maxim has never been more evident than within the walls of my own house. I kinda feel sorry for the previous homeowner because he did give it an honest effort, yet all he succeeded in doing was providing the instructional material for my “training”. And for that, I think I owe him some respect and gratitude.
Last Saturday evening I stopped by my brother’s house to see his kids, and as luck would have it, my young nephew was away at a sleepover and my niece was with one of her girlfriends busy doing…whatever junior high age girls do. So I thought to myself, uhhmm, well, I guess I can stay a while and actually spend some time with my brother. What I thought was kind of bummer because I didn’t get to see my niece and nephew turned into a fun and insightful evening playing with a train set.
My brother is big into model trains and has a large O-gauge layout in his basement. So like two little kids we descended the stairs into his electrified rail-realm. All males, and I do mean all of them, no matter how old they get, like to play with toy trains. A guy who does not like toy trains needs psychiatric intervention.
To call it a “toy” is factually accurate but a little misleading. A lot of adults, maybe too many, take the hobby very seriously. They spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars constructing very realistic looking layouts. My brother is not so much of a purist. His train set is realistic enough, but he does not sweat the details. He’d rather spend time running his trains than fuss over whether the rivets on the locomotive are historically accurate.
He flipped a series of switches, turned a few dials, and his little world came to life. One steam engine chugging the main line, one diesel hauling freight, and a streetcar shuttling back and forth across town. A train set is quite noisy when everything is running, yet the rhythmic sound is alluring and has a soothing quality to it. If that noise came from anything else it would be annoying as hell. But trains have a certain something that calms your nerves.
I was quickly absorbed into the make believe. Job and family stresses, world events, and political vitriol all seem to melt away in train land. It puts one in a much better frame of mind to face the real world when it’s time to come up from the basement. My brother has a tendency to freak out over any little thing and I think his train set, whether he realizes it or not, is his therapy.
And effective therapy it is! I don’t have my own train set so it was a real treat to run the engines around, work the horns and bells, relishing in what I have to admit is pointless as a practical activity but amazingly beneficial as a visceral escape. There is no bad day that cannot be made better by playing with a train set.
We cracked a few profoundly offensive & tasteless jokes (sorry, mom!), talked about our lives, and discussed ideas for expanding the layout. We would have kept going much longer but for a call from upstairs that dinner was ready. The hour or so we were down there seemed like mere moments. That was probably the longest time I’ve spent alone with my bother in decades.
There are certainly other pastimes that give their practitioners a lifetime of stress relief and fun, yet few hobbies are as universally appealing as train set and have an efficacy equal to or better than antidepressant medication. Both my brother and I were big into trains as kids but along the way to growing up it drifted away from me. I’m glad he stuck with it, for his own benefit and mine. I know I can’t always live in the idyllic world of a train set, but for a while it sure was nice to pretend.
Wow, so much happened in 2016! It was like the year that had three years’ worth of stuff happening. There’s a lot of recollections of the year gone by going around the internet, so I thought I’d put out my own list of winners and losers for 2016. In no particular order, here we go. Because this is the Thoughtful, Positive, Relevant blog, I’ll do the 2016 winner first…
2016 WINNER: Twenty First Summer blog. January 1, 2017 is the third anniversary of TFS, and I’m very grateful to all the loyal readers who have pulled me this far. Some of you have been here since the beginning; others jumped on since then. I take all comers. While there have been some minor tweaks in the format and I no longer post every week because of a commitment to writing technical/engineering articles for another website, Twenty First Summer will be around for the foreseeable future. I’m truly flattered that my thoughts mean something to someone, and for me that can’t be anything other than a huge win. Thank you all so very much for being there for the last 156 posts.
2016 WINNER:Social media. While I have a low opinion of social media and have often mocked it on this blog, there is no denying that in 2016 social media asserted itself and for better or worse influenced the world in a way like nothing else did. Not long ago one would need to be a major newspaper mogul or own a broadcast network to speak to millions. Not anymore. Any average schmuck with an internet connection has a megaphone equal to anyone else’s. That’s not always good, but it’s how we roll in the Land of the Free and the Home of The Brave. Social media is the ultimate form of free speech, and freedom is always a winner.
2016 LOSER:The Democratic party. Wow, how can they not be losers? After the Democrats ended up on the wrong end of Presidential election flameout for the ages, they proceeded to blame pretty much everyone and everything except their preordained candidate, Hillary Clinton. In addition to screwing up what should have been an easy ride against a man that many members of his own party threw under the bus as an incompetent, obnoxious boob, during the last eight years Democrats took a net loss of over a thousand federal and state offices and numerous governorships to Republicans. The liberal analyst wizards are certainly free to offer convoluted excuses if that’s what makes them feel good, but there is no talking point logical enough to get around the ugly reality that Democrats go into 2017 with less than they’ve had in decades, and the jaw-dropping path of destruction leads directly back to Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama.
2016 LOSER:Fans of art/music/entertainment/sports. Every year we lose a few celebrities, but 2016 seems to have been especially harsh. David Bowie, Gene Wilder, Muhammed Ali, Prince, and most recently Carrie Fisher, George Michael, and Debbie Reynolds (in the same week!). And there are many more. It’s regrettable that these legends pass with no up-and-coming generation to replace them. I can’t identify a single entertainer or artist under the age of 35 that is likely to be relevant three or four decades from now. It’s true that all legends start as nobodies, so maybe I’m assuming too much, but I’m not hopeful that the next David Bowie is out there somewhere playing in a bar. I fear we are entering what will be a long era of soulless, overproduced noise, with movies that are more memorable for computer-generated special effects than actual acting talent.
2016 WINNER:Consumers of technology. There’s so much technology available that it’s hard to take it all in. Tablet computers, smart phones, smart watches, the Amazon Echo, Google Home, internet connected lights, appliances, thermostats, and yes, even pets. It seems there isn’t anything that can’t be adapted to technology. Most of these things have been around for a while, but in 2016 they became mainstream as the technology improved and the prices came down. I admit I’ve been sucked into the vortex myself: I have a home automation system, a smartwatch, Apple TV, and a host of other technogoodies. I had my doubts about the “need” for a smartwatch until I got one. Now I’m a true believer. There is some frivolous crap, like the refrigerator with a camera on the inside, presumably so you can check to see if you have pickles without having to open the door and look. Tech for tech’s sake is pointless, but it’s now possible for anyone to afford technology that really works and makes life easy and fun. For us techno geeks, 2016 was an awesome win!
This list could be a lot longer, but these are my top choices for 2016 winner and losers. Every year brings something new. My hope is that we can learn from the good, discard the bad, and all become better for it.
Happy New Year from Twenty First Summer. May your 2017 be a big winner!
Author’s note: I’m taking the week off to enjoy Christmas. Here is a favorite reposted article from December 19, 2015.
By Chris Warren
Christmas means different things to different people. For some, like me, it’s a religious holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus. For little kids, it’s a joyful time of toys and presents. For people employed in critical professions, Christmas is another day on the job.
Sadly, for many, the holidays are a very painful reminder of their loneliness and isolation. A battle with addiction. Homelessness. Unemployment. Estrangement from family. Thoughts of suicide.
Christmas is the seriously ill patient, grateful for having made it another year and nervously concerned that it might be their last.
Christmas is the old man sitting alone and forgotten, contemplating the lifetime of bad decisions that brought him to this time and place.
Christmas is the unemployed veteran who gave so much of himself to protect the liberty of others and was rewarded with broken promises.
Christmas is the struggling single mom and her kids who are squeaking by for now but have no idea what life will be like in another month.
Christmas is the oppressed and persecuted all over the world who cannot find even one moment’s peace or the simplest of freedoms.
We are commanded by God to watch over and care for the less fortunate. Non-believers will question and even mock this concept with statements along the lines of “if your god is so powerful and almighty, why does he let people suffer?” God does not want programmed robots working for Him. He gave all of us a free will. Doing good works is our way of showing others our love for Him, but He rigged it so we could decide for ourselves if we were going to answer the call. When the needs of the hungry and the poor and the sick go unaddressed, it’s not because God “let” it happen. It’s because we mortal sinners let it happen.
Yet all is not dreary and bleak. Christ himself taught that there is always hope for those who believe. Christmas exists for the sole purpose of letting everyone know that through Him is the path to a better place, even if that “better place” is not on this physical Earth.
For sure, Christmas is a celebration and there is nothing wrong with partaking in parties and food and gifts, unless the only reason you’re into the holiday is because of parties and food and gifts. When the egg nog wears off and the sales are over and the decorations are put away, what, or who, do you truly care about? Are you hearing the message, or was it just a party?
Christmas is December 25. And January 17. And March 5. And July. 10. And October 8. And so on. You get the idea. God is real. Are you?
Merry Christmas and God Bless from Twenty First Summer.