That Is All

Today is Saturday, a day promising warmth, extreme humidity, and the likelihood of rain and, quite possibly, thunderstorms. Not a day for sunbathing.

This day began, for me, a couple of hours ago while I was in that semi-conscious state in which one is capable of both dreaming and deciding whether to get out of bed. I remained in that hazy in-between condition, midway betwixt sleep and wakefulness for at least two hours. Finally, long after the light of day had penetrated the morning fog, I got up. Before I got up, though, a dream convinced me that my niece by marriage, who had just received her private pilot’s license, offered to fly me to my job interview. To the best of my knowledge, my niece has never taken flying lessons. And I have no interest in being interviewed for a job. If the employer wants to hire me, fine; but I will not subject myself to the humiliation of being sized up, judged, evaluated, and otherwise assessed. I already know I am perfectly capable of performing admirably in the position, whatever it is, so just put forward an extremely lucrative offer and wait for my decision.

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Every morning, when I sit at my tiny corner desk to write, I see squirrels on the ground and in the trees near the house. Frequently, they chase one another. Occasionally, the speed of the chases escalate dramatically. Often, those high-speed chases spiral up and down the trunks of very tall trees. I’ve always assumed the chases were simply for fun. Finally, investigated by doing some online searches. The high-speed chases involving up and down spirals probably are territorial disputes. Even though squirrels are not, by nature, territorial, when the density of the squirrel population reaches a point at which the food supply cannot keep up with the demand, squirrels begin to stake their turf to protect their food supply. So says a website that, I assume, has no reason to lie. I witnessed such a chase (or six) this morning, hence the exploration and explanation. That’s why this paragraph exists; for no other reason.

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I have a Zoom meeting this morning to discuss updates to the long range plan for the church. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended many activities of the church, so many elements of the plan either are stalled or are plodding ahead in slow motion. The purpose of the meeting this morning is to conduct a quick review of status and to discuss whether the committee should plan to focus attention in the near-term on revising the plan. Plus, I have an obligation to give an update report to the board. At this very moment, I wonder whether I lost my mind when I agreed to chair the long range planning committee and to sit for election to the church board and to get involved in other administrative (or, if you like, administrivia) activities. I think I’d rather carve wooden figures, make windchimes, and cook and sell tamales. Those things are more rewarding to me than “office work,” which is what caused me to retire seven years before my scheduled departure from the work force.

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Humans, by and large, do not understand the animal kingdom outside our own limited piece of it. We seem to think we are the only creatures with critical thinking skills. We seem to believe we, alone, can feel empathy, anger, compassion, grief, and a thousand shades of related emotions that mix and merge with one another to weave an intricately complex emotional fabric. Maybe we are the intellectual and emotional giants; but I think we’re deceiving ourselves. I think we simply do not have the capacity to understand how the minds of other animals work. We assume that, because they do not work like ours, their minds are incapable of “thought” in the same way as ours. We assume, for the same reason, other animals are not sophisticated beings, at least not as sophisticated as we are. We assume other animals’ behaviors are driven more by instinct than intent; more by automatic, pre-programmed responses to their environments than by complex decision-making. Perhaps. But I think it is equally as likely that we simply do not understand an entirely different way of thinking and making decisions. We assume bats that navigate by sonar engage in a purely mechanical reaction to sound; but what if bats’ brains consciously and deliberately process sonic data in ways that are orders of magnitude more sophisticated than our brains could ever accomplish? No, some say, their brains are far too small! We equate size with capacity; do we not understand that today’s microchip has thousands of times more computing power than a room-sized computer of a generation or two in the past? Humans possess enormous, voluminous knowledge; but the volume of knowledge that still eludes us is an ocean, compared to the thimble full of knowledge we possess.

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I am frustrated by the increasingly loud voices of people who want us to “reopen the economy.” What they’re asking is to return to the way things were. That will not happen. And it should not happen. We should have learned, from the novel coronavirus, that we were woefully unprepared to confront such a calamity. Instead of trying to “beat” it, we should examine how we live and work and, in the process, develop better ways of being in the world today. We know, now, that physical distance dramatically reduces the contagion. In my view, the appropriate response as we plan for the future is to determine how best to reconfigure our lives to enable us to quickly and painlessly increase physical distance. At work, at home, in leisure settings. Everywhere. How can work be re-tooled so that workers can be physically separate, yet still get the job done? How can we change our housing so that people no longer are forced to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in elevators in apartment buildings? The challenges are enormous and will (would?) require vast sums of money, time, and creative thought to overcome, but I am convinced that is the right approach. Not simply “get back to work!” Sure, we need vaccines and cures, but we need to anticipate the future, as well. This pandemic should be teaching us that meat processing plants should be reconfigured. It should be teaching us that stadium seating should provide more space between patrons. It should be teaching us that production lines should more readily be adaptable to producing different products when they are needed…right now! Instead, we are learning that loud-mouthed idiots carrying rifles can take over the airwaves. We are learning that self-sacrifice is only for the people who can serve ME, not something I should undertake for  the common good. Frustration. Anger. It’s all there, bubbling up from just beneath the surface of my brain.

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Scam telephone calls. This may seem unduly harsh, but I’m of the opinion that people involved in telephone scams should be subject to public disemboweling. Their vivisection should be broadcast live on all television channels, simultaneously; and, then, rebroadcast during normal viewing hours in areas where the live broadcast took place during regular sleeping hours. That is all.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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