Recently in Living Category
His father has recently written eloquently, even in his grief, about the theological questions the senseless death of a young boy raises. For him, it is not a question of God's punishing anyone or of some grand divine plan, but of "the broken nature of the world."
This W. H. Auden poem captures that brokenness; so I offer it here in memory of a birthday that should have been welcomed by the palpable excitement of an energetic little boy ready to enter into his ninth year of life.
W.H. Auden, via http://homepages.wmich.edu/~cooneys/poems/auden.stop.html
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
When you look at the striking photographs Chris Brady took of Mack and his entire family, you see a glimpse of the beautiful life that was lost, and of the love that endures.
Tonight marks the one week anniversary of Mack's death. Here are a few images by which to remember the love that endures:
Sometimes the experiences of your friends have a way of making vague ideas poignant and concrete.
The Press Enterprise is the local paper in Bloomsburg, a town that was hit last week with a devastating flood.
No, to learn about the flood from this paper allegedly dedicated to "Serving Bloomsburg," you would need either to subscribe or visit their Facebook Page, where you would find comments from Facebook users and the occasional link to the Press Enterprise itself; and if you would like to read the articles to which these links point ... well, then you would need to subscribe.
Of course, you could also look at the images and stories gathered by individuals like Cole.
These images and stories articulate well the business of Bloomsburg at the moment. And it seems to me that the business of a newspaper designed to serve this community should really revolve around the business of the community itself. While the newspaper did unlock its content during the flood and in its immediate aftermath; it has now closed itself off again from the wider community of communication that is the internet.
Cole has written an eloquent post about this on his blog, a post that should move the Press Enterprise to reconsider its business strategy.
But it is the strange tension in the name of the paper that I find rich with ambiguous meaning. At a time when the culture of printing is giving way to a new, more dynamic digital culture the very enterprise of the press has been called into question.
When we speak of the "enterprise" in business terms, we understand, as Dictionary.com says, "a company organized for commercial purposes." But the most common meaning of the term is "a project undertaken or to be undertaken, especially one that is important or difficult or that requires boldness or energy." I like that one. But it does not seem to be the meaning at play in the Press Enterprise.
That has changed somewhat for me since becoming an Associate Dean. When the semester ends, the structure of my work week remains largely unchanged - I continue to come to the office each day to meet and work with staff, faculty and students. The result is that when I take vacation, it really feels like time off. Of course, all the research pressures of a regular faculty member remain, which casts a shadow over every vacation.
This year, however, I have had some success in learning how to relax in this context. A few of my strategies are probably a bit counter-intuitive.
Keep in touch. Many people set up an automatic email message that says something like "I will be away from my email until x, if you have an emergency, please contact ..." I never do that, even on vacation. I know enough about myself to know that allowing email to pile up while I am away increases my anxiety. I am less relaxed in such situations. Rather, I check mail periodically, deleting things I don't need, delegating things to staff at work, responding briefly if possible or adding more involved tasks to OmniFocus, my To-Do list, for when I return. The result is a bit of time over vacation, but I save two or three days of being behind when I return. I am more relaxed when I take the time to do this.
Be unscheduled. The biggest challenge for me is to settle into being unscheduled. My days are hyper-scheduled, down to half-hour time periods. Even my unscheduled time has a research or administrative work schedule imposed on it by me to ensure I am maximally productive. On vacation, I find myself often trying to schedule the day: let's go to the beach in the morning, then do X for lunch, then let's go to the pool ... I simply need to let go of that compulsion to schedule, at least for a vacation like a week at the beach.
Attend to the Moment. During my work-a-day week, I have sought to cultivate the ability to attend to the moment and the task at hand. My Photo of the Day project has helped me practice attentive seeing. This week at the beach, I have relied on that practice as I listen to my daughters' stories, notice the play of light on the ocean, and enjoy the smell of the beach. I have written before about the beach as a liminal space and the details of life at the beach. One of the important reasons I try to practice the habit of being present to the moment is that the disposition is then there when you need it most: when vacation time slips slowly away and life appears to pass too quickly.
One of the reasons why these strategies work for me, I realize, is that I don't feel the need to separate radically from my working life when I am on vacation. I am lucky to have a career I love, one that feels more like a calling than a burden. This too, was a matter of intentionally attending to the course of my life, which I take to be one of the primary purposes of living a philosophical life.
It was then that she told me that she was going to try to stop carrying Jelly Dog with her everywhere.
For almost two years, this little stuffed animal was always with her, tucked into the crook of her elbow and hanging over her forearm like a limp appendage.
Throughout kindergarten, Jelly Dog would travel to school, sleep in her backpack during class, and join her on the playground where, somehow, she learned to do the monkey bars without ever fully extending the arm with which she held Jelly.
To see the two of them at dinner was quite a scene. Every item of food ArtGirl ate was first "tasted" by Jelly. She would first pass each bite by Jelly's mouth before eating it herself; every drink was "sipped" by Jelly before she drank it herself.
During this time, her deepest existential concerns found expression in relation to Jelly. She would often say:
"I know Jelly is not real, but I think he is real." Or: "What will happen to Jelly when I die?" Or: "I don't want Jelly to die."
So it came as a surprise to hear her announce on Sunday that she was going to let Jelly go. But there it was ... and she marched upstairs to put him away in the room where we store a rather large collection of stuffed animals.
She came downstairs in tears. We hugged for a long time.
All day she struggled not to go back and get him, but she missed Jelly.
During this time, she said the most beautiful, poignant and remarkable things.
"It doesn't feel right with him, but it doesn't feel right without him."
"I want to go and get him, but if I take him back, I will have to go through this sadness again."
On Sunday night, I brought him back for her so she could sleep. You see, her mother is wise, and she suggested that "going cold turkey" was perhaps not the best option and that we should instead just try to leave him at home when we went out. We agreed, a weaning process would be best.
ArtGirl told me: "Cold turkey is not for me."
But by Monday night, she had gone most of the day without him. When I asked her if she wanted me to get him for her she said:
"I do want you to get him, but I don't want you to get him."
We celebrated on Tuesday when she woke up having slept without him.
And now it is Thursday, and we visited her new school as she prepares for first grade.
We talk about Jelly sometimes, but we both agree that Jelly did his job and is enjoying his retirement with his other stuffed friends.
With every tool man is perfecting his own organs, whether motor or sensory, or is removing the limits to their functioning (43).
The passage touches on something I have been thinking about ever more intensely as I consider how the technology I have integrated so completely into my life has changed the way I interact with the world and those I encounter in it.
To illustrate his point, in this section of Civilization Freud points to the motor, which extends the power of human muscles to move the body, and the telescope, which extends the power to see; and he mentions the camera and the gramaphone as fundamentally designed to amplify the power of recollection and memory.
As I have emphasized in a post entitled Brief Reflection on the Essence of Technology, the dialectical relationship between the technologies we create and our human creative capacities is complex.
Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on to him and they still give him much trouble at times (44).
As I think about how I use those technological tools that have become adjunct to my body - my iPhone and increasingly now, my iPad - and I consider the extent to which I rely on an application like Evernote or even Things, my advanced ToDo app, I realize the degree to which these devices and applications allow me to focus on what is important to me because they augment the power of my memory - or should I say they deteriorate the power of my memory by taking over the very task of memorization for me?
The difference seems to be diminishing....
And yet, Freud's reminder that "present-day man does not feel happy in his Godlike character" (45) gestures to the core of the issue: what is it for a prothetic god to be happy? This is, of course, the age old question of human happiness in the robust, Greek sense of a life well lived.
How can we use the technologies that use us to live a fulfilling human life? How do prosthetic gods become blessed?
They come in rhythm, the waves.
We call the easy ones "rollies" as my Mom called them with me and her dad with her. The bigger ones we eye with concern, deciding if they will require a lift from me or if she can negotiate them herself.
She has recently learned to hold her breath under water, a great advantage for this game, yet a cunning one as it can lead to overconfidence.
We roll with the waves. As each one rises, she teaches me something of her growing ability to navigate the world.
I learn my job: to be present to her, to the oncoming waves, and to the moment; to lend a little courage, to praise a wave well ridden, to hold and lift when necessary.
One of the more important of the many unexpected benefits of producing the Digital Dialogue is the feedback I have received from friends who listen. In a strange way, the podcast offers me some distance on myself such that I am able to hear certain suggestions and comments about how I "appear" in public in a less defensive way. This strikes me as an important insight directly related to the question of the excellences of public dialogue. Appearing in public, appearing to someone allows you to be reflected back to yourself in ways that are revealing. If this reflection can be faced, it opens up the possibility of self-transformation through/with others.
Let me be more concrete: in the course of a discussion about the sound quality of the podcasts, I have solicited feedback from those I trust. My wife, Val, of course, is my most trusted advocate, adviser and critic, so it was important to hear her suggest the difference between my philosophy persona and my more informal and relaxed persona. We had discussed this issue before, particularly as she began, early in our relationship, to come to hear me give papers or lectures. It is not that I am a different person, but that I have a way of talking when I am in my teaching or professional mode.
Allan Gyorke has made a similar point to me in email:
When your podcast starts, I've seen you take on a very scholarly persona that is very intense and quieter (Dr. Christopher Long) than the person you are when we were brainstorming about your video and playing around (Chris).
It turns out, however, that this issue is becoming more complex for me as I turn my attention to my new role as Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in the College of Liberal Arts. Not only do I need to think about how Chris relates to Dr. Christopher Long, but now too, we have this new fellow, Associate Dean Long. Of course, these three are also related to the person I am as a father and husband.
We have an ongoing discussion of these various identity questions on my little blog about blogging, Mapping the Long Road, and more questions are being raised in my mind than answers...
We came up with a few questions, but it was most interesting to hear where the conversation led Mom and Barb as they remembered their parents, Philip and Sophia Filing.
Although some of the stories we heard, we knew, there were others that were new to us and even to Jan and Barb. In the process, I think we learned a lot not only about the history of our family, but also about the relational dynamics that made our mothers who they are.
Listen to Barb and Jan talk about Phil and Soph here.
Below are pictures of Phil and Soph (left) and Aunt Ro, Phil's sister, with Phil and Soph (right).
Just two weeks before, a group of us had been in Prague where we met a number of students from Czechoslovakia, as it was then called. They told us in no uncertain terms that something momentous was happening. At the time they and we did not know whether this was something to welcome or fear.
Upon our return to Vienna, we discussed the question in our European History course. The professor was a former Ambassador who assured us that whatever changes may or may not be underway, the overarching paradigm that held European powers in the grips of the Cold War would not change in his lifetime. (This marked an early realization of a truth that has borne itself out over the course of the last twenty years: professors don't always know what they are talking about and the more certain they appear, the less their words should be uncritically accepted.)
Two and a half weeks later, many of us were on a train to Berlin to witness first hand the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In Berlin the excitement those of us gathered at the wall felt that day remains palpable. Borrowing a sledgehammer from a local German, I can still feel the thrill that came as I knocked off the large chunk I still have set upon my bookshelf.
I recall too, a discussion I had with a very thoughtful and earnest young Lutheran pastor from East Germany who watched the scene unfolding before us with trepidation. His hope, as he expressed it to a young American student genuinely concerned to try to put a context to the history that he was witnessing, was that the West would not simply view this development as an opportunity to impose capitalist values and culture on the Eastern bloc. It was, of course, unclear precisely how things would progress, but there remained a sense that a genuine meeting of the best ideas of the East and West might have an opportunity to converge.
As I think back on those days, I am once again made aware that ideas have the power to transform reality.
But for me, this had less to do with the fall of the Berlin Wall, than with the students and teachers I encountered and the experiences I had during my semester abroad in that fall of 1989. To meet students and educators who actively sought to imagine what life was like in another culture, to learn a new language, and to open themselves to the transformative possibilities of education was of decisive importance to me at a formative time in my life.
And although I did not take a philosophy course when I was in Vienna, when I returned, I was convinced that my course would tack toward education and that philosophy was the path it would have to take.
During the night, the heavy snow from the earliest snowfall on record in State College had caused a huge tree in front of our house to fall on the beautiful maple tree that sits in our front yard. The tree that fell was split at its base, having collapsed under the weight of the snow.
In falling, the tree not only crushed the maple, but came within about 10 feet of hitting the roof of the house just above the girls' bedroom. After taking stock of the damage, the girls and I returned to the house to check on Val who has not been feeling well for the past few days.
School was canceled, because State College Area School District was without power as well. Without heat or power at home, we did our best with breakfast and, making sure Val was tucked warmly in bed, we ventured downtown where I was schedule to receive a flu shot.
By the end of this strange and somehow beautiful day, we found ourselves at the doctor's office with Val, where we thought we would try to capture something of the day's events using my iPhone as a voice recorder. Here is the podcast we recorded.
Today you begin a great and wondrous journey. Today, you begin Kindergarten and with it, the formal education that will open you to a world of ideas and experiences that will shape the person you become.
Your Mom and I have sought over the course of these five years to prepare you well for this adventure. You know your colors, your letters, your numbers; you are empathetic and thoughtful, reflective and open. You make friends easily after you wisely assess them in their relations to you and others. You worry, but not too much. You have a passion for art, for new experiences, for writing, and for sharing your life stories with others. You try new foods with joyful anticipation and are not less willing to taste new things after you have experienced something bitter. You have a wonderful imagination and welcome others, especially your sister Hannah, into the worlds you create. You love easily but not indiscriminately; and you are fiercely loyal to those who have won your affection.
So, you are ready for this journey.
As you begin, know that your Mom and I, your sister and your family, are with you even when we are not physically present. We are there in the classroom when you feel uncertain; on the playground, when you need to stand up for yourself or your friends; in your heart and mind as you are enriched by the educational experiences that will sustain your life.
Yet although we are here to support you, now it is time for you to step into a new phase of the journey and to make a meaningful and fulfilling life for yourself.
I am so proud of you and love you more than I can say. I look forward to the adventure to come as I have delighted in your life thus far. You have taught me to see the world anew and the world is made better by your encounters with it.
Go now into this next phase with the joyful integrity that has marked your life from the beginning.
"Time wastes too fast: every letter I trace tells me with what rapidity life follows my pen, the days and hours of it are flying over our heads like clouds of a windy day never to return more--everything presses on--
Thomas completed the passage:
"--and every time I kiss thy hand to bid adieu, every absence which follows it, are preludes to that eternal separation which we are shortly to make.
Another long anticipated week at the beach has run its course; but we have renewed connections with one another, with the sand and sun, with the clouds, rain and the energy of the earth. Next year, the we all will be older, different, exposed longer to the love and hate of the world.
For now, the sun shines beautifully as we pack, grateful for another year together.
Now more than ever, I am aware of what I can and cannot control. The way I relate to others, but not their responses; the integrity of my decisions, but not their consequences; the living attention I invest in my kids, but not the arc of their lives...
As I turn 40 today, I pause to appreciate this before I return to running with my kids and laughing on the beach ... if the sun decides to burn through the clouds over which I have no control.
"The take home lesson is to always enjoy where you are now."
A simple lesson, a difficult task. But the study offers a view of each concrete life in one sweep, not as a series of moments, but each as a kind of whole. In this it is akin to great literature. To see the whole of life in this way is to be reminded of its brevity, and of its incalculable depth.
First, economic prosperity is dirty. Owens says that "the principle source of [hu]man-made greenhouse gases has always been prosperity." The advantage of the current economic downturn is that it has slowed the carbon clock a bit.
Second, new technologies won't solve our global warming problem. As Owens suggests, getting increased miles to the gallon is no help if it encourages people to drive more; having electric cars will not help if the electricity is produced by fossil fueled power plants and if we continue, as he writes, "sprawling across the face of the planet, promoting forms of development that are inherently and catastrophically wasteful."
Finally, the real solution to the energy and global warming crisis lies in the transformation of human habits. Our habits must change. We must cultivate more sustainable ways of acting and thinking, habits that allow us to live in a more symbiotic way with the planet that sustains us.
To begin, let's figure out how to live closer to where we work. Let's ride public transportation when we can, even if it is inconvenient. Let's convince our political representatives that it is in our best interest to pay for and otherwise support things that cultivate habits that support a more symbiotic way of living in the world.
If economic flourishing is going to promote ecological prosperity, the new, green economy will have to serve a whole new set of human habits oriented toward a mutually sustaining relationship between the world and its human co-habitants.
Saying Goodbye to Very Young Children
They will not be the same next time. The sayings
so cute, just a little off, will be corrected.
Their eyes will be more skeptical, plugged in
the more securely to the worldly buzz
of television, alphabet, and street talk,
culture polluting their gazes' dawn blue.
It makes you see at last the value of
those boring aunts and neighbors (their smells
of summer sweat and cigarettes, their faces
like shapes of sky between shade-giving leaves)
who knew you from the start, when you were zero,
cooing their nothings before you could be bored
or knew a name, not even your own, or how
this world brave with hellos turns all goodbye.
-- John Updike
Once I told her that artists sometimes bring a sketch book to sketch the works of great art in the museum, she insisted on bringing one.
Below are a few examples of her work in the light of some of the European masters:
Santa, aka Val, asked for and bought nothing for the girls that required a battery of any kind. Most of what the girls received for Christmas was made out of natural materials and required nothing more, or less, than imagination to bring them to life.
As a result, we had a Christmas punctuated by laughter, make-believe adventures, games of various sorts, the crackling of the fire in the fireplace, and soft holiday music courtesy of the Jazz Holiday station on Pandora.
It was a peaceful day, absent the harsh digitized shrill that comes with toys requiring batteries. And the pace of the day was slower, too, less frenetic than I recall in the past. In all, it was a quiet, beautiful day for the four of us to be together celebrating the wonderful power of our imagination.
Happy Holidays to everyone.
However, according to the New York Times article, Washington's New Tack: Helping Homeowners, the Treasury Department is considering a plan that would subsidize 30-year mortgage rates so people would have the opportunity to get such mortgages at an interest rate of as little as 4.5%.
This strikes me as a very promising idea, and not only because my family and I would benefit from it. By essentially cutting the monthly cost of living for all current homeowners, the government will be increasing the amount of money middle income families can inject directly back into the economy. Further, the plan would help the banks insofar as there presumably would be fewer loan defaults and the fees generated by the millions of people electing to refinance existing mortgages would be a windfall profit for them.
There is a qualified version of the proposal, however, that concerns me. The Real Estate lobby is apparently suggesting that these subsidized mortgages be limited to new home buyers. While this would be cheaper for the government insofar as fewer people would be able to take advantage of it, there is no reason to impose such a limitation if a more inclusive relief package would still make the offer available to new home buyers and thus stimulate the housing market.
I think the proposed subsidized mortgage stimulus package, if enacted in an inclusive rather than exclusive way, would be a far more effective stimulus to the economy than writing individual rebate checks to all tax payers. To have a reduced monthly payment built into the lifetime of a 30-year mortgage would have a profound and lasting impact on the overall wealth of those who are working hard to afford their first home or who are, like us, working to pay off the remainder of a hefty mortgage.
If you agree, write your Congress members, the President and the President-Elect:
For those who live in Pennsylvania, you can write to our Senators here:
- Write your Representative: https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml
- Write your Senator: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
- Write President-Elect Obama: http://change.gov/page/s/yourstory
- Write President Bush: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/
- Senator Casey: http://casey.senate.gov/contact/
- Senator Specter: http://specter.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Contact.ContactForm
Here are some pictures that bring into focus how much Chloe and Hannah have grown over the course of this election. The first is of Chloe, Caitlin and Hannah at the opening of the State College Obama campaign office in March.
Here is a picture of Chloe, Hannah and Val on Election Day, 2008. Hannah and Chloe have grown up during this campaign and I hope they have learned something about standing up for what you believe in and putting your energy and efforts into making the world a better place.
Chloe and Hannah were my intrepid canvassers, walking through many neighborhoods, ringing doorbells, always very happy to be out talking to voters. They never complained and always were happy to visit the Obama office, where they inevitably received some treats, many stickers and more than a few high fives from volunteers.
To hear President-elect Obama speak tonight in Grant Park in Chicago was gift enough for all the effort.
Although I have not followed the Phillies religiously since then, once a Phillies fan, always a Phillies fan. Watching this team, this year, I was brought back to my younger days, when the whole world seemed to hang on a single out. I had a sense of that feeling again tonight, and the joy that comes with the last out.
Congratulations to the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies and to all my fellow Phillies fans.
- "In 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East."
- "I'll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy."
- "Now is the time to meet our moral obligation to provide every child with a world-class education."
- "Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable accessible health care for every single American."
- "I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm's way with a clear mission ... I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century..."
"What is that American promise? It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have obligations to treat each other with dignity and respect...
That's the promise of America, the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation, the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper.
That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now."
Today we are a step closer to living out the meaning of our creed, to bringing the ideals of American into closer connection with our reality.
This week, though, as summer comes to an end and the pressure to make significant progress has increasingly taken a toll on my psychological well-being, I was released from my self-imposed obsession with the minutia of Aristotle scholarship by two moments, one involving Hannah, the other, Chloe.
Yesterday, I was particularly frustrated as I emerged from my basement office after a day of writing and torment. The effects of it must have written on my face, because when Hannah saw me, she said, "Daddy, why are you mad?" When I told her I wasn't mad, just thinking about my writing, she said, "Daddy, I missed you when you were at work. I love you; you're my best Daddy. Do you want to sit with me and play?" It was a great gift, a reminder that forced things into perspective.
Heraclitus put it best: "A lifetime is a child playing … the kingdom belongs to a child" (fr. 52).
The other moment was also very touching. I often bring Hannah and Chloe to the Penn State library when I need to pick up something. They love to run through the stacks of books and play on the ancient elevator with the gate in front of the door. We were in a corner of the basement where the books on Ancient Greek philosophy are and I noticed my book, The Ethics of Ontology, sitting on the shelf. (Shockingly, it was not checked out!)
I picked up the book and asked Chloe if she could read the name on it. She was able to identify some letters and ultimately came to the surprising conclusion that the name on it was that of her very own Dad. "Oh Daddy," she exclaimed, falling into me with a huge hug, "you wrote that book all by yourself?!? I am so proud of you! That's great! And how did it get in the library?" When I explained that they bought it from the publisher, she said, "They bought it! I can't believe it. Your book is in the library."
Her pride and excitement were so affirming and genuine that I immediately felt the years of work that went into the writing of that book--and this one--come suddenly into poignant focus: this moment made it all worthwhile.