You are looking at posts that were written in the month of August in the year 2005.
Posted on August 30th, 2005 by George.
The sun is setting as the last bands of rain course through the sky overhead. All day long I planned to write about the weekend, the birthday party and wedding and reunions with old friends in Nashville. But I just can’t get past these clouds.
This weekend I had a chance to visit my old high school professor Mark Baker as he led a roundtable discussion on Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. I say professor because this is the man who introduced me to world religion, sparked my interest in theology, really opened my eyes to the greater spiritual world. I’m beginning to think it was not a coincidence that we reconnected yesterday. And perhaps it’s not so strange that the concepts discussed in that small gathering would come to the fore as I contemplate the devastation wrought by Katrina.
It used to be that if you lived long enough you were guaranteed to witness disaster firsthand. Natural or manmade, small or large scale it is part of life. One could say Vishnu stepped aside as Shiva cast his eye on the gulf coast, only for Brahma to rebuild anew in the future. The preserved gives way to destruction only to be rebuilt. Taken a step further, the long-protected atman of the Crescent City yielded to the annica of the hurricane and now falls into its current dukkha. If that made absolutely no sense to you there is a place to look for those who seek.
In today’s world you don’t have to be there. You get to see and feel and think about the large-scale suffering of your fellow human via our vast and instantaneous network of communication. Indeed, the response of this web to events in the not-so-distant past has spurred some to make spurious comparisons between the Katrina and the December 26 tsunami. While there is no denying the suffering and death of people directly involved in both events (and one could argue that without our technology the human toll might have been on par with the tsunami) it is folly to compare a thousand deaths to over three hundred thousand. On the other hand, every life is precious. That said, one could hope that as this conduit grows and matures so to will our unity. But the blade cuts both ways; it is just as easy to spread hate and untruth as it is to reach out to help and love. Besides, the internet is just another manifestation of the physical world; the true nature of reality was discerned long before its provenance.
“I declare to you that within the body you can find the world, and the origin of the world and the end of the world, and the path to all goals.” –Shakyamuni Buddha
Perhaps this is why we all feel so uneasy when collective human suffering spikes in magnitude; if there truly is no separation then it is us in that flooding city, it was us in the maw of that wave. Somehow it’s easy for people to get caught up mass deaths, all seemingly caused by the same event. It’s equally easy to forget the thousands of deaths we are surrounded by at any given moment (and that’s just humans). Or that simultaneously we are rejoicing and giving birth. Where is all this rambling headed? I’ll defer once again to the Buddha,
“What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to his piece of debris? What’s the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood?”
And answer with Flaming Lips,
That they should try to
Best they can
He hasn’t dropped them
It’s just too heavy
Posted on August 24th, 2005 by George.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is home to over 330 species of birds. But one specimen of the largest and most popular species just completed the final leg of a very long journey to end up back home. She actually rode piggyback on top of an even larger bird, all the way from the California desert to the Florida swamp. More than a few birdwatchers turned out as she came home to roost. The big bird is safe and sound now, waiting for her feathers to be preened in preparation for her next big flight.
Posted on August 14th, 2005 by George.
So I was all set to bask in the afterglow of a sunny Saturday and maybe send a little sunshine your way. It was gonna be great, too, since the punchline would be a small miracle. I planned to describe it all in detail, down to salty sinuses, the face in the sand, the wave-induced head over heels somersault that tore my strapped-on sunglasses from my face. I suppose I still have to dish, since I’ve already set up for it: five minutes of searching with my feet and legs in the vast, surging opaque surf and I came up with the glasses. Hooray. But it seems so anticlimactic now.
I went to a party tonight at the beach (couldn’t get enough, obviously) and just as we were leaving heard a loud, clattering thud. No tires screeching, just the crash. We walked out to see what had happened, as curious humans are wont to do, and found not a harmless auto accident but a serious wreck between a motorcycle and a car. Everyone immediately reached for their cellphones and 911 had about five calls in the span of two seconds. It was around 2am, so there wasn’t much traffic on the road. But then a red light turned green down the way, and I had to run out into the street, arms waving, to stop the oncoming traffic literally racing down the boulevard (you know how people drive on Saturday night). I knew any time bike meets car that the outcome is not good, but I saw the helmetless rider stumbling before falling back to the pavement. This was a good sign, at least he could move. The driver of the car was screaming hysterically, running back and forth and crying, repeating that she didn’t see him when she pulled out onto the highway. We later gathered that alcohol could have been a factor. It only took about two minutes for the cops to arrive, then another five for the firetrucks and EMTs. I kept stopping cars while several others tended to the rider. It was in the interim I realized that the biker was not alone; his passenger had been catapulted over the car and was out of my immediate sight. As the scene unfolded I was glad that I hadn’t gone for a closer look; she too had not been wearing a helmet, and her head trauma was more than a little severe. The details are not something to be shared here, but suffice it to say the CPR the medics performed seemed cursory. After 15 minutes of intermittent compressions they put her into the ambulance and slowly drove away with no lights. The driver of the bike had long since been rushed to the hospital.
I could only pray for a miracle–that her condition was actually better than it looked. In reality we all knew she was dead at the scene.
I try to remain aware of my own mortality every day. But watching someone die drives the point home better than any philosophizing ever could. You have no control over your own end. The life you are living at this very moment had better be the one you want. You had better make yourself content, because today might be your last. I know this. I think about it every day. It’s a routine that practically runs in the background, continuously chugging away in my subconscious. Did you make every decision count today? Did you learn from your mistakes? Are you happy? Because tomorrow is not a guarantee. And even if you’re planning for it, which is good, remember to enjoy the path. Because the fog of the future refuses to reveal when it’s your time.
And for God’s sake wear a helmet.
UPDATE — August 16, 2005 10:30pm
Posted on August 10th, 2005 by George.
I’ve realized a few things of late that I would like put down as much to benefit my own fitful memory as to share for your edification and discussion. It all came to me in a cascade as I sat eating ravioli tonight after three hours of volleyball. We’ll perform an experiment next week to see if that same combination brings about any more epiphanies. If so I’ll write a book and call it “The VR Path to Enlightenment.” You’ll think it will be about virtual reality. But it won’t.
First up on the docket is gossip. Most of my Baha’i friends would refer to this as backbiting. This is an ongoing discussion between Delara and I and it just so happened that a precipitate crystallized out of the solution tonight. While I struggle just like everyone else to overcome the learned behavior of idle babble, I was relating to her that it’s much easier for me to halt retaliation. If Billy says something unflattering about Cassandra, it seems like nothing at all to whisper the juicy news to Dudley. But if Billy speaks ill of me, I’ve learned to absorb it, destroy it, and breathe it out into the air like so much ash. By absorb I don’t mean take to heart; just that the buck stops with me. It may sting a little, but it’s important not to retaliate. If there’s to be any end to the vicious downward spiral, someone has to stand up and take it, swallow their pride, and just let it go. I guess it’s easier for me since I had years of practice with digs in grade school.
It’s a tad harder to keep from passing on something about someone else, or to refrain from saying something negative about someone even if it’s true. Whereas I can absorb insults with regularity, I still work to keep my mouth shut about other’s faults. It’s especially difficult when surrounded by others who like to gossip. Sometimes I just want to cover my ears and run away. But that would be strange. People already think I’m weird enough.
While I’m most familiar with Christian and, to a lesser extent, Baha’i writings, I just found a site that encapsulates this concept far better than I ever could. Indeed, it is in itself a small representation of the commonality of all religion. There would be no harm in interpreting the concept as a universal truth given the unified message gleaned from the words of so many traditions. In a phrase: turn the other cheek.
It takes more than a modicum of humility to refrain from backbiting. But it requires every ounce in my being to admit that I don’t know it all. What? Am I that much of an egomaniac? On a certain level, it turns out, yes.
Posted on August 9th, 2005 by George.
“Houston, Discovery. Wheel stop.”
These were the words uttered by Commander Eileen Collins this morning as the Shuttle’s last bit of kinetic energy dissipated into heat from an original velocity of 17,500 mph. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard sweeter words.
The crew of STS-114 landed at Edwards Air Force Base after twice passing up Kennedy Space Center in Florida due to weather. While I would have loved to have heard the sonic booms and seen them land here, I’m simply ecstatic that they’re home safely. In a couple of days they’ll get their land legs back and be reunited with their families in Houston. I know they understand and cherish that privilege as the thought of the crew of STS-107, Columbia’s last flight, weighs on their hearts and minds. Eileen and the rest have paid the best possible tribute to that crew with their words and actions over the last two weeks. The legacy of Columbia lives on in our continued commitment to exploration. Because we continue to strive, neither they nor the crews of Challenger, Apollo 1, or the many others who have given their lives have died in vain.
NASA Administrator Mike Griffin remains upbeat about the organization’s ability to fix the ET foam problem once and for all, even saying that he hopes we can launch Atlantis on STS-121 this year. After all, there’s Space Station to be built.
And that’s not the only way we continue our journey in space. The penultimate goal outlined in the President’s Vision for Space Exploration is to put humans on Mars. Of course we’ll sharpen our skills by returning to the moon before 2020 and completing the space station by 2010, but an integral step in mapping out the mission to Mars launches in two days: the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. With it we will continue to chip away at the mysteries of our red neighbor and lay out a path that will eventually land explorers on its cold, dusty surface.
But you don’t have to wait for MRO’s months-long trek to be fascinated by the secrets of Mars. Just last month the European Space Agency’s Mars Express probe made a fascinating discovery: water ice deep inside a crater near Mars’ north pole.
What secrets await!