Sunday, June 24, 2012

On turning Sixty

A few thought on turning 60 years old.

I'm not quite sure what to think of this. After all, 60 years is a significant span of time for a human being, although not all that long in the grand scheme of things.

Since it is the tradition to grant wishes and give gifts on one's birthday, I was thinking about what I would like as the ideal gift. At first, of course, I thought of trivial things: a Classic Corvette, an all expenses vacation, even an autographed collection of Stephen King or William Carlos Williams. But these are things, and in the grand scheme of things (no pun intended), end up as dust collectors and clutter in an already cluttered life.

And lets face it, at 60, your life is cluttered, whether you like it or not. My little “office” at home is a narrow room, about eight feet wide by twenty feet long, and it is very difficult to maneuver in . There are three cabinets of VHS tapes, six bookshelves filled with books and other assorted things (which I rarely use), a weight bench with weights and several dumbbells and barbells, a folding table filled with all sorts of books, magazines, and other tools of the trade, a desk which I am sitting at as I type on the computer, a chair, an exercise ball, a space heater, a CD holder, another table, three guitars, a banjo, a mandolin, two wastepaper baskets, and several items out of sight I have neglected to mention, I am sure. All of this contained in 160 square feet. I think you will agree, this is the definition of cluttered.

As to feeling 60, I am not sure what that means. After all, I woke up this morning like I woke up yesterday. A little stiffer, perhaps. I have accepted that as a part of life, seeing as various injuries and bad habits of my youth have taken their toll. I won't dwell upon them all here, but suffice it to say I have dared to challenge myself from time to time, and not always in the smartest of fashions. [I think back now and am reminded of the famous last words of the American Redneck....'Hey, Ya'll, Watch This!']

I would love to say I have succeeded at every endeavor, but that is not the case. I have had my ups and downs, my successes and my failures. I have completed an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts, and have all the credits needed for a Bachelors Degree, but cannot seem to master a foreign language with enough skill to fill that requirement, which frustrates me to no end. The requirement, that is. I see no need to master another language when my native tongue is spoken around the world. Furthermore, since I never intended to work outside the United States, I just don't see the point. But the universities and other institutions of higher learning seem to think this is important, so I continue to write poetry and prose sans the benefit of an acknowledged degree. C'est la vie. так это жизнь. E` così la vita.

But back to the birthday wish. I believe if I could make one wish come true today, I would wish for all the peoples of the world to believe in themselves, in their inherent goodness, in their ability to reach beyond their petty differences and realize they have been laboring under the flawed misconception they are destined to forever be at odds with one another.

As a Christian, I understand where part of this comes from. The concept of original sin pervades our thinking like a universal solvent, creeping in to every thought, every plan, every notion. We accept without question our nature is flawed, and by extension believe every other person is the same. Since we believe we are all flawed, we therefore believe that people, when given the opportunity, will always sink to the lowest level, and are, therefore, innately untrustworthy. When we think of each other like this, we are presuming the nature of humanity cannot rise above this flaw.

Now this is not exclusive to Christians. I use them here as an example because I know the people who read this are probably Christians and want them to understand where I am coming from. No matter what culture you hail from, this basic precept exists in one form or another. And it is the greatest impediment to our rising to the next level of human development. We can be one planet, one people, one race, if we are willing to trust one another.

As the Bard would say, “Aye, there's the rub.”. Trust is probably the hardest emotion to earn, and the hardest state to attain. We are raised by our parents not to trust, and some would argue with good cause, for there are predators and deviants among us, evil men and women intent on satisfying their own needs above the needs of others. But what we fail to teach our children is these are the exceptions to the rule, not the norm. We teach women in our society particularly to distrust other women, a practice going back in time to competition for mates. And while we teach our sons teamwork, we also teach them to consider other men as adversaries. I could give you many other examples, some more extreme and distasteful, but the point is we teach our children not to trust.

And our leaders, be they Presidents, monarchs, employers, or clergy, use this to maintain their power over us. Now you would think they would want us to trust, to share, to be at peace with one another, but nothing is further from the truth. For a society which trusts is a society which listens to each other, a society which bonds together to cry against injustice, especially when it is injustice carried out in the name of the people. If we were to learn to trust one another, we would be the ones in power, and the leaders would be forced to surrender their power back to the people. And power is a drug once taken which cannot easily be surrendered. So the leaders allow the public to be terrified by the media, even so far as to staging events and circumstances to drive fear into the people and a wedge between factions, making them fear one another. And when you fear, you cannot trust.

Twenty years ago, this wish could not have been made, at least with an expectation of fulfillment. Twenty years ago, the internet was nothing more than bulletin boards and emails. Twenty years ago, there was little chance of hearing all the facts of any matter without the media slanting the information in one direction or another. Twenty years ago, we did not have this marvelous tool called the internet. Twenty years ago, we could not speak across oceans and continents to learn about other people and their desires, their aspirations, their dreams. Twenty years ago, communication required risk, confrontation, encounters. None of that is true today.

Utopia is not my goal, and in my opinion, will never be achieved. But hunger, poverty, disease, homelessness, depression, and all the ills of mankind caused by greed, corruption, and injustice are solvable. All you need is trust.

Frederick Smith
© June 24, 2012

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