I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Our changing world

Me in 1943
When this little girl was little, the world was a very different place. More than I can sometimes fathom. My dad took this picture, and it was translated from a color slide into a digital print by Pete, Norma Jean's husband of 44 years. Daddy has been gone since 1979, and Pete died this past spring. The little girl is now a senior. Although the toddler doesn't exist any more, I am still here, in a world no one alive back then would recognize, if they somehow had a chance to visit.

Probably the biggest changes can be traced to two sources, the first being the number of people on the planet today, versus when the picture was taken: more than three times as many. Before the current year ends, the world will have seven billion human inhabitants. I found this graph on Wikipedia:
What this tells me is that there is no way the world could have added this many people without massive changes in the way everything is distributed. In this country, it means that the rich have become richer and the poor are much poorer. Income distribution makes everything different. And then there is food. Of the seven billion on the planet right now, one-sixth of them are hungry, and more than six million children die of malnutrition every year (2010 statistics).

When that picture was taken, I would bet that many adults believed that, with the wealth of the world today, hunger would be a thing of the past. I know I did when I was growing up. But who could have guessed then at how much greed and avarice would run things? Certainly not me. I truly believed that our better nature would prevail.

The other big change in our world has been caused by the huge advances in technology. Without even thinking about it, I googled the web to find the statistics and graph I used in this post, and without a thought of the amazing nature of this, I have at my fingertips all the facts and figures anybody could wish for. Kids born today don't know a world without cellphones and instant messaging; they know how to "keyboard" before they can talk. Yesterday, Leo at my local coffeeshop begged me to take out my iPad so he could look at pictures. He swiped his finger across the screen confidently to change from one picture to the next. He's not even three years old yet. What will the world be like when he's my age?

This has been on my mind lately, since I've been mulling over the creation of an "epitaph" post: one I write and give to my Life Partner so that, in case of me expiring suddenly or unexpectedly, all my followers will not be left to wonder what happened to me. Somebody gave me the idea of writing this as a sort of Living Will for my two blogs. If you have ever tried to think of what you would write in this situation, trust me: it's quite a useful meditation. I have only just begun the process, and it may take me a while, but I will have written it all out one of these days. And in the process, I'll learn something.

Years ago, when I was a Hospice volunteer, we were given a similar exercise: to give a memorial statement about my life at my own funeral. I remember doing it, and somewhere in my things I believe I still have it. I'll try to dig it up and see what I said back in the 1980s about who I thought I would be by the time I died. At that place in life, I didn't know Smart Guy, hadn't started skydiving, and Chris was alive and well. So I suspect it would be quite different from what I will write these days. I'll let you know how it goes.

Hopefully this post will not be depressing, but it's what is on my mind as I sit here in the dark, listening to the wind and rain blustering outside. Every once in a while a gentle breeze blowing through the window caresses my face. The state of the world might be scary in the aggregate, but right here right now, it feels just right.


Linda Reeder said...

I have thought about this too, about writing my own eulogy. I haven't actually set pen to paper, or fingers to keys, so I don't know yet what I would actually say. I know it would include a shy little girl, a wife,a mother, a master teacher, a gardener and lover of nature, a grandmother,a member of a big family, a life long learner.
But today does not feel like the day to dwell on this, or the plight of the world. It's a dark, damp morning, and I need to get active to chase away dark thoughts, thoughts like that I have more food than I need and I need to keep myself from eating it! - while others starve.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, thank you for this thoughtful and reflective posting.

LIke you, I find the world in which we live today so different from when I grew up in the forties and fifties. Truthfully, I find life sometimes a little frightening. I don't understand greed nor the failure to look after one another.

I am amazed that corporations and politicians forget that all of us must work together to build a family of support for all humankind.

And also, like you, when I find myself becoming a little morose, I look to nature to guide me. And I remember a poem by Robert Frost. It's called "Choose Something Like a Star" and ends with these lines:
"So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
to stay our minds on and be staid."

And I remember another line from his poem "Riders."
"We have ideas yet that we haven't tried."

I believe that. I believe that somehow we can find the creative and innovative and compassionate and powerful ideas that will unite us in the Holy Oneness of All Creation.

Thank you, DJan, for bringing these thoughts to me through your posting and also for giving me the idea to do that final posting.


Grandmother Mary said...

I like the idea of writing an epitaph. It could give me direction to know what I want to have said about me when I die. Also, re: the numbers of humans and the wealth mis-distribution, I was just reading about the famine in sub-Saharan Africa and feeling that tug to do something and wondering what. Thoughtful post- thanks.

Anonymous said...

Well, I have instructed my children to have a simple burial ceremony at gravesite when I die. No funeral. And only immediate family and others by invitation will be present. I hated my brother's funeral. Where were all those people when he was alive? Did they visit him or even send him a Christmas card? As you can tell, I am very bitter about it. Nuff said.

Rosaria Williams said...

Very thoughtful!

CiCi said...

Not depressing at all. Factual and clear as far as I am concerned. You could write a post and put the date into the future and keep changing the date further out and show your life partner how to click to post it.Being prepared is not a negative thing. I like to have things sorted out myself. In my case, my hubby would write a goodbye post for me if something happened to me and I feel great about that.Your little girl picture is the cutest photo ever.I agree with you about the huge changes in the world over our lifetime. Astonishing and disappointing and downright frightening for future generations. Yet there have been major strides in technology. Not all of them good either.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

You are always so thoughtful. I like the idea of writing a Final Post. Must write that down. I find that lately if I don't write things down, I blithely forget them. And yes, I grew up thinking that each generation would be better off than the previous one, and that people would become kinder and more tolerant. In the late 60s, I thought we were ending war forever. I'm still glad I thought that, but the disappointment since then is...disappointing! :-)

Rubye Jack said...

What a little cutie pie showing off her maybe new dress!

Actually, I never think about what people will say or what I would want to say after my death to those I leave behind. I do know I don't want a funeral but a small memorial service would be nice, and I want to be cremated. My family already knows this--we all think the say on this.

Red said...

As usual you have given much thought to your post and involve the reader so that they have to think about the topic. The older I get the more I think that we've gone through an awful lot of change.
One of my old buddies turned 74 today. When we were kids we couldn't imagine ourselves being this age. Come to think of it I can't believe I'm this old right now. I always think I'm somebody younger until I'm brought back to reality.

Anonymous said...

I have thought about a final post but just basically a brief "goodbye" so that people wouldn't wonder and I could say how much I have enjoyed this blogging thing. Just have to figure out a way to get it posted.
Arkansas Patti

Linda Myers said...

We get philosophical here in the Pacific Northwest when there's a "soaking rain and wind event", don't we. Not to mention dark!

I like the idea of an epitaph for blog and life. I think it might incorporate some aspects of my bucket list.

Rita said...

Such a darling picture!! :):)
We certainly are multiplying like rabbits, aren't we!? LOL!
I never thought about some type of blog notice. Probably because I'm not having a funeral and plan to be cremated. Just wanted to slip out without fanfare, I guess. But I should ask Dagan and Leah to make sure they post something on my blog. I don't care about a eulogy, but there should be some kind of a notice. It's only polite, I guess, right? ;)

I'd hate for somebody I follow to just vanish without a word, even if those things do happen. I had a pen pal I kept writing to and worrying about for a year before I finally got a brief note from the family, so I wouldn't want to have anybody worrying about me. You always give me things to think about. :):)

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about creating the same thing. I had a read a blog about creating a file for your surviving family that outlined your online presence and how to deal with it. When a friend recently died, I learned about it from what her sister in law had posted on her facebook wall.

Stella Jones said...

I wish you well with your epitaph D-Jan. I'm sure you'll make a very good job of it. Yes, it will be very different from the one you wrote in 1980.
For me, no I shan't be doing that. I just want to fade away into the ground like a dying leaf and be gone forever.
Even if you don't finish your epitaph and I hope you do, you have left your friends a legacy, which I'm sure will remain in their hearts forever.

Anonymous said...

I thought about getting a great piece of sculpture for my headstone, then putting it in the yard, so I could enjoy it before I went. Family is sure narrow minded about some things.

Thanks for the reminder, "Enough" is just right for today.

CrazyCris said...

I still believe that our better nature will prevail, that somehow we'll get past all this great and desire for instant gratification and think more about the rest of the world and how to balance things out... I also think families need to start thinking about having no more than 2 kids because at this rate of growth, there's no way our planet can sustain us!

Very interesting idea, writing your own Epitaph, DJan. I hope you feel inspired while doing it!

Friko said...

No Jan, not depressing, just thought-provoking.

it has never entered my mind to think about an epitaph. Epitaphs are for other people. Not because I'm not going to die but because nobody would be interested.

We are of a similar age and the changes the world has seen in our life times are enormous. More than at any other time in history. And I think the pace will accelerate further, until not only the earth itself spins in space but everybody on it will spin so fast that life becomes a whirligig.

Every generation copes, because that is all there is to do and new generations know only their own world. The future is quite frightening to me, but then I won't see it.

For now, let's be grateful for what we have and enjoy the present.

PS: I'll have a go at thinking about an epitaph.

Sandi said...

This was a post that got me thinking about my own mortality. Usually that thinking is reserved for those sleepless nights, when I wonder about what time I have left on this earth.

I remember writing an obituary for myself as a college assignment, many years ago. You've made me think of that, and wonder if it's still packed away somewhere. As it was also in the 1980's, many things have changed and I'm sure it would barely seem like it's even about me!

It's certainly something to think about, writing a eulogy for oneself. It was a lot more fun planning my own birthday party last year when I turned 60!

Far Side of Fifty said...

I wrote my own obit a few years ago..it is quite funny. Not your run of the mill funeral homey she baked the best cinnamon rolls in Minnesota malarky. I am sure yours will be wonderful.

I am sure that Smart Guy will figure out how to post such a thing..or Allison..just in case you fall off of one of those steep cliffs in the Mountains..doing what you love:)