Tag Archives: religion

Origin Stories

I’ve always been intrigued by the beginnings of things.  Like, who was the first person who decided that a gas station might be a good idea, given the proliferation of cars back in the early part of the 20th century?  I mean, we all know about the Fords and their Model T, but who was the savant who said, “Hmm, there needs to be a ready source of petrol for these new-fangled vehicles”?

This fascination with how things begin runs the gamut from big things – like, who planned and built the first skyscraper in New York City? – to a family name on the side of a landscaper’s truck.  Like, what possessed Mr. Maldonado to open his own landscaping company?  How did he generate the capital to buy the trucks and equipment and hire the workers?  Was his family nervous when he took on this huge responsibility with no promise of a return on his investment?

I’ve been thinking about this as a blog post topic for a while.  It seems to arise in my mind when I’m driving, for some reason.  I look around me and all I see are daring “firsts” – who invented traffic lights?  Who opened the first yoga studio?  Kudos to all those folks who came from some other nation with the express goal of opening a family restaurant and introducing Indian food or Peruvian rotisserie chicken or even the ubiquitous Chinese cuisine(now “Asian fusion”) to the palates of boring Americana!  Who were the city planners who came up with the completely illogical naming of streets in the West End of Long Beach, where every street bears the name of a state but there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to the order that they are in.  (Example:  Arizona Avenue, where I live, is sandwiched between Nebraska and Oregon.  Huh?)

When I went back to live at my mother’s house in Seaford (a small town on the South Shore of Long Island, which always impressed me because, according to the “Welcome to Seaford” town sign on Merrick Road, was established way back in the 1600s) while attending law school, I used to power walk around the various neighborhoods, including the ancient (by Seaford standards) Seaford Harbor.  I imagined that some of the properties down there might actually have been “purchased” (or flat out taken) from the Native Americans who lived there before the incursion of the town-founding Europeans in 1624.  One of the (many, many) things I want to do when I retire is historical real estate research, to maybe track the stories of some of the oldest titled properties on Long Island.  SOMEBODY (or more likely a small group of SOMEBODIES) had to be the first settlers in a strange land.  We always hear about the Pilgrims and the Jamestown colony but what about the first Long Islanders?  And let’s take it back even further, to the REAL first Long Islanders.  Where did the original natives come from?  They didn’t just spring up from the earth.

Go back even further, hundreds of thousands of years in the past.  Dictionaries always include the etymology of words, but who was the first person to actually use that word in conversation enough so that it would be memorialized through future generations?  Among the first humans to use words to communicate, who decided on the meanings?  Who invented written words?  For that matter, who was the first human to sing, or play music?  Who built the first guitar, and how did that person know what he (or she) was doing?

[I could get off on a whole tangent here, and perhaps I will one of these days, for a deeper discussion about the origins of our planet, and specifically our species on this planet, which I think about a lot.  Ultimately I’m content that I have no answers and will in all likelihood never get answers to those deepest of questions.  But a mind exercise I often engage in when I’m among masses of people –in Penn Station, for example – is to note that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE PEOPLE AROUND ME came out of a woman’s body and was a tiny, helpless infant, unable to talk, walk or do anything on their own for at least the first five years of their lives.  EVERY SINGLE PERSON, AS FAR BACK AS HUMAN HISTORY GOES.  That is, except for the very FIRST person or persons, if you consider that a human being is born of sperm and ova.  There’s always a “first”, right?  (Shall we engage in the proverbial chicken-and-egg debate, anyone?)  I understand how organized religions strive to present their own take on some kind of origin story (none of which I find to be a satisfying explanation), because it’s the first prong of humankind’s most intriguing inquiries:  Where did we come from, why are we here, and where are we going?  I don’t claim to have any answers except for these:  I came from SOMEWHERE, because I am quite obviously HERE.  I have some purpose for being here; I just haven’t figured it out yet (but hopefully I will).  And I won’t know where we go when we die until I actually die, which I am in no hurry to do.  You might say that’s simplistic and that I’m not a particularly deep thinker, which would be true.  But I’ve always been a person who prefers the obvious explanation.  I would make a very poor conspiracy theorist.]

My daily email from the inspirational blog “The Seeds 4 Life” today featured a sentence that very much captures my feelings about this whole line of thought:  “When you look around, everything you see was once someone’s dream or vision.”  [“You Have Brains in Your Head. You Have Feet in Your Shoes. You Can Steer Yourself Any Direction You Choose – Dr. Seuss”, posted by: Johanna Rosberg, TheSeeds 4 Life, 7/18/17, http://www.theseeds4life.com/you-have-brains-in-your-head-you-have-feet-in-your-shoes-you-can-steer-yourself-any-direction-you-choose-dr-seuss#more-6273]  Yes, copycats usually end up cashing in on someone else’s ideas, although they also make improvements.  I mean, the Wright Brothers are the renowned fathers of aviation, but some much-later genius said to himself (and his investors), “I think we need a whole FLEET of these flying machines to actually carry multiple humans from one place to another”.  It’s those first risk-takers that impress me the most.

* * * * *

Speaking of beginnings, I was so excited for the return of Game of Thrones this weekend and Episode 1 did not disappoint, laying the groundwork for what promises to be a scintillating Season 7.  From George R.R. Martin’s brain sprung this endlessly fascinating universe, and I will be sorry when the tale ends, presumably a little over a year from now.  There’s talk of prequels and sequels, and those efforts may have merit, but none will ever match the grandeur and fascination of the original.  (There’s always the novels, though – and we have two more of those massive tomes to look forward to!)

Advertisements

Frustration Overload

The other night I watched the powerful documentary “Hell on Earth:  The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS” (2017), directed by Sebastian Junger and Nick Quested.  The filmmakers focused on two brothers who, with their families of young children, try to escape the two-headed horrors of terrorists claiming territory and a so-called leader who bombs and poisons his own people.  What is Assad’s end game here?  That he lords it over a shattered hulk of a landscape where whatever populace remains pay hollow homage and secretly hate him?  (Why do so many of the world’s despots have creepy close-together dead piggy eyes and petty little mouths?  Trump’s mouth resembles an anus, and Putin’s eyes are reptilian.  Assad, to me, looks like an ugly cartoon dog.)

What is the end game of ANY of it??  How will the impossibly complicated conflict among the various shades of Islam, secular and religious —and let’s not forget Israel, which is a burr under the saddle of ALL of Islam and a very key part of the Middle East notwithstanding Trump’s ignorance – come to any kind of conclusion?  Mutually assured destruction?  Holy war?  End of days??  Sometimes I wish there really WERE a messiah who would descend from the heavens to render final divine judgment on all the hypocrites and evildoers currently inhabiting this planet (and maybe resurrect all the monsters who came before, just for good measure).  And all the jihadists and evangelicals and hard-line Jewish settlers and atheistic bad guys (organized religion is responsible for a lot of humankind’s problems, but not ALL) will, once and for all, know that they’ve been wrong all along — that they’ve been erroneously proselytizing for a creator who loves its creation and would NEVER want it destroyed by war or murder or repression or man-made disease and climate catastrophes; that our creator, whatever or wherever it may be, is in all likelihood colossally disappointed by the way its precious creation has abused and maligned this most magnificent gift we have been given.

I’m just starting Richard Engel’s account of two decades of turmoil in the Middle East (And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East (Simon & Schuster, 2016)), from his vantage point as a war correspondent, and I’m already fascinated.  (I have such a crush on him.)  The Middle East of today is actually an artificial creation, manipulated by the world powers of Europe (primarily France and England), in much the same way that the populations of Eastern Europe were artificially and indiscriminately separated and forced together by Russia.  Of course, it was inevitable that the centuries-long exercise of colonial power by white, Christian, European men would end badly – the unwashed masses can only be trod upon for so long before they realize they’ve got strength in numbers and  can, with an effectively timed effort, rise up to resist their oppressors.  But what will it take?  What about people like me – perhaps a majority of us – who were fortunate enough to live a life of privilege, aware that it was at the expense of the less fortunate, but frustrated by the fact that there was little that could be done to change the situation from your vantage point, no matter how wrong you believed it to be.  And even at that, people of color, Native Americans, the poor and the homeless often resent much of the support and assistance proffered by (white) people who have sympathy and maybe even empathy but will never truly understand what their lives are like.

Of course, as a female, I am a member of a repressed class that, as recently as the 1920s, was still deemed to be nothing more than the property of our fathers and then our husbands, too feeble-minded (dare I say secretly dangerous?) to even open our own bank accounts or purchase a car.  Generally speaking, all women are still objectified and belittled and demeaned by all men — but especially white men in positions of power – to the point where the scores of white men dominating our current government (have you seen the lily white and exclusively male Senate crew making hash of this so-called “replacement” of the Affordable Care Act?) are attempting to control the decisions that only women should be able to make about their own bodies.  It boggles my mind that there is still such a powerful anti-choice movement in this country (which, it must be said, includes women among their number), to the point where there are quite a few states that have only a single location, in the entire state, where abortions can be performed.  ONE!!  I read something so obvious the other day:  these folks aren’t “pro-life” so much as they’re “pro-forced pregnancy”.  I saw a cool video posted by Bill Nye the Science Guy the other day [https://www.dailydot.com/irl/bill-nye-abortion-scientific-reasoning-big-think/?fb=dd%3Deg] where he completely deflated any claim that “life begins at conception”:  Eggs are fertilized by sperm cells ALL THE TIME but don’t necessary go on to become a child.  Any miscarriage – even where the woman doesn’t even KNOW she’s miscarried – is a wholly natural and uncontrollable response by a female body indicating that the conditions are not optimal for a full-term pregnancy.  But the bottom line is, WHO HAS ANY RIGHT TO TELL ME WHAT I CAN AND CANNOT DO WITH MY OWN BODY??  How does my choice whether or not to have a child have ANY impact on anyone other than ME??

Which gets me into a whole other line of frustrations about human rights:  as a human being, I should be entitled to exercise my rights to do whatever I please, unless and until MY rights infringe on YOUR rights.  Otherwise, it’s none of your damn business.  Gay marriage?  What the hell does it have to do with YOU, Mr. Conservative Politician?  That inane Defense of Marriage Act they tried to put forward a few years ago – defend marriage from WHAT??  Infringement on its “sanctity” by the gays??  The whole argument is hollow and frankly ridiculous.

The human rights battles being fought in the US of A are bad enough, but when expanded to the world stage, it becomes paralyzing in its magnitude.  A child unjustifiably detained by the North Koreans is returned to his parents with irreparable brain damage caused by his torture at their hands, only to die within days of his return.  For what?  For possibly attempting to steal a poster (although nothing can be proven, especially since he is not able to tell)?  Supposedly they believed him to be a CIA operative but still, torture is a universal crime.  North Korea may be a freakish anomaly (have you ever seen a satellite photo of North Korea at night?  THERE ARE NO LIGHTS), but dangerous all the same.  What is the end game for all of Kim Jong-un’s missile tests?  Would he actually dare to use his puny (yet still deadly) missiles on South Korea or Japan?  The unpredictability of it all is chilling.

Apart from North Korea, there are plenty of other danger zones when it comes to the human rights.  There’s the repression of the press and political opposition by Putin, Erdogan, China, the Saudis, countless African nations – it all becomes too much to bear.   I genuinely admire the people who work for organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and even the ACLU (local and national chapters), and I wish there was something I could do (apart from sending money, which I lack at the moment) to help.

I started writing this blog with an idealistic intention to make the world a better place one blog post at a time.  To the extent that my blog posts have any effect at all on the world – like a butterfly wing flap or pebble’s ripple in a pond – I try to stay positive and not complain too much about things I cannot control.  Trump winning the presidency was a rude awakening for me, and my blog posts during the election and in the time since are evidence of that.  His term thus far has been a nightmare of epic proportions and it’s just getting worse.  Our standing on the world stage is lower than it’s ever been, and trusted allies are questioning our commitment to shared goals.  On a personal level, my demeanor and frame of mind have been negatively affected on a daily basis.  I am afraid, and I am ashamed at my impotence.

But even Obama, as much as I respected him and believe he did as good a job as he could as president under the oppositional conditions he faced (but while always maintaining a sense of grace and higher purpose), failed in the Middle East and also domestically, with his partial and largely ineffectual efforts at gun control and reforming health care.  And under his watch, the monolithic Republican Party has gained in power and numbers, both fairly (thanks to a woefully ignorant voting public and lethargy among those who can’t even be bothered to vote) and unfairly (thanks to illicit gerrymandering, which hopefully the courts – including the Supreme Court – will succeed in curtailing, not to mention that sneaky little Russian “interference” that’s all the rage these days), both at the state and federal levels.  If even Barack Obama, ostensibly the most powerful and level-headed person in the world during his presidency, was not able to bring about as much positive change as he wanted to, what possible effect could my paltry little blog have?  The problems we face in the world right now are so overwhelming, all I can do is feel sad and frustrated and powerless.

I know there are good people doing good things out there.  I love my “Upworthiest” emails (do yourself a favor and sign up for some truly POSITIVE perspectives:  http://www.upworthy.com); they are a ray of sunshine amid the dark tales of war and waste and repression and inequality.  Wasn’t it Martin Luther King, Jr. who said that only light can defeat the dark?  But I guess it’s very, very dark these days, because all those tiny personal bits of brightness out barely seem to be making an impact.  (Remember George H.W. Bush’s “thousand points of light”?  Of course, he was using that image to encourage the “little people” to do more charitable work with their limited resources rather than relying on our taxpayer-funded GOVERNMENT to do it, but it’s still a nice metaphor.)

In contrast, so many things I read about or hear on the TV leave me upset, drained and demoralized.  I wonder why I even waste energy thinking about them.  There’s a whole laundry list of things that frustrate me these days, many of which will probably end up as a blog post of their own.  For instance:

(1)          Partisan politics:  When did Republicans and Democrats get so completely diametrically opposed with their political positions that they can’t ever compromise or even have an open discussion about things that are important FOR THE WHOLE COUNTRY, not just Dems or Republicans, not just rich or poor, not just white folks in Red States or recent immigrants in Sanctuary Cities (we are ALL immigrants, remember?)? We are supposed to be UNITED, especially as viewed by the rest of the world.  Don’t Republicans have children to whom they want to leave a healthier planet?  Can’t we agree that ALL Americans have “certain inalienable rights”, and then protect those rights for EVERYONE, no ifs, ands or buts?  Maybe the answer, like in most other civilized nations, is to break the mega-parties into multiple smaller factions, where coalitions can be built and it’s not so much “us vs. them”.  But the way things are now, it’s just dumb and nothing gets done.

(2)          Income inequality:  I have covered this topic a few times in this blog.  I find it so disheartening that people who have SO MUCH begrudge a few extra dollars in the pockets of people who work hard and still have NOT ENOUGH.  I’m sick of it. Develop some compassion.  Look beyond your bubble of privilege and wealth.  There ARE people of worth outside your protective shell who deserve a chance to succeed in life.  What was that quote I saw on Facebook the other day?  “Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you.  It’s not pie.”  PAY UP, RICH PEOPLE!

(3)          Then again, you can’t make saints out of the poor, or drugs addicts, or petty criminals, either.  Yes, their unfortunate life circumstances have often forced them into difficult decisions, but there is something called “personal responsibility” also.  Poor people CAN succeed despite their limited resources and sad circumstances, but a boost and/or helping hand from people who are more fortunate would certainly not hurt.  And drug addicts and petty criminals should be helped to transition back into society with the support they need to thrive, not suffer the inevitable recidivism that is the only possible outcome for the profit-centers that our prisons have become.

(4)          Guns.  I HATE guns.  They are nothing more than penis substitutes, in my mind, tools for the weak.  Last week’s VICE episode (Season 5, Episode 71) was about how entrenched the gun industry is in this country.  Americans do love their guns, boy.  The VICE correspondent was interviewing the proprietor of the nation’s foremost gun mega-shop and he was saying how gun buying is cyclical, but as far as I can tell, in my lifetime, there has been nothing but an INCREASE in the number of guns and the ease with which people can obtain guns.  I think all guns should be incinerated, but I admit that’s unrealistic, given the American lust for firearms.  (Who, apart from a soldier, needs a semi-automatic weapon?  Would a pistol or a rifle not kill someone just as easily?)  A more sensible option would be for governments (probably at the state level, because the federal government is just too cumbersome and partisan to get ANYTHING done these days) to regulate guns like they regulate the motor vehicles we all drive.  Hey, they’re both instrumentalities of death:  cars are potential, but guns are assured.  That’s what guns are FOR – to kill things.  Yet we do more to protect each other from car accidents than we do from gun accidents.  I saw a statistic today that thousands of children are killed or injured by firearms every year.  Do Americans not want to protect their CHILDREN?  (Or I guess another solution is that kids could just be armed themselves, like the youthful gun groups and pre-teen sharpshooters sponsored by gun manufacturers featured on the VICE episode.)

AH, BREATHE, NAN.  We can only do what we can do.  In fact, I’m going to attend my Organize, Plan, Act meeting tomorrow evening.  They’ve arranged some interesting speakers, and I’m looking forward to spending time with like-minded individuals who are as frustrated as I am but who actually manage to maintain a positive outlook.  I desperately need to tap into that.  And hey, it’s not only safety that comes with numbers – it’s comfort, too.

Hopefully my next blog post will have a lighter message.  I think we could all use one. these days.