Sunday, February 05, 2006

A very good day

Today has been a very good day. It still is a very good day, as I sit and reflect on it. I spent the morning and early afternoon cleaning up the house and my room and car a bit in preparation of Sarah's return, and the afternoon and evening enjoying the Super Bowl at the Parkway Theater and the company of my friend Josh. It's early enough in the semester that I don't feel guilty about skimping on the reading for my classes, or that I'm going to miss a bunch of classes this week taking Sarah to Wilbur Hot Springs as a wind down from nanny-ing for Becky and Andy Potter the last three-and-a-half weeks. Of course, Sarah doesn't know about this yet, so if you see her before Tuesday, please keep it under your hat.

I'm listening to the Otis Redding station on Pandora.com as I write this, which plugs me into such a great variety of classic soul music and like great blues channels pain and loneliness into defiant joy and perseverance, steadfastness. Night Train by James Brown just came on, one of my favorite renditions of one of my favorite songs. It takes me back to DJ-ing on WOBC, the college radio station at Oberlin College.

This Holiday season, Sarah's brother Adam told us about his job in Louisville, KY, working with at-risk kids and teaching them life skills while leading them in construction jobs in low-income housing projects. Is that clear? Hopefully I can sum it up a little better tomorrow morning. At any rate, Adam told us about a meeting he had with the kids he was working with and an Ojibway Elder. This man said that colleagues (for lack of a better word) of his had been monitoring Yellowstone National Park and the San Francisco Bay Area, and that these colleagues were predicting catastrophic events in both areas within the next six months. His suggestions were that we say prayers each morning and smoke our tobacco.

These warnings hit very close to home for me. As a recent emigrant to the Bay Area, I feel very vulnerable to seismic uncertainty. I am living with a dog and two cats, and every time they seem to be acting odd I brace myself for imminent earthquake. This happens maybe four or five times every day. Our house is located very near the Hayward Fault, which has been pinpointed by many as the likely source of "The Big One," which does great things for my paranoia. When Sarah and I first moved here we were woken by small earthquakes a few times, but I guess we must have gotten used to them--haven't noticed any lately, though I'm sure they're still happening.

This paranoia has also been honed by my reading of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, which has a lot to say about the seismic potential of Yellowstone Nat'l Park. For real, in-depth grad-school info, you should really talk to our friend Gwyn, the vulcanologist. The best I can do is to tell you that Yellowstone is what is known as a super-volcano, responsible for many of the most intense volcanic eruptions of the last few million years. Long story short, seismic uncertainty undergirds pretty much every moment of my life out here in California. It's beautiful and expensive, but the knowledge that total catastrophe is just a quick shake away is never far from my mind.

The Elder that Adam talked to said that we should smoke our tobacco and say our prayers. Talking about this a week-and-a-half ago with Neal and Garrick helped me understand what those prayers might sound like. Praying to affect plate tectonics is ludicrous, egotistical and naive. The crust of the Earth will shift and move without regard to the impact it has on our puny human settlements, and no prayer or entreaty will change that. All we can pray for, all we can think about as we smoke our tobacco, is that we are able. Please, God, Great Spirit, whoever hears this prayer, please let us be strong and flexible enough to meet this change and help as many people as we can.

I know that my personal desires and goals dissolve in the face of these impersonal, global changes. All I ask is that I have the presence and strength to meet this change as it comes, and to help my brethren through these changes. It is impossible to know if the huge earthquake we fear will come during my time in California, or even during my lifetime. All I can ask is that I use my gifts to make a difference.

This is a little more morbid than I intended, but it's honest. The frailty of our existence out here is something that I think about a lot, and that it's important to honor. Who knows when everything we know will be obliterated by an unlooked-for asteroid, or a catastrophic super-volcanic eruption, or an internet-obliterating solar flare. We have a lot less control over our environment than we like to think, and saying our prayers and smoking our tobacco makes as much sense as watching the seismometer or listening to the scientific experts who try to predict mysteries that Mother Earth will reveal to us in her own sweet time.

This is why it is so important to enjoy onesself, one's existence. Respect your fellow humans, but know that life is delicate and must be savored. Savor the spices, as an old crawfish-eating cartoon suggests (I tried to find that cartoon via Google, but was rebuffed! Shock!)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Andy - I have been thinking quite a bit lately about the role of faith in the face of climate change, despair about the future, my role in it. It feels quite welcoming to hear your perspective on the topic, my young strong-hearted son. I am praying myself for faith, rather than hope, faith to be present, to take right action, to know what the right action is, faith. I am offering up my tobacco daily in my own way. Love, Mom