survival

VALOR AND SURVIVAL

It was a rerun of an NCIS episode from a few years ago. The victim had given her life to protect others and her country’s secrets.

“She didn’t have to do it,” McGee pointed out.

“No,” said Gibbs. “She had a choice. That’s what makes her a hero.”


My cousin is my oldest friend, though we don’t see each other much. We communicate a fair bit on the Internet but hardly ever in person.

“You’ve always been braver than me,” she said.

The context was a picture of me and Garry riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. There’s a camera at the first drop. Hard to resist buying a picture of oneself and others screaming as you go down the nearly vertical first drop on an 84-year old wooden coaster.

But brave? It wasn’t as if I’d volunteered to rescue someone from danger. I paid my money and got the best adrenaline rush money can buy. Not brave. Not heroic.

Some people have called me brave because I’ve survived. As it happens, I would have been just as happy to skip all that and lead a pleasantly uneventful life. For excitement, there’s the Cyclone. I could have lived with that.

I’ve managed to slouch into senior citizenship alive but I hardly deserve a medal. You don’t get medals for surviving or you shouldn’t. Saving ones own life (and occasionally as collateral anti-damage, other people too) is instinct, not valor.

Staying alive is hard-wired into our DNA. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it.

My definition of bravery or valor is the same as Gibbs’. You have to make a willing choice. There has to be a choice! Taking risks for the fun of it, to make a killing in the stock market, or because your only other option is death isn’t courage.

If it’s fun, it’s entertainment. I love roller coasters. I probably would have liked sky diving had my back not been so bad. A personal passion or hobby involving doing dangerous stuff is not brave. Maybe it’s not even intelligent.

Taking a risk for profit? Shrewd, not brave.

Saving your own life? Finding a way by hook or crook to keep a roof over your head and food on your table? That’s instinct.

I’ve never done anything I define as courageous. I’ve done exciting stuff, entertaining and fascinating stuff. Some of these adventures proved disastrous. Others worked out okay. I’ve occasionally been selfless in helping others when I could. But I never voluntarily put myself in harm’s way to save someone else.

The most I could be accused of is doing the right thing when it wasn’t easy. I don’t think you get medals for that, either.

Anyway, that’s what I think.

WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGES – At Winter’s End, Robert Silverberg

Original Publication date: October 1, 2005, Kindle Publication date: May 14, 2013

At Winter’s End: The New Springtime, Volume 1. By Robert Silverberg, .

The falling death stars came again at last. Long predicted, the recurring catastrophic collision of earth with the world-destroying celestial bodies arrived on scheduled. In its last pass, it had killed the dinosaurs, brought the ice ages and ultimately, the ascendency of humankind as Earth’s dominant special.

It is many hundreds of thousands of years in the future when the cycle recurred. By then, Earth had not only humans, but other intelligent species — vegetals, mechanicals, hjjk (insect-like) and emerald-eyes (heirs to the dinosaurs) sharing the planet. Of the intelligent earth-based species, only humans and the hjjk were destined to survive the longest cold winter of the Earth. The others either could not or would not endure the 700,000 years of the Long Winter.

Simians who will become heirs to humanity have survived in an underground cocoon. Within this highly structured, rigidly organized society, they are driven by a singular goal. Endure until the New Spring comes. Survive until the sun warms the Earth. It’s an unthinkably long wait.

When finally signs portend the arrival of spring and The People are led by their chieftain Koshmar and chronicler Taggoran from the cocoon into the Outer World, it’s terrifying to many. The odds against survival are formidable. There are but 60 of them in total, the exact same number who entered the cocoon. This number has been maintained through ruthless reproductive control and pre-scheduled death dates. The number of tribe members has never in all 700,000 years been allowed to grow by a single member. But now, it’s a new day. The rules are gone and from where will the new rules come? robertSilverberg

Earth does not exactly throw the People a welcome party. Many are glad to see them, but not for the happiest of reasons. The rat wolves, the bloodbirds, endless vermin, bizarre predators and hideous insects await them … hungrily. With the warming has come the yearning for a taste of warm flesh.

The hjjk — those strange, cold insect like beings — have survived, to no one’s surprise. But there seem to be no other humans or humanoids anywhere. Koshmar’s band is so small and the earth so huge and empty. Losing Taggoran, the Old Man and Chronicler — preserver of the People’s knowledge and history — to the rat wolves means Koshmar must anoint a new Chronicler. She chooses the 9-year-old prodigy Hreesh-of-the-questions. It’s never been done before … but nothing is as it was. Everything must change.

Can this small doughty band of survivors fulfill the age-old promise to become the masters of the new-born Earth?

This is a long book with a lot of philosophical content. I enjoy the speculative nature of science fiction. That’s why I read it and that is, in my opinion, what sets sci fi apart — as a genre — from other kinds of fiction.

Sci fi is concept-oriented rather than centered on personal and emotional stuff. This is classic science fiction. There is a lot of thought-provoking stuff in here, much of it about the importance of following rules — and when rules no longer apply. How to know when it’s time to change and when it’s better to stand fast. If you are looking for a novel that explores the personal feelings of people and their relationships, you’ve come to the wrong book. If you like to give your brain a little exercise, don’t mind philosophical meandering (better yet, you enjoy it), give this one a read. And then read volume 2 — The Queen of Springtime. If you like one, you’ll like the other.

 At Winter’s End is available in hardcoverpaperback and now in Kindle. It’s a powerful, thought-provoking novel of world’s end, world’s beginning. Robert Silverberg is a  master science fiction writer. Earth and its people reborn.

Daily Prompt: Flip Flop – Life is Fair? Not.

With shock and grief, I hear the wailing of betrayed youth. They have made the Big Discovery. Life is unfair. Work hard, perform brilliantly yet wind up bruised and forgotten. Then again, you might find yourself famous, rich and covered with honors. It’s not cause and effect, though people like to think so … until the economy, their health or other people betray them.

The younger me knew — with 100% certainty – that work, talent, ambition and determination were magic ingredients.The older me learned you can do everything right, follow all the rules and it still doesn’t work out. Oops.

bankruptcy

I did it all. Good work. Diligence. Smile; have a positive attitude. Be creative. Give it your all. I did okay, but while I worked hard and put in overtime, I watched the suck ups, second-raters, and those who worked cheaper if not better, move up. While I came in early and stayed late, they went to meetings and took long lunches. I wonder if I’d gone to more meetings, would that have changed the outcome? Somehow, I doubt it. I try not to let it sour me. It’s out of my hands. I’m a passenger on this bus, not the driver.

Former belief: Play by The Rules, give it your all. You are bound to “make it.”

Current belief: Do the best you can and hope for a bit of luck to bring it together. If not, enjoy life. It’s the only one you’ve got.

We tell our kids if they do it right they will get that pot of gold. We don’t tell them work sucks. That 75% of their bosses will be morons who know less than they do and have less talent. But in a way, we were right. They will earn a reward, but it’s the satisfaction of knowing they did the best of which they were capable. It’s the one reward everyone can count on.

We have to try. If we succeed and for a while get a piece of the good stuff, enough to feel it wasn’t a waste of time, that’s great. For some, it never happens. Bad luck? Wrong attitude? Poor economy? Not enough talent? All of the aforementioned? Trying may not be sufficient: you need talent and luck too. And good timing. Sometimes, you need a better agent.

I no longer believe in inevitable triumph. There’s always a chance and it’s fantastic when the magic works. But for me, fatalism has replaced optimism. The finest achievement is living up to ones best self. If this turns into worldly success, great. If not, this is the only achievement no one take away. You can’t control the world, but you control yourself.

Life’s a roller coaster. You’re up, your down. Screaming, crying, laughing … you go where the rails take you. Life will surprise you. It will give you moments of unimagined joy, then drop you into a pit to claw your way out. Rejoice when times are good. Cope with the darkness. And always try to be your best self.

 

In five years?

While the government diddles around with our lives, someone asked me “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

This is a bad question to ask people our age, especially right now. We are living on fixed incomes that barely allow us to survive. The future is not something we really want to talk about, look at, or think about. We have a pretty good idea what is coming for us and it isn’t pretty. We won’t get better jobs. There are no bonuses, promotions or raises in our future. Our careers have ended and we no longer work. No one is going to leave us their fortune. I’m pretty sure we aren’t going to hit big on the lottery.

So what do you figure is likely to be the scenario in five years? You don’t need to be a visionary or a prophet to figure it out. It’s kind of obvious.

Old House in Hadley

We will be poorer. Hopefully we will have somehow managed to not lose the house which will be in serious need of repair and improvements for which we still won’t have money. Each year, we will have less money to work with, fewer resources. Our fixed income doesn’t stretch to cover the month now and will cover less in five years.

Most of you are younger than we are. You can’t imagine a time in your lives when you have no expectation of life getting better. For us, things are never going to get better. Our fondest hope is as our situation worsens, we survive. That’s not pessimism. It’s reality. We will fight an endless battle to make ends meet. Just like we are already doing but we will be five years older and that much tireder.

Social Security won’t go up nor will any pension money. We’ll be lucky if they don’t take it away; if they do, we are on the street. We won’t get younger or healthier. Property taxes will rise as will the cost of medical care, drugs, food, and everything else. Our income will remain the same or less. If we don’t die, we’ll be lucky to have a roof over our heads and something to eat.

75-BricksBoston

A look into the future fills us with trepidation. We live with constant gnawing dread as our resources shrink and our government continues to marginalize us, as if all the contributions made throughout our working lives count for nothing, as if our lives count for nothing.

I’m not inherently pessimistic, but reality bites and I’ve got a big hole in my ass to prove it. You can run, but eventually, you hit a wall. This is reality for most senior citizens. Grandma and grandpa live in or at the edge of poverty. They live in fear. They know nothing good is coming down the pipeline. Relief is not on the way. The vast majority of us worked hard and now we can barely make ends meet. It’s humiliating and depressing. What the government calls “entitlements” is actually our money. We invested in programs we were assured would provide a dignified retirement. The money we paid into these retirement programs and social security were supposed to prevent exactly what is happening. It was supposed to keep the wolf from the door, make sure that we didn’t end up in poverty. It was supposed to guarantee we would have a decent quality of life and be able to live in dignity.

For those of you who think we are just being negative, your turn will come. It will be a lot worse by the time you are our age. Everyone thinks they are going to dodge this bullet, that this is a scenario that can never happen to them. But it will. Unless you are very good with your money (never too early to start), exceedingly lucky, or already wealthy, this is your future too. There’s no “Get out of old-age free” card on the Monopoly board of life.

Not long ago, we believed something good was bound to happen. This could not be our fate. The economy and the housing market would go back up. We could sell the house and find a place we could live better. But it didn’t happen. With each passing month, as the months roll into years, we know there’s not going to be a last-minute save. Not this time.

The overall economy and real estate market — even in this depressed area — will ultimately recover, but it will be too late for us.

Surviving: It beats the hell out of the alternative

postaday 2013 - long

In 2010, I discovered I had cancer in both breasts. Two tumors, unrelated to each other. Just twice lucky. They removed the tumors and the associated breasts, gave me very attractive fake replacements — much perkier than the old ones in an artificial implant sort of way. I actually have a little ID card for my breasts, like they have their own personae. Maybe they do. Thus, a little more than two years after the siege began, I’m almost me again. Almost but not quite.

75-DecSnowHP-17

My mother died of metastasized breast cancer. My brother died of pancreatic cancer about 5 years ago, having never gotten as old as I am now. This is not a reassuring family history.

All chronic illnesses make you paranoid. The thing that’s so insidious about cancer is its absence of symptoms. The possibility that it’s growing somewhere in your body and you won’t know it’s there until it’s too late to do anything about it is about as scary as disease gets. Nor is it a baseless fear. I had no idea I had cancer, much less in both breasts, until it was diagnosed twice during a two-week period. One diagnosis of cancer is hard to handle. A second diagnoses a week later is like getting whacked over the head with a bat. It leaves you stunned, scrambling to find someplace to stand where the earth isn’t falling out from under you.

I don’t think most of us are afraid of dying per se. We are afraid of the journey we will have taken to get there. We’re afraid of pain, suffering, the humiliation of dependence and gradual loss of control of our own bodies. After having one or more close encounters with the dark angel, no one is eager to feel the brush of those wings again.

We are called survivors, which means that we aren’t dead yet. The term is meaningless. Put into perspective, we are all survivors. Anyone could be felled by a heart attack or run over by an out-of-control beer truck tomorrow. The end of the road is identical for all living creatures; it’s only a matter of when it will be and what cause will be assigned. Everyone is in the same boat. If you’ve been very sick, you are more aware of your mortality than those who who’ve been blessed with uneventful health, but no one gets a free pass. The odds of death are 100% for everyone.

Recovering from serious illness is a bumpy road. Each of us has a particular “thing” we find especially bothersome. For me, it’s dealing with well-wishers who ask “How are you?” If they wanted an answer, it might not be so aggravating, but they don’t want to hear about my health or my feelings about my health — which are often as much an issue as anything else. They are simply being polite. So, I give them what they want. I smile brightly and say “Just fine thank you.”

December Sunrise

I have no idea how I am. All I know — and all I can possibly know — is that for the time being, I am here. To the best of my knowledge, nothing is growing anywhere it’s not supposed to be.  Two years after a double mastectomy, I cannot be considered cancer-free … and really, if you’ve had cancer, you are in remission and that’s as good as it gets. So the answer for those of us who have had cancer, heart attacks and other potentially lethal and chronic ailments is “So far, so good.”

That is not what folks want to hear. People want you to be positive and upbeat. You cannot suffer physical or mental discomfort. Why not? Because if you aren’t fine, maybe they aren’t either. They have a bizarre and annoying need for you to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed no matter how you actually feel.

As I enter this New Year, I’m glad to be alive. With a little bit of luck, I’ll continue to remain that way. God willing and assuming life stays more or less on an even keel, I’ll be here in the cyber world, writing my little stories, taking pretty pictures of waterfalls and sunrises and you’ll still come and visit me from time to time.

Welcome to survivorship. It’s imperfect, but it beats the hell out the alternative.

Don’t Go Breaking my Heart…

Marilyn Armstrong:

Not only does this include information that many of us need for ourselves or someone we care about, but Mike’s comments on the National Health Service are typical of comments I’ve heart from many Brits, Canadians, and Aussies too. You may think you don’t need it, but one day, you WILL need it and if you don’t have it, it might just cost your life. Consider that before you vote in November!

Originally posted on MikesFilmTalk:

Bypass graft.

So come to find out, the hard part of my surgery was the bypass bit. Hard to perform and harder to recover from. When we arrived at Basildon Hospital and the local experts explained what would happen and how long it would take, I can remember very little. A general air of Bonhomie and an industrious feel about the whole thing was what I remember best.

With my daughter’s help, I can reconstruct the series of events. It would take at least the two of us anyway. Meg was in a bit of shock and I was so stoned from the pain medication that I made Keith Richards‘ look tee-total.

The first decision was easy. From my view point it was, “Blah, blah, blocked artery, blah blah, Stents, blah, blah, easy surgery.” It was all very relaxed and ‘Pip Pip cheerio old man’ we’ll be done…

View original 698 more words

Brave? Really?

So my cousin Roberta, who, as is common with cousins, is my oldest and best friend, although we haven’t actually seen one another in years because the older we get, the longer that drive from Silver Spring, MD to Uxbridge, MA looms … commented that I had always been braver than she is. The context was a picture I posted of Garry and I riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. They have (or had, anyhow) a camera rigged at that first terrifying drop and it’s hard to resist buying a picture of oneself and friend or mate screaming in abject terror as you go down that nearly vertical drop on an 80-year old wooden roller coaster. It wasn’t like I had volunteered for a dangerous mission to rescue people from danger. I paid my money and delighted in the finest adrenaline rush money can buy.

On the Cyclone with Garry - July 2007

Some people think I’m brave because I’ve survived some pretty awful stuff. As it happens, I would have been just as happy to skip the terror and stress and lead a pleasantly uneventful life. For excitement, there’s always the Cyclone at Coney Island (since now it has been declared an official National Historical Site and unlikely to be torn down anytime soon).

I’ve managed to slouch into senior citizenship more or less intact. I don’t deserve a medal for this.  In an emergency, instinct takes over. I usually don’t remember what was going through my head at the time or what I actually did. Really. I don’t remember much of anything. My brain switches to survival mode and runs on automatic. I save my own life and sometimes I help other folks at the same time, but I am just staying alive.

My definition of bravery or valor requires a conscious, willing decision to take a significant risk in the service of others. Taking risks for the fun of it, to make a killing in the stock market, or because your only other option is death or disaster isn’t courageous.

When it’s fun, I call it entertainment. I love roller coasters. I probably would have liked sky diving had my bad back not precluded it. That’s nothing but a personal passion for something that offers an illusion of danger without real peril.

Taking a risk for profit? Shrewd, yes. Possibly enviable too … but brave?

Saving your own life? Finding a way by hook or crook to keep a roof over your head and food on your table?That’s survival. All living creatures try to survive. Those that don’t … don’t.

I’ve never done anything that I define as courageous. I’ve done stuff that was exciting, entertaining, and fascinating, and some of these adventures were disastrous for me, financially and emotionally. I’ve been occasionally selfless in helping others if I had the wherewithal. But I never put myself in harm’s way. I’ve taken emotional risks and been seriously inconvenienced. I’ve lost money helping others when I could barely help myself, but I don’t think this entitles me to a medal. Doing the right thing is part of being a decent human being. It’s a no-brainer.

I’ve done a lot of reckless things too, but that’s closer to stupidity than valor!

Another thing puzzles me.

Proud to be an American” is something of a Mantra these days. I don’t get it. Why would one be proud of parentage or country of birth? It’s not as if you chose where you were born, picked your parents or ethnicity. Those were accidents. You made no choice. You just got lucky.

Loving and even admiring ones parents is normal. You’re supposed to love and honor your parents (see the Ten CommandmentsArticle 4). I’m glad I’m a U.S. citizen and not living in Sarajevo or Somalia … but gratitude and pride are very different. In the past, but not much recently, I’ve been proud of things this country has done and what it stands for and I think our Constitution is a brilliant — albeit hypocritical  — document. Proud to BE American? Grateful for sure. Proud seems a bit much.

Noble sentiments and a fondness for adrenaline rushes don’t count. Unless you have made a choice, a conscious decision to take a risk for the sake of another, it’s not brave. It may be fun, shrewd, smart, instinctive, reckless — or seriously dumb — but it isn’t brave.

Anyway, that’s what I think.

Happy Mother’s Day!