Monthly Archives: October 2023

A Sunday Morning Thought, 22 October 2023

It is not an easy choice to go for thoughtful, contemplative, peaceful means when so much around us promotes a lie that either the end justifies the means or that there is no end, so it makes no difference about what means we use.

Put another way, the entire human race lives with the accumulated historical traumas of thousands of years of cruelty, inequality, fear, prejudice, hatred, irrationality, injury, and despair. That we are yet capable of even beginning to come to grips with that massive burden, let alone to begin to shift it to where it is less of a burden to future generations, let alone to make real accomplishments towards establishing more compassionate systems of living – that is testament to the power of the human soul, when it turns to good. Pacifying the beasts of the past is a gradual process, but once we understand Gandhi’s statement, “There is no path to peace. Peace *is* the path.”, we are ready to begin that process, starting with our own heart, mind, spirit, and soul.

Time and Choices

I was recently at Stonehenge. Big circle of big rocks doing big things, lining up for moments in time. People put that together. Something was so important about the times being marked, that the people it was important to had to make Stonehenge to do what it does because, quite likely, other methods had failed to do the job. Stonehenge does not smack of a first effort.

The time kept by Stonehenge is not the accrual of hours, days, or years. It serves to track the rhythm of a solar year. Why is that important? When we look at the dots and lines on the backs of animals painted in paleolithic caves, we can figure that they correlate to important times in the annual cycles of the animals: when they migrate into the area, when they mate, when they give birth. All of this in correlation to the advent of Spring in the Vernal Equinox. Knowing the days of solstices provides similar information that can be used to track everything else that happens in a year.

Look at how the Egyptians tracked the flood of the Nile as another one of these annual rhythm approaches to keeping time. And while we put a year on a calendar because we want to keep track of that sort of time, we still have an ordering of days that repeats with each year. We are very much like our nameless ancestors in that regard. We are aware of the passage of time, just as much as we are aware of right and wrong, good and evil.

If there was no time as we experience it, but we instead existed in a frame of reference that was outside of the bounds of time. Our first thought would be perhaps, “Ah! Now I live forever!” Except that would be wrong, as “forever” implies a passage of time. More accurate would be to realize, “Ah! Now I exist timelessly, in a state that has no beginning or end, no now or then.”

In such a frame of reference, all of our time-space existence would be visible. We would be aware of everything that happened, every choice made. Seeing those choices, we would see people as we used to be, very much unaware of what other choices are being made and of what it means to be a human creature. None of us know who we are or what we are doing, to paraphrase what the character Nigel Tufnel said about the people of Stonehenge in the film “This Is Spinal Tap.”

But when we see people who choose to be altruistic, we see people who have made such choices because they have first chosen to see the essence of divinity in their fellow human creatures. They assign dignity to existence and are ready to forgive one and all. And why not forgive, since almost everyone who does something selfish is doing it because they do not know what they are doing? They certainly don’t know who they really are.

We exist with imperfect knowledge and assign the characteristic of perfect knowledge to God, however we view such a construct. For the sake of this essay, I consider God to be real, to be both capable of and interested in the choices I personally make as much as anyone else’s, and that there is a connection of love that exists between us all, should we take time and effort to become aware of it. Others are free to believe what they will, this is not meant to be an argument for or against God’s existence, just a thought experiment about a God that has perfect knowledge.

Perfect knowledge means that God exists without a boundary of time, that God is able to behold the fulness of the universe and comprehend it all. And if we postulate that God is loving and that we are children of God – literally or figuratively, either works for this experiment of thought – then it means we exist in this universe for a purpose.

If there is no time, no before or after, where God exists, then it means choices are eternal things. It means mistakes cannot be repented of – they exist without bounds of time. To be in the presence of God means a commitment to make no mistake. That implies that none of us are ready to be with God, as we still make mistakes. But, by existing in a context with time as a boundary, we are able to learn. In learning, we are able to change our nature to become more Godlike, if we so choose.

Now, how a final reconciliation for what errors existed in past thoughts and deeds in order to be complete enough for entering into the presence of God can be performed is outside the scope of what I want for this essay. It is a matter of belief, and many others have spoken their piece on that subject such that I would only be quoting them to explain my own position. But I do believe such a reconciliation is possible if and only if we have become someone who is motivated by love towards others, realizing the divinity within.

Once we know who we are and what we are doing, then we are ready to work within the bounds of time to help others attain that same knowledge, hopefully allowing them to choose to transform out of the person they used to be into one who is enlightened by a fuller knowledge of light and truth. We still endure the cruelties of choices made by others without that knowledge, but we forgive them. We do not count down to when we stop forgiving and start a path of violence – we forgive and hope and pray that they can see better how to live without violence. We engage in that eternal round of soulful agriculture, tending a garden or flock, as it were.

And that comes back to the time tracked in Stonehenge, Lascaux, and along the Nile. The rounds of agriculture, as it were. The year exists because of the events that mark it, not the other way around. Similarly, it is our choices that stand as reasons the universe exists.

Rollable Cities

I see lots of people talking about “walkable cities”, praising them for their goodness and charm and how everything is a short stroll away from one’s residence or from a mass transit network that’s easily accessible from one’s residence. I like a good, walkable city, as well, but I’d hate to be snobbish about it.

First of all, the words – “walkable city”. That implies that, for those who walk without issues, this is a great place to be. For those with mobility issues, however, we may be casting our eyes about for ramps and sloped crossings and non-cobbled pedestrian zones. Now, I can navigate the curbs well enough with my disability, but those cobblestones are deliberately trying to give me a twisted ankle as I painfully navigate my way across them. And when it comes to stairs, I prefer lifts. Ramps will also do, but it’s a lot more walking on them, if they’re sloped correctly. If they’re too steep, then it’s something that forces me to use the stairs and the folks in wheelchairs have to have assistance to get up those too-steep things.

When we look at mass transit, we can often talk about switching modes as if we were just hopping on and hopping off of them. Most people are. Now, let’s ask the people who don’t hop with ease and ask them about intermodal switches. Where others hop, people in wheelchairs have to endure a slow ascent/descent procedure that makes them agonizingly aware that they’re the center of nearly everyone’s delay. For those who can walk with assistance, there are often steps to clear without handrails that give us great pause as we assess the best way to improvise an injury-free crossing. For all of us, once we get from one to the other, we have to re-engage a potentially hostile commuter who thinks we’re “not disabled enough” to surrender a seat clearly marked as one to surrender to anyone who asks. We still have a long road ahead of us with disability rights.

Then there’s the matter of the local climate. Weather is one thing – I can’t go bawling to the city council if I’m caught out in a surprise rainstorm without an umbrella, those things just happen. Climate, however, is what every day is like when we’re not having weather. Once the local climate crosses out of a temperature band that’s comfortable for most people to walk in, we begin to face miserable conditions. My hometown of Dallas, Texas is a prime example of misery for the 4-5 months of the year we call “summer”. Our late spring and early fall are hot enough for others to find uncomfortable, but our midyear heat coupled with humidity are so bad that other people with similar conditions somehow feel better if theirs are worse than ours – and we somehow feel vindicated if ours are the worse of the two being compared. It’s an odd thing we humans that endure extreme climates go through when what we should be doing is expressing concern and sympathy. But I digress.

In cities with temperate climates that don’t get all that hot or cold, most of the year is a walker’s dream and the praise of walkable cities flocks to their stately names. In cities where things get miserably hot, we build roads to handle the capsules of controlled climates that make daily activities possible. On the hottest days, people could actually become ill or die from exposure to the heat, and that’s the case even in a shady bus stop. The concrete will radiate heat ferociously, making conditions on the street even more miserable than the ones at the local weather station. A short walk to a bus stop with a short wait for the next bus becomes a calculation on whether or not one’s life is worth the trip.

In colder places, where they’ve got 4-5 months of harsh winter, it’s the inverse with temperatures, but the same concerns about one’s health after exposure. Once we get out of a temperate band, the walkable city vanishes and all those personal automobiles look like life-savers for getting around town. Accommodating them means the city itself grows and develops in ways that are less walkable and much more rollable.

Working from home and handling services online can go a long way towards getting rid of the daily commute and the need to be in person to handle certain things, but those don’t make a city any more or less walkable if the climate isn’t temperate or the mass transit isn’t truly accessible – or the destinations aren’t accessible, either. For a city to be truly walkable, it needs to stop being a heat island. But the very building materials that allow us to have more people closer to cool stuff like attractions and mass transit are also the building materials that trap that heat and make things much more miserable when the thermometers rise. And there’s the problem I don’t have an answer for. So, until then, I’m a champion of rollable cities.