The Source of Ripples

I have no idea why I’m remembering this now, but when I was little, maybe 7 or 8, we got a long-term substitute teacher in my classroom. I was young enough to where that confused me a great deal. Teachers, to me, were like monoliths. They shouldn’t budge in any way. I didn’t think they could be substituted, one for another. Teachers were the school, for me. And the school is made of bricks.

And yet here she was. She was nothing like our other teacher. She had impossibly long, straight hair. That made me think she was too young. But she was nice, and it was exciting to see that there was more than one way of doing things.

What fascinated me most about her was that she only had one hand. I don’t remember why. I think she told us about it. She didn’t try to pretend it wasn’t a thing. But she also didn’t act as though it was such a thing that she lived her life differently.

There’s this image of her frozen in my mind, drawing out and cutting two foot lengths of yarn for a project we were doing, and she used the crook of her elbow to do so. I remember that she also had a hook that she could use, but she said she didn’t like it very much. The hook kind of gave me the creeps. She was a kind and gentle person, and the hook was so cold and hard and industrial. It looked like a weapon. I tried not to stare. But I’m sure I did, quite a bit.

And then, one day, just like that, she was gone, and our old, much less exotic teacher was back. I don’t even think we got to say goodbye. I’ve wondered, over the years, what happened to her. I don’t even remember her name. She’d be in her 70’s now. I think that was the first time I remembered someone disappearing out of my life without a trace. It was very strange. (I had no memory of my father ever being there in the first place, so I never thought of him as having disappeared.)

Before she left, she had us do a project where we chose a children’s book to read, and then sent a letter to the author. I can’t remember what book I chose, or what I said to the author, but I got a really nice letter back. It wasn’t from the author, though. It was from the editor, telling me that she was sorry to say that the author had passed away, but that he would have really liked my letter a lot, and she thanked me for taking the time to write it.

It made me sad. It confused me. I didn’t know what “passed away” meant. It had to be explained to me. And then there was the whole… “but… but… I just read the book. How could he be dead?” concept to get past.

How do you explain to a small child that even though someone has died, they can still have an impact on you after the fact? You can still read their words, or see their good or bad deeds, or benefit from their inventions, or even see them walking and talking on your television, and yet they’re gone. Gone. How is that possible?

Even though I understand the science behind it now, it still feels strange to me. Ripples emanate from the stones we cast into the pond of life. They might be cast by those who are no longer living or, at the very least, are no longer present. And yet they are still rocking our boats. The energy lives on, even when the generator thereof is long gone.

What a concept.

Ripples

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It’s All So Fragile

I just read something very exciting on the National Geographic website. It seems that the Mayan city of Tikal and its environs in Guatemala were much, much, MUCH larger than we previously thought. All this time, we were thinking the area was home to about 5 million people during the Maya classic period between 250 and 900 AD, when in fact it was more likely that this civilization’s population was about 10-15 million. That’s much more densely populated than medieval England was.

How did we reach this conclusion? Scholars used LiDAR, which is a sort of penetrating radar that can look through the vegetation to see previously undiscovered structures. (Check out the photos in that NatGeo article. They’re really quite fascinating.) They were able to find the ruins of more than 60,000 houses, palaces, and elevated highways.

Holy cow, talk about a booming metropolis. To put that in context, cities about that size today include Bangkok, Thailand; Los Angeles, USA; Cairo, Egypt; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India. Clearly there was a lot more going on in the Tikal area than we previously imagined.

And how exciting for archeologists! It will take decades to sort through all this LiDAR data, and even longer to clear the growth off the buildings of interest. This is quite a breakthrough. We have so much more to learn about this ancient culture! There are some pyramids in there that are 7 stories high that you can’t see even when you are standing right in front of them. Now, they just look like jungle-y hills, lost in the underbrush.

That, to me, is mind-blowing. Imagine. If we abandoned Los Angeles for a thousand years, it would be so overgrown that no one would even know it was there!

That’s sobering. I mean, we walk around thinking that we are living in the realm of permanence, that we’ve made our mark and staked our claim on the earth, that our skyscrapers will last forever. In fact, from a cosmic perspective, all this stuff is fleeting. It’s here, but not for long. Not really. Someday it will be unrecognizable. The dry cleaner’s across the street will not even be there in 50 years, let alone 500 years. This moment in time won’t  be remembered, eventually.

It’s all so fragile. That makes the now seem all the more precious. I don’t know about you, but it has me looking at things with fresh eyes. Who wants to go to Tikal with me?

Tikal

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Coming Full Spiral

This morning I sort of did the walk of shame. I trained on a drawbridge that I had worked on for years, but had left two years ago to completely change my life. After working on this beautiful little bridge since 2001, I realized that as much as I love the job, there was no future in it. Lousy pay, worse benefits, and absolutely no chance of advancement.

So I sold my house, quit my job, left a 16 year relationship, moved 3 ½ hours south and got a degree in Dental Laboratory Technology and Management. I graduated with honors and applied to 198 labs throughout the US and Canada, and had no luck at all. So now I’m back where I started, doing what I’ve always done, but now I’m paying twice as much rent as I paid in mortgage, and I’m teetering on the brink of homelessness.

Now, in the movies when people make such a radical change, their life changes, radically. And frankly, that’s what I was expecting. There’s no real life primer on what to do when you gamble and lose and are right back where you started from. It’s quite humbling. Actually, it’s a crushing blow.

On the way to work today, knowing I was going to be training with my same old coworker for my same old job, I was wondering how I’d feel. Would I be getting smug looks? Would I be depressed?

Actually, as I walked up the bridge, I was surprised to discover that I felt really good. It was like coming home. I really always did enjoy working there. And it was like I’d never left. But as the shift wore on, I realized that I hadn’t come full circle, after all. I had changed. The bridge had changed. It had been modernized. It was different.

IMG_0368 This was the bridge operating console before I left.

001 This is the same room now.

So instead of coming full circle, I had come full spiral. A tight spiral, granted, but I wasn’t exactly where I used to be, emotionally or structurally. I’m older, I hope I’m wiser, and the things that used to upset or worry me seem trivial now.

I think maybe I did get something out of going to school besides a third worthless degree. I think I learned that I can roll with the punches, and that nothing in life is as permanent as I once thought, and that, oddly enough, is a good thing. Once you figure out that change is survivable, a lot of your anxieties disappear. It’s really quite liberating.

So here I am, yet again. The “here” is still here, but the “I” is someplace else entirely. It’s all good.

The Transitory Nature of Civilization

Still sick as a dog, and not in the mood to blog. (Hey! That rhymes!)

So I shall leave you with a half formed thought before going back to bed.

picture 13

Here’s a photo I took many years ago on a trip to Ephesus, Turkey. If you’ve heard of Ephesus at all, it’s probably from the bible, but rest assured it was once a thriving metropolis. With a population of 250,000, it was one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean during the first century BC. The people there must have thought it would last forever. As I walked through these crumbling ruins, now populated only by tourists and weeds, I couldn’t help but think of a poem I learned in high school:

Ozymandias

by Percy Shelley

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

And I ask myself: what kind of legacy will we all leave behind us? Is there such a thing as permanence? What lingers on?

Back to bed for me.