It’s one of my favorite phrases: “Mistakes have been made.” They are legion. I’ve made most of them myself. I continue along the same, error-ridden path.
I suspect I’ll make my final mistake immediately before I die. It might be the one that kills me.
You’ve likely heard this one, too: “Live and learn.” I’m convinced many people, perhaps most, engage only in the former. And one could question whether they’re truly living, or merely putting off dying. Living is hard enough. Learning is nearly impossible. Most notably, it hurts the ego. I’ll leave the last word on mistakes, at least for this post, to German-American journalist and satirist H.L. Mencken:
No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has any one ever lost public office thereby. The mistake that is made always runs the other way. Because the plain people are able to speak and understand, and even, in many cases, to read and write, it is assumed that they have ideas in their heads, and an appetite for more. This assumption is folly. They dislike ideas, for ideas make them uncomfortable.
I’ve posted below, verbatim, an essay I penned for this space on 14 February 2008. It was titled, “Launching a Lifeboat.” As I predicted then, times have changed, and not for the better. To say our species is in trouble would be an epic understatement.
It’s a sad day, week, and month. We’re selling our beloved house in our beloved neighborhood. We know and like all the neighbors, and we have the spectacular Sonoran Desert in our back yard. We get to walk the dog through that desert off-leash twice a day (more, when she gets her way).
It’s the only house we’ve ever owned, and we’ve lived in it for the last 18 years. During those years, I’ve seen two promotions, falling from untenured assistant professor to radical tenured full professor. And two sabbatical leaves, one to Berkeley, the other to a spectacular property owned by The Nature Conservancy adjacent to the mud hut. And a leave of absence to the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, where I worked for The Nature Conservancy. And a few junkets to foreign lands. And 18 of our 24 years of marriage, more than half our adult lives. And the death of our beloved first dog, and the deaths of a few family members. And the many simple joys of living in the Sonoran Desert, from curve-billed thrashers in the backyard palo verde tree to a handful of hummingbirds feeding on the nearby flowers, from frost on the creosote to sunsets and starry nights.
We cried half the night. And swore the other half.
Most people wouldn’t even like the house, much less appreciate it. They certainly wouldn’t live in it on purpose, if they had our combined incomes. It’s strictly stick-and-stucco, emblematic of the poor architectural design for which the region is infamous. And it’s a 1,000-square-foot house on a 4,000-square-foot lot on the edge of the city, too small for the gargantuan tastes of the average, over-indulged American. It’s all one level, and incredibly low-maintenance, purposely planned for two people to grow old in. That was the plan: To grow old together, in the house we love, in the neighborhood we love, enjoying our lot in life and the opportunity for occasional travel to remote lands.
Time for Plan B.
If civilization doesn’t fall apart within the next couple years, I’m in real trouble with my partner. As if she hasn’t had enough grief in her life lately, given the deaths of her mother, father, and uncle.
If civilization does fall apart within the next couple years, we’re all in real trouble. And not just with my partner, either.
Seems I’ve backed myself into a lose-lose situation. You’d think I’d be accustomed to that by now, but I still hate it when it happens.
I suppose Bill Clinton was right: People like change in general, but not in particular. This is particular change, and I don’t like it.
Living in two worlds is great in theory. But having to choose one world over the other is very, very difficult, especially when the choice runs counter to the status quo.
It’s time to push away from the shore, to let the winds of change catch the sails of our leaky boat. It’s time to trust in ourselves, our new neighbors, and the Earth that sustains us all. Painful though it might be, it’s time to abandon the ship of empire in exchange for a lifeboat.
After all, the time to dig a well is not when you’re thirsty.
According to the Buddha, “life is suffering.” And suffering is better than the alternative, at least for now. May we all find solace in our suffering in the months and years ahead.
Apparently I survived the cutting-room floor for a hit piece on me, courtesy of the unlikely duo of Rupert Murdoch and Bill Nye. Deniers of abrupt climate change rejoice! I’ll be featured in a televised episode of National Geographic on 1 November 2015. Footage includes Bill Nye at the mud hut. Details can be found here. Commercial for the show is a click away.