To Everything, There is a Season...

I woke up this morning with this song in my head:  "Turn, Turn, Turn".  
The Byrds, a 1960s California folk rock band, made the most well-known version of Pete Seeger's adaptation from The Book of Ecclesiastes.  It was taken almost word-for-word from the Bible, except for the last line:  "A time for peace, I swear it's not too late." 
I had the record in what we used to call "single" form, just two songs on either side of a small disc, which is selling today on eBay for $39.99.  When I bought it, it put me back all of 49¢.  
It's worth noting, although not really germane, that the song was released on my birthday, October 1, 1965, the day I turned twelve.
What has struck me this morning is how those lyrics have followed me since I was twelve – especially these, taken somewhat out of order:
To everything there is a season…
A time to be born, a time to die…
A time to build up, a time to break down…
A time to dance, a time to mourn….
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together.
When I first heard it, the song was about world peace, as it was intended.  In my twenties and thirties it was truly about dancing and gathering experience, people, travels and money, and then casting some away and gathering more.  In my forties, I had a fair bit of mourning, of building up and breaking down. 
Hoping this won’t sound morbid or depressing (as it is most definitely NOT depressing to me), I can see that now, as I near sixty years old, my eye strays to “a time to be born, a time to die…”
I was raised in a generally non-religious way, for which I’m grateful – but I was given a very solid foundation by my grandmother and my mother of what comes after this life.  I won’t spell it out in full here, but to my mind, the best description appeared in Richard Bach’s “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.”  
Put simply, Bach says that life is like a movie.  We buy the ticket, go inside the theater, and suspend our disbelief for a while.  We become a part of the action, and get caught up.  We laugh, we cry, and hopefully, we learn something about ourselves and others.  Then the lights come on, we stand up, and we walk back out to our “real” life.
Many people think of this as our real life, and of what comes after as a sort of amorphous, cloudy, sometimes scary, sometimes comforting place.  I think of it as going home, and the peace in that is indescribable.
That’s not to say that I’m expecting to go there anytime soon, although when the times get hard, I think of it with just a smidge of longing.  But I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of a movie, no matter how bad it was.  I’m certainly not starting now, especially as I’ve managed to sit through this much of it, and there’s so much still to look forward to.
But I talked yesterday, as I do every Saturday, with my mother, who will be 91 in August.  She’s very aware that her movie is nearing the end, and if I may stretch the metaphor, she’s gathering up her things, and preparing to stand and leave the theater.  I suppose you could say that the credits are rolling.
She has so much to be proud of -- a life well-lived and well-loved, and happiness given to so many people.  But the vast majority of her contemporaries have packed up and gone home, and she’s buried two husbands and a son.  She’s tired, and wondering what use she is to anyone.  She spends more time remembering than she does looking forward, and the people she longs to talk to are no longer here.
So yesterday, without tears, and hopefully without selfishness, I began to wish her well on her journey.  I quoted, or possibly misquoted, the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, where Rinpoche says: “Die a little every day, and it won’t be such a shock.” (If I’m wrong about that quote, please don’t tell me, because I love it.)  Mom laughed at that, and said, “Honey, I’ve got that one covered…”
To everything, there is a season.  My movie is just a little longer than hers, but I’ll pack up and go home too, and she’ll be waiting there for me.  Probably with a pot roast simmering in the oven. 
Now that’s something to look forward to.



On My Bookshelf: “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life”

A simple Google search will quickly bring up multiple reviews of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Franklin, and certainly in more informative and insightful prose than I could offer.  But this book touched me, and because of that, I think I’d rather speak to how it made me feel as an American. 

And yes, that sounds a bit corny, which is, if the internet is to be believed, a word with its origins in America, like me.

Benjamin Franklin has been given the title “The First American,” but in fact, he was born to an American mother and a father whose roots were in Northamptonshire, England.  This duality would follow Franklin throughout his eighty-four years, as he traveled the Atlantic between the two, asking for peace, supporting one and then the other, and finally falling on the side of the Colonies in their desire for independence.

His ability to see all sides of an argument was often called “waffling,” and was cited as a sign that he had no convictions.  In truth, Franklin knew that if you had a room full of men who were unwilling to compromise -- those men would walk out of that room with little or nothing accomplished.  And Franklin was a man who liked to get things done.

Over 230 years later, it’s no secret that Americans aren’t the most popular people on the planet.  The internet has given me a much more international life than many of the neighbors, friends and co-workers in my town of 45,000 in Northern Idaho.  Among some here, there can be an insular nature to patriotism, in the vein of “Love It, Or Leave It.”

With friends in England, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada – and the many other countries represented on Twitter by people that I don’t know well but read often – I get a good cross-section of the world’s view of Americans.  Some of the harsher critics see us as arrogant, fat and irresponsible at the same time we have the hubris to call ourselves the leaders of the free world.  I can’t fully disagree with them.

Seeing my own country as I do, from two perspectives -- not only from inside it, but also through the eyes of my international friends – I can also hear, and believe, that we’re an adventurous and pioneering sort of people: innovative and bright, exploring the vast, wide open spaces this country has to offer.

My great-grandmother came across the plains of America in a covered wagon, and I’ve been told all my life that the women in our family are of strong, opinionated, hardy “pioneer stock.”  I’ve been proud of that label, and the philosophy behind it has helped me to steer my own sometimes rickety wagon through the upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s in California; the early 1980s in New York City; the financial downturn that started in the late 1990s and continues still; and the monumental social sea-change that allowed us, finally, miraculously, to elect a black President.

Benjamin Franklin was a man who saw serious issues, and dealt with them with humor.  He was highly intelligent, but wanted to speak and write in a manner that allowed everyone to be able to hear him and understand.  He was very much loved as a “man of the people” of the Colonies, at the same time he was celebrated as one of the higher echelon of the New World, and was present at the signing of every critically important document that shaped the United States of America.

So the theme emerges – duality.  And as a textbook Libra, I can relate.

Like Franklin, I love the spirit of the people of this country.   But as he did, I dislike a lot of its politics.  For him, that was typified by people who so refused to move off of their positions that they essentially threatened to freeze the government.  I worry, in 2012, about the same thing.

I’ve loved the culture, literature and rich history of Britain for as long as I can remember, even back to the age of eleven, reading Jane Eyre in the attic, out loud in what I hoped was Julie Andrews’ voice.

So I suppose in addition to helping me feel an affinity with someone who lived so long ago, Isaacson’s book left me asking questions about my own duality: with my love for foreign lands, people and sensibilities; and my pride and connection to America.

Which is something Benjamin Franklin, I suspect, would appreciate.



TED Talks: Simple Ideas That Changed the World

Another wonderful TED talk, only seven and a half minutes long…

We sometimes discount the unanswered questions that wander around in our thoughts, forgetting that every brilliant idea started that way.  

Adam Savage of “Mythbusters” shares three simple ideas that changed the world.




I tend to think and speak in metaphors. 

Perhaps it’s a way to connect all the disparate random thoughts that fly through my head – to bring some order to them, categorize them, in the same way that spreadsheets and flow charts can make a seemingly impossible project seem manageable.

Friends and family are kindly indulgent.  They listen to me struggle to express a thought, and then smile as I say, “You know, it’s like that scene in Casablanca…,” “it’s like when you let a balloon go…,” “it’s like watching your child grow up…,” “it’s like…”

Well, this morning I was looking at the statistics on this blog.  Not only the US, but the UK, India, France, Indonesia, Austria, Canada, Russia, Singapore, Hungary, Ukraine, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia. 

I turn to Robert, and say, “You know, it’s like donating blood…”  Possibly your eyebrows, like his, are raising in puzzlement.

But the other day, as I was lying in the bus that comes to our office every eight weeks or so, I wondered again about the idea of something that lives inside my body going out into the world and into another human being’s life, without my even knowing about it.

It’s a very personal exchange, but also a very anonymous one.  I have no idea what the path of those red blood cells, those little pieces of me, will take, and how they will affect others. 

“You know, it’s like writing…”



TED Talks: Why Videos Go Viral on YouTube

There are over 48 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. 

Who among us hasn’t gone there to see one video, and ended up spending far longer than we thought we would, just watching people be people?

This TEDTalk is only seven-and-a-half minutes long, but in it, Kevin Allocca, YouTube’s trends manager, gets to the bottom of how we connect to each other in what has become our video community.