Morning thoughts (10): Being human at our best

Yes, indeed, the snow was coming down heavily when the propane truck showed up early this morning. And none too soon either: the tanks were getting low, and to be on the safe side, I had turned the thermostat down to 60.

So it was, with a certain level of relief I saw the truck coming down Cathedral Drive as I put a blue box full of recyclables at the end of my long driveway, after spending a frigid hour or so blowing it out with the tractor-and-snowblower attachment.

The truck driver was a cheerful young man, talking about the weather, as Canadians are famous world-wide for doing obsessively. (That must be why I’m writing this now, eh?).

He said the last time he had delivered propane to my place earlier, in the late fall, it also had been snowing heavy on Cathedral Drive. “A winter wonderland, eh,” he said cheerfully as he started to pull the long, black hose around to the side of the house where the propane tanks are located. Inside, the dogs were barking excitedly as they always do when the propane truck arrives, or for that matter, anybody or anything.

I decided to keep the tractor block-heater plugged in because, the way the snow was coming down, I’d likely have to blow the driveway again. That’s one of the essentials of getting through a Canadian winter:  you have to keep on top of it, whether it be clearing the driveway, shoveling snow off the roof, or making sure the tractor essentials have been looked after: motor oil, antifreeze, gear and hydraulic fluid, battery charging okay, and especially, the block heater working well. Any one of those things neglected, and many others not mentioned, and winter will make you pay the price.

The other thing about winter is it demands you re-arrange your priorities, like, in my case, keeping up on the news is relegated to second place.

Still, I find it hard to imagine how people can live without up-to-date news about what’s going on in the world, especially if it’s something that has the clear risk of being able to create catastrophic chaos. And when I say that I immediately think of the world my three grown daughters, and my many grandchildren may inherit.

In the almost four-score years I have been on this planet, I have never seen such troubling times. At the top of the list of those worrisome troubles is the ongoing crisis south of the border. Make no mistake, the future of Canada, as well as the rest of the world, and the U.S. itself, hangs in the balance depending on what happens there. This new year, 2022, will see it go one way or the other: the survival of American democracy, or a virtual authoritarian regime, even an actual civil war. There’s a virtual one already.

Meanwhile, the Covid pandemic has come back with a vengeance because of the omicron variant, after seeming to be on the wane last summer. It threatens to aggravate the socio-political problems in the U.S. Inevitably, the administration of President Joe Biden, already showing signs of strain, will be blamed if the situation doesn’t change for the better. Talk about a ‘perfect storm.’

And if 2021 didn’t provide enough evidence that climate change is real and closing in on catastrophic consequences – think 50-degree summer temperatures, and -50 winter temperatures in western Canada, for just one example – then I don’t know what more evidence will.

What is the matter with us, we human beings? As Shakespeare had the character, Puck, say in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “What fools these mortals be.”

All that being said – and much left unsaid – I am compelled to dig down deep and come up with hope, that most positive quality of human nature:

We have it in our power, in the ‘better angels’ of who we are, to change things for the much better. Once our most prehistoric, human ancestors, facing a life-threatening, environmental catastrophe, got together and went in search of a way, and a place to survive and go on living. It was a long and hard journey. It took many years, perhaps many generations. Everyone had a role to play, everyone worked together. They learned out of existential necessity how to be a supportive, peaceful community; otherwise, they would not have survived. Sometimes they laughed, often they cried; they learned how to sing and dance to help keep up their spirits; they created and made tools; they fought off predators by outsmarting them. And they no doubt also prayed to the Great Mystery for strength, inspiration, and guidance.

And they succeeded. And so have human beings succeeded many times in accomplishing all manner of great, good things. That’s who we are at our best: intelligent, individually and collectively, and multi-talented, problem solvers.

Nothing is impossible.

Ignorance and want: the prophecy of Charles Dickens

“This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.” — Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.

(Author’s note, May 12, 2020: More than two years have gone since this post was published. I trust Charles would agree events since then have proved his words are more remarkably and tragically prophetic than ever. I also trust he would tell us not to despair, but to shine a light of hope in the world, wherever we are, and however we can.)

(Author’s note, December 8, 2020: Whatever happens between now and Inauguration Day, or even after, regarding the results of the U.S. presidential election — and I shudder to think what could still happen — the last four years have exposed deep-seated, long-simmering problems at the heart of American democracy, and therefore by extension democracy as a world-wide movement. The needs of ‘the people,’ many millions of whom live in a state of ‘quiet desperation,’ or loud and angry, can no longer be ignored or denied.)

(Author’s note, October 10, 2021: “I shudder to think what could still happen,” I wrote above. Well, what happened in the U.S. after Dec. 8, 2020 was, and is still, surely bad enough. But I could say the same thing now, with people in ‘Trump country’ openly calling for civil war if he doesn’t get his way. Are we watching the destruction of the world’s first and once-greatest modern democracy; with consequences for democracy world-wide? So it appears. And if so, who does it benefit? The answer to those questions holds the key to understanding why and how this historic tragedy is happening, and who is the mastermind.)

(Another modest ‘author’s update’ note, December 18, 2021: Slowly, but surely, the truth comes out, with some indication it will be heard and taken to heart where it’s needed most: in the hearts and minds of ordinary people whose needs have been neglected and betrayed far too long, including by themselves. Is there time enough? Of course. The next moment is time enough if you want it to be.)

I was talking a few evenings ago to my young friends, a well-read, pleasant couple with hope in their hearts, about the state of the world. We settled for a while into a discussion about the troubling, political situation in the U.S. where exploitation of a significant portion of the population by a populist demagogue with dangerous dictatorial tendencies is leading that great country, and the world, down a dangerous path.

Suddenly, as often happens, a recollection of a memory that seemed relevant to the discussion came to my mind. In this case, it was a scene from the 1951, British-made movie A Christmas Carol, based on the short story of that title by the great 19th Century English writer, Charles Dickens. Continue reading