Monday, December 28, 2015

The End (Of the Year)

It’s very tempting to compose some paragraphs about the year just ending. Predictions for the year ahead are also in generous supply about now. I might as well toss some words of my own into the pot.

The year began in cold and snow here on the mountainside. That was good, because we needed something to harden the ground left soft and slippery by the extended Fall. We are used to, and comfortable with, temperatures that dip below zero, that occasionally even fall far enough to require really heavy coats and more frequent trips to the woodshed and furnace. It sorta didn’t happen. We did have some weeks of cold and snow, coming late in the season, but overall it was a mild late winter. It’s happening again.

Today we will probably have temperatures in the 50s, fog and maybe light rain. No snow. So far this season we have had flurries once, and that has been it. We have four seasons here: mud, snow, fly and dust. Some days we have all of them at the same time. While any one of them can be sufficient, none of them seem to last very long anymore. You just get one level of clothing out and easily available and you need to go up or down to another level: coats and hats, boots, gloves come out of the closet, but by the time you’ve outfitted yourself you are overdressed for what you will find when you actually go out the door. Or you find yourself shivering and turning up the heat in the car because you’re dressed for the 60s and the temperature has suddenly fallen through the bottom of the glass.

But that’s enough about climate change. What about the rest of the environment? How about safety in public places? No calendar provides a guide to that either. There was a time when we were secure in our homes and offices and schools, but that has changed over the years, too. Today we think about people in other countries, countries where we have felt safe and welcome in the past, but where we would not want to visit today.

It is hard, some days, to feel positive or even hopeful about the world we are going to live in for the foreseeable future. For some of us, of course, that is a short-term issue. For those we have brought into the world, have nurtured (continue to nurture), it’s a different story. Same plot, same characters, just a different clock perhaps. I’m not the first to think that compulsory military service shouldn’t begin until one is past retirement age, and it’s unrealistic to even propose it, but it does, you must admit, have its attraction.

There was a time when I was drawn to science fiction, both as a reader and a writer. I tried my hand at it while I was still in college, but gave it up for the same reason I had stopped reading it in the first place: it was all coming true. My introduction to the genre was in the 1940s, but by the early or mid-fifties so much of what the science fiction community was offering was based on reality that I lost interest. I’m rethinking that genre now.

In the first place, science has taken us so much farther than most of us even considered sixty or seventy years ago. Walking on the moon is so much history today, and the recent book and film about surviving alone on Mars is already a little behind the known science. The mystery, the opportunity for imagination to soar is limited, but growing more intriguing, offering more real possibilities. Maybe we can imagine our way out of the future some people are imagining today.

We will have to turn to our new calendars on Friday of this week, with all the little and large changes that will mean. The date on checks, for instance, and on letters written by hand, will offer opportunities to get it right (and wrong), at least until we’ve written it a few times. But there are more opportunities for us all.

We can try to devote more time and effort to discovering truth, seeing people as people, asking thoughtful questions and giving thoughtful answers to the many questions before us. These are times of struggle and uncertainty, to be sure. There will be new challenges and still-to-be-discovered truths, if we but learn to listen. There may even be answers, if we want them, but we will have to listen with care and answer with thoughtfulness. This is not the time for off-the-cuff responses to deep-from-the-heart questions. It will be a time of work and study, if we are to understand the changes our universe will spawn. We need to be ready for it to happen. Now is a good time to begin.

Happy New Year.

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