Archive for the ‘Columns’ Category

414. Up Or Down?

I sometimes watch Ancient Aliens, but in my own defense, it’s purely for entertainment.  I don’t know if we’ve been visited by aliens and I don’t think the people on that show know either.  But they come up with some pretty creative ideas, and that’s more than I can say for most shows.

I have a good friend, though, who takes Ancient Aliens so seriously that he pays to visit the websites of several “talking heads” who regularly appear there.  It seems they only tell part of the story on TV; there’s a lot more to the alien story, and this information is available to anyone willing to pay.

Recently my friend told me that the human race is poised to “ascend” to a higher level of consciousness.  Soon we will all – thanks to our “space brothers and sisters” – transform into wise beings with powers rivaling the gods (or aliens, I guess, since these people have just replaced “gods” with “aliens”).

In looking at the state of humanity – at least in this country – I see few signs of consciousness evolving but many signs of it devolving.  The arc of human history has generally bent towards increasing levels of consciousness and with it advances in civilization.  But today civilized behavior seems little more than an impediment to promoting one’s own agenda.  Where once civilization rested on a foundation of objective truth, today one selects whichever “facts” further one’s ends.  Where once we enshrined a system of written laws to ensure justice for all, now our Constitution is merely something to brandish at one’s political enemies.  Everything from gross immorality to blatant illegality is blithely ignored when one’s own party is in power.

For thousands of years Western history has been the story of the struggle of morality against immorality, of justice for all rather than for an elite few, of striving to find truth through reason and observation.  But not today.  So despite what the aliens say, I don’t see that we’re advancing.

Columbia University professor Andrew Delbanco has spent his career studying evil.  To him evil arises from “the absence of imaginative sympathy for other human beings.”  In other words, evil is deliberately ignoring the suffering of others, a human tendency ALL civilizations have struggled to evolve beyond.

Today, though, it’s fine to stop protecting air and water quality to win votes from coal country.  Today it’s fine to ignore mass shootings to win votes from those whose personal insecurities require unrestricted access to a range of deadly weapons.  Who cares about the people who’ll suffer as a result.

And I have to wonder – what about those who rather than ignoring suffering inflict it deliberately?  Those who hide behind Holy Scripture so they can discriminate?  Those who separate families, keeping children and parents locked in separate cages many miles apart? Even those who overpay for plastic straws just to make ocean pollution worse. Deliberately inflicting harm would seem to go well beyond Professor Delbanco’s definition of evil as simply ignoring the suffering of others.

Those who claim to speak for the aliens say this is all part of humanity’s evolving spirituality.  If they do speak for the aliens, then one nagging question has at least been answered – aliens are, indeed, evil.  More likely, though, these alien interpreters – like politicians – simply profit by saying what their followers want to hear.

Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to decide – is our collective consciousness trending up or down? The fate of civilization may well depend on getting this answer right and then acting – and voting – accordingly.

413. More Than A Spectator Sport

Long ago my great-grandfather’s brother Will was a small town doctor.  Medicine was a lot different then, and I imagine “Uncle Will” even made house calls.  But one thing that hasn’t changed is that people then, like people now, had babies.

And once a baby arrives (or any child if a couple fosters or adopts), one becomes a parent.  Parenthood isn’t particularly glamourous, especially in the beginning when sleep is non-existent, diapers have to be changed and spit-up dealt with.  But twice a year parents are honored, first mothers in May and then fathers in June.

Uncle Will once observed that the first baby can come any time, but after that it always takes nine months.  It took six years for Lori’s and my first baby to arrive, six years of uncomplicated life that hardly seems real now.  Because once little William arrived nothing was ever the same.

Lori had five weeks maternity leave, and I honestly tried to help with William’s care.  I’d wake her to let her know he was crying, holler at her when his diaper needed changed, and reminded her to do the laundry.  But when the five weeks were up fatherhood suddenly became much more than just a spectator sport.

I was never so panicked in my life.  I really wished I’d paid more attention to how Lori did things.  The very first time I tried to change William’s diaper he initiated me as only a little boy can.  I almost called my mother, but decided to try to get through it by just taking it an hour at a time.

Over time, as each new parental challenge presented itself, I did my best to meet it, and miraculously, our kids somehow survived.

Angela came along 2 years after William and was in no hurry to be born.  Finally, during an early morning snow storm, the contractions started.  When I eventually managed to get a path shoveled and the car warmed up, I found Lori was back in bed.  “The contractions stopped.”

The next time she woke me to say she was having contractions I pretended I was still asleep.  It was my birthday, and I wasn’t interested in another false alarm.  But 18 hours later I was in the operating room, spectator at an emergency C-section (Dr. Kusek glanced over and said they should find a chair for the father – I guess I was “looking rather green”).

A few years later Thomas arrived unexpectedly while we had William and Angela in the bathtub.  This was supposed to be a planned C-section a month later, but Thomas had other ideas.  A doctor was hurriedly found and everything went well.

I don’t think I was ever happier than I was that next day.  They let us keep Thomas in Lori’s room and take care of him ourselves – it was the first peace and quiet we’d had in years!  But two months later we were back in the hospital.  Thomas had contracted pneumonia and again, I found myself taking life just one hour at a time.

I’m writing this on Father’s Day and I have more work to do than I can possibly get done – part of me wishes we could celebrate Father’s Day by just letting me work.

But this is about the only time that fatherhood is recognized, and considering that I’ve never worked harder at anything in my life, I guess I’ll make a few more sacrifices (though those don’t include missing this column’s deadline) and enjoy doing what really needs to be done today – spending quality time with my family.