A 1704 year old tree

5-22-2019

Today Suzanne and I walked the University of Arizona campus. We do this often because it’s beautiful and there’s a coffee shop nearby that has wonderful almond croissants. During our walk, we came upon a campus building we’d never seen – The Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. When you walk into the lobby, the first thing you see is a slice of a 1704 year-old Redwood tree. The tree began it’s life in 211 A D. It fell to the ground in 1915.

Okay you might say, it’s an old tree, so what? It’s much more than an old tree. The tree represents a time period of worldwide immense progress and immense evil. If you Google events that happened in 211 AD, you’ll see that Emperor Septimius Severus of Rome died and his two sons Caracalla and Geta succeed him as joint Roman Emperors. Again, maybe a so what moment. What has happened in the 1700 years since then ? Some amazing events – The Crusades, The Magna Carta, Joan of Arc, The Industrial Revolution, The American Revolutionary War, American Civil War, World Wars I & II, man landed on the moon. Other events of smaller magnitude, electric power, nuclear power, the automobile and airplane, and of course the i-phone. Okay maybe pretty significant after all.

What else occurred? America was re-discovered by Columbus and millions of the native peoples were killed or died of disease. Millions of slaves were brought to this country. A civil war was fought and more than 600,000 people died. In total, it’s estimated that more than 1,260,000 Americans have died in Wars. Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 108 million people have died in wars during the 20th. century. Famine and disease run rampant across this planet. I will stop with this.

Yes, there has been amazing strides in history and there has been unspeakable terror during the same period of time. And I don’t know how I feel about where we are today. It seems too easy to pick up my smart phone and find these horrible facts. 108 million dead people due to war shows up feeling like a casual fact on a small screen.

Hundreds of millions of people have lived and died during the 1700 years that tree stood. Hundreds of millions of lives – people who have loved, raised families, worked, fought, prayed and died. It was amazing and somewhat overpowering to stand and look at it, realizing the history that passed during that tree’s life. It was humbling beyond belief. The immense goodness of mankind as well as the immense cruelty of that same species; it’s impossible to comprehend. As I ran my hand across those 17 centuries, I touched all of that history, the good and the evil. I somehow felt both the significance of my life and the insignificance at the same time. We are each part of that history. Perhaps we have a responsibility to do all we can to add to the good of mankind and to oppose all that is evil. And yet, I question do we really know the difference between the two?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Go Well – David

The Earth’s Air Conditioner

5-16-2019

Yesterday the Tucson temperature bumped up against 100 degrees. That was not so unusual for this area this time of year. The locals would say when it gets hot you get chores done early and then stay indoors. The warm weather and absence of snow is one of the biggest reasons for our move to Arizona. I can say without hesitation that I’ve never missed a day of Minnesota winter.

I’ve started reading a book by Gretel Ehrlich. It’s title – In the Empire of Ice. Having just started it, I can’t say yet if I will like it as much as another of her books, entitled The Solace of Open Spaces. I would recommend it highly.

I had only gotten to page fifteen of the introduction to the new book, when I was stopped cold in my tracks. I am a firm believer in the concept of our earth’s climate change. The research and the volume of like-minded credible scientists leave in my mind no doubt that our climate is changing, and not for the better. To blatantly dismiss what is occurring is to be na├»ve beyond belief.

There is no doubt that what’s occurring is a complicated and difficult science. For those like me who are not trained in science, it’s almost beyond my ability to comprehend the facts. This is why what Ehrlich wrote in her book introduction caught my attention. Many of us have heard the meaning of the acronym KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. I recall that Carl Sagan wrote about the cosmos in a manner simple enough that most lay people could understand. And in three sentences, Ehrlich has done the same thing.

“Artic ice, including sea ice, glacier ice, permafrost, and ice sheets, drives the entire planet’s climate. Weather systems are global, and the Artic is the natural air conditioner for the entire Earth. Its seasonal blankets of snow and ice send solar radiation-heat-back into space, thus keeping our Earth temperate.”

We understand air conditioning, you turn it on when it gets hot, you turn it off when it is cool. Where is the switch for the world’s air conditioning system? Living in Arizona, I know very well what happens when the AC system leaks or runs out of Freon. The Artic is rapidly running out of it’s own form of Freon, the ice is melting at a level never before recorded by man. If we don’t make the necessary repairs to our planet, our cooling system will be beyond repair.

One last thought. There are those who make foolish and uninformed statements about climate change. A U S Senator stood in the Senate Chamber and proudly held a snowball, arguing that proved there is no climate change. There are others who say making the changes needed will bankrupt our country, or if the rest of the world won’t change, why should we.

So to me here is the gamble. If those of us who believe in climate change are wrong, life goes on and resources spent in making changes were unnecessary. But what if we are correct, and the people of the planet do nothing. We become one more species that will become extinct. It won’t happen in my lifetime, I’m old. Maybe not even in the lifetime of my sons. It will effect the lives of my grandchildren in ways unimaginable. I’m not willing to remain silent about this matter. My grandchildren deserve better of us.

All we need to know about this and the simple message of Gretel Ehrlich – The Artic is the Earth’s air conditioner and that system is disappearing at a rate beyond our comprehension. That’s all we really need to understand.

“I have long understood that climate change is not only an environmental issue-it is a humanitarian, economic, health, and justice issue as well.” Frances Beinecke

Go Well – David

My Zippo Lighter

5-2-2019

A friend of mine and I have decided to give a talk about being veterans of the Vietnam war. In starting preparations for the talk, I asked my son to send me a couple of mementos from my military past.

He sent two things I had requested. One item, my Combat Medical Badge. It is one of the few things that I’ve always been proud of from those days. It was earned by doing something positive in a period of time marked by death and destruction. As a medic, my job was to provide care for those who had been wounded or were ill. My job was to be a healer, not a killer, and I was awarded that distinction for doing my job. I was given other medals, but none have given me the same sense of pride. Many men and women suffered far more than I, and they deserve recognition far and above any given to me.

In addition to the CMB, my son sent me the Zippo lighter I carried for that year. I would guess that the vast majority of soldiers serving in Vietnam had a Zippo lighter. I would also guess many of them had the same saying engraved upon them.

“When the Power of Love Overcomes the Love of Power, Then There Will Be Peace.”

That quote has been attributed to Jimi Hendrix, although it was first said by the British statesman, William Gladestone. I suspect more grunts in Vietnam preferred that Jimi said it.

It was, and still is, somewhat odd to again hold that lighter. Next year it will have been 50 years since I boarded that plan and flew into a man made hell. I was 22 years old, thinner of waist and longer of hair in those days. I look at photos of that time and it’s hard to imagine I was once that young. I look at pictures of the men I served with and wonder about their lives, I wonder how many are still alive and I wonder how the war affected them. Some of those men were the best humans I’ve ever met, and some of them were despicable people. Maybe it was the war that shaped how we behaved. The Zippo feels smaller in my hand than I remember it feeling in those days. Maybe it’s because I feel smaller than I once felt. Maybe it’s because so many years later, I have a more realistic view of what life brings. Maybe it’s because it feels like all of these years later, the love of power is still a stronger motivator of mankind. Maybe it will take another 50 years and a new generation of people to make the power of love the stronger force. I hold out hope.

“All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.”

John Steinbeck

Go Well – David

What Do We Deserve?

4-22-2019

A friend of mine recently said he asked his teenager when it wasn’t okay to lie. The response was -“When you’re in court .” A reasonable answer. At a minimum it sets a foundation for honesty. Many years ago my boss told me I needed to lie about an issue with one of my employees. I asked him if it would then also be okay to lie to him, since he had encouraged that for someone I supervised. He said no, I shouldn’t lie to him. I quit the position soon after.

So now we fast forward to the Spring of 2019 and I wonder what we as a population of 300 + million people think about being constantly lied to. It seems that it is in vogue to be lied to by certain members of our elected officials. In one instance the total number of lies has been counted in the thousands. And yet there are those who simply respond, “They all do it.” And maybe to some degree that is true. But I can’t help but wonder why we accept that there’s nothing wrong with being lied to by our government. Who else do we so readily accept not being told the truth?

My first real experience with this form of leadership came when I was in my early twenties and a soldier in Vietnam. This country was nightly shown the images of young soldiers being brought home in body bags, while at the same time being told that we were winning the war. As the war drug on, the lies became more frequent and more absurd. In the end we simply quit the war, after 55,000 Americans and countless millions of North and South Vietnamese were killed. We accepted “Peace with honor.” We flew our people back to the states and left the people of South Vietnam to fend for themselves after the North Vietnamese took over. There is now irony that we are on such good terms with the country that defeated us. I guess our memories are short when we get to buy cheap junk made by others. Another irony is we were told we had to go to Vietnam to prevent Communism from spreading. Last I checked, Vietnam is a communist country.

But Vietnam was only a step along the road. Certainly before and after that we have often been lied to. Let’s not forget the Iran-Contra tales; and should we continue to give the Bush-Cheney folks a free pass on the certainty of those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? But what the heck, just another little war to get stuck with. Anyone want to take a stab at why we really went to war in Iraq and have been in Afghanistan for more than a decade? Does anyone have a clear idea why?

So I ask, why do we so readily accept the daily lies? I have a friend that is a deep to the bone supporter of the new administration. He once said to me “I’ve never in my life been more proud to be an American.” And I’m glad he’s proud, but I’ve never heard him say why, except that the economy is good and he wants to protect our borders. Another person I know, a fine church going Christian, told me she doesn’t care about a leader’s moral life or about lies. I didn’t have the courage to ask what she did care about.

So in the end, maybe I’m wrong about all of this. Maybe we shouldn’t expect our elected officials to be honest. Maybe we shouldn’t hold them to the same standard that we hold our young children. Maybe it’s no more important to believe that our democracy has been attacked by a foreign government then it is to believe our grandson when he says he didn’t eat the cookie before dinner. Call me skeptical, but when someone has to tell me over and over again to trust them, I usually get a little bit concerned about what’s going to follow.

“He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it the second time.”

Thomas Jefferson

Go Well, David

A Thing is Right

4-2-2019

I’m in the process of reading Aldo Leopold’s book, A Sand County Almanac. It was published in 1949, the year after my birth. This book is considered by many to be second in stature only to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden in American nature writing. No sentimental naturalist, Leopold was a graduate of Yale Forestry School; yet his writing reads as the poetry of Yeats or Dickenson.

Although 70 years old, his book reads as important as it did when first released. In truth, it reads far more important today. We live in a period where greed unabashedly towers over nature and beauty and the lust to build and profit laughs at the destruction of our planet. One of Leopold’s most important statements says – “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Can we believe, can we trust that this concept is how we live and are governed in this country?

Does it matter how we choose to live our individual lives? Does it matter that we fill our waste dumps with millions of tons of fast-food wrappers and plastic water bottles. When it’s to troublesome to use the trash container, do we use the planet as our trash bin? Are we foolish to think that we can be satisfied in having what we need and still take care of where we live? Will we ever stop wanting more, simply because we want more?

Some months back I saw a gigantic pickup truck that had in four inch letters on the back window. It said, “Proudly burning the gas your hybrid is saving.” I want someone to explain to me what kind of person believes this. Do we feel so entitled to waste, simply because we think we can afford it?

What inspired me to write this tirade was a quote from Leopold. “I have read many definitions of a conservationist, and written not a few myself, but I suspect that the best one is written not with a pen, but with an axe. It is a matter of what a man thinks about while chopping, or while deciding what to chop. A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land. Signatures of course differ, whether written with axe or pen, and this is how it should be.”

So it seems we each have to decide how our signatures will look. Few of us chop wood these days and yet, we still make decisions each day on what to save, what to destroy and how comfortable are we with the personal signature that we leave behind.

Go Well, David

Two Men

3-22-2019

There are 7,650,000,000 people on the planet and approximately half of them are men. This brief note is about two of those nearly four billion males.

One man was born of a Syrian family. A family that moved from Syria, to the Philippines and eventually to the United States. He became a pharmacist after attending the University of Texas. He couldn’t afford text books, so he did the homework of other students in order to be able to read class assignments.

This man spoke five languages fluently. He, along with his sister and brother-in-law ran a small pharmacy in downtown San Antonio, Texas for more than forty-five years. He worked seven days a week to provide for his family and for the education of his two daughters. He was always soft spoken, polite to everyone and appreciative of the smallest things in his life. I once heard him say over and over how comfortable a pair of inexpensive shoes felt. We knew it wasn’t their comfort that made him happy, it was because his one of his daughters had given them to him.

That daughter tells a story that occurred when she was young. A man of Asian decent came into the pharmacy and after he left, the daughter asked her father “Who was that Chinese man?” In a kind manner, her father responded, “He is not Chinese, he’s Japanese. Never out of ignorance step on another man’s neck to make yourself look taller.” It was not a scolding, it was a lesson being taught by a kind man to his young daughter. She has never forgotten that lesson.

Family, kindness, understanding, acceptance, contentment and gentleness marked that man’s life. I knew him for twenty years and I never once heard him say a negative word about another human being. Not once.

Then there is a second man. A man I’ve never personally met, a man I’ve only seen and heard on TV or read about. This man has every trapping and advantage any human could ever imagine. Power, wealth, possessions and notoriety. His name is known in every country in the world.

And yet, with all that I’ve described, he appears to be endlessly unhappy. Rather than kindness and acceptance, he speaks of others with disdain and villainy. Rather than be content with his degree of wealth, it seems that there is never enough of anything in his life. Not enough money. Not enough adoration. Not enough power. Not enough praise. Not enough credit. Never enough.

The first man I’ve written about pushed everything that was good within him, outwards. He gave everything he had to others and never expected anything in return. The second man takes until there is nothing left, and then demands more. Loyalty is a one way street and it points inward. Blame is always directed away, and credit is always taken in. The first man I’ve described was always easy with a smile, easy with a compliment and generous to a fault. The second man seems to wear a scowl as a mask, compliments are given with a string of attachments and everything in life is subject to winning and to others losing.

I know I’m far more blessed to have known the first man.

“Unless generosity of spirit prevails among men, there can never be

upon earth an ideal life.” Orison Sweet Marden

Go well, David

When Then vs. Now

3-13-2019

This morning I met again with a dear friend of mine for coffee and conversation. Jack and I meet every two weeks, and even at my advanced age, he has become something of a mentor to me. Our conversation seems to always move towards important personal issues. I was lamenting about making big plans and then having conflicts regarding completing them.

I was reminded of my days as a counselor. I had a term for people that were always looking forward in their lives and having difficulties living in the here and now . I called them “When-Then” people. It was not meant to be derogatory, but more descriptive. Here is how it went. “When I move to Seattle, I’ll be happy.” or “When I get my degree, then I’ll get a satisfying job.” or “When the kids are grown up, then I can start playing golf.” You get my point.

Another therapist friend once told a story of one of his clients. The client had been involved in several affairs with women other than his wife. He went to my friend for counseling. In one session the client said something to the effect of, “I want to stop this behavior.” My friend responded, “Okay, so from this moment on, you’ll agree that you will have no more affairs or one-night stands.” The client paused and then responded, “No, I’m going on a business trip this week, I’ll stop when I get back.” These are obviously not the exact words, but are probably close. A more common example: I’m starting a diet tomorrow, but tonight I get to eat all I want, pass the chocolate cake.” In both examples, there’s some doubt about the honest commitment to change.

How does this relate to me? I’m the first in line to say – I want to loose weight. – I want to run another half-marathon. – I want to spend more time writing. – I want to eat a plant based diet. But somehow after writing pages of goals, creating schedules and checking out books from the library on the issues, I then have my own version of “When then.”

Jack asked me to do something while we were chatting. “Get up, walk to the water fountain and get a drink, then come back here.” I did what I was told. His point? Just get up and do something, start, pay attention to it and keep on doing it until it becomes part of me. On my way home, I thought about his words. I like the term Mindfulness. Paying attention to the NOW not what I want in the future, not to be a when-then person. Wise words on the part of my wise friend.

So, I’m going to be a more mindful Now person. You may notice I didn’t say I’m going to “try” to be a more mindful person, I’m going to be more mindful. I’m going to stop, be mindful and then follow through, one small step at a time. Now is all I have, I don’t have the past and I don’t have the future. I have only what we all have only – now.

I cannot think myself into a new way of living, I have to live my way
into a new way of thinking.” Claude Anshin Thomas

Go well, David