Land of Opportunity

yoni1

Though my Spanish wasn’t bad, the snapping of the scissors next to my ear mixed with the four ladies clucking in Spanish left me in a solitary mindset.  The second closest whittled away on a teenager, working closer and closer to his scalp until with the last layer she used an electric shaver to expose whitewalls and a short cropped top that resembled a putting green.  On the opposite side, an elderly gentleman leaned back as a young Hispanic female shaped his tumbleweed eyebrows.  Nearby, a heavy set señora laid out what appeared to be well traveled bracelets, necklaces and jewelry on a shortened ledge with all the optimism of a flea mart Queen.  Her spilling cleavage distracted my eye as she bent forward, and she seemed to sense it as she held the position longer than I would have expected, then flashed a smile.

Lefty’s barber shop had long since been abandoned by Lefty himself and replaced to serve the ever growing immigrant population.  I spoke a few words in Spanish to my stylist who told me she’d been in the United States for twenty years but hadn’t really learned English as she had been at home with her children for the early years, and later the population didn’t require it.

I thought back to Yoni Rodriguez, a student who came to my Physical Therapy clinic as a volunteer.  It was most interesting to see the art he had composed while in high school (attached sketch).  It was derived out of street art and I could sense the pain of poverty as well as the hopes for a better life. Yoni said his interest in art came as a child while watching his older cousins practicing their graffiti with spray cans on plywood in the back yard, though he didn’t have an answer as to why he chose to avoid the local gang scene.  It soon became clear that his ambition and drive would take him far, and I found myself encouraging him to continue with college and work towards a higher level.  He is currently succeeding in his pre-med classes.

I thought back on my own childhood of working in the asparagus field, something I began at eleven years old and continued seasonally through my high school years.  It wasn’t done for fun, but rather, as a means to enjoy a more fruitful life.  Yoni explained that his parents had arrived in the country from Mexico searching for a better life, but he was born here.  He laughed when he told me that he only recently realized that his social security had been collecting funds since shortly after his birth as a result of his uncles using it since he was an infant.  Yoni was highly motivated to improve his life, and for some reason this struck a chord in me as my own son had dropped out of college several times and was living with his mother at twenty-five.  Perhaps it’s my generation, or just me, but when I was young I couldn’t wait to get out of the house and earn my own living.

I didn’t have much time for drugs, and couldn’t have imagined the idea of dropping out of school if someone was paying for it.  Instead, I remember taking out student loans and trying to find my direction as my primary purpose was to obtain a degree where I could secure sustenance above the level of a restaurant dish busser and one free meal a day (one of my college jobs).  Driven by the need, will, and desire to survive it seems, yields the motivation to create a better future.  It’s no surprise that Yoni doesn’t have time for drugs and minimal leisure time as he works towards his medical degree.

While our society spends a lot of time worrying about marijuana legalization, and our right to get high, we are seeing more foreign students enter science, engineering, and the medical field where we have a shortage of workers.  It’s interesting as well that those underprivileged in our own country are drawn to these fields as much or more than the more affluent.

One wonders why these students seem so driven, so smart, and why we are not attracting more of our own youth to excel academically in these fields.  I look back at my own life and question whether or not working since I was eleven just taught me to expect to work, or whether the lack of funds taught me to work.  I guess it doesn’t really matter.  I value a life of productivity and am thankful to now be able to mentor others and give back to society.  Perhaps Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are better examples of how reaching a point well past survival mode allows more giving and how the classic American Dream can generate overall good for society, but if each of us sees to it that we are giving more than we are taking from society the world might be a better place.  This seems to hold true for those who will serve best by first securing their own place in society as well as for those from a more privileged class.

Kids—Feel free to lambaste me.

Art reproduced with permission of Yoni Rodriguez

Life Priorities

No, this is not a political post, it’s about life.

I live on the West Coast in Washington State.  Every Presidential election, it seems the winner is announced before my State’s votes are even counted.  It may just be me, but with age I become more indifferent about the elections.  Today, I look at the lineup and wonder what our world has come to.

After every election, I wait for things to be better, but it seems that in the end, other than seeing my taxes go up for one reason or another, the world goes on, both sides attack the other, and my life is about the same.  The Democrats try to convince the world that the Republicans are idiots, and the Republicans try to convince the world that the Democrats are stealing their liberties.  Each cycle, it seems that what used to be considered a form of civil service creates more wealth for politicians, and the rich Republicans and the rich Democrats get richer, or make someone else richer, somehow using us to do it.

Most of us are putting forth labor so they can reach their goal of going from average Joe to rich politician.  Still, we continue to listen to their ideals and allow them to manipulate how we choose or keep friends.  We debate the issues with emotion, argue with fervor, and promote those ideals we have been manipulated to identify with.  In the end, it’s often wealth and lobbying that influences what comes out of the politicians mouths, regardless of the party, with the end goal of influencing our thoughts.

Today, I’m sitting in my brother’s home as he and his family face the effects of a Terminal Brain Tumor.  He can no longer make it to the restroom alone and his wife needs help because she can only do so much.  His children, one in college, and one out in the work force are home for the weekend to help.  Life, not on hold, but coming to an end.  Priorities now straight, and somehow Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, neither of which has anything to offer the world in my opinion become trivial background noise, a place I hope they remain every day.

A terminal diagnosis does wonders for understanding priorities in life, and it turns out that most of them are not out in the world trying to fix world problems.  In fact, for those who have families that they love, and families that love them, priorities might all be right at home.   Such a diagnosis is fodder for consideration that, while we have our armchair debates about the world’s problems, most of us never resolve our own issues.  On the rare occasion that we are given a terminal diagnosis we might have the chance.

Today, I would appeal to each one of you to cast aside your political discussions, turn towards your family, childhood friends, and for a minute realize that civilizations, the world, capitalism, socialism, and great societies have been running their cycles for thousands of years, and individuals have minimal to no effect on the course a society takes from start until collapse once the wheels are set in motion.  If your political debates and discussions make you feel you’re having an influence, continue on, but a deeper perspective may help you focus on the areas where you can have an influence.  An interesting book, “The Lessons of History”, Will & Ariel Durant, summarizes these cycles of civilization in a short concise manner.

Don’t wait for your terminal diagnosis, or for that of one close to you to find your priorities and where you can make life meaningful.  First, take a close look at the presidential candidates and ask yourself if they’re worthy of much of your time or thoughts.  Second, realize that today’s the day to take care of those close to you without the influence of any institution.  Do it from your own heart in your own way.

Zen and the Skunk Muse

Just for Fun.

It was about a year ago springtime… Around 5:30 AM; the sun was not quite above the horizon and the clouds were an orange tint of red to the east.  The scent struck me as I was hitting my eight minute mile pace about fourteen minutes into my morning run.  The smell of a skunk was nothing new to me.  It brought back memories of early spring mornings on my way to cut asparagus before school, and late nights coming home after working in the bowling alley.  I knew a skunk had been struck by a car somewhere ahead the night before.

It lay on a bridge that went over an irrigation canal.  The canal was full and the orchards were budding nearby.  On the left side of the bridge was an eighteen inch wide sidewalk that was raised about eight inches.  To the right, it was about two inches to the white stripe and there was no real shoulder.  Its innards were out and its head was turned sideways, exposing most of one side of its teeth.  When I come across a dead skunk in a car it seems the only notable presence is the bushy tail and the unique odor.  Today, I was more drawn to its face—perhaps because I was on foot.

Pondering trivial issues is often a part of my run as well, and the skunk brought to the forefront the finiteness we all face but tend to deny.  I’m often inclined to think about the here and now more than the ever-after.  I guess the relevant question is whether we really have anything more than the here and now.  This seems to be a question that has thrown many a physicist and philosopher into the throes of thought for weeks, months, and years on end.

I think nobody can deny, in fact, that we live only in this instance.  Not to say past events haven’t happened, or that future events won’t happen, but we live in one event, the one that is happening right now.  The rest is just a memory, a plan, or a surprise.  That gives me a sense of urgency for the here and now.  An interesting experiment is to try to move back a little to the previous instance in time, or perhaps forward a little into the next one.  It seems the only reality we have as humans is the present one.  That makes me wonder how long an instance of time is.  This is not a simple question, and another one that philosophers and physicists have pondered to great depths with no clear answer.

There was a large sign at the end of the bridge near the skunk.  One necessarily had to jump off the eight inch sidewalk, over the skunk, and onto the highway to avoid the sign.  This played havoc with my mind in the face of oncoming traffic.  With this much uproar thrown into my morning run, the only choice was to deal with it or move the skunk.  Moving a skunk with guts all over is not my idea of fun.  I remembered turning dead dogs over when I was a kid on a bicycle and finding large writhing maggot colonies under them.

I’m not sure why, but to me, disturbing the skunk seemed somewhat disrespectful to the maggots, the driver who had struck the skunk, and nature in general.  I decided to let this skunk decompose with no human interference.  Long runs do strange things to a body and mind, and as time went on, observing the decomposition of the skunk became an integral part of my run.

In between runs, I re-read Einstein’s theory of relativity and my sense of the here and now was even more thrown out of whack.  The idea that every time I speed up, my clock slows down compared to someone not moving threw me off, but I think it was the idea that  a moving car is actually shorter than a car at rest that convinced me that my human perceptions of space and time have little bearing on any reality other than my own.  I can understand that time stops on a light-wave.  If I consider a star that’s 10,000 light years away, I understand that it took 10,000 years for the light to arrive at earth and I am thus seeing what happened 10,000 years ago.  I can see that if I rode the light-­­­­­­­­­wave from the star to here I would be carrying a message that was froz­­­­­­­­­­­­­­en in time.  For example if I rode the lightwave that reflected off a clock that said 11:00 am it would still say 11:00 am when it arrived at earth 10,000 years later.  It’s true that scientists have proved that when astronauts travel in space, their clocks move at a slower speed and they age slower than the rest of us.  Does that mean your reality is different than mine?  Possibly.

What does this really mean?  I don’t know.  Recently a Quantum Physicist, Amit Goswami published a book titled “God is Not Dead”.  In this book he suggested that Quantum Physics offers proof of the existence of God.  The argument further suggests that quantum physics provides a very accurate description of reality and agrees for the most part with Einstein’s relativity.  In Quantum theory “reality” is defined as a world of probability functions known as wave function, not actual events.  An observer is required to constitute an event, and an observation of reality actually changes it.  Goswami goes further and suggests that consciousness is required to collapse a universe of probabilities into an observable physical event.  The implications of this notion are enormous and experiments seem to confirm it.   He further­ suggests that to believe there is consciousness without physical reality or vice versa creates a paradox that can never be explained in physics­­­.  In essence, consciousness, or the sense of self we all have, albeit unexplained, is the confirmation of GOD’s existence.  Goswami’s ideas and proofs cannot be summed up in a paragraph, but are quite compelling to the curious mind.

After a winter of running on my treadmill spring is here again and that darn skunk isn’t giving up.  He’s still there, on the bridge.  The fur is evident as is the tail, and I noticed in particular that the feet have been well preserved.  One can still differentiate each paw, and the nails.   I’ve never given this creature a close inspection, as I feel what I can take in as I jog by is sufficient.  At this point though, he is my friend.

Something else Einstein came up with is bothering me.  We all think of the world as round, but in Einstein’s world, space is curved, and time only seems constant because of our limited senses.  I guess the earth appears round because our consciousness only allows us to view it in short bursts in this instance.  We can’t see it over a time span.  Every view we get is a snapshot of an instance and that’s a distortion.  The same holds true for space.  Given our perceptive limitations, I go back to the importance of appreciating this particular instance of time in our lives.  We really don’t have anything else.  Quantum physics suggest many dimensions, and while we nod our heads when we hear the notion, it’s very difficult to perceive what this means with respect to our potential.

A few weeks into spring and my friend the skunk has had a sad ending.  The road crews decided to re-tar and gravel the road.  After nearly a year of studying his decomposition for brief instances of time, one pass of a road sweeper made him disappear from my reality.  Funny that I would be sad; I had hoped to watch him go until even his feet were gone.  I was a bit thrown off for the rest of the day, but knew I’d recuperate.  I think the loss of a friend and one enjoyable routine in a chaotic life reminded me that nothing lasts forever.