Archive for December 19th, 2010
I was staring out of my window, watching snow flurries and thinking about the essence of being. Philosophies and religions have long grappled with trying to understand and explain the human spirit, the soul, throughout time. I have a distinct and solid understanding, and thought of a useful metaphor for it as I watched the flurries descend.
Definitions of “the soul” generally include total individuality and immaterial nature. It is that which makes each of us unique, it manifests as long as we live, growing and changing within us, and then instantly vanishes from view as we die.
In most religions, the question then is asked, “Where does it go?”
Consider the snowflake. It begins as a small cluster of water molecules up in a cloud at the boundary of vapor and mist. As it hovers in the wind currents, it grows and evolves. The species (chemical formula) determines the basic nature, a flat hexagon. So why is every one different? Because they grow in subtly different mixes of molecules and temperatures. Each becomes an individual. When they grow heavy enough to drop below the cloud line, they are born as falling snowflakes.
But they have not finished growing. They continue to sublime and to collect molecules. As with any system, they increase in complexity and purity as they encounter random or systematic changes in environment. Sometimes they merge, often they fracture.
Finally they reach the ground. Some settle into clusters, becoming packed into a solid layer, and even all the way to ice. Others hit something warm and melt. In either case, what has become of the individual essence? It’s parts get recycled into other forms, compacted or melted, evaporated or metabolized. Eventually, all of the above. But the unique form is gone. Where did the unique shape of this snowflake go?
When we die, our spirit, soul, self is gone. It can remain in the memory of others, carried forward by our neighbors or impressions made on the environment. Like a melted snowflake.
In what way is the end of snowflake self any different than the end of a human self? Granted, humans are able to ask this question. And human life is naturally rated more highly by humans than the unique individuality of other creatures and things.
But besides that?
According to this article at the Smithsonian, America is not quite the bastion of religious freedom that it is so often portrayed to be, and it never was.
America can still be, as Madison perceived the nation in 1785, “an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion.” But recognizing that deep religious discord has been part of America’s social DNA is a healthy and necessary step. When we acknowledge that dark past, perhaps the nation will return to that “promised…lustre” of which Madison so grandiloquently wrote.
One of my degrees focused on energy management, but that came after I started big light displays, which I won’t give up. So sue me.
We conserve all the rest of the year, but there’s something that lights up inside when I see lights outside.
I posted some pictures on my personal blog that I’d like to share with folks here. Enjoy!
I co-founded a band in 1973. We called it Ego, and the 8 of us (sometimes nine) played the music of Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Doobie Brothers and many other types of music. Many of our arrangements were our own. The trumpet player for Ego (Ron Weaver) recently sent me some photos from our band days 35 years ago, and I’m astounded at the emotions that the photos have triggered. At this point (see below–I’m the 3rd from the left), we ranged in age from 16 to 20 years of age. We were all going to school and most of us were working other jobs too. Yet playing with Ego was our passion. The proof is that we were willing to split our $200 fees eight or nine ways.
I’m now three times the age that I was back then, but I felt like an adult even back then. I was studying in a pre-med program, totally unaware that I would switch paths and end up practicing law. Totally unaware that I would be raising 10 and 12-year old daughters 35 years later. I could have never imagined giving up music, and I haven’t, though I have never played with a large group since Ego. Several of the other players still have careers playing music, two of them (Charles Glenn and Kelly Durbin [not in the above photo]) on a high level.
It was a lot of work to organize a band in 1974, given that this era was pre-email and pre-cellphone. We wrote out much of our own music with pencil and paper, including detailed brass parts. None of this could have happened without everyone pitching in, and the band was filled with talented and hard-working people, all of whom had good senses of humor. Somehow it all worked for more than two years before we went our separate ways, pulled by a variety of things, none of which I can clearly articulate at this point.
There’s nothing like an old photo to bring these memories flooding back. In fact, I’d never before seen this photo, so seeing it was like stepping into a time machine. This photo makes me want to jump back in time to play Chicago’s “Make Me Smile” with the group or to struggle once more through an original tune we wrote in 7/4 time. It is such an amazing gift to see this photo so many years later (and to be alive to see it 35 years later). It is such an amazing thing that the mind, though it forgets so many episodes of the past, clings for decades to emotionally-embedded memories. This photo also makes me wonder whether it was the hard work of co-running and marketing a band that might have prepared me for resolving many of the conflicts I encountered later in life. There was a lot of improvising that was required back then and only some of it involved music. Much of that improvisation involved logistics, like how to afford necessary equipment, how to build our own mixer and lights and how many of us needed to convince parents yet again that we needed to borrow the family station wagons to make it to the gig.
This photo also reminds me of that wonderful tired feeling, at about 3 am, when we had finished working and finished unloading the equipment back home, when we knew that we brought some joy to the audience, and that we would have a chance to do it again a day or a week later. In case it’s not obvious, I’m really proud of what we accomplished as teenagers. If a parent asked me to suggest a way for their own teenager to grow into a responsible adult, I might blurt out: “Tell them to run a band.” It’s not the only way to come of age, but for me it was a terrific path.
This photos is packed with emotion for me, and looking back at it, the emotion was the logic of what we did. Whoever says that humans are primarily rational rather than emotional creatures has it so very wrong, indeed.