Christmas Is Killing Me

Posted on December 21st, 2011 in Personal | No Comments »

Every year I consider writing about Christmas, but put it off until it’s too late. This year I seem to be rolling along a little farther down the path. Let’s see how far I can get.

As a child, whenever I would see some reworking of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, I would always wonder about the spirit of Christmas Future. The other two ghosts who come to visit Scrooge are obvious enough. The ghost of Christmas Past is shown as an angelic figure (male or female), and Christmas Present looks a lot like Bacchus, the God of Wine.

But the ghost of Christmas Future (or Christmas Yet To Come) is a black-robed grim reaper-like figure. Why should this be so? True, he does show Scrooge a possible vision of the future that foresees his own death, but are there other reasons? I think so.

Leaving aside the blatantly obvious faces of Xmas (birth of Christ, Saturnalia, the economic boost, etc.), Christmas is about death. Set only days after the beginning of Winter and the longest night of the year, the holidays are a solemn reminder of the transience of Man. Many of us can remember particular Christmas events, even when most of the rest of the year fades into a blur. It’s a time to stop and mark time, especially as one gets older. With more than a half-century of Christmas Days under my belt, I can easily recall specific ones – particular gifts, funny memories, sad times, etc.

While children revel in the materialistic aspects of the day, older adults look back and recall family members who are no longer around. When I was growing up, it seemed my family would last forever. But of course, eventually the child becomes the adult and leaves to start a new family. The older members pass on, and the cycle continues anew. I’ve lost more than one member of my family in December as well, which makes the absence at this festive time of year particularly difficult at times. I continue to mourn their loss, and a portion of my childhood is gone with them forever.

One of the most memorable aspect of Christmas to me has always been the music. The happy-go-lucky fun of Jingle Bells, the quasi-Medieval feel of We Three Kings of Orient Are, or the Victorian blunderbuss of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, I love ’em all. But it wasn’t until I heard a version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas by a New York City Gay Men’s Choir, that I really understood it:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on,
our troubles will be miles away.

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.

Some day soon
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow
(Hang a shining star upon the highest bough).
And have yourself A merry little Christmas now.

I realized that the choir were singing about friends lost to AIDS. It’s a sad little song about loss and loneliness. The shining stars are the people you love who are gone, and they are terribly missed. It never fails to make me cry now, because it’s a stark reminder of those I’ve lost.

And that’s why the ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is a figure of death. I still love the holidays, the music, the decorating, the presents. It’s one small moment every year when the ideas of peace and family and goodwill are at least given lip service, which is more than they see any other day. A day to share with family and loved ones, to grow those fond memories for the next generation. While the religious value of Xmas fades away, it’s still an important day, and must always be so.

But as individuals, as we age, it’s also a day to stop and take a look back. To hang that shining star on the highest bough. To remember.

Have yourself a Merry little Christmas now.

God Is A Concept

Posted on February 22nd, 2011 in Religion | 2 Comments »

I suppose, in the words of Stephen Fry, it’s time I nailed my colours to the mast. I am a card-carrying member of the British Humanist Association (BHA), and I am at a point in my life where I have totally rejected religion. Probably no surprise to anyone (anyone?) who’s read through this online collection of musings. But I never came out and really said it before. Altho I have said that religion is one of the most dangerous evils we face today.

And by that, I mean that religion is a force that has always divided people, and been the cause of a great deal of suffering and death. The rising up of different sects, on through the Crusades, the Reformation, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, 9/11, 7/7 and so on. We have killed the Jews, killed the Christians, killed the infidels, the non-believers, the unfaithful, etc., and so on, and so on. Children in many religious schools throughout the world today are taught to hate people who do not believe the same things they are taught; science and evolution are “wrong”, and outmoded religious texts are all they need.

At one time, religion was important; when human understanding of the world was insufficient to explain the workings of nature, religion offered a framework that people of those eras could fathom. Today we use fairy tales to explain concepts like sharing, manners, and basic scientific concepts. However, civilization has grown up in the past few thousand years, and we should no longer rely on fairy tales to explain to adults how the world works. Our technology is sophisticated enough to delve deeply into natural phenomena, and dispense with a god who hides behind supernatural magic and demands constant devotion.

Let’s briefly mention god here. I consider myself more agnostic than atheist. I feel that it comes down to one of two possibilities – either nothing, or something beyond what most people consider god. If nothing, then you die, and that’s it. Your consciousness is gone forever. Brutal, but possibly true. In which case the whole idea of religion is a useless waste of precious time.

If there is a god, then it is totally unlike the standard idea of god, i.e. an old man in the sky. A real god would be the total sum of all things in existence; galaxies to subatomic particles, including you and me. We would all be part of god, no more or less divine than any savior or prophet. Experiences after physical death would be more, much more than just going to Heaven or Valhalla or even Nirvana. The Bible, Koran or Bhagvhad-Gita could no more explain it than you could explain the Star Wars saga on a grain of rice.

So whichever way it is, religion is a remnant of our collective childhood that we cannot bear to dispense with. But now it no longer helps us deal with existence, it hinders our ability to comprehend the true nature of reality. The Universe is a fascinating place, and each of us truly precious and unique. Religion suffocates us, and blinds us to the real wonders of the Cosmos. We do not need the illusion of god to shield us from what’s out there, or divide us from each other in our lonely journey on this planet.

The ‘true believers’ always condemn such talk, and try to find fault with ‘proof’ of solid theories, like evolution. “Where’s the proof we evolved from apes?” is one popular cry. “How can you prove the Earth is as old as you say? is another. It becomes a pointless exercise, since people like this will not admit the proof when it stares them in the face. I was involved in a discussion like this once with a very religious co-worker. “What’s the proof?” he would ask.

“What about the fossils?”, I replied.

“What fossils?”

It’s very clear that we have a good overall record of how humans evolved. There may be quibbles over the details, but the proof is in the fossil record. For other animals, such as horses, the fossils are nearly complete and tell the story very well. But if you don’t believe in the proof when it’s shown to you, what will it take? My co-worker had no knowledge whatsoever about the details of the obvious evolution of Homo left behind in the rocks. If you don’t know how your supermarket shelves are restocked each night, you might as well believe elves do it.

And there’s certainly more proof for things like evolution than a garden of Eden. It strikes me as odd that people who are willing to believe superstition on faith will always demand ‘proof’ of any evidence to the contrary.

They will also try to point out that our moral codes, the rules that govern our societies, were fashioned by god and given to us so that we might lead ‘good’ lives. Anyone who rejects this is ‘bad’, ‘immoral’ or ‘anarchic’. This is of course, utter nonsense. Morality was devised by human beings, not a supreme being. I don’t need god to live a moral life. I’m not worried about divine retribution.

It may be asking too much that people who are raised not to think for themselves suddenly have a blinding flash of insight and reject the beliefs of their family and immediate society. But it does happen, nearly every day. Will religion ever really go away? I don’t know. At various points in the past, concepts like slavery, the oppression of women, the ridicule of homosexuals were all firmly entrenched. While they all still exist today, their standings are decidedly less sure, if not outright wobbly. It is my hope as a Humanist that one day the notion of religion is discarded as an outmoded archaic way of thinking. One that’s no longer relevant in the modern world. Standing up to religion, seeing it for the pack of lies it really is, and raising our children to be good members of society without all the mumbo-jumbo is of the utmost urgency.

The Non-Anonymous Future

Posted on August 18th, 2010 in Personal | No Comments »

First of all, let me say right off the bat that I’ve been wrong before. When I was first informed about the nature of email, and blogging, I thought they were ridiculous concepts. I wasn’t remotely interested. I enjoyed sitting down to write long letters. I’ve since discovered that my letters were long because they were ponderous and boring. I didn’t understand why anyone would bother writing what amounted to a diary on the Internet. Surely a personal journal is by its very nature a private matter, to be found after death and published to great posthumous fame. Or tossed out in the trash. Heck, the first time I saw a web page for a new car, I couldn’t believe it.

And yet, and yet. Here I am, compulsive emailer, sometimes blogger and owner of many websites, some a lot smaller in concept than a new car. So my track record is not good on predicting future trends. I admit that. But (and you knew there would be one, didn’t you?), I am currently drawing the line at the current craze lumped under the messy heading “social networking”. For anyone reading this (heh) who’s even more of a Luddite than I am, it’s the frantic desire to connect to everyone you know and deliver the minutiae of your life, literally moment by moment. Socal Networking takes many forms, starting with mobile phones.

I remember the first time I saw someone with a portable phone in a restaurant; a fellow in a group with a somewhat bulky bag slung under his shoulder, and a handset that looked like a walkie-talkie out of WWII, except in black instead of camouflage. And of course it rang as they were sitting at dinner, and he got to show everyone around what a trend-setter he was. It seems laughable now, when everybody walks around like zombies, talking to themselves about where they are in the mall (“I’m walking by the bookstore now, and nearly up to the shoe store. Now I’ve passed the shoe store and can see the vitamin shop off to my right…”).  Those who are not actually speaking are instead texting out into the void.

I have nothing to say to anyone that’s so important. I don’t have a mobile, which sends people who try to get me to change my mobile service into paroxysms. I suspect they don’t believe me. After going on about how they can save me money, and how concerned they are that I’m spending so much, their concern evaporates when  I suggest that they pay for me to have a mobile, so I can save a lot more.

The next step in the social networking universe was sites to share information, such as Digg. I still don’t understand how this works. If I like a website for whatever reason, I click a button. Somehow this informs other people, who I assume are just clueless, and a site can be more or less put into a bottle and cast adrift on a great social network ocean. Who actually goes to these sites, other than spammers? Hmm, I wonder if there are any good movie review websites? I’ll surf over to Digg and find out. Why not go to a search engine and type “movie reviews”? The system just seems cumbersome and over-complex.

After that, the world went nuts for Twitter. You can tweet, or type a 150-character message which other people can be informed about. People can subscribe to your tweets, so every time you announce that you’ve gone to the bathroom, or espied a bodacious babe, someone on the other side of the world can keep abreast of it. How dull is your life that you have to get up-to-the-minute bulletins about someone else like this? The most common tweet would seem to be: I am tweeting. The content may be different, but the message is the same. And I don’t care. I do have a Twitter account, but mainly to reserve the name. I’ve never sent a tweet, nor am I subscribed to receive any.

Finally, the nadir of social networking is now Facebook. When the Internet first became popular, there were great concerns about being tracked by legions of faceless Big Brothers. The privacy of the populace must be protected at all costs! The privacy was of course, mainly to look at online porn, which is no doubt why lawmakers were so eager to embrace privacy restrictions. But now you have Facebook, where people rush in a great mania to proclaim their private information in excruciating detail. Can websites of banking and medical details that are open to anyone be far behind? Why would anybody want a Facebook account? The irony is that in giving up their anonymity, people may be just another commodity, where any individual is shielded from glare by the overwheming crush of sheer numbers.

This idea of course, is utter nonsense. Computers can effortlessly weed any single person out of the chaos of the multitude. Governments have computers, and so do criminals. And with laptops full of personal information being lost almost daily on some street somewhere, we are probably already in an age where nobody can hide. Centuries ago, the idea of privacy was unheard of. Even the rich and noble lived surrounded by entourages. The poor simply huddled together for warmth like they always do.  The Internet is a true revolution in our lifetimes. I use it daily, and have come to depend on it for many things. But not social networking. In the great march of progress for our species after a million years, the concept of ‘privacy’ may be one day seen as just a passing conceit, put paid by the Internet.

But I still won’t get a Facebook page.

Of Palestrina, Cathedrals, and God

Posted on September 26th, 2009 in Religion | No Comments »

Tonight I was listening to some masses by Palestrina, whom I was turned on to recently by a show on sacred music. Palestrina (d. 1594) was in service to the Pope for most of his career, singing in the Sistine Chapel choir, and writing great polyphonic choral music for church services.

Listening to music like this, the mind can’t help but wander back to the great cathedrals these pieces were meant to be heard in. I’ve been to quite a few fantastic cathedrals in my time – Westminster, St. Pauls (both in London), Salisbury, Lincoln, York Minster, Beverly Minster, and one of the greatest of them all, Canterbury, to name a few. I find them fascinating buildings, living reminders of a time and a people long gone to us now. How many generations of pilgrims have I followed in who have stood at the spot of the Martyrdom, or viewed the crooked tower of Lincoln? I gaze in awe at the English coronation throne, used by nearly every British king and queen since the 1300’s. Yes, covered in carved schoolboy graffiti now, but there sat Henry the Eighth; his daughter Elizabeth (at whose tomb I still genuflect); Edward IV, winner of the Wars of the Roses; Henry VI, who lost those wars (and his life); George III, the ‘tyrant’ of the American colonies, and so on. All of them sat in that nasty little chair.

The whole point of these giant churches, with their soaring naves and acres of stained glass, was to worship and glorify God. The music of Palestrina, its effortless grace and stirring complexity, was also created to celebrate a creator who returned to Earth in human form, and will supposedly return at the end of days.

But I venerate these lovely old piles and beautiful voices blended in harmony for a different reason. These are fantastic objects created by the mind and reason of man. The builders, authors, architects and musicians may be worshiping a deity, but I worship the ability of the human beings who left us these monuments in stone and song. The talent and creativity of those people reach across the centuries to us, and on into the future. How simply, utterly wonderful.

In some cathedrals you can take tours up into hidden parts, to see things that most tourists don’t get to see. Things like the walkway over the roof of the nave in Lincoln; it’s like walking over great piles of rubbish, except those are the arches towering 80ft. or more above the ground. The great chain Wren wound around the inner dome of St. Paul’s, to make sure it would be strong enough to resist the weight of the outer dome it has to bear forever. Towers with their endless tiny spiral staircases lined with rough-hewn rope banisters, or the narrow walkways, with openings cut into the columns, far up above the gentry below, threading through the church walls like stone blood vessels. I’d love to spend the night in Westminster, with a set of keys to all these little doors barring me from the exciting bits.

While the aim of the creators of these hulking emissaries from another time may have been to remind themselves (or us) of God, the message I hear from them loud and clear instead is, “Remember Us”. And so I think not of some supernatural being who may or may not exist at all, but of the flesh and blood stone masons, or woodcarvers, glassblowers, painters, composers, and all the rest.  I know they existed. Sir Christopher Wren, the designer and builder of St. Paul’s, is buried in a very nondescript little corner of the crypt of that great palace of religion. The Latin inscription over his tomb slab would suffice for all the builders of the great cathedrals:  “If you seek his monument, look around”.

The Headless Cow

Posted on June 18th, 2009 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

I was thinking today about the efforts to grow skin in the laboratory. It’s a worthwhile endeavour, mainly for things like burn victims, etc. It got me started wondering about growing animal skin as well. At some point in the future I imagine that we will have enough knowledge of the genome and cloning to really begin to design custom-made life. Imagine being able to grow leather in a petri dish. It might even eventually be cheaper to do than having to nurture and deal with the whole animal, only to kill it and strip it of its flesh for our belts and handbags and shoes.

Before going any further, I will state for the record that I do eat meat, and do not feel guilty about it. Other animals eat meat, humans are clearly omnivorous, end of story. However I do believe that most of us eat way too much meat, and animals should not be forced to suffer unduly or in a cruel manner. This post is not about animal testing, so I will refrain from offering an opinion one way or another about that subject.

At any rate, once I began ruminating about football fields of cowhide, growing without the cow, I took the next step. What about one day growing meat? Once we truly understand how to control the DNA of  complex creatures like cattle, why not focus on the parts we want, and turn off the things we don’t need? Eliminate the brain, the limbs (or at least the hooves), the horns, probably even the internal organs. We could just grow meat (with as few bones as required), in vats of nutrient solutions. And with cloning, there could be huge farms of steaks, chops, etc., all identical.

While this may conjure up bizarre images of grotesque bovine mutants, cared for by robots a la the human energy farms seen in The Matrix, it may be more effective than the current approach. No need for grazing land, no need to find use for the extra bits (yes, I know the hooves, horns and offal go into things like animal feed and hot dogs, but that’s probably more to do with having the raw material around to begin with).

And since so much of our resources and concerns, from food and water to global warming is currently tied up in grazing land, animal feed, shelter, etc., it would be important that the system used in creating and maintaining these new Animal-less farms be less demanding of resources, greener in output than our current models.

Of course, we’re a long way from having huge tanks of brainless, legless meat being grown to feed the masses, but it sounds like something that should be possible eventually. I’m wondering where people who take a stand on ethical rights and treatment for animals would feel about it. One of their arguments include the glib line, “never eat anything with a face”. Howabout with no head at all? Cloned meat is probably blurring the line of what an ‘animal’ is. But it wouldn’t be suffering, or exploited (at least not as an animal, the product certainly would be). Would people who oppose eating meat for these reasons be tempted back to hamburgers and sausages?

It’s a fascinating idea, and I don’t have a clue as to how they would respond. To my coldly logical thinking, it would be the best of both worlds – plenty of protein-laden food, and whole herds of beasts spared the chop. The question arises then, would we need so many cows and pigs and sheep? The answer would be no, but I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t just let their numbers dwindle naturally to a smaller representative population.

Still, in a world where people think GM crops are the work of the devil, who knows what kind of debates would rage regarding this.

Always Groovy

Posted on April 23rd, 2009 in Personal | 2 Comments »

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a child of the 60’s. It was my decade, and it shaped the person I became many years later. I was too young to recall where I was the day Kennedy was shot, but I do remember the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. I grew up very close to the Space Center in Florida, so of course I remember the moon landing. I remember the launch, watching it go up into a beautiful sunny sky, and thinking to myself “I must remember this”.

The 1960’s, from my perspective, started with the death of JFK, leading quickly to Beatlemania. They ended on election night in 1972, with the defeat of George McGovern, and any chance the youth of America felt they had in putting their convictions to the test. Nixon continued to reign, and everybody hunkered down and put themselves first for awhile.

While I was only a child for the entire decade (having instead to spend my teenage years in the 70’s, living with Disco), watching footage from that era leaves me feeling very nostalgic. I accepted the world around me like any youngster, be it Beverly Hills, Hanoi, Biloxi or Beruit. The long hair, the clothing, most of all the music, filling me, leaving its imprint upon my soul. I had a Nehru jacket at seven (with black-frame glasses and about a quarter-inch of hair closely-cropped around my skull). Woodstock passed me by, but the film now is oddly familiar in a way that Lollapalooza never could have been.

By the 80’s of course, the world had moved on to corporate greed and the ‘me generation’. By today’s standards even that was a gentle, naive time. I’ve seen the sixties dream torn to shreds, first by Watergate, then cocaine, punk, crack, Reagan, Bush, 9/11 and Iraq. People who missed it all roll their eyes when talk turns to old hippies, probably much like we lampooned ‘rebels’ in the 50′, or those wacky young men in the Roaring Twenties, with their Dagwood Bumstead hair and raccoon coats, swallowing goldfish or piling into phone booths. Kids today are so much more hip (or so they like to think).

But I don’t care. The idealism of those days still burns inside of me, and I’m sure many others. Even if the leaders grew old and disillusioned, the kids who hung out with them, watching and wanting to be like them, still carry the torch they dropped so long ago. Some years ago I recall reading a magazine article about parents who were also Beatles fans, and how they were ‘living Beatle lives, and raising Beatle kids’. And that’s true, I’ve seen that with my own eyes. It makes me terribly proud for some reason, that in the face of all the postmodern doubt about the world, families are still telling their kids about a band that once, long ago, ruled the world.

In spite of all the terrible bad around us today, the small glimmer of hope that shone on the faces of kids with flowers in their hair is still here with us, even if most of the hair is gone. I believe in the sixies dream, and always will, until my last breath. I am a child of the 60’s; peace and love.

Teletubbies say Hello, Brave New World

Posted on March 16th, 2009 in Personal | 1 Comment »

Have you ever actually watched the Teletubbies? I have, many times, and even before I had a child. When I first saw the show, it was in a UK college dorm room around the late 90’s, not long after the show first premiered. It was like a train wreck, horrible, but I couldn’t stop watching it. It seemed mindless, a demented fantasy that somehow ended up being made, like Springtime for Hitler from The Producers. But I couldn’t take my eyes from it.

Some years later, I watched it again, after it had been shown in America, and denounced by Jerry Falwell of all people, for promoting homosexuality (because one of the Teletubbies, Tinky-Winky, carried a purse but had no definite sexual identity). I had a different take upon it by then. It struck me as an attempt to recapture the beautiful innocence of childhood, before the world took it away forever, as it does for nearly all of us. Most of the time I would actually cry by the end, as I felt it reach into my heart and call out to that long-ago-lost child whose memories I carry with me every day.

Then of course, the merchandising came, and I drifted away again, back to adult concerns.

One thing I’ve always thought about the Teletubbies, however, is that I firmly believe that in part the show is based on H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine. Teletubbies are the Eloi – the simple, dumber descendants of ourselves, far into the future. Wells’s time traveler goes forward and meets the Eloi, who are smaller, nonsexual beings who seem to have no real language, living a life of paradise without work or illness. Technology exists, but they cannot utilize it or create it. They are like children in a world created for them. But they cannot really learn, or grow or evolve. In short, Teletubbies.

Now of course, I have a child, and so I watch it yet again. She seems to like it very much, altho she prefers In the Night Garden, which is a sort of second-generation version (Teletubbies TNG, if you prefer). Maybe one day she’ll think back to it the same way I think back to Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent, or dear beloved Captain Kangaroo. Altho I didn’t notice back in the day how appallingly bad the production values were (thank you, YouTube). I guess she won’t have that problem in 30+ years, thanks to DVDs or whatever will replace them.

But I do wonder what her take will be – beloved childhood icons, dopy marketing figures, or a dark vision of the future of the human race?

The Prez and Me

Posted on March 10th, 2009 in Politics | No Comments »

Last year in some of my more political posts, I was certain that by this time, we would be living in a world where the United States was governed by a woman. How wrong I was. I also compared Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter. The jury is still out on that one.

My misgivings towards Obama were based on the impression he left me with that he believes his own press releases. I really feel he thinks he’s the chosen one, who will lead the world out of darkness and ignorance, and into a new age. Would that it were so. I freely admit that I would love to be proven wrong about the man; that in four or eight years, I write about how good he has been to the nation, and how much better off we are.

Sigh. There are already signs of a backlash in Congress, where Obama tried to reform the earmark system, and nearly had his economic rescue plan handed back to him on a silver platter (in place of his head). The American people seem prepared to give him unusually wide latitude, no doubt because they know the mess we’re in now is not really his fault. We can blame Bush and Cheney (the ‘one-man axis of evil’) for that. But at some point the tide may turn, then all his oratorial skills may do him little good.

I do agree with a lot of what he’s done – reversing Bush policy on things like stem cell research, refusing to turn a blind eye to torture, releasing previous administration reports that suggest suspending the Constitution in all but name is a good idea, etc. The allies of the US need to know they’re still backing the good guys. Putin and Pyongyang are talking tough, but how far will they go, really? Many feel they’re testing the new government, like Krushchev tested Kennedy.

But on the other hand, why is the Obama administration not interested in pursuing the legality of the warantless wire-tapping scandal? Why have three nominees had to withdraw from various appointments because of non-payment of tax? Doesn’t anybody learn? Doesn’t anybody vet these things? Obama seemed to suggest that it’s okay the head of the treasury can’t pay his taxes without media scrutiny. Would he have given McCain’s nominee the same free pass?

And before you ask, I don’t care what color the president is. He’s half-white as far as I’m concerned. Why doesn’t anybody talk about that?

But, I’m rooting for him. Not so much for Carter… er, Obama the man, but for the President of the United States. I hope he can put us (and the world) on the right path. I’m pessimistic, but they say a pessimist is just an optimist who’s had his heart broken too many times.

Raising the Dead

Posted on March 7th, 2009 in Personal | No Comments »

It’s been nearly 10 months since my last post, which is probably not important since nobody reads this blog anyway. But I’ve been off doing a number of things, one of which has been genealogy. I’ve had quite the fun time turning myself into a busy researcher, hunting online for records, links and photographs of grave stones. Even as a child, I always had a fascination with the dead; it’s much more personal when it’s the dead you’re descended from.

It has been a totally fascinating journey into the past, a history of farmers, shoemakers, blacksmiths, housewives and more. I discovered my Great-Great-Great Grandmother, who died when the pipe she was smoking caught her clothes on fire. She was around 100 at the time. Or the Great-Great Grandfather who lost two daughters, ages 6 and 12, in the same month to scarlet fever. The photograph of a Great-Great-Great Grandfather taken when he was probably in his late 20’s. He looks amazingly like me. Or vice-versa. How strange to see my own face staring back at me from a century or more. I also discovered the Grandfather I never knew, who divorced my Grandmother fifteen years before I was born. He died in 1978 and it wasn’t until late last year I finally saw a photograph of him.

As a boy, I always wondered where I came from. What were my ancestors like? My family never really talked much about the distant past, so I had a lot of questions. I know so much more now to pass on to my own child, when she’s ready to ask the questions. When you pore over census records, chronicling the children lost, the long and successful marriages, the wives who died young, the men who lived through terrible wars, it’s hard not to see yourself as nothing more than the current link. Their blood all flows through my veins, so I’m the part of them that has survived. I feel responsible in a way, to carry those bloodlines forward, to try and remember the centuries of laughter and tears for those who can no longer do so. If they were up there somewhere watching me, those lines of Grandparents, I wonder what they would think of the world today.

A hundred years from now, will someone carry on the history I’ve started, with my own name concisely summing up in a little box all that I’ve lived and experienced? Two dates neatly bookending a life; is that all at the end? At least I know that despite their certain flaws, on the whole they were a group of people I’m proud of, and when I’m a tidy footnote in the pages of history, I will be in good company. I hope those that follow me will be equally proud.

Is School Out Forever?

Posted on May 29th, 2008 in Personal | 1 Comment »

My high school class is celebrating a reunion this year, so I’ve been getting the nonsense in the mail from the “reunion committee”, which I picture as several ditzy girls from my class sitting around a folding table, sending reminders to all and sundry. The image has balloons and confetti too, for some reason.

Anyway, I filled out a bio for the ‘Memory book’, but as usual have no plans to attend. I’m too far away, even if I really wanted to go. But for the first time in a long while, it made me curious about how the rest of my classmates have been doing the past (blank) years. So I went to one of those ‘alumni’ sites where you can sign up and read or email ghosts from the past. I paid my $10.00 fee (and am still getting email reminders to join up and show my ‘alumni pride’), and went exploring. The problem is that these sites don’t have everybody. There’s always that strange guy, or that cute girl, or someone that you’d really like to know about (that is, make sure they’re not doing better than you!). But I read what they had, and it was very depressing.

Most of my class seems to be married with kids, living ordinary lives. And that was what bothered me – weren’t we going to be the ones who were going to change the world? Sure, every class says that, but we were special! What happened to all those hopes and dreams from graduation? Life, I suppose. It also bothered me that a lot of them have kids who are now older than they were the last time I saw them. This group of 17- and 18-year olds now have children in their twenties. Huh? It’s hard not to feel that as a group, we’ve been lapped, and are now out of the race.

I actually wrote to one girl (girl; a middle-aged woman with two kids, 18 & 13) I knew. We shared quite a few classrooms together, but never spoke much or became more than just vaguely aware of each other. Of course this girl (let’s call her ‘Beth’) was in a higher ‘caste’ than I was all throughout our school years together. She was also pretty smart, and I always considered her a real mental rival. She could spell ‘gymnasium’ in fifth grade, which was impressive at the time. So I sent Beth a friendly email, saying hi after all this time, I remember this and that, read your bio on the site, here’s what’s up with me. She wrote back the next day with a very bland ‘Oh I enjoy hearing from anyone from our class, I’m this that, yada yada’. This girl who was such a genius all through elementary school, middle school, high school… is a dental hygienist. Not that it’s not a good and important job, but somehow I expected more from her. I wrote her again with more memories, and a thought that while we were never in any sense of the word ‘friends’ in school, now that so much time has gone by, maybe we could email each other once in a while and say hi, here’s the latest, and so on.

My feeling on that is as time goes by, we all grow ever more distant from the people and events that shaped us. It would be nice to be in touch with someone who remembers the same teachers, the same faces, the same culture. I’m finding as I get older that to my great surprise, I miss that more and more over the years. Beth and I spent many years of our childhood together but separate in the same classrooms. It would be nice to put aside the childish feelings that kept us from being pals and enjoy the common experiences we had in those rooms so many years ago.

I guess to nobody’s great amazement, Beth never wrote back. Maybe she felt I was trying to hit on her, or set myself up for being the stalker she’s never wanted. Maybe I thought after all this time, we could move beyond playground resentments or superior feelings. Once more I was too naive for my own good. I haven’t written anyone else.

Last night I dreamt I was back at high school, on the last day, and we were getting our yearbooks. The books seemed full of pages about various people, with several of them getting a multi-page layout. Finally I found a page with a grid that filled almost all the space, showing what events or activities everyone was involved with. On the far right side of the page was a column of photographs of the students. It seemed to be more important to note what everyone was doing than what they looked like, or who they actually were. In the dream I felt all the loneliness and futility that high school was. The feeling that I missed something important. I woke up somewhat depressed, and was in a funk most of the morning.

Is it any wonder I don’t go to the reunions?