The juggler stands in the big old empty circus tent surrounded by balls bouncing on the stage. Over the loudspeaker sounds the lyrics of Gordon Lightfoot's Carefree Highway:
Pickin' up the pieces of my sweet shattered dream
I wonder how the old folks are tonight…
Turnin' back the pages to the times I love best…
Searchin' through the fragments of my dream-shattered sleep...
Carefree highway, you seen better days
The mornin' after blues from my head down to my shoes
Carefree highway, let me slip away…
I look around the house. On my computer are too many unanswered emails and unwritten blog posts. Outside, the grass is high, higher than it should be.
There are signs around the house of the past month's other activities. On a shelf is a small replica of a lighthouse my mother had cherished. There are various special dishes from my mother's house being worked into the cupboards with our normal dishes.
I'm trying to integrate the good memories and mementos of my childhood into my adult life, now that my mother's house stands empty and owned by another family. At the same time, I am trying to process the painful memories; not forget them, but learn from them.
I eat my morning oatmeal. I'll include some frozen blueberries from Williamstown in my upcoming breakfasts. I'll finish this blog post, send a few emails, and head off to work where I'm also trying to pick back up too many balls to juggle at the same time.
The other day, I saw a bunch of headlines about the death of Boris Berezovsky. I guess he was some important Russian who fled to England, and I mourn his death the way I mourn the death of any person. To quote John Donne,
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
I looked through the local obituaries to see if there was a recent death around here with which I could compare Berezovsky's death; the death of an important person to those close to him, to those involved in mankind, but stripped of all the intrigue of a Russian Oligarch. Each obituary seemed both too close and too distant at the same time.
There is enough going on in my life right now, so I didn't write anything. Then, I found out that my boss' wife's grandfather died on Saturday. It was not unexpected. He had been in hospice. The family had gathered around him during his final hours, unlike Berezovsky who appears to have died alone. The wake is today and the funeral tomorrow, but I couldn't juggle the schedule to be there.
So now, it is evening. Kim is off at an event. Fiona is working on homework, and I am checking in on my connections on social media.
On Alan Jobe's Facebook timeline, I see a message,
Alan passed away 3/25/13 of a stroke at 7:50 PST.
I know he told me a lot how he loved having so many friends on here.
Alan and I have been friends for a long time. We were friends on Facebook, Twitter, Empire Avenue, EntreCard, and I suspect several other places. We had a lot of friends in common, mostly people who explored EntreCard and Empire Avenue. Yet, I never met Alan face to face, just as I haven't met many of our mutual friends face to face.
On the 21st, Alan put up a blog post, Gay As Hell or Where’d My Audience Go?. He reflected on how he has had more interaction at other times, and how things like 'mission inflation on Empire Avenue' may have affected his traffic. Several people stopped to write saying they were still there, still reading, but not interacting as much for one reason or another. Others stopped to write about what was going on with Empire Avenue.
So, I pause to say yet another goodbye. I'm too late for him to have read my comments while he was still alive, but I hope these words will mean something to the members of my online community that were friends with Alan.
I continue to keep my connections with Alan on all the social media sites where we were connected. It is the right thing to do.
The movie Street Angel starts of with Angela's mother dying for lack of medicine. It is a stunning movie both visually and emotionally, though having lost my mother a few months ago, it was a bit much for me to watch. We've come a long way from the silent movies of close to a century ago to Facebook today. Now, the emotional shocks I receive are from real people.
When I posted about Ash Wednesday, a friend from college commented about how this Ash Wednesday was hard for her. Her husband also died recently. Then today, I found that a friend from when I first moved to New York City lost her father on Ash Wednesday and another friend from that time period lost her father yesterday.
It sets an interesting backdrop to a question I've been struggling with this week, especially in terms of health disparities. How do we move from a culture of "What's in it for me?" to a culture of "What's in it for us?". If I were callous, if I believed in some virtue of selfishness, I might be able to shrug off these recent deaths. But I live in a culture of us, in a world where we are all interconnected, in a world where "each man's death diminishes me".
So instead of writing a blog post about upcoming speaking events or how Marshall McLuhan relates to the MOOCs I'm currently participating in, I pause to offer a virtual hug, and virtual donuts to my friends Becky, Kate and Judy.
Yesterday, I received my mother's will in the mail. There was nothing unexpected about it and I already knew most of what it contained. Yet there was something difficult about it, like reading some of the final pages of a book you're not ready to finish.
I glanced at the news online. The lead story was about the culmination of a manhunt for an ex-LA police officer; more death and destruction; "for dust you are and to dust you will return."
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a period of penitence, reflection and discipline. Some friends give up chocolate for Lent, with a special dispensation for St. Valentine's Day. Others give up beer, with a special dispensation for St. Patrick's Day. Several of my co-workers are doing yoga every day for Lent.
I set out for work early today, surrounded by large piles of snow, hoping to find a parking place in the snow-hobbled city. In many ways, my Lenten discipline is just to get by.
In the afternoon, I attended the Health Leader's Fellowship Program. It is a discipline, a commitment to show up, to stretch and practice new skills. We are half way through the program and it seems like many of us a stretched almost to breaking, but as another member of the program commented, "We are here."
Yes, we are here, in the season of Lent, remembering lost love ones, stretching as part of one discipline or another. In forty days we will enter Holy Week, the week of the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, a time of rebirth and thinking about resurrection, a time in which, God willing, we will say again, perhaps in a different tone, "We are here."
I am writing this on a laptop computer. Here, in the twenty first century, this seems pretty normal, but I thought, how would I have described a laptop computer to my grandfather, who never lived to see one. It would sound like science fiction.
It is like a small metallic briefcase, except when I open it up, it is not empty except for the papers, books, and maybe a slide rule inside. The top part of the inside of the brief case is like a large piece of glass, lit up from behind. On this glass are words and images. With the right commands, I can make pictures I've taken appear on the piece of glass. I can make movies play. There is a small black dot above the glass. It is a camera lens, and I can take a picture as well, which can then be displayed on the glass.
On the lower half of the metallic briefcase, there are two very small gratings. Behind these are speaks,so I can hear the sound of the movies. I can also listen to music or other recordings with the sound coming out of these speakers. On the left side is a small hole where I can insert a small metal plug, with wires than lead up to headphones. These are not like the headphones that bomber pilots used in World War II. They are very small fitting into each ear, instead of encompassing the ear. That way, I can listen to the sounds without disturbing people near me.
Between the two speakers in the lower half of the metal brief case are the keys of a typewriter. Yet unlike the typical arrangement in cascading rows, the keys are all flat, next to one another. The normal letters and numbers are on the keys, but there are special keys with just symbols on them or with abbreviations like 'esc', 'fn', and 'alt'. These keys, together with the normal letters and numbers can be used for writing, the way I am doing now, or for entering the commands that control what is displayed on the piece of glass, or sounds out of the speakers.
Below the keys is a small piece of metal. By moving my fingers around the piece of metal, I can also control the computer. There is a symbol that displays on the glass. As I move my fingers on the piece of metal, the symbol moves around the glass until it is positioned over the section of glass I desire.
Then, there are other things, hidden in this metallic briefcase. There is a battery so it works even when it isn't plugged in. There is a radio. This radio is different from the one you listen to music or the ballgame on. It is used for the briefcase to communicate with others computers around the world. Not only does it receive information, it sends it out as well. Other computers listen for this information, and then send back appropriate information as a response. In face, the pictures, movies or sounds are often information send back over this radio.
It would be more than my grandfather could take in, and the discussion might change to other topics. He might notice a strange small green light flashing from the dog's collar. Inside of the small black box on the dog's collar would be another radio. This one would only receive very simple information. With a different device, I could send messages to the dog's collar making the collar make beeping sounds to call or warn the dog, and if the dog didn't respond, I could send a message that would cause the dog to experience a small amount of pain, an electrical shock. Yes, a device to remotely control the dog.
It is all like science fiction. He might wonder where people ever got such ideas. That, I would say, is a great question. I might point out to him that even his life would seem like science fiction to those a generation or two earlier. Messages sent through the air, like smoke signals that people couldn't see. The ability to capture the reflection on a lake or mirror, and make it permanent in a photograph. Carriages that could be moved around without a horse pulling them.
Last night, my dreams were filled with three dimensional printers. Printing has come a long way from the strike of a key on a ribbon full of ink to make the typed word. It has come along way from the strange smelling mimeographs that my kids have no memory of. It has come a long way from the typesetters craft.
Now, a nozzle sprays rapidly drying ink on a piece of paper, or puts some black dust on the paper that gets stuck to it by a charge from a laser. We take laser printers for granted in our offices and sometimes in our homes. What if, instead of printing on paper, we could print one piece of plastic on top of another to make a three dimensional object? What if we could this with clays, metals, or even wood product? How about with food or living cells? It isn't really all that far away.
And so, if we can pull ourselves away from the gladiators, the bread and circuses, and the entertainments of today, what can we imagine?
Yes, we all live in science fiction novels. Are we up to the task of hero or heroine in these novels? How are we adapting our lives to the constant sources of information and entertainment, to being able to easily get in touch with many people from around the world in an instant? How is all of this changing us? Perhaps most importantly, how is this helping us bring about the next science fiction novels?