Those Who Can’t Remember…

George Santayana wrote that those who can’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it, a sentiment said by others in many ways, though we rarely heed the advice.  It was 100 years ago now that the world encountered a pathogen more deadly than the world war then at its height.

The 1918 flu killed somewhere between 50 and 100 million people.  The first record of what was later confirmed to be a new strain of influenza was on March 4, 1918 when Albert Gitchell reported sick to the doctor assigned to Fort Riley in Haskell County, Kansas, who was Dr. Loring Minor.  By the time Gitchell died, over 500 soldiers at the camp had sickened as well.

The area where the fort was located was pig-farming country, which could have spread the disease to humans, but other theories of its origin suggest that its first human infections occurred in Asia.  What pathologists do know is that the circumstances of 1918 were the setting for the perfect contagion storm that took place.  For the first time in history, travel across and between countries had become common.  Soldiers from all sides were packed closely together making the spread of the flu through coughing a firestorm of disease.  As they were transferred, they carried the infection with them.

Notably, the 1918 strain of flu struck hardest at the young, especially soldiers, presumably because they had not gained any level of immunity from similar strains that older persons might have experienced.  Once the disease had been identified, the public was urged to stay isolated and to wear masks in public.  All that were available, however, were of porous cotton, which offered little protection.

The central focus for the disease became military bases in France, where soldiers passed through on the way to the front.  Oddly, it took the name, the “Spanish Flu,” because the country was neutral, and the press there was permitted to report the extent of the carnage the disease caused.

By whatever name, the virus is believed to have mutated as it circled the globe, becoming even more virulent.  It ultimately may have abated only because it had consumed most of its available victims.  In the course of less than a year, 3 to 5 percent of mankind died.

With modern medical care and flu vaccines, we tend to downplay the impact of the flu today.  A 2013 study, however, estimated that a similar flu pandemic today would kill perhaps as many as 300,000 in this country alone – better than half of the impact of the 1918 strain here.  If those numbers don’t concern you, consider the fact that this year’s flu vaccine appears to have only been 20 percent effective.

There is little we know about influenza.  Indeed, we can only guess what type of flu will come later this year and cobble together vaccine elixirs that we hope will help.  One wonders what Santayana, who lived through the 1918 pandemic, would say today.

 

 

 

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Black Hole

Stephen Hawking died earlier today at the age of 76, more than 50 years after he was diagnosed with ALS.  During that period, he expanded the knowledge of cosmology and time through his groundbreaking work related to black holes.  His work and discoveries were accomplished largely through mental effort alone, because he could not use his hands to develop equations and perform computations.

Hawking’s life was a remarkable one in many additional ways.  He was born on the 300th anniversary of the death of Galileo.  He was the Lucasian Chair at Cambridge University, a position once held by Isaac Newton.  Finally, he died on the birthday of Albert Einstein.

Despite his lofty work and handicap, Hawking retained a human touch and  even had a bit of whimsy that he shared with the world through his bestselling book, “A Brief History of Time.”  He also travelled extensively for someone with his limitations and gave lectures, using a special speech synthesizing device.

He thought deeply about the future of mankind, space exploration and artificial intelligence.  In each case, he displayed a remarkable optimism for one in such a condition.

One of the principles fundamental to cosmology is that information can never be destroyed – in a sense, the past is never lost with the passage of time, even if it falls into a black hole.  Hawking was never fully able to posit what happens to information absorbed into a black hole, and the discussion remains unresolved.   A good summary of the debate is published here.  In some way, I suspect that all that was Stephen Hawking remains with us as a part of the universe he explored from his wheelchair.   If science had its saints, Stephen Hawking would surely be among them.

The New York Times shared a timeline of Hawking’s work and life well worth reading.

 

 

 

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Larger Than Life And All The More Human For It

February 22 of this year would have been a red letter day in the life of an American icon. On this day in 1986, forty years ago, Johnny Cash proposed on stage to June Carter.  If you believe that some people or loves can be larger than life, that moment and their life was destined to be.

He was driven through much of his musical career by personal demons that nearly consumed him through alcohol and pills.  He was saved by his faith and his love that was more than a love, June Carter Cash.

The two had met at the Grand Old Opry thirteen years earlier, but in a scene replayed in the film “Walk The Line” he impetuously proposed to her onstage together in London, Ontario.  She said yes and, by all accounts, they remained madly in love until she passed on May 15, 2003.  He continued to record largely songs of loneliness until his death, four months later on September 12.

So strong was the legend of their love that on the morning of Johnny Cash’s death, Shelby Lynne wrote her haunting tribute, “Johnny Met June.”

Got some news today from the radio man
He spoke the words softly and as somber as he can
The world stood still and the sky opened up
made my way to fill up my coffee cup.
Then it occurred to me as the daylight sky shone blue
Today’s the day that
Johnny met June.

He waited a while he knew that he would
He was gonna hang around here for as long a he could
The days went by and hours idle passed
He was never sure just how long he would last
But there’s not much love in a lonely room
Today’s the day that
Johnny met June

Hey my darlin’ hey my sweet
I’ve waited on the day that I knew we would meet.
Hey my sun, hey my moon
Today’s the day that
Johnny met June.

Now were starting over it’s the place that we are
You look more than pretty underneath all the stars
Love, love is a burning thing
Oh how I still love to hear you sing
And everything we ever heard about heaven is true
Today’s the day that Johnny met June
Today’s the day that Johnny met June.

Sam Phillips of Sun Records was quoted as saying that Elvis Presley “couldn’t hold a candle to Johnny Cash”.   His stature and voice, both almost larger than life, were equalled only by the humanity he wore on his perpetually black sleeve and the sparkle in his eyes for June.

Somewhere along the way, I came to think of Cash as a modern day Samson.  The two became legendary for their appetites and their lawlessness.  At the same time they incongruously loved and were loved by God, traits that perhaps only truly knowing God can explain.  Both knew true loves, though one ruined and the other saved their partner.  Cash’s personal strength and honesty certainly brought down the columns of Nashville’s church of Country music.  There were those that did not love him, but all were in awe of him.

I suppose I could go on, but my story began about love, and there is no better place to end.  If there is true love, as I believe, Johnny and June knew it.  I am glad to say I know it too.

 

 

 

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Tides and Times

One day last week, while we were preoccupied with news of the day now forgotten, a  milestone passed that is worth reflection.  As reported in today’s New York Times, as much time has passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall as the time in which it stood.

I was seven when its construction began in August of 1961, and I still recall the blur of worried news as years passed with airlifts of food and reports of deaths from East Germans seeking escape to the West.

The Wall was the site of one of JFK’s memorable speeches, in which he declared in poor German grammar, “Ich bin eine Berliner.”  Years later, Ronald Reagan used the same scene to call out – this time in English, “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!”  In its time, that Wall stood for the evil that was the other side, to those on each side.

Perhaps because of its status as the ground zero of the Cold War, the Wall seems to have stood forever in the public mind.  In fact, it neither rose nor fell on a single day and stood in one form or another for only a few months more than 28 years. In terms of wars – hot, cold or lukewarm – that is long.  The twenty-eight years that have passed since then, however, seem to have passed in a moment.  Indeed, I have law students who were not yet born when the Wall fell and to whom the Soviet Union and all the Wall stood for are ancient history.

I have, in a drawer somewhere, a pebble from the Wall, sold in true Capitalist form, as a souvenir by Germans from one side or the other.  There is little else tangible left to mark the battleground between East and West that lasted a generation.

In the generation that followed, the two Germanys assimilated reasonably well, and mostly subtle differences remain between the sides.  Certainly, economic prosperity spread from the West, but most Germans, from either side, see themselves simply as Germans.

Contrast that rapid change with the century that has passed since our country was reunited, following the Civil War.  We lived through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Segregation.  Our Civil Rights era lasted twice as long as the time that has passed since the fall of the Wall.

I have no glib answers to this sad difference, but it is food for both thought and discussion.  It remains for us a topic on which not enough has yet been said.

 

 

 

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A loss of Innocence

Fifty years ago today North Vietnam began its Tet Offensive turning the Vietnam War from one of guerrilla actions into a surprise offensive against the cities of South Vietnam.  In previous years the Viet Cong had announced a partial ceasefire for the Chinese New Year period.  In 1968, however, they used the occasion to go on the offensive, even reaching Saigon in a matter of days.

The offensive lasted until February 24, when South Vietnam recaptured what little remained of the city of Hue.  While it was held by the Viet Cong, thousands of civilians were executed.

Until then, the US government had led the public to believe that the war had long been about to turn the corner toward victory.  Public opinion had begun to turn agains the war, with nearly half the country questioning the war. Opposition was particularly strong among those subjects to the draft.

This opposition was crystallized by the photo you see here, taken on February 1, in which a police chief, Nguyen Ngoc Loan, executed a suspected Viet Cong officer on the streets of Saigon.  The photograph taken by Eddie Adams was published across the world and resulted in his receiving the Pulitzer Prize the next year.

On February 17 after the close of the offensive, the prominent anchor of the CBS Evening News Walter Cronkite, who was later described as the most trusted man in America, said these lines on his broadcast:

“We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds” and added that, “we are mired in a stalemate that could only be ended by negotiation, not victory.”

It was later reported that President Johnson was watching the broadcast and, after hearing Cronkite’s remarks said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

Soon events spiraled against Johnson and the war.  Although not publicized until later, the My Lai Massacre, in which American troops killed scores of civilians, took place on March 16, the day that Robert Kennedy entered the race for President against the sitting President of his own party.  On the last day of March, Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection.

Events continued through the traumatic year of 1968, but one place to mark the start of the loss of faith in our government was this day, fifty years ago, with the Tet Offensive.   Are we better off for our acquired skepticism, or are we more divided, to the point of polarization over what indeed is truth?

Pontius Pilate asked that question somewhere around two thousand years ago.  Sadly, the question remains relevant still today.

 

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About History and All It Tends To Do

Twin tragedies from different eras share a common date today.  Twenty-two years ago, the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded 73 seconds after liftoff from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  It was an unusually cold morning, which struck me as I watched the innumerable replays of the explosion that day.  It turned out that the cold was determined to be a factor in causing O-ring seals to leak propellant, resulting in the disaster.

This loss was the first of the Shuttle program, and stunned a nation lulled by the description of the program as a routine one in which reuse of the vehicle and the first stages of the rockets were presented as the norm.  After the second disaster, with the loss of the Columbia, we came to learn that the program had actually been designed with a predicted failure rate that proved troublingly accurate.

There are many lessons to learn from all this, but one is particularly timely in my mind.  Christa McCauliffe served on the mission as the first true civilian astronaut.  She was selected because she was a school teacher who planned to promote the program by teaching lessons while circling the earth.  Her death curtailed the civilian passenger program, but not the idea that spurred her personal mission.

Recently Jeanette Epps was removed from her scheduled tour on the International Space Station.  She had planned to teach Christa McCauliffe’s lessons from the ISS in McCauliffe’s honor.  No reason was given for her removal, but she would have been the first black woman on the ISS and has been outspoken in support for blacks and women in NASA.

 

In an earlier disaster that would have gone unsung, if not for Woody Guthrie, a plane crashed 70 years ago today in Los Gatos Canyon, not far from my grandparent’s homestead in California.  Thirty-two people died, including 28 migrant farm workers from Mexico who were being deported.  Wikipedia shares the discussion about the, also routine, Bracero program under which they were deported, but the underlying economic and racial themes from the story echo all too well in today’s climate.

I want not to judge too quickly, but I do think we need to reflect and consider the past in the muddle of today’s events.  Whatever our values; be the law and order, compassion or economic gain and loss; our policies and actions should be well considered and not simple enough to fit on a bumper sticker.

My own opinion is that compassion and pragmatism would yield much the same policy, but for today it is enough to look back and reflect on lives cut short.

 

 

 

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Saying Goodbye

Eight years ago, we brought two American Eskimo puppies into our home.  This morning, one of the two was not following my wife around, as was her usual routine.  I went outside and found her in the yard, having died of what must have been a heart attack.  I often likened her to a cat, for her habit of lying in the middle of whatever is going on.  Like many a cat, I suppose she went off on her own to die.

Earlier in her life, I wrote a piece about the two dogs and my love/hate relationship with them.  It entertained by wife and so I thought I might share it in memory of Annie, who is pictured here.

 

Hounded

Two dogs with one distorted personality define our days. One is incurably insecure and the other suffers from Tourette’s. One is a kleptomaniac, while the second barks for no reason, even in her sleep. Each in her own way is a carnival mirror image of her fraternal twin.

To protect the guilty, I will call them Annie and Becca, two good Jewish matriarchs. They are white hairballs with eyes, American Eskimo dogs that we took in as seemingly innocent puppies, only to find that we were taken in by a two-headed Cerberus. Weighing thirty-five pounds each, they shed a dog a day, leaving white clouds of fluff floating through the air to collect in corners like drifts of snow within a door left open to the elements. Each wears a tufted pig of a tail coiled above its behind that floats over its back to better spread its trail of hair. Negative energy in their coats attracts their hair to any and to all dark surfaces, especially and naturally black clothes. Being fond of marking their territory this way, they prefer sleeping on air vents in order to effortlessly spread their presence to every surface in our home.

Neither is the alpha to the other, because they are two parts of one wholly overwhelming whole.   Never separated as puppies, they live as if connected by a leash, always within reach of the other. They howl, as if tortured, if separated. They race after each other in and out of the house, the second holding the leader’s tail in her mouth, only to tumble into a ball of fur rolling across the yard, collecting leaves and debris to deposit indoors. When not engaged in these “zoomies”, they entertain themselves by cleaning each other’s teeth and other acts of interpersonal hygiene.

“How do you tell them apart?” we are often asked by guests after their overwhelming initial greeting. “One is neurotic and the other ‘simple’”, I usually reply. The truth, however, is that they each have unique traits that meld, for better or worse, with the other. One, I say, thinks she is a person and the other is just a dog. Annie is depressed not to be invited to the table, while Becca is content to lie unerringly on the second stair nearby. Annie rests on the periphery of our presence, flat like a bear rug, while Becca prefers her bed, where she lies drooling, thinking she may have a dog treat coming.

Most days, Annie unravels a roll of toilet paper through the house and out the dog door. She steals shoes and sometimes bills, taking them to the fort she has dug underneath the evergreens in the farthest reaches of our yard. There we find, half-covered with dirt, whatever is missing from our household, although the pair of prescription glasses lost a year ago remains a mystery that Annie will not confess to. We did, however, find a missing box of cereal buried carefully in her corner of the world, full when she carried it through the dog door, but empty when we uncovered it. Most recently, she has been ridding my garden of unwanted soil, I assume to plant bones in hopes that they will grow.

Becca is content to be just a dog and doubtless assumes that we are as well. Her world is a simple one consisting of things to eat and others to bark at, generally for no reason, other than to see if they bark back. Although bred as a circus-performing breed, she seems never to know where her back feet are or what to do with them. She is simply a mouth-breather with more tongue than mouth.   The only sign of intelligent life in her head appears when we tune in Animal Planet, which she barks at, as if cheering on her favorite football team.

We have been hounded this way for nearly four years, possessed by overgrown baby seals, albino dust balls, bleach-blonde gremlins. They began as cute puffs of cream, just eight weeks old. Hoping to raise them as “good dogs”, we knew we were in trouble when the first trainer we interviewed rejected us. We then tried taking them to class, or more accurately, group therapy. There a dachshund cowered, a poodle did something that rhymes with its name and a doberman stared warily, as if seeing double. Finally, we hired a commando dog trainer who came with a guarantee. The dogs came back from training acting as if they had been to sleepover camp.

In this early morning light, I sit here in my small office with the glow of a warm computer lighting up the two dogs lying here peacefully beside me, waiting patiently for me to finish my task and to welcome the day with them. I know that once I turn and rise they will greet me warmly, each in its own way, before racing off to create more material for what I fear will be a never-ending tale about two creatures and their pet owner.

 

Godspeed Annie.

 

 

 

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Reflections

Thornton Wilder, known for his insightful wit, wrote,

 

“It is only in appearance that time is a river.  It is rather a vast landscape, and it is the eye of the beholder that moves.”

 

If so, we collectively took a hard right turn this year that nearly led us off the map.  It has been a strange, and perhaps surreal, time.

Our new President turned the White House into a reality show without a script.  He traded insults and threats with the equally disturbed dictator of North Korea, and tweeted petty and sometimes bizarre messages, as if to distract attention from the slow but unyielding investigation by Robert Mueller into Russian involvement in the election.

The Republican led government proved unable to govern effectively, except to deliver a Trillion Dollar tax cut to the rich, at the expense of most of those that brought them to power.

Terrorist and cyber attacks peppered the news with alarming persistence.  They included a shooting from a Las Vegas hotel that killed 58 and injured 546, numbers that no longer seem to shock our collective conscience.  Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma caused unprecedented devastation, as did the second largest wildfire in California history.

I lost one who was perhaps my closest friend.  We all lost Chuck Berry and Greg Allman, two very human musicians who defined the ends of Rock and Roll music. Fats Domino and Tom Petty too passed away.  With them went Country Music’s Mell Tillis and Glen Campbell, a virtuoso guitarist who recorded dozens of hits with the Wrecking Crew studio musicians before making hits from many of Jimmy Webb’s catalog of songs.

The actress who shared her heart openly with the world, Mary Tyler Moore died, as did the playwright Sam Shepard.  The world lost two humorists who made us not only laugh, but think deeply and give to those in need – Dick Gregory and Jerry Lewis.

And then there were the deaths of the controversial Hugh Hefner and the terrifying Charles Manson, two individuals who, respectively, made us rethink our standards and our very humanity.

In the wake of this world seemingly turned upside down, I am somehow comforted that life still can go on.  Except in Puerto Rico, the lights remain on.  There is food in most of our cabinets.  Football games, even with the toll they take on lives, still are played.  Children go to schools that do their best to instill education, ambition and a few values.  The Internet still works, even without net neutrality, and the mail, what little that is left, still is delivered fairly regularly.

It is heartening that sexual abuse is no longer tolerated anywhere, except it seems in the White House.  I do wonder, however, whether one, or maybe even two, men may have been unfairly swept out with the trash.  Indeed, the backlash against Meryl Streep bears the marks of mob mentality.  Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman topped it all off magically.

While white nationalists came out from hiding, they have largely been shouted down by those living in the 21st Century.  We can even hope that we have heard the last from Roy Moore.

All in all, I have learned again that there is more life in the small, day-to-day moments that one has some control over than the real and imagined horrors shouted in the news.  Somehow, my two grandsons know joy, love and hope that their world will be a good one.  We have more than a few students intent on using the law to serve justice for all, and I rejoice when I hear good news, even though it is sometimes rare.

I do not ignore the horrors and injustice that pervade too much of our landscape.  They discourage and depress me, but they also goad me to carry on in the smaller world where I live each day.

You may find it in an earlier post, but here are the words I remind myself to live by:

 

Be kind.  The world can be a cruel place.

Live small.  Make room and save resources for others.

Seek peace.  Both within yourself and with others.

 

The only thing I might add is to have a sense of humor.  God had to be laughing when he made some of the people we run into.

 

 

 

 

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In Passing

Earlier this week one of my dearest friends passed away, or as Tennyson wrote, “cross’d the bar.”  Len Kirkham was among the last of his kind, a sailor and builder of wooden ships during the final years of that era.  The first time he sailed alone around the world, he took along only a world atlas and his sextant as a guides.  It happened that he knew his way around the sea well enough to have navigated for his Prime Minister and to have earned a few national sailing titles of his own.  He also served as navigator in the Whitbread Round the World race during 1973-74. Far from being one dimensional, he earned an MBA from the London School of Economics and two other masters degrees in hydrodynamics and history.  His obituary, although short, gives one a hint of his remarkable life.

Several years ago I put down on paper my own story of discovering Len and how we came to be friends. I’d like to share it with you.

Midlife crises come in as many forms as there are persons to have them. Mine came right on time, at the age of fifty, and through it, I met someone who became one of the most memorable figures of my life. Having lived through the end of one career and the start of another, a divorce, remarriage and then a successful battle with my son’s cancer, I felt I was due my own selfish moment, which I went about in my own unique way.

During a long sojourn in Seattle for my son’s bone marrow transplant, I grew enamored with wooden sailboats through its Wooden Boat Center, where I would sail in the afternoons after completing my day’s work. The movement of a wooden boat through water while under sail is as natural and organic a motion as the wind through silver maples on a summer day. The boat can turn leaves of water into shiny spray as it glides effortlessly along. I wanted that experience for my own, and so, set about to find my own wooden sailboat.

After a time, I found the perfect boat, a thirty-foot wooden yacht, exactly my age, which I bought, sight unseen, and had shipped from New England to Lake Lanier, north of Atlanta, Georgia. Although its paint was cracked and peeling with age, it had beautiful lines. She had been drawn by the hand of one of the great boat designers and built with the heritage of classic Northeastern yachts. I knew on first Internet sighting that it was to be my red, convertible, two-seater sports car. Designed by William Roue of Bluenose fame and built at the yard of Smith and Rhuland in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia in its heyday, she rode low in the water on her narrow lines with sweeping overhangs, bow and stern. She spared little room for cabin comforts and preserved her sleek body to slice through the welcoming waters that awaited her, or so I thought.

When “Amity” arrived on its flat-bed tractor trailer, I had her Sitka spruce mast set and then my yacht was slowly cradled into the water, where she unhesitatingly proceeded to sink. As I stood on her bow wondering “What have I done?” I noticed that the deck seemed to sag beneath my feet. I stooped to examine and noticed that the forestay – the wire that keeps the mast from falling on the captain – had peeled the deck up from the hull. Panic began to set in and I had the boat lifted back onto land. I knew then that I needed help. Instead of seeking out a therapist, I began the seemingly impossible task of finding someone in the rural South who knew the fine art of rebuilding wooden sailboats.

Sailors are not that different from those who prefer solid ground and can thus be alternately helpful and cruel. So it was with some trepidation that I picked up the phone and called the one person I was told who could help me. I had been warned that this character was difficult, but all agreed that he was my only choice.

“Ello, Mate”, he replied when I introduced myself by phone, “Yes, I’ve heard about you. You’re the bloke who bought that shipwreck and it brought down here.” After I asked for his help, he replied, “Well now, not so fast, we need to sit down and discuss this before I can say whether I can help you.” It seems that I was the one to be interviewed for this job.

Several days later, I drove down a gravel road and up to a large tin shed surrounded by old boats in various states of disrepair. “This is not a good sign,” I thought with anxiety. I opened the door to the “office” and was greeted by a cloud of Marlboro smoke, followed by a Springer Spaniel. I shook hands and sat down across a dusty desk covered with bits of boats. “So, I have to ask,” he began, punctuating his point by putting out his cigarette butt, “What in the hell were you thinking?” I then proceeded to suffer through the toughest interrogation of my life.

Looking me over with his long peppered mane and longer graying beard, he took a deep draw from his next Marlboro. I began to wonder what I had been thinking in seeking him out. We negotiated for a time, not over money, but over the quality of what was to become my resurrected boat. In the several hours of questioning, I happened to ask how he got into wooden boat building. It was then that the stories began to unfold.

Over the course of several years, he and his crew restored what turned from rotting timber to a new boat named “Spirit”, I sat for many hours across that desk and learned a great deal about his character. He was born in working-class England, taught himself to sail, raced for the Prime Minister, studied at the London School of Economics, became an investment banker, built a boat by hand and then sailed it home around Africa. He took it once around the world, stopping from time-to-time to do work for Lloyds of London. On the way home, while in the South Atlantic, he decided to go around once again. He was captured once by rebels as a hostage, and eventually slowed down enough to find his way to Texas, where he set up a shipyard.

In time, he married a genuine rocket scientist, who programmed and ran the space shuttle’s simulator. She was so good that they called her back to NASA to choreograph the shuttle’s mission to repair the Hubble telescope. They ended up in Buford, Georgia, after a few more adventures, where he set up shop as a shipwright. There he builds and rebuilds boats for owners who shared his vision for doing a job right, whatever the time required and with minimal regard for cost. We shared many hours in that office, as I listened to stories about his life and travels, after which he would tell me how the boat repairs were going. I have to confess that I enjoyed those times so much that I let the work linger on for what became several years, because I didn’t want to lose the excuse for listening to more adventures.

Spirit required a few replaced ribs and a great many hull planks from the garboards to the waterline. In good time, she found a home back North, where she sails proudly in her grand tradition. I then proceeded to buy another boat that, not surprisingly, was in need of repair.

I have cycled through three boats since then, but I still make regular stops at that smoky shed to check in on my friend. I pet his spaniel, Sammy, and learn about his trips to exotic lands where he builds marinas. I learn how he taught famous seamen to sail and the racing picture of him that hangs in the Hong Kong Yacht Club. Sometimes now, I hear the same stories repeated again, but I never let on. I have something rich to show and keep from my midlife crisis. I provide a believing ear and receive in return the riches of a life I wish I could have lived.

Both he and the dog are growing old like me, but each has bright eyes and a sense of joy at seeing me drop by for a visit. In spite of all his accomplishments, he values most the validation of others he respects. It is a pleasure for me to serve that role and to dream that someday, I will have stories to tell, like his own, and perhaps another aging wooden boat to continue our saga.

 

Len first developed cancer in 2000.  He outlived his first surgeon, but began to succumb again to the disease about a year ago.  I came to spend more and more time with him as the months passed and drove him for treatments from time to time.  In his final days, his wife warmed me to be prepared because he was wasting rapidly.  I simply answered “he is my friend.”  I sat with him on the afternoon before he died.

He is gone now, but I still find myself wanting to plan my next visit, to ask him again about how he met Tristan Jones in the Azores and taught him to navigate, or how he found a picture of himself in the Hong Kong Yacht Club racing with the Union Jack flying from the stern of his wooden boat with a fleet of yachts behind.

I leave you with this:

 

Crossing the Bar

Alfred Lord Tennyson, 18091892

Sunset and evening star,  
  And one clear call for me!  
And may there be no moaning of the bar,  
  When I put out to sea,  
  
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,  
  Too full for sound and foam,  
When that which drew from out the boundless deep  
  Turns again home.  
  
Twilight and evening bell,  
  And after that the dark!     
And may there be no sadness of farewell,  
  When I embark;  
  
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place  
  The flood may bear me far,  
I hope to see my Pilot face to face  
  When I have cross’d the bar. 



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Evolving Values

We are experiencing a daily parade of men accused of sexual misconduct, ranging from rape and trafficking to unwelcome physical contact.  There maybe two sides to a few of the stories, but probably not most.  We hear much about the ones in which the men are, or have been, in prominent positions from which they have now fallen precipitously far.  There are undoubtedly many, many more instances that we will never hear of and that will probably not result in anything like the swift justice that we hear about in the daily news.

This post is not to address the topic of sex in the workplace itself, although having served as counsel for a sales company, I have heard and had to deal with too many examples.  I am more interested for now in how society comes to develop a new, shared ethic over an issue that has lived in the background for years or generations.

The philosopher Hegel proposed that society develops through a process in which a thesis develops, leading to an antithesis, and resulting in a synthesis or shared and higher social state of mind.  Hegel’s premise has suffered from having been later associated with Nazi ideology and is certainly a simplistic perspective of history, but his thoughts may still be useful as we look at how shared values evolve.

Bear with me on this, because I think that we are living in one of those moments in which our collective social conscience is rising above its past.

I’ve often wondered how society has turned upon things it has long accepted, rationalized, tolerated or simply ignored and developed a new and largely shared ethic.  The examples are many and interesting.

My grandmother could not vote until 1920 and the reasons for rationalizing male-only voting now seem laughable.  Prior to that, slavery was justified by ever-failing rationale after rationale, which required an horrific civil war to resolve, at least in name, America’s original sin.

Segregation of the races was the norm in my parent’s formative years, but it fell as its injustices were exposed by the brave and dedicated who stood for their antithesis against what we all, I trust, despise.  As a marker in time, I cringe at the thought that when I became of age, the marriage between my wife and I would have technically been against the law in my state.

Tobacco smoking, perhaps even more addictive than the lie of racial superiority, took generations to rise in our consciousness to being publicly shunned and legally discouraged. Pedophilia among the clergy also took much too long to expose.

Gay and, more recently, transgender rights have risen to the call for full recognition.  We had a transgender student who broke down in tears with me over rejections from firms who were not ready to accept a talented candidate different than the past.

I think about other issues we are facing today and many others waiting for their overdue moments.  Environmental sustainability certainly is timely, if not too late.  The consolidation of wealth and the essential need for a rising philanthropic ethic are concerns we should all address, whatever our station.

As relates to the abuse of power for sex, the field of politics remains a place where the mighty have not yet fallen as precipitously as in other areas.  I fear that we no longer expect the elected to have even the most basic character standards.

Still, when we look back at this year, it would be good to note what incident triggered the change in our shared values.  It may have been Harvey Weinstein that galvanized women into speaking out.

The fact that so much has come out without meaningful government action is troubling on one level, but it also demonstrates that we can accomplish good things without a fully functioning government.  All has yet to be said, but this is something to think about.

 

 

 

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The Last Word

After all is said and done, more is said than done.

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