a/k/a “Maybe Someday”
Much time has passed since the year of the Great Gathering. The greatest minds of the age, worldwide, attended . Every discipline was represented: scientists, philosophy, mathematics, religion, government, history. etc. No realm of thought was omitted; no open mind was unwelcomed.
Never before had there been such a gathering of intellect and spirit. Most had
thought the meeting a political impossibility. It had been seven years from its
inception as an obscure proposal to the United Nations to this unprecedented
assemblage in Geneva. Nations at war with one another sent delegates with instruction to participate despite ongoing hostilities. The seemingly impossible task: to chart the future for all of humanity
They were to catalogue all worldly needs, resources, and capabilities, and their resulting “manifesto,” it was hoped, would sow the seeds of positive change for all. There were general sessions, committee sessions, subcommittee sessions, and countless informal meetings and conferences. The gathering had become world news as all nations awaited the day of publication of the great “manifesto.”
When finally released, it was considered a failure. It turned out that the many minds and philosophies represented could agree on very little. The gathering itself was denounced as “a squandering of priceless intellectual resources.” The resulting manifesto, degraded as an insult.
Yet, in time, it took hold. Nations and individual saw the true wisdom of the great gathering. Copies of the “Manifesto for Humanity,” were everywhere - some in expensive frames in great meeting places, others, a simple note taped or tacked in the most austere of dwellings.
Now, decades later, the fruits of the Great Gathering have forever altered the course of humanity beyond even the greatest of expectations. Those who derided the Gathering and its findings now stand convinced and converted. The world is in a second Renaissance, and it seems only just to have begun. The “Manifesto for Humanity”stands universally adopted and enacted, guiding the thoughts of governed and government alike. Its full text reads:
(Dedicated to Rebecca Moore and her students and colleagues at St. Mary's. The true authors of our future.)
If you haven't seen the film "Bully," it's a must-see. After viewing it, I had words buzzing through my head all day - until I finally got to my keyboard. I hope these verses capture something of it. Mostly, I hope they relay what a friend can do and the ultimate power of kindness. The final verses are, I hope, verses of hope.
The Good Day
By Frederick Alimonti
(inspired by the film “Bully”)
It was a good day in school today.
No one talked to me.
No one hit me.
No one hurt me.
It was a good day.
The day after the big game;
And it was all the talk of the bus.
No one hit me.
No one hurt me.
It was a good day.
I saw the game too.
No one cares what I think.
No one asked.
I think no one saw me.
I sat alone in the back of the bus,
Knees at my chin
Quite invisible, I think
Happy to be unnoticed.
Even the boy in the red sweatshirt;
The one who pounds on me
Seemed not to see me.
He left me alone today
It was a good day.
At lunch, I sat alone.
My hood hid my face.
It kept me invisible
No one sat with me.
No one spoke to me.
Offered to trade desserts.
But no one tipped my tray.
Or stole my dessert.
It was a good day.
I saw others talk
Even punch, but in play,
Not in a mean way.
I wondered what that was like.
To have a friend.
To have someone say “hi”
To ask about your day, and care
Still, it was a good day.
No one hit me
No one hurt me
No one said a word [to me].
The ride home was the same
I was a phantom
It was a good ride home.
That was my good day.
No words, no friends
But no hits, no taunts.
A day without a single kind word
No pat on the back
No smile in my direction.
Yet it was a good day.
When you’re bullied,
That’s a good day.
A really good day.
There will have been no big game.
I will reappear,
And they will hurt me.
Tonight, I will dream-
Dream of a smile,
A kind word
A simple hello.
I will dream of a friend
A friend who cares;
Who cares what I think
And how I’m doing
A friend to sit with on the bus
And at lunch
A friend who includes me.
I convince myself
That someday that will happen.
Someday that will be true.
Then, I will have a great day!
I will agree in a heartbeat that quality family time is not best spent around the television. Yet, some wonderful memories of childhood did involve a gathering of the whole family around the tube for some show or movie that would be but a memory if not seen the one time it was on. This was so particularly around the holidays, when classic animated specials aired for the one and only time. A Charlie Brown Christmas and several others come to mind as quiet, stop everything viewings before the family’s one television set.
Similarly, when a great movie came to Television, the whole family would gather around for a night or two, and as this happened a generational torch was passed Whether it was Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, or Ben Hur, we enjoyed the time together, and these premiers were special events. Although I would not compare TV time for family time on vacation, at the beach, camping, or even talking around the dinner table, these were still special times in their own way.
Then, came the VCR, the DVD, and now instant, on-demand downloads. Now we can watch anytime, anyplace, and there is nothing special about it. There is no reason to gather up the family as one. It was perhaps nicer back in the day to make time for a special event before all media became so recordable, fungible, replaceable, and re-playable.
It's Pearl Harbor Day
Here's to all of our veterans and men in service. Let's perhaps also remember a country that, with SOME of our allies, won a war, helped rebuild the vanquished and then went home without leaving our flag behind. Also a country that held a nuclear monopoly for five years and elected not to dominate the world. Let's remember our proud legacy of service and sacrifice when it seems increasingly more about acquiring "stuff" and taking more.
"Back in the day," the fifth verse of the Twelve Days of Christmas was a resounding "Five Golden RIngs!" Golden, having two syllables fit the rhythm of the song. Now it seems that the song has morphed into "five go-old rings," forcing an extra syllable from a one syllable word. Did some high lyrical authority decide that we had to make clear that the rings were gold, and hence more valuable than mere golden [colored or perhaps plated] rings?
If so, this is a sad commentary on holiday commercial stupidity. Even a classic Christman carol is not safe from materialist encroachment.
Wondering how "Black Friday" got its name, I did some basic googling. One theory is that the phrase was first coined by Phidelphia Police in reference to all of the automobile and pedestrian traffic on this busiest of shopping days.
Strangely, stores now proudly announce Black Friday specials as if publicizing them enough will deaden us this pejorative moniker. As for me, I see it is a truly fitting title as it brings out the worst in us as we grapple with one another to save a few dollars on some gadget or gift - and all after the day we were supposed to give thoughtful, if not prayerful, thanks for our true gifts and blessings: one another. What could be blacker than the sight of greedy frenzied shoppers pressing against the doors only to scream, scamper, and trample to be at the top of the bargain heap?
I propose changing the color of Black Friday by using it for one more day of thanks and togetherness; perhaps even to do some volunteer work. If you must shop, make some extra purchases for the needy and those cold and suffering in the aftermath of Sandy. I bet the satisfaction from such a day willl far exceed the value of the money saved by scaling heaps of frenzied shoppers, and perhaps, just perhaps, the bargains will go to those who need them more - a nice side effect.
The toys and gadgets aren't going anywhere, and our money will be just as green another day.
Now that Inside Out has hit the stores, I thought I would add just a few words about it. First, I guess you can say that I did an “analog beta test.” I read this story without the benefit of illustrations to a middle school assembly and in some classrooms in my hometown. The response has been tremendous. To this day, children stop me in town and ask me if inside Out is available yet and tell me how much they liked it – boys and girls surprisingly (despite the focus on female bullying)! It also demonstrated the unique capability of poetry to engage children – and adults too I think.
The funny thing is, it was only after writing [and reading] this book that I even realized it addressed bullying. The theme that inspired me to write Inside out that of inner beauty; the bullying in the book was simply a vehicle for this message. I think the result was a book that addresses bullying in a unique and perhaps subtle way. There are legions of books available on discouraging bullying and how harmful it is. I have not seen an approach like this one before. Our bully takes a forced look at herself on the “inside.” Yet somehow, the story is still fun and ultimately uplifting. I hope you will give it a try.
I make no holier-than-thow claims, and I have done my share of visits to Home Depot and Target etc. I remember when a mall was a novelty - Roosevelt Field, Long Island, was the first one known to me.
Yet, as I look around many a Mainstreet, seeing closed stores, franchises, banks and too many damn "wireless" businesses, it seems to me that we are quicky bargaining away much of our former charm in favor of the big-box discount and impersonal service. Indeed the mom and pop stores are increasingly the exception. Add internet sales - what could be a more impersonal and unilateral experience!
When I go into a neighborhood store, I generally get what I need, fast and appreciatve service and even someone who remembers me. Compare this to the typical megastore experience in which I often wander aimlessly looking for help only to find someone not so helpful - if at all. I spent an hour once waiting on line for a custom gallon of house paint, knowing all along that for five bucks more I would have been in and out of my neighborhood store. Five dollars well spent I say! If you have a favorite shop or two where you are treated royally and get great service, consider making your purchase there rather than deferring to the next megastore excursion. Otherwise, you have only yourself to blaim when its a shuttered storefront or yet another Verizon/ATT/etc. store.
Price and value are not interchangeable, even more so if your own time is one of the things you value.
God, Evolution, and Overkill
This will be my last heavy posting for a while; it will be refreshing to move on to lighter fare for a bit.
If this is your first blog read, I don’t profess to “know” that there is a God nor do I endorse creationism as a substitute for science. Rather, I simply believe that there is a spiritual element to existence that is perfectly compatible with science and our quest to know all that is knowable. Science is not heresy, but rather an essential component of man’s drive to learn and improve. I am not out to convert anyone, except perhaps to suggest that we all need to look beyond the constraints of what we think we know and open our minds to other possibilities.
One of the things that puzzles me though is that it seems to me that, in certain areas, nature and natural selection (if this is all you believe in), have really outdone themselves. It would seem that once a certain level of evolutionary advantage is attained, there is no real advantage to pushing beyond the bare minimum to survive and prevail. The rest is evolutionary overkill. It seems to me that we are blessed, for lack of a better word, with senses and appreciations that far exceed these minima, and there are others for which there is no real evolutionary explanation.
Let’s take beauty for example. Now, we can never know if our primate cousins take a moment to enjoy the beauty of the sunset – maybe they do. But seriously, what could be the evolutionary advantage of an innate tendency to stop and smell the roses? Certainly, some ancestor of ours would have been better served by scurrying on back up the tree rather than stopping, dropping his guard, breathing in the fragrant spring air, and thereby becoming someone else’s lunch. If we accept that our ability, not only to appreciate beauty but to create it, is unique to man, where on earth did it come from? Was it just some happy confluence of other evolved abilities that we put to a new use when we could safely spare the time? (as language is postulated to be) Isn’t that hard to accept as the singular explanation?
Let’s compare two senses: olfactory (smelling) and auditory (hearing).
We all know first-hand how primal our sense of smell is. It is almost in instinctive sense, and a smell’s ability to revive memories and even emotions somehow feels basic, if not impulsive and uncontrollable.
Hearing, on the other hand, and more specifically, hearing and music is so much more. Our ability to hear, discern, appreciate, and be emotionally overcome by music could only have arisen after man had the ability to create music. Quite a coincidence! Think of a symphony orchestra: strings, woodwinds, horns, percussion – each with many component instruments, all playing different but related parts, and it all makes perfect beautiful musical sense to us – musician or not. Why on earth were we gifted with a sense of hearing that seems to give us so much more than we really need? How is that as we learned to create music, we found we already had the ability to appreciate it in ever increasing levels of complexity and beautiful harmonies?
Yet music, this late-arriving form of expression, seems to have unequalled ability to inspire, exhilarate, and motivate. Indeed, it can inspire a soldier to go out and kill just as it can inspire us to look within ourselves to the depths of despair and the heights of exhilaration. How can we explain the unique capacity of music to move us with science alone? And yes, I know there are theories. But that’s all they are. I for one cannot explain the glory of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in terms of frequencies, time signatures, and harmonics. Like so many other wonders in our world - natural or otherwise - it seems imbued with elements of the divine.
I won't even try to examine the evolutionary advantages of "love," that apparently unique human quality. Maybe another blog.
So alas, perhaps there are wonders and miracles all around, beyond the science for which evolution alone is not explanation enough. So why this abundance of sensory stimuli and the senses and abiltiies to appreciate them? I am reminded of a line from The Color Purple, maybe it’s just God’s way of showing off.
“On God and Baseball”
In the “battle” over the existence [or not] of God, there are two schools - generally described as believers and non-believers. To state the obvious, the believers believe in God and, in some instances, they attribute this belief to personal experience and inspiration; they may even claim to “know” that there is a God. Non-believers, to the contrary, will point to science and deny the existence of God; some claim to be quite sure that there is no God, perhaps again claiming to “know” this to be true. And so, regrettably, the battle lines are drawn.
In truth, this is likely a pointless exercise with one school relying on science and the other on faith and spiritualty. So what is the baseball connection, or more precisely the connection to baseball salaries of all things?
Have you ever heard words to the effect: “I can’t believe that we pay baseball players millions of dollars to play a game?” This is an absolutely valid and entirely emotional point. What true lover of baseball would not play the game virtually for free if indeed he/she could play this wonderful kid’s game for a living?
An economist might respond that these players are the top 25 employees of a billion dollar business; they are the product; they make the business possible, draw the revenue, and of course they deserve to be handsomely paid for this contribution. In sum, they are paid what the market will bear just like anyone else. This is a perfectly valid and logical scientific/economic point.
I do not mean to belittle the importance of God and his (or her - seriously can God even have a gender) existence by comparing it to America’s pastime, but the analogy has some merit. In our two sample arguments above, one party makes an emotional or spiritual argument, the other a scientific or logical one. Both parties have valid points - but from such different disciplines that their reconciliation is difficult.
Yet it seems the problem is often that, with respect to God and religion anyway, these two somewhat irreconcilable perspectives insist on condemning the other’s views rather than respecting, questioning, and examining them - and dare I say even enjoying them. This is as true for the religious zealot condemning evolution as heresy as it is for the militant atheist belittling any church-goer as something south of a simpleton.
As someone who admittedly does believe in a spiritual component to our existence, I offer the following thoughts:
First, it would seem that both camps can simply begin with respecting the positions of the other, and this means that both believers and non-believers need to approach one another with some sense of humility and openness (a sense of humor never hurts either!).
Second, absent some godly manifestation in our lifetime, it is unlikely that
anyone will be able to prove the existence of God. And to those who claim to “know” that there is no God, the same applies - I think more so.
Let’s look at a few of the common atheist arguments:
Evolution disproves God. Get serious. It does nothing of the sort. One can wholly endorse all of science and evolution and indeed seek to unlock science’s every mystery yet still believe in God. What forces compelled mutations and variation? Science has yet to fully explain this and may never. I for one find the notion that even millions of years of mutation, variation, and natural selection could produce even an insect – yet alone a man – so fantastic that it compels me to seek answers elsewhere.
And yes, that is a place where science and faith intertwine. It is indeed apples and oranges my friends. Those who take evolution, which explains so much, as the end all and be all of creation, seem to be arguing that if you put together enough monkeys and enough typewriters, one monkey will write War and Peace. No it won’t, and I don’t care how many monkeys are in the room!
Yet, even if we fully concede that there was no supernatural force involved in life's creation and that evolution tells the whole story, we still have to explain “stuff.” Yeah, just plain stuff, matter, the Big Bang, the substance of the universe. Where the heck did all this stuff come from? When you think about it, nothingness is a whole lot easier to understand than “stuff.” Why is there anything? Was it always there? Was there ever just nothing? It isn't nothing still really sort of something? Empy space is still space after all. It’s really a mind-bender.
I get the Big Bang, and it’s the best theory we have at the moment. But where the heck did all of this stuff - this super-dense mass of matter come from? Once we know that, where did the stuff it was made from come from, and then the stuff before it, etc. etc. etc. At some point in this explanation, physics and metaphysics collide, and isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t this an area of such delicious ambiguity that both the scientist and the theologian really should embrace one another ? Isn’t that where faith and science meet, and the real fun begins?!
Just like the Big Bang comments above, isn’t it the role of science to keep drilling down through both time and matter. It is only relatively recently that we came to know molecules and atoms. Now we understand many of the particles that comprise atoms and the myriad byproducts of smashing atoms apart and crunching them together. At the end of each discovery is the “is.” We found a new wave or particle and it simple exists. It simple is. We don’t know why it is or where it come from, it just “is.” And no matter how much we learn, we will always drill down to the next level of “is.” And in the “IS,” I would argue, is the undeniable touch of God. But don’t ask me to prove it.
And let me just touch on the notions of “knowing” and“believing.” I for one do not know that there is a God, but I do believe in one. When someone tells me that they have such faith or have had such experience so as to know that there is a God, I take no offense. They have had a conviction or perhaps an experience that I lack, and their senses, mind, and dare I say soul have taken their faith to a higher level – one beyond my own. If this person has a closed mind to science, tolerance, and other belief systems, then, we should take issue and indeed offense. But if this is a person who embraces debate, tolerates opposing views, and seeks truth, what does it matter that his belief system is rooted in the conviction that God indeed exists?
Those who claim to know there is a God base this knowledge on some actual
experience, profound faith, or some combination of these. No, this is not a
perfect or infallible, but it is based on an individual human experience, and
someone’s claim to have experienced God is entitled to at least the same respect as we give to anyone else’s perceptions of their reality through our admittedly imperfect senses.
I cannot say the same of the atheist who professes to know there is a no God.
This an arrogant claim to know what is unknowable. They simply cannot know this; they can only believe it, or I guess, not believe it. Unlike the example above, the atheist can only disprove God by proving a negative – a much more challenging problem in logic. We can prove that anything exists by coming up with a single example. Trying to prove something does not exist, is quite another matter. It requires proving a thing does not exist anywhere, anytime – even in the alternate dimensions and universes that science postulates. Good luck with that. While one 's personal experience of God is a valid, and indeed the only, basis upon which to believe in God, another person experience of God's absence does not preclude God's existence. It merely defines a single person's belief.
Only when we, as a race of men, know everything, can we even begin to claim to “know” that there is no God. And my friends, we will never know everything. We will never know what forces exist beyond the range of our senses, even with all technological contrivances, to detect. There are doubtless countless waves, particles, and energies, the existence of which we may never have a clue.
So where does this bring us? Well, playing a game for a living does not preclude making a lot of money any more than scientific explanations preclude the existence of God. And the real fun begins when open-minded people of differing views share, argue, and respect one another’s views.
So enjoy the game!
And if you’re still with me, I have it on good authority that God roots for the Mets and the Cubs, but he [obviously] does not seem inclined to interfere!