Monday, May 05, 2008

Renewing Ourselves

Late afternoon yesterday I took a stroll around the development where I live. The park across the street from my house showed dandelions everywhere. We tolerate the weeds where the children play, but not on our own lawns that must be more pristine and well kept up. The air was crisp with the temperature in the high 60s, low humidity and clear views, the sunset still an hour away and a sense of transient perfection punctuating the calendar before return to the hot and muggy summer. The 10-day forecast predicts we’ll have this temperate climate for a while. This is Finals Week here, then Graduation, followed by Summer School. Perhaps the seasons are permuting and we’ll be spared the air conditioning bills till June or later. Spring is our season to start again, even as the conversation coming out of our national politics wants to dampen down our hope.

As I walked along the path near Interstate 57, I saw a rabbit. A while later I saw a couple more, outside the backyards while walking up Duncan Road. There are no squirrels here, perhaps because the trees are still so young and the development still has a feel of space reclaimed from agriculture; I suppose that’s the reason the squirrels haven’t yet made it west from the older neighborhoods in town. The dogs are mostly on a leash or running around inside back yards with fences. With nary a predator in sight, the rabbits are the animal equivalent of the dandelions, spending their time on what they do best.

There are corn fields immediately to the south. The farmers have been getting ready to plant. I saw some tractors in town last week, slowing down traffic. In that setting they seem to be the encroachers because they alter the usual flow. Yesterday I don’t see any farmers but I do see many people puttering in their yards. They have the urge to grow something outside and shape its appearance as it grows. I am jealous of that feeling because I don’t share it.

Though I used to traipse around Buttermilk Falls Park when I was an undergrad and sit on the rocks and stare at Lake Michigan as a grad student, my idyllic spot has always been inside, a coffee house or living room, with reading or conversation or simply staring into space both means and end.

Now it’s technology that pronounces the artificial nature of my existence. Earlier in the afternoon I read out in the back yard with the Kindle, the Sunday Times download and non-reflective screen making it the perfect companion. During my walk I imitate my 15 year old son, wandering around with the ubiquitous iPod, my internal rhythms competing with old Allman Brothers music for my attention.

I have the unmistakable feeling that things are out of wack, the uncontrolled growth of Asteraceae and Leporidae a metaphor for societal ills. Yet there is also much beauty in the varied colors of the leaves and a sense of possibility in seeing how far we’ve come out of the harsh winter. What path should we take to greater harmony?


jeff said...

Some possibilities for renewing ourselves: sitting down for coffee (no laptop) with an old or new friend...walking as you did in a natural setting...taking a day off to serve others...getting out on a boat...

Just today, I was thinking that this summer I need to set aside 2 consecutive days for reflection and planning -- at work, but away from the cubicle.

Lanny Arvan said...

Jeff - thanks for the comment. Those are good suggestions.

It's funny, I was trying to do a couple of things with this post that I don't believe I accomplished. One was to deliver some richness in the writing, but to stick with a 500 word essay (about a page in Word). Most of my posts this past year were five pages or longer. There was no problem with having a rich story, but the pieces were a bit much for some readers. So I aimed for a similar effect in a shorter piece.

The other thing was to try to tie the personal renewal theme to the idea of societal renewal and see what conclusions could be drawn from making that connection. Tom Friedman's Op-Ed column in yesterday's New York Times reported that in his travels around the country everyone seems to want renewal for the country as a whole.

I believe he's right on that but then he made a claim that America's greatness was built on our parent's being frugal but our generation has forgotten that. And I thought: being frugal is probably necessary but it's not enough. Europe was not the economic dynamo that the U.S was in the latter half of the 20th century, and that can't be explained by the fact that we were frugal and they weren't.

So I was wondering whether the conditions for American exceptionalism have disappeared, and if so what does that mean about renewal for the country and for ourselves? Put another way, our profession rests completely on the pioneering infrastructure work with the ARPANET. Will we be able to replicate that success when attention turns to reinvestment in American infrastructure? And turning back to the personal, can we each redirect ourselves in a way that might encourage that?

So those were my lingering questions, which I really didn't get to. But what I have achieved is to make this response as long as the original post. ;-)