"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

A cold

For the past two weeks I have had a cold.  This has given me the opportunity to contemplate colds.

Objectively the word “cold” means having a low temperature.  Cold is the opposite of hot, in other words.  Yet we also use the word “cold” to describe a sickness, one characterized by a runny nose and occasionally a sore throat and other symptoms.

One immediately senses that it’s not a coincidence that wwe use the same word to indicate this disease and low temperature.  Yet what is the connection?  Having a cold doesn’t make one cold, nor does it make one feel cold.  There’s certainly no rule that colds can only occur when you’re cold.  It’s often said that colds in the summer are the very worst.

At the same time, though, we do know that if you get cold, you’re more likely to get a cold.  Like smoking and lung cancer, the first isn’t the only cause of the second, but it’s the most common cause.

Indeed, in the old days folks were much more carefule about not exposing themselves to cold , lest they get a cold.  In the opening scene of Gone with the Wind, Mammy warns Scarlet not to go running around without her shawl, lest she catch her death.  (Scarlet ignores her, needless to say.)  Nowadays, on the other hand, we’re much more nonchalant about exposing ourselves to cold.  It seems we just don’t fear cold or colds like we used to.

No why should that be?  Is it that we don’t get colds any more?  Hardly.  Colds are really the only disease that everone gets.  Other diseases that loom large in our consciousness these days are generally the rare but fatal ones: cancer, AIDS, and so forth.  Colds are unique in being the only minor disease that we pay attention to.

For lack of any other reason, it seems that we don’t fear colds because we have ways to reduce our suffering.  Any supermarket, drug store, or even gas station will yield dozens of treatments that can alleviate the symptoms if we get one.  As a result, we no longer go to great lengths to avoid colds.  Indeed, many of us probably have colds while barely being aware that we have them.  While we’re prone to thinking that technology makes us more intelligent and aware of the world around us, in some cases it actually makes us less aware.

Where I’ve been

It’s been almost two weeks since my last post.  I have been neglecting you, fair blog readers.  I feel that I at least owe you an explanation.

First of all, I have allergies.  Does this come as a surprise to you?  It certainly came as a surprise to me.  Throughout childhood and up to last year, I did not have allergies.  Now I suddenly do have allergies.  Let me tell you, they’re not pleasant.  If you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have allergies, be thankful for it.  Because of my allergies, I’ve been sleeping a lot more than I usually do.  I’ve also spent a fair amount of time sitting around being miserble , and on one memorable occasion I spent about half an hour blowing my nose continuously.

The second reason for my absense is less painful but more prosaic.  I have been busy.  I am a teacher, as alert readers will recall, and right now my classes are preparing for the AP exams.  That means extra work for me as I relentlessly drill my students on derivatives, integrals, normal distributions, confidence intervals, and all that jazz.  This means less time for blogging.

In any case, I’m now back, and I’ll endeavor to post more regularly.  I do suggest that we all take a minute, from time to time, to consider the differences between relations online and in “the real world”.  In our physical lives, social relations are fairly constant.  Abrupt, unexpected shifts are rare.  If Bob is your neighbor today, you can be pretty sure he’ll be your neighbor tomorrow.  In the online world, it just ain’t so.  You may read a person’s blog, follow him on twitter, like his photos on Facebook, but you don’t truly know him, and he may vanish into the ether at any time.  As I’ve noted before, the internet is full of dead blogs, places where streams of lively messages top abruptly in July of 2007 or some other random time.  I hope this never becomes one of them.

No blogging for a week

I woke up this morning to find roughly half an inch of snow on the ground outside my home in northern Virginia.  In a typical winter this would scarcely be worth noting, but this winter it’s the biggest snowfall we’ve had.  Which makes it as good a day as any to anounce my upcoming vacation in sunny South Carolina.  I will be gone for all of next week, but like Douglas MacArthur, I shall return.

Back from Yosemite

I have returned from my backpacking trip sunburned and bug-bitten but otherwise quite all right.  As a member of the blogging community it seems I’m obligated to post about sixty pictures of the places I visited.  Unfortunately I don’t have a single picture because my camera ceased functioning shortly before I departed.  Some of my fellow backpackers took pictures and presumably I’ll be able to see them on Facebook eventually.  Meanwhile I’ll just substitute photos from Google Images:

Mt Banner rises above Thousand Island Lake.

Donahue Pass, 11056 feet up.

With that done, I’d rather offer thoughts about backpacking than pictures.  Backpacking offers lots of discomforts.  There are bug bites, aching feet and legs and back and shoulders, sun burns, chapped lips, heat in the valleys, cold on the mountaintops, lousy food, and the need to ford freezing cold streams, just to name a few.  From a strictly rational perspective, it’s inexplicable that anyone would ever do it.  But those of us who have done it know the risks beforehand and yet we do it anyway, again and again and again.  Why?

Well, for starters there’s the beautiful scenery, as demonstrated above.  Then there’s the chance to” get away from it all”, to not have to hear about plunging stock markets and gas prices and the latest thing that Michelle Bachmann has said.  Third, there’s the chance to prove how tough and hardcore one is and collect stories related to these points for future bragging.  Fourth, there’s the chance to spend time with one’s fellow backpackers.

I think this final point is the most important one.  It’s a fact that in civilization we all play roles while in public.  As Rousseau observed, civilization requires a veneer of good manners to function at all.  (That may be the only thing Rousseau was right about.)  But when a group of a dozen or so heads into the wilderness, trudging up and down mountain and through freezing rivers while carrying thirty pounds per person on their backs, things start to change.  Their is no longer the energy or the necessity to play artificial roles.  The veneer falls away and the real personalities underneath it emerge.  And that, I would argue, is something that one can experience on trips through the wilderness but rarely anywhere else.

Back from my trip to Florida

I have returned from Florida after an absence of seven days.  Now if I were a typical blogger, I would promptly write out a long day-by-day account of everything that happened to me from the time I pulled out of driveway to the moment I pulled back into my driveway.  I would include funny incidents, such as the time I took a wrong turn trying to get into the Renaissance Orlando Hotel and ended up at gates of Disneyworld instead, and mention strange encounters, such as when an armadillo tried to raid my campsite.  But I’m not going to do that, because frankly why would you care about such things anyway?

Instead I shall write about where I stayed.  During the trip I camped at one state park in South Carolina on the way there and a different state park in South Carolina on the way back.  While attending the conference in Orlando, I camped at Louisa State Park, about ten miles west of Orlando.  (That’s where I met the armadillo, thank you very much.)  Between South Carolina and Orlando, I stayed at hotels in northern Florida.  One night I just couldn’t find a campground, while the other night it was raining heavily.

Now the other teachers at the conference probably all stayed at hotels.  Most likely they stated at the Renaissance Orlando if they could get their school to pay for it.  Otherwise they stayed somewhere cheaper.  I, however, dislike hotels and avoid them as much as possible.  In fact, I view my two nights in hotel rooms as the low points of my trip.

Why do I dislike hotel rooms?  For starters, they often smell funny.  The first one I stayed in certainly did.  But that’s the minor reason.  The major reason is that I find hotel rooms these days to have a creepy, borg-like feel.  Every hotel chain in the country seems to have decided that every room needs to look almost exactly alike.  They all look something like this:

Now if you’ve stayed in an American hotel during the last ten years or so, you can surely recognize the details.  The rectangular room, the queen-sized bed, the blank walls, the mediocre landscape painting, the garish curtains and bedspread, the blocky black TV, the dreary brown furniture, and so forth.  It’s all the same no matter where you go.  Variety is non-existent.  Diversity is squashed to uniformity.  A bland ugliness and mediocrity is the order of the day.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  In fact, if you go to hotels in other countries, it generally isn’t.  In France, for example, hotels are generally much smaller and not part of chains.  Consequently they can set up the rooms any way they like.  Any floor plan, any furniture, any decoration.  There, or anywhere else in Europe, it’s actually fun to check into a hotel room and see what sort of stuff is waiting for you.  Here in American, corporate hegemony has sucked all the enjoyment out of the experience.

Why I ride.

This weekend I will be riding my bike 100 miles through the hills of central Virginia as part of the MS 150, a fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  That means, among other things, no blogging this weekend.  I would like to share the reason why I do this.

Before I became a Christian, I never assisted anybody with an illness or an injury, nor would it have ever occurred to me to do so.  When I finally was on the verge of converting, I read the gospels and discovered numerous stories of Jesus healing people who were injured or ill, blind, lame, or crippled.  Of course these are good stories, and of course even someone who disagrees with Christianity can endorse the feeling behind them.  But what’s easy to miss is the long-term outcomes, since we never get to follow up on any of the individuals who were healed.  Jesus not only eliminated their pain and restored their mobility, he also brought them back into society.  Before meeting Him, they were isolated, either living among the tombs or stuck inside their homes, while current law required  that people keep some distance away.  When Jesus made their bodies whole, he also knocked down the barriers that separated them from others, thus helping to make communities whole as well.

I don’t know anybody who has multiple sclerosis, but I have met individuals through my church and elsewhere who are crippled or suffering from long-term illness.  While we moderns may pride ourselves on dealing with these people better than the ancients did, the fact is that many of them still are isolated from society.  Many still live in trailers, apartments, or ramshackle houses in out-of-the-way places, where the busy folks of mainstream society can safely ignore them.  I now know more about these people and the way they live than I did even a year ago, and that is why I ride, to bring us one small step closer to the day when no one has multiple sclerosis.

If you would like to sponsor my ride, you can make a contribution by following the link below.  One hundred percent of the money goes directly to services that help patients or to research.  My name is Alex Popkin.



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