With the holidays over, a certain dissatisfaction and restlessness seems to possess people. They can’t abide dullness, but days get dull. They must get back to work, must go back to school, must resume the ordinary, as if life became a gigantic Monday.
Actually, Monday should be a day we look forward to, as it should be the start of all the amazing things we shall see and accomplish. Sadly, too often it instead is a return to the banal, and some part of the human spirit rebels at this.
I first became aware of this post-Christmas quandary when very young. Christmas and New Year’s were over, my Dad went back to work, my older siblings went back to school, and my Mom went back to smoking her cigarettes, paying bills and doing other “desk work”, and to her Agatha Christi. I became very bored. So, I asked her, “Mom, does January mean Spring will be soon?”
She seemed amused. “Oh no,” she assured me, “Spring won’t be for a long time yet.” After a pause she followed with, “Did you think it was soon?” I nodded, which brought a look of pity, and also more amusement, into her young face. Then she simply slowly shook her head, whereupon I slunk away. The situation seemed deeply unsatisfactory to me.
As well it should have. Life is not worth living without the prospect of Spring, which is also known as Hope.
What seems to make life dull is when the Hope is delayed. What makes Monday so dull is that it is so far from Friday, which holds the Hope. The Hope is that you get a break from doing what you dislike, but on Monday such relief is farthest away. Unless…
Unless you do what you like on Monday. To some people this is an anathema, like having a beer for breakfast. But maybe they should try having a beer for breakfast every now and again. It certainly changes one’s attitude about Mondays.
However, there is no getting around the fact that sooner or later one must delay Hope, and do some mundane task, such as clear all the beer bottles from their breakfast table.
This recently became strikingly apparent to me because every ‘flu has a thing called its “duration”, which is the time it takes the virus to run its course in an ordinary mortal body. It varies from person to person and from year to year. As a thirteen-year-old boy I got clobbered by a ‘flu that laid me out for two weeks, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen a ‘flu as nasty as the Hong Kong ‘Flu. (For most people the China-virus was merely a bunch of chickens running around clucking that the sky was falling; IE: No big deal.) People have grown used to the comfortable concept that the ‘flu means they will be sick two or three or at most four days, and then bounce back onto their feet.
However, a nurse at a nearby “urgent care” facility is of the opinion that, for many, the current ‘flu has a duration of 14 days. She must constantly meet with parents who are deeply worried that their children are still sick after 7 days, and she must over and over tell them they may have as many as 7 days more days to go.
In other words, Hope is deferred. The Parent has dealt with the sick child Monday through Friday, but Friday is just another Monday, awaiting a further Friday.
You’d be surprised how badly some parents handle such reality.
Today a rather large father informed us that his child should stay inside because being outside made his child sick. We informed him that our Childcare is based on the premise that fresh air is good for children, and we lacked the extra staff to keep his single child inside. If he objected, he’d have to pick up his child. He promptly did so, explaining that fresh air might have been good when we were young, but now fresh air was bad, because of “Chem Trails”. Then he pointed up at a jet’s silver contrail creasing the blue sky above. That was his reason for his child taking “so long” to recover. As I said before, he was rather large, so I was not about to tell him he was an idiot, for his child was taking a perfectly ordinary amount of time to recover from this particular ‘flu.
It does not help matters that the greedy alliance between pharmaceutical companies, politicians, media and on-line-servers have made such a mockery of the Hippocratic Oath, (and such a great deal of money), promoting an untested and perhaps hazardous vaccine which does not work. Nor does it help that alternative cures were mocked by the media, banned by governments, and so heavily censored by YouTube, Facebook and Twitter that it prevented their effectiveness from ever being calmly discussed. The discussions did occur, but behind the scenes, and less than calmly.
This has created a growing group of parents who distrust all medicine, including the tried and true. When their children get sick, they fear using old fashioned remedies (tested in some cases by over a century of usage) which might lower the child’s fever, or reduce congestion, or make it easier for the child to cough up phlegm. This increases the child’s discomfort, and also increases the chances of secondary infections such as pneumonia, (in which case the parent likely distrusts antibiotics). By denying themselves the relief of tried-and-true medicines, the 14-day-duration of the current ‘flu becomes all the more miserable.
Fortunately, we are seemingly starting to finally see the end of this particular ‘flu. But it has been like a long and prolonged Monday. Nor can I claim to have been above it all. When I failed to bound back after only two days, I decided I had “aged” due to ‘flu. (And also due to the common cold and the latest version of the China-virus, which proceeded ‘flu in my case. I survived the onslaught, but I’d run out of excuses for dogging it. It must be old age catching up to me.)
I actually still had the ‘flu, but told anyon who’d listen to my complaining that the reason I walked so slowly, and huffed and puffed so much, was because I had “aged greatly”. But then, after 14 days, I noticed I wasn’t so “aged'” anymore, at the same time I noted first one, and then another, four-year-old boy at my Childcare was walking slowly and huffing and puffing like an old man, even after their parents felt they were “better”.
What the experience drove home to me was how impatient people are, including myself. We want to be better now. Right now. To wait until Friday seems a terrible suffering. To wait 14 days? Far too much to bear! And to wait 120 days until Spring arrives? Forget it. We want something right now. Right now.
What people then usually get, around here, is a blizzard. That provides a wonderful distraction from all the moaning and groaning. Simply surviving the debacle distracts people from how bored they were. It is hard to be bored when you need to shovel a half hour simply to find your car.
It is interesting how radiant people become, as they battle. At the local market eyes sparkle, as they gossip of all the adventure which they experienced getting to the market to buy milk. (Sometimes they chatter so much they forget to buy the milk.)
Somehow life is not a gigantic Monday anymore.
However, the blessing of such a blizzard hasn’t occurred yet, which seems to me a blessing in and of itself. First, we needed to get through the blessing of the ‘flu, which was a sort of calamity like a blizzard, albeit within a different dimension.
It might have been interesting to see how local folk would have reacted to both the ‘flu and a blizzard. Certainly it would not be a dull Monday.
However, the powers that control weather apparently felt people deserved a break, and storms which might have “bombed” on top of us waited until just past New England before “bombing out”.
Indeed, we just ducked the bullet yet again. Here is an Atlantic Map, made for people who have to sail the North Atlantic, and it shows the feeble low which passed over New England with nearly calm winds blowing up to a storm with hurricane force winds, just far enough away to allow the ignorant to be blissfully unaware how lucky they are.
However rather than counting our blessings and realizing how lucky we are, we mortals too often mope about how dull things are. Or at least I do. There is a part of me that still yearns for the botheration of a blizzard. I’m old enough to know better, so often I check myself, and do count peace as a blessing, but I still recognize a part of me that yearns to make trouble, and looks at the above map and wants to sail out to check out that storm.
And this always reminds me of an old man I met up in Maine in the 1970’s who did sail out into the storms of the North Atlantic. I’ve likely told this tale before, but I’ll end this post by telling it again.
He’d grown up in the Great Depression, when the little local shipyards grew shabby due to lack of ship-building, and some were basically shut down. When there was a job, the job was done slowly and carefully and was a job well done, because there was no rush, for there was no other job to do after the current job was done. But then everything changed in a hurry. Suddenly every boatyard had something that hadn’t been heard of in years, a “backlog”.
What had happened was that Hitler had decided to starve England into submission by torpedoing all the ships that supplied England. Although the United States was not officially at war with Germany, we supported England, and began to try to build ships as fast as Germany could sink them. Germany was so good at sinking ships it was a struggle to keep up with them, but it was not merely a strain on America’s economy; it also strained Germany’s to the limit. It was war before it was declared.
All of this was exciting to a young man who had grown up in a small, sleepy Maine port whose little shipyard had been close to dormant. Suddenly ships of all sorts were being built as fast as possible. Quality was not as important as quantity, and many of the boats were not state-of-the-art ships built for a Navy wanting superiority in a fight, but were tubs, with a top speed of 13 knots, built to overwhelm the German’s capacity to sink ships.
Indeed, it must have been bad for German morale when publicity stunts were pulled off to show how swiftly a boat could progress from laying the keel to launching. The record was four days, for a Liberty Ship. It is fairly obvious such information would ordinarily be top-secret, and it was only released to depress the heck out of the Germans, especially the Germans who risked their lives to sink a Liberty Ship. It was like knocking a fellow’s teeth out and seeing him grow a new set even before the end of the round.
Being part of such a ship-building effort was exciting for a while, to a high school teenager on the coast of Maine, but soon it started to seem too much like work. He desired action. He wanted to head out in the tubs, and see all the excitement. So he joined the Merchant Marines and got his wish. Off he went in a wallowing tub into the storms of the North Atlantic.
All too soon he was sick of excitement. But first he was mostly sick. The tub he was on wallowed terribly from side to side, with the deck steeply pitched one way and then the other, so that he was never sure if the ship would completely capsize to the left or to the right. It never did actually capsize, but he was so seasick he wished it would, to end his misery.
Even after he got his sea-legs and the horrific nausea faded there was an ever-present sense of danger. Wolf packs of German submarines attacked and sent convoys into organized chaos, with tubs scattering left and right as destroyers raced like sharks and depth charges thudded, as night skies glowed orange from the burning oil of ships that were sunk.
Sometimes ships sunk without any reason the men knew; later it turned out they were poorly designed, and a metal fatigue set in when the waters grew especially cold. Steel sheets on the ships sides simply split; the ocean gushed in; and the ship was gone.
Lastly there was the awareness that your life didn’t really matter much; the convoy’s progress came first, and if you were swept overboard there would be no turning back to look for you. This was an unnerving thought on a ship that wallowed so badly that waves often came crashing onto the decks during storms. And our hero’s ship was so badly designed that there was no way to travel below decks from the bow to the bridge; one had to cross a section of open deck. (If there was a companionway it was likely packed with crates, for such ships were notoriously overloaded in the urgency of those times.)
And so there came a storm when our teenager was ordered to go do some vital tasks in the bow despite hurricane force winds and waves stampeding over the decks. He managed the trip to the bow by clinging for his dear life to a railing when waves crashed over him. He was not so lucky on his trip back from the bow, because the railing he was clinging to broke off the ship.
Plunged into the freezing sea, his instinct was to swim upwards for air, but, when he broke the surface, he knew his life was over. The side of the ship loomed high over his head and was sliding away. A confused jumble of thought filled his shocked brain, including the thought that he was foolish to ever want “to see action”, but, apparently, he did stop cursing long enough to cry out for help, well aware the only one who could hear him in the screaming wind was God.
Then the ship, which had wallowed far to one side, wallowed to the other side, and the youth very quickly was not looking up at a deck high above his head, but was looking down at the deck from a wave crashing down on the deck. He hit the deck so hard his arm was broken, but he landed right in front of the doorway to the bridge. He scrambled up, yanked the door open, swung inside, and slammed the door shut behind him. Then he turned to face crewmates who apparently found his facial expression amusing.
In any case, the teenager learned dullness is not all bad. He no longer wanted to escape his sleepy town, and even felt a nostalgia concerning how dull it was at home. And eventually he was lucky enough to live through the war, return to the little town, and live there raising a family. Then he eventually met me. He likely recognized a restlessness in me, which was why he told me the story.
But now I am older than that man was, when he told me the story, and I’m still restless. Not that I much want to budge from my armchair by the fire, but, in my armchair, I like to read of those who were restless and found trouble to get into. And maybe, just a little bit, I still want to get into a little trouble myself. Why? Because hidden in the hunt for trouble is a search for a sort of Springtime. And, as I said back at the start, “Life is not worth living without the prospect of Spring, which is also known as Hope. “
When the long, white road of winter's laid out Before me like a carpet weaved from bleakness And the sharp sun digs blue shadows, my stout Heart grieves and my knees know their weakness And it seems wise to just swerve to the side And dive in a drift and to gladly die. Why endure? Is it not my stubborn pride Lashing me on? Why persist with this? Why? But it is then I hear faint echoes from Valleys I can't see, and hearing compels Curiosity, and though cold and numb I go on searching for those distant bells Of a caravan ready to depart To a Holy Land we've seen through our heart.