Sunday, February 18, 2007

For our son

So it didn't take an attack or cancer for him to reflect on his own mortality-he did it all the time. You know, he'd say, "One of these days I'm gonna be dead and you're gonna have to look after these trees!" And I'd be, "Stop saying that, Dad!" And he'd be like, "But it's true." Because he was a realist. And I'm very much the same way. Everyone is gonna die, but no one thinks they're gonna die. No one. And that's like the biggest blind spot that everyone in the world has, this inability to believe that they're gonna die. And I think the sooner you
address that, the better, really. It's like practice, really.

Dhani Harrison, regarding his father, George Harrison


Life is not fair, my son. I might as well just tell you that now -- now that you are of an age that you are becoming self-conscious and will remember what happens to you and what people tell you, and now that you understand that we don't live forever.
One of the hardest things with which I have had to deal, for all of my life that I can remember, is the assumption – or presumption -- that life should be fair. I still struggle with it on a regular basis. No-one ever told me that life would be fair, but evidently I got the idea, or the tendency to think, that it SHOULD be fair. Many things I have seen, seem to be unfair, and I find myself angry about them, while most people around me seem unaffected.
I have, from my earliest remembrances, seen that humans were unkind to other humans and animals. I have seen that some people took advantage of other people, or hurt others with obvious intent, and I could never accept their apparent motivation, even revenge, for doing so. I was once threatened with violence and even struck repeatedly, but refused to fight my antagonist, who stalked off angrily and haunted my steps for years afterward. I am still angry that he was able to cause me such fear and distrust and distraction from other, more important things, for as long as he did. I hope I've forgiven him, but I worry about the prisoners he's spent many years guarding, in his chosen occupation. I fear that he has perpetuated the violence in others, that was inflicted on him as a child. I worry about his children.
So I find myself to be an idealist in an imperfect world. In teenage years I was told things like "let it go" or "lighten up" but found it impossible to do much but to try to moderate my feelings. I get angry over the slightest injustices.
For my own part, I regret the times that I have spoken unfair things of others, or said unkind things to other people, although I can't remember ever intending to hurt someone. I may have done so in responding to things while not controlling my emotion as well as I wished, but the worst I remember wanting to do is wishing to stop someone from hurting me any further. I used to fear my own potential for harming other people, if I should ever unleash it, but I usually walk away from a situation in which I feel my anger about to turn into violence. I deeply regret some of the times in which I have unleashed my frustration in forceful words, but I have always tried to apologize or to make it known that I've expressed emotion but not hatred.
I have come to see my own potential for physical violence as an ability our ancestors and animal relations have used for millenia, to protect resources and increase the chance that their kind would survive and reproduce. Humans just mis-use that potential in ways that are unnecessary and immoral and unfair.
I continue to observe that bad things happen to good people, but feel to the depths of my being that this SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN SO. This is just a feeling I get. On the other hand, I understand that the Universe simply operates upon cause and effect, not at the behest of temperamental gods or demons. I can acknowledge, intellectually, that life often is NOT fair, and I see that our world contains the potential for wonderful AND terrible things to happen to ANY and ALL of the creatures which inhabit it.
I would like to think that humans who do terrible things to others are somehow re-paid, either in punishment or shortened life or that they are given cause to make right for their transgressions, but this recompense is not consistent, and many injustices go un-answered. This is a fact. Whatever happens to them beyond this realm of living, is not known to me.
Too many persons with incredible potential to produce fairness and justice in their own living and to promote it in this world, have been murdered or taken by disease or lost to some accident, long before their work was well-advanced. Some have been killed specifically because others recognized their potential and wished to snuff it out, and one historic personality shared the same birthday with me for too few years. Too many persons who tortured or murdered or raped or exploited others, have lived to advanced years. This is true and inescapable, but truths like this are hard to accept, at least for me.
Dealing with life looking backward from the present, is the quintessential act of futility, yet I find myself continuing to practice it, year after year. I seem unable to escape the regret (and other emotional accompaniments) I feel when presented with specific cases, such as:
That my friend Tim (whose given name is your middle name) should have been given such genius without the psychological stability to deal with it;
That your grandfather never met his father, thanks to a disease that killed so many at that time;
That your grandfather, and all of us, never met his grandfather, because a broken relationship was never mended;
That you and I never got to know my uncle, who was so talented and outgoing, but chose to risk his life in fighting the Second World War;
That you and I never got to know my aunt, who was overcome by surgical complications;
That you and I never got to meet your mother's brother, whom she loved so much;
That those who seem most able to bring disparate peoples into unity often die without the opportunity to do so; and I could think of plenty of other things that I wish were not as they are.
But they are.
So it is that I was telling you, not long ago, that I don't want to stop you from questioning authority, because it is something you should do as an adult. I want you to trust me to be telling you things that are in your best interest. I told you that I will be happy to explain why I tell you to do things but won't always want to do so at the time. If you were about to be struck by a car, I wouldn't take the time to explain why you need to get out of the way, right?
I told you that you would need to learn to trust your own sense of right and wrong, no matter what other people do. I said that I was certain you would grow up to be a very good person. I saw the tears in your ten-year-old eyes as you leaned in to hug me.
Life is not fair. It is up to each of us to make it so, in the places we inhabit. And you, my boy, will do just fine.

About Me

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I've been a number of things over the years: husband, father, environmental technical specialist, college instructor, carpenter, volunteer firefighter and ambulance driver, student of Lakota and Japanese languages, technical writer, process engineer, research technician, IT technician, emergency dispatcher, etc.