Assembly Disassembly by Chuck Thurston

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“Nature doesn’t know extinction.” – Werner Von Braun

“Time is an illusion.” – Albert Einstein

“I ain’t dead yet!” – Richard Feynman

 

Assembly Disassembly

 

Things start before we think they do;

Not over when they’re done.

 

E.g., I used some Keats once on a maid —

“She walks in beauty like the night…”

And yada, yada all the rest.

 

Time was, reciting stuff like this could get you laid?

“Yes”, she said and proved Keats right.

Lit 101 (of England) made possible this tryst —

But I digress.

 

Take me. Dad’s seed, Mom’s egg,

Moved more by lust than purpose, I would hope —

Began assembly of this mortal pup.

 

Oh sure, some early disassembly frays;

Placenta, foreskin gone as things elsewhere were

Adding and Subtracting in those old cloth diaper days.

 

So up I went: “He’s growing like a weed”,

And netting out to: “such a handsome boy”.

 

But anon Ma Nature eats your lunch;

Teeth, hair, (good riddance kidney stone)

And other sloughing off of form and function.

 

But Ma just doesn’t know extinction, so

Back and forth across the stuff and energy divide.

Matter now, but kilowatts soon, you cosmic toy!

 

Then back again, soon enough, whatever soon is,

Time being also illusory.

Whew! What a ride!

 

Think — David and Goliath now both mouldered,

Perhaps a bronze breastplate and slingshot stone around.

That’s it – the rest is disassembled in suspension, and

Even now, you might be breathing ancient molecules,

Of Jesus even – with vapor from the Ascension!

 

Hitler maybe not yet disassembled to the point

Where he is readily available to inhale;

Don’t slow up to take a breather, though.

 

Nature plays no favorites here;

It’s all rock and roll to her, Pal —

Now rock, now rolling in the ether.

 

But here’s the good part.

Some day the sun will swallow all this up;

A-Yup, hup, hup, and re-assembly will commence —

Again! Who knows what shape this time?

 

Golf champ? Blue whale? Green slime?

Hope for the best, of course, but worms turn —

And any old sport in a dorm.

 

Things start before we think they do,

And not over when they’re done.

 

Chuck Thurston June 2012

The Sleep Of Reason by Chuck Thurston

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pantheon of the gods

Many of us believe things to be true that have been proved not – e.g., President Obama is Muslim or Kenyan-born. Many of us do not believe in things that have been demonstrated to be true – climate change is one of the most pervasive non-beliefs.

These positions are part of our personal belief systems. If we disagree with the president’s policies, believing that he has strong ties to a particular religion or country allows us to rationalize behaviors of his we see as suspicious. It confirms our fear, and we tell our acquaintances, “See! I told you so!”

If we don’t believe in climate change, then the dire predictions of what the long term consequences are likely to be won’t worry us.

In either case, our beliefs are driven by fear. Franklin Roosevelt took the office of the presidency during the depths of the depression – with turmoil in Europe and the Far East. He quickly realized that many public fears were irrational or unfounded and kept the nation from moving toward solutions. He was probably familiar with Mark Twain’s famous quote: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened!”

FDR early on told people “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”

I recently discovered the science fiction of Alice Mary Norton, who wrote under the pen name of Andre Norton. Female sci fi writers were rarer than hen’s teeth and had very little cred amongst fantasy and sci fi readers in the 50’s and 60’s. I won’t go into a long critique of her work – which I am enjoying – but a particular passage in one of her works stuck with me. Here’s the scene:

A group of space travelers from earth land on a strange planet – almost paradisiac in its beauty, climate and inhabitants – a gentle, handsome Polynesian-type race with extraordinary ESP skills. They can, for instance, communicate with dolphins. In the course of events, the earthmen are following a native girl, guiding them through some very old, dark tunnels toward an old structure that may be frequented by an ancient evil that frightens the natives. At one point the girl says that these tunnels are inhabited by their “old gods” – and they have hundreds – and to disturb them is very dangerous. The girl is terrified and is ready to abandon the expedition.

One of the earthmen attempts to calm her fears. He says, “But they are not our gods! There is no power where there is no belief!” Another adds, “No being without belief!” The girl eventually concludes that she must be safe if she is in the company of those who simply do not believe – and therefore evaporate – the old deity’s which so frighten her. The troop continues on.

So Norton’s characters are saying that if you don’t believe in these whatevers, they cease to exist. Is it this easy? Over the course of millennia, humans have taken up, worshipped, and eventually discarded – thousands of gods. Most of us don’t believe that Thor or Jupiter have any power over us any more. We aren’t moved to offer up prayers to Venus or Aphrodite in exchange for some favor. Is there going to be an eventual discarding of whatever is left?

Should we consider bringing back a few specialists to handle modern complexities – or does boiling it down to one streamline the process and make it more efficient for the digital age?

Chuck Thurston’s “Senior Scribbles” are available on Amazon. He is currently working on a longer work, but the muse of mystery thrillers hasn’t helped him much. He is about ready to dump her and try cheap wine.

A Sermon For The Mellow by Chuck Thurston

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I took a couple of English courses in college requiring I write poems, and I wrote quite a few. An instructor remarked at the time: “Your poetry is very personal.” This was not a compliment. He explained that my efforts were poems with little meaning to anyone but me. They were sound in structure, but narrow in expression. It represented a view of my personal life and conflicts, but not in a way that illuminated it for anyone else. I was doing little more than writing irate, self-aggrandizing editorials with a rhythm and rhyme scheme.

I was then a young married father, with all of the associated struggles. I had a good job, but knew I would find my level in it sooner or later, and it wouldn’t be all that high. The war in Vietnam was turning into the horror many had feared. The Peace Movement was burgeoning. The skirmishes for civil rights had begun. Smoke was in the air and it wasn’t all gunpowder or tobacco. I was an angry young man. Worse, I bought with unquestioned agreement, into almost every extreme pronouncement that complimented my own resentments. I had become what can easily turn into that most dangerous of humans – The True Believer.

Believers of one stripe or another have been around as long as humankind. That’s a good thing. Belief precedes experiment, which precedes verification, and well – it’s the only way we ever gather the facts on anything. Scientists call it a hypothesis. Copernicus woke up one morning and said to himself, “Gee, I believe the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around!” He was, as it happened, a great mathematician and developed a heliocentric model that made sense. Let me extemporize on that a bit. Copernicus couldn’t prove his belief – but no other mathematical model made sense to him. Those who believed otherwise went to great lengths to construct models that were torturous in their description of how things worked. These models did, however, jibe with the religious dogma of the time. Although Copernicus got away with it, Galileo, born almost a hundred years later, took most of the heat for this hypothesis – almost literally; he was threatened with death at the stake if he didn’t recant. This threat came from – you guessed it – True Believers.

Now there is nothing wrong with true belief on its face. And there is nothing wrong with an enthusiastic and impassioned defense of it. In their time, humans have given unquestioned obeisance to Paleolithic superstitions, Bronze Age myths and legends, Hebrew tribal laws, prophets, shamans and cultists, medieval alchemists, mystics, psychics and self-proclaimed wizards. All of these authorities have vestigial form today, and we have upped the ante with media-fueled baloney by the megaton. You are free to believe any of this you want. Be my guest.

If it were left at that, people could go merrily on their way chasing Bigfoot or hunting down the Appalachian Devil Monkeys. But a lot of True Believers don’t want to leave it at that. True Believers have harassed and taunted women and gays; True Believers have killed, with routine nonchalance, young people who made romantic attachments their families didn’t approve of; True Believers have flown airplanes into skyscrapers; True Believers have concocted bogus evidence to justify inciting wars. Like the old geocentric model makers, True Believers have warped new insights or observable evidence to match their convictions. “If you don’t like the diagnosis,” said the quack surgeon, “we’ll retouch the X-rays!”

I once attended a religious ceremony where a man officiating told me that I was cursed if I did not believe as he believed. I would, he assured me, roast in perpetual torment after I died, unless I adopted his particular beliefs. He did not actually say that he had placed a curse on me, but it wouldn’t be putting too fine a point on it to interpret it that way, if you ask me.

Well, I didn’t believe that for a minute, and would have told him so, but held to manners I had learned at mother’s knee – a lack of which apparently did not trouble him. His position, to be sure, was met with murmurs of approval from a sizeable part of those in attendance – troubling in itself. The rest sat on their hands along with me and accepted their damnation with polite demeanor. He graciously invited anyone troubled by his pronouncements to meet with him after the service, where we would be set straight. I demurred.

The world has become infected by TBs. Countries are torn apart by factions settling scores for perceived slights perpetuated centuries ago. Politicians embrace their way or no way. The Age of Chivalry is dead and the Age of Civility is evaporating. Statesmanship is moribund. Progress is deadlocked because negotiation and collaboration are dirty words.

My cafeteria lunch mates and I used to have heated discussions on the day’s hot topics, and great philosophical issues. There were always a couple of TBs in these groups. I represented a puzzling anomaly to them. I confessed to a profound curiosity about our whereabouts in the hereafter, but no real ideas on whatever might take place or whoever might be going wherever.

“But Thurston, you have to believe in something!” I was told.

Note: TBs often express things this way; to which I say “Why?”

 “It isn’t just a belief,” I told them. “I know for absolute certainty what happens to us when we die!” This always made them hoot. “We will all be recycled,” I said.

Now you can’t argue with that – and they couldn’t. I’m not talking about that spiritual component. I let the TBs work that part out, and keep it to themselves when they do; but – if every atom in our bodies isn’t sentient, then certainly some critical mass of them must be. We’ll find out one way or another in eight billion years or so when the Sun runs out of fuel and that big fusion bomb implodes and gobbles up its planetary children. Think of that. Assuming we ourselves haven’t incinerated everything by then, our urns or caskets will be atomized and the contents will be off on another adventure. I believe, with no evidence to back it up – Jeez, I’m not a TB, after all – that those contents will accrete again, gravity being what it is, and who knows? Not me, not you, not even Stephen Hawking – who has his own views on it, but is smart enough not to advance them as gospel.

I like the way Richard Feynman put it, “I am a universe of atoms, and an atom in the universe.”

Frankly, there is more empirical evidence to support my scenario than there is the fiery pit described by the proselytizer mentioned earlier.

I eventually returned to poetry after I got over the idea that I had to write angry stuff. I couldn’t begin to match up with Sassoon, anyway: “He’s young; he hated war; how should he die/ when cruel old campaigners win safe through?/ But death replied: ‘I choose him.’ So he went,/ And there was silence in the summer night.”

Whooo! No competing with that! I had to set my sights much lower and settled on doggerel. In fact, I discovered that I didn’t have to knock much polish off of my serious stuff to drop down into this stratum. I whacked out a few lines and thought myself pretty good at it! This would be my poetic niche!

The Lightning Bug

 The lightning bug with logic smug,

Lights up the summer skies,

To find a mate and procreate;

Those clever little guys!

 

The logic here is very clear,

To all who empathize.

So, don’t be coy, dear girl and boy;

It pays to advertise!

Now look – my light verse does not mean that I am glib about the woes of the world. I know full well there is suffering and hunger. Humans can rationalize anything, and a lot of TBs have rationalized cruel responses to ideas they can’t make themselves believe. Don’t join that crowd. One amazing feature of our great gift of free will is the ability to hold several opposing views in our brains at one time without going nuts. Hang out with me for a while.

Here is my belief for this day: It is beautiful outside. I believe I will get a good cigar out of my humidor, give myself a healthy pour of something red, sit out on my deck for an hour or so and ponder all of this. You’re welcome to come over and join me. You can pass on the stogie and choose the booze if you want; or maybe light up a cheroot and pass on the vino. You can bag them both and bring your own iced tea. I don’t believe you’ll be cursed any way you go.

Postscript: The air quality code was green, so my wife joined me on the deck. I didn’t get in an hour of private ponder, but she sat upwind of me, had a glass of wine and the company was welcome. Oh, and later that evening, I came across an article by scientists who have lowered the sun’s time to extinction from 8 billion to around 5.8 billion years. We don’t have as much time left as we thought.

Post-Postscript: A Sermon for the Mellow will be in Chuck Thurston’s next Senior Scribble – “The Bathroom Reader: Your Results May Vary.”  He should have it out by the end of this year if the wine and occasional cigar don’t get him first.

 

Golf Rumination by Chuck Thurston

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I don’t necessarily – and I will qualify necessarily in a bit – view golf as a spiritual exercise, although Robert Redford did once. Check out his scrumptiously filmed “The Legend of Bagger Vance”. It is formed within the framework of the Bhagavad Gita – a part of Hindu scripture. I have claimed that golf is one of the most redemptive games in the world; no matter how bad you screw up, there is always another club in the bag, another shot, another hole, another course, another day. I suppose that you can assign some spiritual qualities to that.

The lesson behind the redemption, though, is a lesson that every pro – at one time or another in his or her career – has offered to an interviewer holding a mike: put that last bad shot or hole or round behind you. The next shot, the next hole, the next round needn’t be like the last one. It simply isn’t good enough to know that you have another chance – You have to shrug off your misfortune and take advantage of the next opportunity. It may be simplistic to say so, but I think the key to that is (oh no, not THAT old sermon) focus!

I went to meet a buddy for a round of golf this morning. He had a doctor’s appointment, and would arrive later; I could be there early and get in a few holes before he arrived!

Charlotte skyline through trees

It is a great little urban course within sight of the Charlotte city skyline, and I knew that the morning rush hour traffic would be brutal. It was – and I barely made my tee time – 8:28. It was Ladies Day, and they would start at 8:30. I would have to hustle to keep from being pushed. The course was wet from two or three days of drizzle and fog. Balls hitting the ground threw up rooster tails of water before rolling to a sodden stop. My buddy called me around the third hole and told me he couldn’t make it. My wife called to tell me the heating and air guys had to order a part to fix the heat pump. My game – sucked.

All of the morning’s irritations were working their way into my game. The nerve! I grumbled along, and then along about the fifth hole, I woke up. I knew what was wrong with me and I knew how to fix it. We almost always know this. I am convinced of it. I know how a shot is supposed to be lined up. I know what my grip should be. I make pretty good club selections. I have played this course many times and know what drive placement works best if you want a shot at par – or bogey – a result that mollifies, if not completely satisfies, me. I knew all this stuff, but I wasn’t doing it. I wasn’t doing it because I was focused on the other baloney of the day. I would like to say I creamed the last four holes, but I rarely cream anything on a golf course. But – my last four holes were three strokes better than my first four.

I don’t offer this as the wisdom of the ages, but pick that ball up from the cup, soldier on to the next hole, select the club you want and take a good long look at that flag waving enticingly at the far end of that beautiful fairway. An old Jesuit priest gave me this wisdom once: “Yesterday was history, tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift – that’s why we call it the present.”