Dear Diary

pathtothefutureI received a lovely gift for my birthday this year from Araceli. It was a book with 200 writing prompts to help inspire my blogs. In that spirit the following is a diary entry that might be written ten years in the future. Check back in a decade to see how prescient I was.

Dear Diary,

I celebrated my eighty first birthday a couple of weeks ago. Never did I imagine myself as and octogenarian. I’m still filled with optimism and energy but I don’t get around as quickly as I once did. I suppose that I’ve felt my age more in my joints than in my brain but the glories of medicine and engineering have come to my rescue with all of the conveniences that now do work that I once had to do.

My home is kept tidy by the little robots that whir around each day. I don’t know who invented those little “Hazels and Jeeves” but they make a world of difference in my lifestyle. I haven’t had to pick up a broom or dust cloth or mop for quite some time. The self cleaning toilets are the best. The porcelain is squeaky clean all the time allowing me to concentrate on keeping my body in shape with exercise and my mind working with continual learning. I’m enrolled in an online seminar right now that makes me feel as though I am communicating with the great writers of all time. It is mind boggling to consider how much technology has changed the world.

It was touch and go on earth for a time. We all had to adjust to the changing climate but in rushed the best minds, including those of some of my grandchildren, to invent better ways of living while conserving the resources of our earth. It has been like watching science fiction unfold in reality. I always believed that we humans would find solutions to the problems and people have not disappointed. We suffered for a time and then we get to work doing whatever we need to do. I am so proud of all the people who devoted blood sweat and tears to the cause. Mankind’s intellect is such a glorious gift when it is used for the good of all.

I especially like that I can stay independently in my home without fear or inconvenience to anyone. I have a checkup with a nurse practitioner each morning via a computer program that monitors my health all day long. I felt no pain at all when they inserted the chip that sends my vitals to my physicians 24/7. The surgery that repaired my knees was almost bionic. I really enjoyed hiking in the mountains near my brothers’ Colorado cabin last summer just like I was still in my twenties. I no longer need my glasses either after a painless thirty minute procedure. It’s all quite amazing.

I’m a great grandmother now and it is so much fun. The little ones are bright and happy. I “see” them several times each week via a new kind of Skype that is almost like having them in the same room thanks to Virtual Reality. I never feel alone because all of the people that I love are just a few voice commands away and when they actually visit the new transportation systems get them here almost as quickly as teleporting. I keep thinking back to the world of Star Trek and realize that I now live in it in so many ways.

My grandchildren are doing such remarkable things. They all graduated from college and found exciting jobs in the fields that they studied. They are so sweet about coming to visit me often. I’m hosting a big Christmas dinner this month just as I always have except that now my robots are doing all of the work. All I have to do is program them and then sit back and enjoy the party.

It’s difficult to believe that my daughters and sons-in-law are nearing retirement. Where did the years go? Perhaps when they no longer have to report to jobs each day we can travel together. I’m anxious to try that new high speed plane that reaches Europe in only two hours. I especially want to see Notre Dame Cathedral now that it has been repaired. There are still so many journeys that I hope to make.

I feel a bit like my grandfather once did whenever he spoke of all of the innovations that he had witnessed during his lifetime. I suppose that I often took progress for granted until it was threatened by the whims of mankind. Those years of anger and political divisions were worrisome but we finally realized the necessity of working together rather than continually arguing. We fought a kind of battle against our human failings and have come out stronger than ever. Things are not perfect but then they never really are. Nonetheless we have come a very long way in only ten years. It is truly a better world for the majority of the world’s people. We humans are slowly but surely continuing to evolve in positive ways.

If I live as long as my grandfather did I still have almost thirty years to go. I suspect that I will see many glorious advances and have the privilege of watching my family grow and prosper. There will no doubt be tough times here and there but one thing that never seems to change is the inventiveness and resilience of the human spirit along with the grace of God. I look forward to whatever lies ahead.

Our Hunter Gatherer Past Present and Future

evolution

Attempts to understand the many conflicts between people across the world can be rather confusing. Sadly most of them occur because of perceived religious or ethnic differences. Race is often seen as a dividing factor when in reality the genetic differences between one group of people and another are generally superficial. The reality is that when taken down to a biological level we homo sapiens are more alike than different. The things that divide groups generally have more to do with environment than biology. Mankind’s history is sadly one of creating alliances to maintain or grab power and using manmade concepts like ethnicity or religion as rationale for struggles to get a fair share of the world’s resources.

Survival has always lay at the heart of the human experience. Our ancestors moved from place to place in search of food and shelter for thousands of years before learning how to take control of nature through farming. Suddenly the idea of claiming the land and settling down became a way of life for much of the world’s population. Obviously  this new advance created unexpected problems that are still the focus of most of the problems that plague us today. Determining who gets what and how to divide resources is the stuff of politics and conflict particularly as the population grows. Over the course of history the concept of survival of the fittest has all too often meant the ones with the biggest clubs and the most stuff.

Our genetic ancestors were often a violent bunch not so much because of the DNA that they carried as for the need to fight for food and a place to sleep at night. Scientists have found the remains of people from tens of thousands of years ago that show signs of blunt force trauma. Life was often brutish and short for those from whom we descended. It’s likely impossible for any of us to truly understand what kind of daily challenges they faced. We judge them from a perspective of hindsight.

Wars between people still rage today. Most of the problems in the Middle East center on religious differences that take the form of political ideologies. All across the globe we humans argue over sociological concepts and their effects on the fair distribution of resources and justice. We create alliances and rant about differences when the reality is that what we all really want is a place to call home that is safe and filled with the comforts that we need to survive our time on this earth. We long for the freedom to be left alone even as we cling to relationships. We are living breathing contradictions and keeping us all happy seems to be an almost impossible task. Thus we can’t seem to all settle down into peaceful coexistence in spite of one valiant attempt after another throughout the long stretch of history.

There are only so many ways to tell a story. There are major themes that tie together the human search for peace and tranquillity. When all is said and done the king is not so different from his servant. The things that separate us from one another have very little to do with our natures, but everything to do with how we view each other. We create artificial structures and definitions in our attempts to explain things that we don’t understand. Sometimes that process leads us to false conclusions and grave misunderstandings.

In a sense we are all still hunter gatherers of a sort. From the time that we are young we begin the training that we will need to one day leave our homes in search of work that will provide us with the funds that we need to purchase our food and clothing and necessities. Our daily grind may be less dangerous than that of the primitive people from whence we descended, but the idea of finding a way to survive is still the basis of our endeavors.

The most remarkable thing about humans is that we long to for lives that are more than just an unending repetition of work. We are innovative and our creations have given us incredibly rich and remarkable existences that were unimaginable to our ancestors. History has not been just about our wars with one another. It has also included our better natures and the creation of arts and sciences. We have used our remarkable intellect to impose our will on medicine and music. We have civilized our barbaric ways so much that we are gravely appalled when we see evidence that we have not evolved as much as we would like to think that we have.

Our human past is filled with both horrendous mistakes and great advances. We often learn through trial and error. Our best efforts seem to occur whenever we set aside our differences and operate from a sense of concern for a common good. None of us are perfect and neither are our decisions, but it is possible to rise above anger and fear. Such moments created the Magna Carta, freed slaves, and eliminated murderous tyrants.

As I look around today I see a preponderance of alliances formed out of concern for a world that seems to be out of sync. It’s difficult to know how to think or feel. We are weary of the battles with one another because we instinctively understand that we should not be enemies. We want the same things but have different ideas about how to achieve them. Sadly the old ploy of dividing us into warring camps is being used rather effectively all across the globe. Our ethnicities, religions, socio economic statuses and political leanings are part of a grand power struggle that is in fact little different from all such maneuvering in the past. It’s a dangerous game that we should refuse to play.

I will continue to speak out against the death penalty but I will not turn my back on those who believe that it is an effective tool to fight crime. I believe in the tenets of my Catholic faith but I will not use them to hate those who think I am deluding myself with religion. I respect the human made differences in philosophies and ways of living because I understand that when all is said and done they are only superficial aspects of our most basic desires. People are breathtaking and the fact that they represent so much variety makes them all the better. Perhaps one day we may even learn how to hunt and gather in peace.

A Kind Revolution

solar panels

I think about things all of the time. Some people might call my mental gymnastics worry or anxiety. I simply see myself as having a very active mind. Some people have difficulty standing still. They are always moving about. I find it hard to shut down the thoughts inside my brain. I am always observing, asking questions and considering solutions for problems. Sometimes my mental processes are so active that I have to calm myself just to relax enough to sleep.

Lately I’ve really been considering the effects of climate change and ways in which we might address the issues associated with the storms and droughts and other weather events that are plaguing our earth more and more often. When I look for guidance from experts and I ask probing questions I generally find myself feeling as though nobody is actually prepared to consider all of the consequences, unintended or certain, that may occur from choosing one plan of action over another. It’s frustrating because it sometimes feels as though the issue being presented as a zero sum game regardless of which of the extreme sides one decides to choose. Instead I think that there is surely some alternative that is more viable.

On the one hand we are being told that our time for hesitation is long gone. We must begin to accept draconian measures if we are to avoid economic collapse and social/political chaos. The warnings are dire and not totally unfounded based on scientific research but they also seem to ignore some very basic questions that seem to have no real answers. The very scenario of economic doom might also come to pass if the most exacting sacrifices are indeed enforced. Little thought has been given to how to radically change the ways in which we do almost everything so that people do not lose their livelihoods. It’s difficult to get a major road built in under ten years so why should we believe that we can totally redesign how we live in a short time without leaving large sectors of the world’s population in economic danger?

On the other hand there are the climate change deniers who seem stubbornly unwilling to accept the facts about how we humans have literally changed the workings of the earth. They are gambling with our futures by insisting that the whole idea of climate change is little more than a hoax being propagated on the world as a means of upending political systems. If they have their way we may in fact one day find ourselves having to relocate the people of entire cities and the hardships of the Great Depression will seem like a cakewalk compared to the human upheavals that may transpire.

Somehow I find myself thinking that the most invested groups are running the show while the rest of us sit back ignoring the possibilities. My innate logic tells me that there must be a better way. If we all agree to work hard to do things to lessen the impact of climate change then perhaps we can forestall scenarios of doom and gloom while continuing to search for more intelligent solutions.

The truth is that we have too many cars rolling down the road at any given hour. Back when I was young most families owned a single vehicle. The drivers had to take turns using the family car. I remember going on the bus with my mom to do our shopping because my dad had to take the auto to work. When we had appointments in places not serviced by buses we would drop my father off at the bus stop and he would ride to work that way. We lived by the school so we were able to walk everyday. In fact, we walked and rode our bicycles to a number of places. We managed to get everywhere we needed to go by being flexible and inventive.

With a bit of sacrifice and a willingness to consider other alternatives to having multiple cars much of the carbon footprint from driving might be mitigated. Even better would be to make more and more autos that are hybrids or reliably electric at affordable prices. Neighborhoods should consider allowing residents to move about in electric golf carts or community trolleys. Bike lanes should automatically become standard on side streets. Businesses should encourage employees to ride share by providing bonuses or parking for those who do.  Governments might provide tax incentives for those willing to take such steps as well. Cities need to invest in more viable and environmentally friendly mass transportation systems and be rewarded for doing so. The modern world should begin to look like the imaginary one of futuristic thought. 

There is a home in my neighborhood that is fitted with Tesla solar panels. Our climate is particularly well suited for such innovation but the cost of installing such systems is prohibitive for most people. If lawmakers are truly serious about taking bold steps to reduce the carbon footprint then they need to help make it financially feasible for the average homeowner to invest in solar energy or other alternatives. Just as the government built the nation’s highways after World War II this can be a national campaign to redesign the way we get energy for our homes but it has to be affordable for it to work.

We must also encourage all forms of energy innovation. I know of a man who has been attempting to sell the idea of having personal windmills in every backyard but he has encountered far too much opposition. While his inventiveness may need a bit of tweaking I wonder why nobody has encouraged his designs by investing in research to make it better. Think of how Thomas Edison changed the world as it was known in a very short time because the movers and shakers of Wall Street saw merit in his ideas. Capitalism does not need to be a foe of climate change believers but rather a source for encouraging new ways of doing things that will make the world a better place for everyone.

There has been much criticism of older and past generations of late but we might also take some pages from their stories. They built houses that have lasted for centuries. The designs took advantage of cross breezes so that air conditioning was not required to be cool. They built foundations on pillars that raised homes from the water of floods. They installed clotheslines in every backyard to use the sun for drying laundry. They recycled virtually everything including packaging for purchases. I wore many a dress handmade by my grandmother from the cloth of flour sacks. Old clothes were turned into warm quilts that were used in piles to eradicate the need for heat. Most people kept vegetable gardens in their yards.

We have to educate the populace to be flexible and willing to think outside of the box. This means taking the brilliance of mankind and using it not just to create an uproar but to formulate more efficient and evironmentally friendly ways of living. We can incentivize good habits and create a movement that works for everyone in an ever changing world. We need to begin to think ahead planning our moves with a willingness to quickly adapt them to whatever situation arises.

Most people despise lectures about what they have done wrong but they enjoy the idea of  being part of progress through innovation. Surely the same people who were able to put a man on the moon in only a decade can move the environment to a better place without robbing the rich or leaving the poor in a state of desperation. We can do this as surely as we went from a sleepy and isolated nation to the heroes of World War II. It may take a few sacrifices and changes in the way we live but it will also include exciting new ways of doing things that will be better than anything we have ever seen. We should join together in a spirit of optimism to design a kind revolution for saving our planet that respects everyone. We can do it!

Alike and Unique

Aunt Valeria

For as long as I can remember I’ve been told that I look just like my mother, my father, both of my grandmothers, my brothers, my aunts, my cousins, my daughters, my grandchildren. When people view me they see different things emphasizing certain traits in their minds. I’m certainly not a doppelgänger of anyone in my extended family, but the resemblances are there. I noticed that as I grow older I take on a kind of generic similarity to my relations even though I don’t appear to be a twin of any of them. It seems as though in the process of aging we take on characteristics similar to those of a baby without the external trappings of hair, makeup or clothing to distract from the essence of our appearance. We begin to look more and more alike.

I have a one hundred year old aunt from my mother’s side of the family. Invariably when I visit her at her nursing home someone will tell me that I am a carbon copy of her. My aunt doesn’t hear well these days so when I recently related such a comment to her in writing she commented with her trademark sense of humor, “Poor girl!” with a sly grin on her face.

The fact is that I have often thought that she and I resemble one another in a number of ways but most of them have more to do with the genetic makeup of our health issues rather than outward appearance. I somehow inherited the same propensity for osteoporosis and migraine headaches that have plagued her to the point of landing her in a wheelchair for many years whereas my own mother had none of those things.

I suppose that if a very observant artist or writer were to seriously analyze my facial features I would be found to more closely resemble my father and my youngest brother than anyone else in our big family. Such is also true of one of my grandsons and a nephew who bear a preponderance of features very similar to those of my dad. It’s funny how that works and often leads to one of those strange moments when finding an old photograph of an ancestor who appears to be a twin to one of the living relatives. It’s one thing to pick up the habits and nuances of people with whom we frequently interact to the point of seeming to be just like them, but it’s rather remarkable to discover an ancient still image that is eerily like a living descendent. Our DNA has a way of repeating patterns.

I now look at myself in the mirror and I see my face as a kind of microcosm of hundreds of years, perhaps thousands in a long line of people leading to me. Of course it never occurred to them to ponder so far into the future but I am intrigued by the thought of who they might have been and which of their traits I share. When I consider the miracle of those clumps of cells forming in a woman’s womb to make a new person with the evolved characteristics of people from the past I am in awe. It is breathtaking to consider the magnificence of the process of the creation of a human life and something not to be taken for granted.

Since joining Ancestry,com I have been able to put names, if not faces, to the people who came before me. I have put my spit in a test tube and sent it for DNA analysis. Through that process I have found distant cousins that I did not know existed. I have become a member of a Facebook group of people related to my paternal grandmother. I read their posts and their stories and realize that we share so many commonalities without ever having known each other before. Learning about them has made me feel an even stronger connection to humanity than ever before. It has made me realize that on the whole we share many more commonalities than differences even as we are separated by time and distance. I sometimes wonder if people would think we look or act alike if we had the opportunity to come somehow come together. Would the world instinctively know that we are related?

It’s difficult to imagine disrespect for human life whenever I think of how much I share with other people. There are basic traits that course through all of us. We laugh and cry and bleed and hurt in much the same ways. It seems contrary to common sense that we would ever think that one human is less worthy than another when we are so intertwined by our commonalities. The things that separate us are mostly cosmetic. If we were to be stripped down to the essence of who we are we might begin to look almost like reproductions of one another, just as babies and old people do.

At any given moment I do indeed look like my aunt or any of the people to whom I am related. I also resemble the more generic characteristics of being human just as we all do. It tells me to value myself and the people that I encounter. Each of us is both alike and unique. Perhaps there is nothing more important than treasuring every single life from the moment that we first begin to form to the instant when we take our last breaths. If we were to continually bear that in mind perhaps we might find ourselves in a more peaceful and just world. Languages and cultures may differ but the marrow in our bones and the blood in our veins tell us that we are the same.

Our Hidden Universe

person holding string lights photo
Photo by David Cassolato on Pexels.com

As an educator I have always been interested in the human brain and how it works. Sadly because it is so complex and we still have much to learn about it and what information we do have is sadly incomplete. Part of our difficulty in understanding it lies with the fact that we have only been seriously studying the brain for a little over a hundred years. Superstitions giving the brain a kind of spiritual aura actually prevented examinations out of a sense that it is wrong to invade the sacred nature of the mind. We are far behind the kind of knowledge that we have of our hearts and other organs of the body when it comes to the brain. Unlocking the inner workings of that most marvelous aspect of who we are may one day help us to eradicate some of the most life changing and difficult of the diseases that stalk us.

I dream of a day when we will literally be able to mend our brains in the same ways that we repair hearts. Surely the universe of our minds holds secrets to eradicating mental illnesses, learning difficulties, and other diseases that now so confound us. I can’t think of more challenging and ultimately rewarding research than studying how and why our minds work. As an educator I have seen the heartbreak of those who struggle to grasp ideas and concepts. As a caretaker I have watched my mother’s beautiful mind attacked by mental illness. As a friend I observed a delightful man slowly losing his ability to think and remember. I have seen the ravages of Parkinson disease steal away a cousin’s adventurous life, and I watched with horror as a brain tumor killed another a dear sweet loved one. I witnessed in great sadness as a friend succumbed to the ravages of ALS. It seems obvious to me that we need to support the people who are quietly working to find out how the mechanisms in the brain that control the very functions of our bodies work, and why the processes sometimes go awry.

I’ve often heard that we use only a small portion of our brain’s potential. Why is that so? Are the geniuses among us simply those who have unconsciously tapped into the power of their minds in a better way than the rest of us? What differentiates such souls from the crowd? Think of how wonderful it might be to truly understand how to coax more of those abilities out of each and every human. How exciting would it be to eradicate the kind of learning disabilities that educators see all of the time?

Our brains are encased in a bony structure that both protects them and hides their inner workings from us. We have machines that can record blood flow and even demonstrate where thinking is happening, but what we really know about the brain is rudimentary. It is as though we are still working with theories about humors and using leeches and blood letting to fix problems. Our psychotropic drugs work only sometime, and our therapies are often hit and miss at best. We do what we can with our limited knowledge and in the meantime some of the most intense suffering on earth continues in those with diseases of the brain.

I often think of how smallpox ravaged the world for centuries and is now almost unseen in the world. I dream of a time when we might be able to identify all forms of brain disease and cure them with medications or surgeries. I know that there are indeed individuals devoting their lives to discovering such miracles. We don’t often hear about them or even send our monetary support to their efforts, at least not until someone that we know is struck by brain disorders that rob them of the ability to care for themselves.

We spend a fortune on pizzas on the day of the Superbowl. We rush out to see the latest movies hardly thinking about the cost of entertainment. We treat ourselves to a four dollar cup of coffee without much regret. Our expenditures make us feel good, but think of how much better we might feel if they were deliberately aimed at the kind of research that is slowly unlocking more and more secrets of the brain. A slight change in our budgets here and there might allow us to invest in work that is as important as anything we humans do.

I know young people who are earnestly concerned about phenomena like PTSD, depression, dementia, strokes, multiple sclerosis. They want to earn the knowledge and the credentials that will allow them to delve into to inner workings of the brain, but doing so costs money that they sometimes do not have. It is important that we all agree to support the efforts of those who might one day discover how to eradicate some of our most confounding problems. The work may be tedious and may require more time than we wish, but in the end the efforts may lead mankind to solutions for difficulties that have plagued us since the beginning of time. If we can make to the moon or Mars surely we have the power to have better understanding of the hidden universe of our minds. 

We have the foundations for success in place. We just need to be sure that the momentum continues. Individuals and families are waiting for the answers that will change their lives and end incalculable suffering. They keys are inside our brains waiting to be found. This is who we really are as humans. By using the triumphant side of our natures to find the good, we may be able to counteract the conditions that cause us to despair. Then we will truly be able to proclaim, “What a piece of work is man!”