“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”~ e. e. cummings.
Do you remember the first time you had to question a long-held belief? When I was young, I was totally flummoxed when my brother tried to tell me that Sunday was the first day of the week. Then why were Saturday and Sunday called the weekend? I just knew it was one of his regular tricks, getting his younger sister to believe any foolishness he told her. But didn’tcalendars routinely show Monday as the first day of the week? I had to verify with my mother before I could believe it.
My brother-in-law, a teacher of physics, has studied many of those concepts that children must unlearn before they can begin to understand the workings of our natural world. The best example of that is the fact that we all know, and recite daily the fact that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. No it doesn’t!! The sun is not rising or setting, it is the rotation of the earth on its axis (taking 24 hours) as it orbits the sun on a path that takes 365.25 days! The scientists who first tried to demonstrate that the earth was not the center of our natural universe were excommunicated, thrown out as heretics for questioning the law of the land and for demonstrating the reality of planets and stars and the smallness of this orb on which we live.
Mother Nature has schooled us over the past few weeks, first with the awesome strangeness of the solar eclipse, then by sending Harvey to humble the mighty Houston and all those residents of Texas who are having to face the truth: we do not run things. That phrase comes from a proud Jamaican saying: “Things don’t run us; we run things!” And to run things obviously means that you are in charge, you call the shots. Mother Nature has many ways of clarifying that misapprehension. Another common saying is “If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him you have a plan!”
As we watch the scenes unfold on TV, and wonder about climate change, and man’s abuse of the earth’s natural resources, we can see how important it is to try to understand science, to try to recognize, plan for and anticipate the consequences of our actions. In Miami Beach, a city which was built on landfill and created for man’s enjoyment, the mayor and commissioners are dedicating hours and resources to utilize the scientific knowledge which hopefully will give them protection against the inevitable (in fact the current) rise in sea level. Large portions of the Netherlands are below sea level, but with the help of science and respect for the forces that could threaten that country’s existence, a series of dykes and dams keep the harsh North Sea at bay.
Even as we cry for the people in harm’s way in Texas, we wonder about the planning, the human factors which could have mitigated the disaster. Houston apparently is a city without zoning laws. In the cowboy land of Texas, Houstonians paved paradise, and Harvey pummeled them with yards of rain. When we fail to plan for all possibilities, we stand to be taught a lesson. I once read that Miami was built with storm drains designed to handle the typical rainfall of New York City. As anyone who lives in South Florida knows, a typical summer afternoon deluge can bring more water than days of New York rainfall. And of course the city planners had to dig up and start over.
But perhaps the biggest lesson of Texas or any other disaster, is that it brings out the best in people. Shared threats, a recognition of how easily life can be cut short, bring people together. Watching perilous rescues, seeing people demonstrate bravery and courage in the face of danger reminds us that we are all connected, we are all one people. We must acknowledge the reality that: there but for the grace of God go you or I, and hope that others would reach out to us if we were in need.
While there are those who are trying to coordinate relief efforts, and respond to the current state of affairs, I am sure there are others who are hard at work, trying to learn the lessons of this latest catastrophe. What can we do better? How do we plan for future events? If we don’t examine what went wrong, we are condemned to learning the lesson all over again.
Human evolution, technological advances, innovations and inventions all arose out of a sense of curiosity, a desire to improve. If we are not looking for ways to grow and do better, we are not living the life we were intended to live. Whether as individuals, or as the human race, we owe it to those who will come after us to anticipate and plan for a better world.
This Labor Day weekend in South Florida, I will be partying with my longtime friends, alumni of my alma mater Clarendon College, that high school set in the cool hills of Chapelton, Jamaica. We will be having fun as we try to raise funds to help the current and future generations of high school children, who are the beneficiaries of one man’s dream, one man’s curiosity. This weekend we remember the flame that the Rev. Lester Davy lit over 75 years ago, a flame which educated and inspired us to be selfless in our goal to help others.
May you have a wonderful weekend, Family! And may you continue to learn that the more you find out, the less you know!